Ruth: A Story of Conversion
This is the first of a series of five devotionals on the book of Ruth in the Bible.
The story of Ruth intrigues us for a number of reasons: First, it is a romance and who doesn’t love that? But do you know that the love story portrayed in the Book of Ruth is more than that of Ruth and Boaz? It is a picture of the love of God for us and his plan from before the creation of the world to redeem us from our own dead-end lives. We will see more of that as we get nearer the end of the story.
Ruth’s story also gives us a bigger picture of spiritual life – mostly how we can follow God wholeheartedly and learn to trust him with the outcomes. But let’s start at the beginning: Spiritual life has to begin with conversion.
Ruth was not born a Jew. She was a Moabitess, born in the land bordering Israel on the eastern side - a country that was a perpetual enemy of Israel’s. In fact, the prophetic books are filled with pronouncements of judgment against Moab because of their mistreatment of God’s people.
Ruth was raised worshiping the multiple gods in Moab, primarily their national god Chemosh. But, in the first chapter of the Book of Ruth, we see Ruth turning her back on the religion of her family and her nation and turning, instead, toward the God of her mother-in-law Naomi and the people of Israel.
Here’s the background we read in chapter 1: Naomi and her husband Elimelech had moved to Moab with their two sons because there was a famine in the Judean village of Bethlehem (ironically means “house of bread”) where they lived. After they came to Moab, they stayed for several years.
During that time, their sons grew up and married Moabite women whose names were Ruth and Orpah. Some Old Testament scholars believe that both these women most likely converted to Judaism when they married the young Israeli men. Then, unthinkably, Elimelech and both sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law in desperate straits.
When Naomi, feeling alone, bitter, and homesick, decided to return to live in her hometown of Bethlehem, both daughters-in-law were encouraged to remain in Moab. Some think Naomi was testing the sincerity of their commitment to her and to the God of Israel.
If that was the case, Orpah, who choose to remain in Moab, was probably not a true believer. Ruth, on the other hand makes a strong statement of sincere belief and lifelong commitment when she says to Naomi, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (1:16b-17)
Some decisions we make can set the course for our entire lives. Ruth made a clear decision to follow the one true God, turning her back on life as she knew it in Moab, and following Naomi to Bethlehem. It was a bold move, but one she felt compelled to do, not just because of her relationship with Naomi, but, more importantly, because of her relationship with God.
It reminds us of Abraham, doesn’t it? We are told in Genesis 12:1 that he also left his homeland, his relatives and his father’s house to go to a land God had not yet showed him. Ruth, probably without realizing it, was following the pattern of the father of the people with whom she was going to live, work, worship, and grow old and in whose future she would play a key role.
We can see from the stories of both Abraham and Ruth that our first step to move toward God in faith is the one that can transform everything else. He draws us to him, but he will not force himself on us. He calls, but we have to decide to believe and follow.
We now know that our access to God is through Jesus Christ who came to earth, died, arose, and ascended to heaven. So, today turning to God is not moving to another nation so we can follow its God. It is turning to the God of the Universe through his Son, Jesus. We do it not by packing our bags as Ruth did, but by praying a prayer of repentance.
Then we commit to moving constantly is his direction. We pray, we worship, we relate to others who also believe, we read his book, and we serve. Our relationship with God through Jesus becomes the primary focus of our lives.
As we will discover in our study of Ruth, when we put God first, everything else falls into place over time. So, please don’t let anything keep you from moving in his direction. Don’t be afraid to trust him. Begin today to do whatever it is he is asking you to do. He will honor your obedience and commitment, and you will begin to experience change in your life and growth in your spirit. God may ask you to do hard things, but he will never let you down.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6