“The only thing that is constant is change.” As this popular aphorism suggests, we all encounter change on a regular basis. Inherent within change is the necessity to say “goodbye” to certain aspects of our lives. We say goodbye to people and relationships, to seasons of life, to jobs … and the list goes on. In fact, given the constancy of change, we eventually say goodbye to most aspects of our lives. While some of these goodbyes are unwelcome, even the most painful experiences can serve as catalysts for new opportunities. Indeed, as the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coehlo wrote, “If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.”
Each day during this final week of the Gift of Words series, LivingItOut is exploring a character from the Bible who had to say “goodbye” but in turn received the blessing to say “hello” to a new opportunity.
Today, we will unpack the story of Ruth, one of the most inspiring women of the Bible. Ruth overcame tragedy and a myriad of obstacles on a journey that would define her as an enduring example of loyalty, love, and courage.
The Story of Ruth
The Book of Ruth is set in a tumultuous period in Israel’s history, during the time of judges in the second millennium B.C. Against the backdrop of famine and general disarray in Israel, a man named Elimelek, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Kilion, relocated from Bethlehem to Moab in search of sustenance and a more secure life. But soon after arriving in Moab, a series of tragedies befell the emigrant family. First, Elimelek died, leaving Naomi a widow. While this was a difficult blow to the family, Naomi took comfort in the fact that she still had two sons to help care for her and carry forward the family name as heirs to Elimelek.
Following Elimelek’s death, both Mahlon and Kilion married Moabite women – Ruth and Orpah, respectively. However, within a decade, the family’s situation regressed from bad to worse, as both Mahlon and Kilion died, leaving all three women of the family widowed and facing a bleak future. During the time of Ruth, a woman without a husband or heirs was most often destined for a life of poverty and hardship.
Soon after the deaths of her sons, Naomi learned that God had again blessed the people of Judah with good crops (Ruth 1:6). With the famine now over, she decided to return to her homeland of Bethlehem, along with Ruth and Orpah. But during the journey home, Naomi experienced a change of heart. Worried that she was literally leading the two young widows away from their only measure of refuge (in their own homeland), she encouraged them to turn back for Moab in hopes that they would be blessed with the security of another marriage (Ruth 1:9). As Moabites, Ruth and Orpah would have been forbidden to wed Israelite men, meaning that in Bethlehem they would be even further assured of a life of destitution and despair. In short, Naomi did not want them to suffer the same fate she now envisioned for herself.
Initially, both Ruth and Orpah resisted Naomi’s request. Naomi persisted and Orpah eventually relented, returning to Moab. But despite Naomi’s repeated appeals, Ruth remained steadfast in her commitment to her mother-in-law.
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Ruth asked Naomi for permission to “go into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it” (Ruth 2:2). Naomi agreed and Ruth soon found herself gathering grain behind harvesters in a field that belonged to Boaz, a relative of her departed father-in-law Elimelek. Being a kind man, Boaz took note of Ruth and ensured that she was treated well by the harvesters. Knowing of her commitment to Naomi, Boaz continued to watch over Ruth, providing an open invitation for her to gather grain left behind by the harvesters (Ruth 2:15). Touched by her daughter-in-law’s unrelenting loyalty and love, Naomi turned her focus to finding Ruth a permanent home so that she would be provided for (Ruth 3:1). Soon thereafter, Naomi encouraged Ruth to approach Boaz, who agreed to serve as her kinsman-redeemer and eventually took her into his home as his wife (Ruth 4:13). The couple were later blessed with a child named Obed.
14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”
Some 3,500 years later, the name of Ruth lives on – in the Bible and in the lineage of its most important character. Ruth’s son Obed would have a son of his own, named Jesse. And he, in turn, would become the father of King David. And so, the humble Moabite Ruth, who demonstrated unfailing courage and commitment to Naomi amid tragedy and hardship, is forever connected to the genealogy of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Ruth’s story serves as a poignant illustration of God’s rewards for persistence and belief. In a life marked by difficult changes, Ruth demonstrated the courage and commitment to pursue the road less traveled. She said “goodbye” – to her first husband and then to her homeland. And through her loyalty to Naomi, she was presented with the “hello” of a new beginning – the blessing of a new life and child with Boaz.
As we say goodbye to 2017 and greet the new year, Ruth’s legacy of loyal love serves as a reminder of the rewards that await us when we say “hello” to God’s gifts.
Consider the goodbyes that you have said in the past year. Have you resolved these endings as a means to moving forward in the new year?
In what areas is God inviting you to say “hello” by stepping into something new? Think of at least three areas in which you are being presented with new changes and opportunities. What can you do to ensure that you embrace these new beginnings before you?
As you begin the new year, set aside time to consider the elements of your life that have changed or are in the midst of changing. Take care to acknowledge the endings, and consider the opportunities of stepping into new beginnings with confidence and faith.
Heavenly Father, I thank you, as always, for the gift of this ever-changing earthly life. Help me to have the courage and wisdom to embrace change and to follow every “goodbye” by demonstrating the courage and willingness to say “hello” to the new gifts you place before me. Amen.
This post was written by Todd Romain. Todd enjoys sharing life with his wife Jessica and their family and serving at CedarCreek. He is a communications director at Owens Corning and an avid supporter of his alma mater, The Ohio State University, and all teams who play Michigan.
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