Friday, 30 May 2014

Living a life of love... with Ruth

For the next instalment of 'Living a life of love...' I thought we would go back a couple of years, well slightly more!! and take a look at one of the examples from the Bible of a woman who went over and above in living a life of love exactly where she was placed. Let me introduce... Ruth :)


Ruth was a Moabitess - someone who lived in the land of Moab. (Ruth 1:4). She has her own book in the Old Testament, in between Judges and 1 Samuel. The reason we are introduced to her is that she married Mahlon, Naomi's son, (Ruth 4:10) and was living with him in Moab before he died and she ended up moving to Bethlehem. 

How did she end up living there? 

Naomi and her husband Elimilech had taken their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, from Bethlehem to Moab because of a famine. During the years they lived there, tradegy struck when Elimilech passed away and Naomi was left alone with her sons. Both sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, but unfortunately, about ten years later, both of the men were killed. Naomi was heart-broken and when she heard that the famine was over she decided to go back to her homeland. 

As was tradition, both of her widowed daughter-in-laws went with her, until she stopped and told them to do back to their own families, back to their own gods and back to their own lives. Orpah left. Ruth didn't. 

She spoke the famous words as she pleaded to stay with Naomi...

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. 
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!” 
Ruth 1:16, 17

And so she found herself living in Bethlehem, the hometown of her late husband, with her mother-in-law. 

What are some of the cultural differences she had to adjust to?

The Moabites were related to the Israelites in that they descended from Moab, the son of Lots incestuous relations with his daughter after they fled the destruction of Solomon - (wow I didn't know that - it's amazing what you can find out when you read into the backgrounds of stories) - so they all had a common ancestor - Terah - Abraham and Haran's father. 

But through the generations they had lived very different lives. Israel obviously worshipped God. But the Moabites worshipped many different gods and goddesses, one in particular being Chemosh. The worship of these gods often included things like human sacrifice and they even sent their daughters out to try to tempt the Israelite men into joining their idolatry. 

So life was very different. In order for Ruth to leave this behind her, she had to convert to Judaism and trust in and believe in a God of love, mercy and justice who was alive, rather than the dead gods she was used to. 

The standard of living may have been very different as well. After all in Moab she had has her husband to look after her and it was known to be a possessions-rich trading society, where now she was going to Bethlehem with Naomi, with no men to fend for them and to put themselves at the mercy of Naomi's family. Who knows how that was going to turn out.

How do she live a life of love where she was? 

She started at home - by loving Naomi. When given the choice to leave her and return to her mothers home, she clings to Naomi, a sign that her decision to stay was born of love and that she really was serious about it, not just rebelling and trying to be contrary to Naomi's wishes. 

Naomi had a very different relationship to her daughters-in-law than a lot of women of that time. We can tell this because in a time where ordinarily the widowed mother would want the two girls to stay and look after her, she wished them kindness, and wished them 'rest in the house of a new husband' (Ruth 1:8-9). She genuinely cared more for them than for herself and loved them like daughters. 

So Ruth took this to heart and instead of leaving, as Orpah did, to return home, she pledged her alliance to Naomi and to The Lord God Jehovah and committed herself to staying with her.

Later in the story we also see her gathering grain for both of them and looking after Naomi, so much so that others noticed and talked about it (Ruth 2:11). They had such a good relationship that she trusted Naomi enough to do whatever she asked, without questioning why (Ruth 3:5) and in the end the women of Bethlehem rejoiced with Naomi, telling them that Ruth was indeed worth more than seven sons (Ruth 4:15)!! 

How can we use her story as inspiration... 

I love this story because it reminds us how important our family relationships are - not only to us but also to everyone around us. Ruth's actions not only impacted Naomi, but the people of the town, Boaz and for generations to come - especially exciting since her son was King David's grandfather! 

I know so many people who don't have this sort of relationship with their mother-in-law and who in fact hate the sight of her or groan and moan if they hear she's coming for a visit. And then I read this story and think why can they not see the impact they could make... 

I know that I am extremely blessed in my mother-in-law - she is a wonderful godly woman who would do anything for you and has a heart of gold. She is like a second mum to me and I know how special that is, especially in today's climate where mothers don't really like to let go of their wee sons, and who have trouble thinking any girl could possibly be good enough for their boys! But my MIL is wonderful and I love spending time with her. She is the other person I go to (second only to my mum) when I need advice and help and she truly sees and treats each of her daughters-in-law as if we were her own daughters. We still have to work at the relationship, as good as it is, but even if I disagree with her, I always remember that she brought up my husband to be the man I fell in love with, so I owe her a debt of gratitude and a lot of respect. 

I thank God a lot for the beautiful story of Ruth and for the impact it has had on my relationship with Alice - and I pray it will have the same effect when my boys grow up and find wives too. 

A few reflective questions... 

• How is your relationship with your mother-in-law (if you have one)? Does it impact everyone around you in a positive or negative way? 

• And if you don't have one yet, how do you think this will impact you as you first meet your boyfriend's parents? Or how does it impact the different relationships you have with the older women in church/work? 

Another wonderful missionary story to share next week! 
Keep shining xx 

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