Elimelech’s selfish decision
The book of Ruth starts off with the story of Naomi and Elimelech moving to Moab because there was a famine in the land of Israel. Elimelech, as head of the family, makes the decision to move out of Israel, to place himself and his family outside of God’s covenant. He sees the prosperity of Moab and, wanting to care for his family, chooses to take matters into his own hand. His decision brings calamity instead of prosperity. First Elimelech dies and then later, his two sons die as well. Naomi is left alone with her two daughters-in-law. A childless widow, living in a foreign land. Elimelech’s selfish decision to move his family from under God’s wings of refuge, His covenant, had disastrous consequences.
After ten years, Naomi decides to return to the land of Judah, because she had heard that the famine in Israel was over and that God had given the Israelites food, and Ruth decides to go with her. She comes back to her own country, her own town Bethlehem, and the people are stirred. The present condition of Naomi, a lost and bitter widow, was a painful contrast with how the people had seen Naomi leave the country. She went away full, in a state of prosperity and bliss, and she came back empty.
Ruth’s selfless decision
But the book of Ruth is not about Naomi or Elimelech. It is (surprisingly) about Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, the Moabitess. By staying at Naomi’s side, she makes a bold choice. She moves away from everything she knows, her family, her culture, her gods. She is not obligated to follow her mother-in-law, but she does. She chooses to care for Naomi and to take refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. She makes a completely selfless decision.
Her selflessness becomes even more evident when she makes the decision to ask Boaz to marry her. She goes down to the threshing floor and lies at Boaz’s feet till he wakes up and asks him to redeem the land of Elimelech. It doesn’t seem very selfless at first. But… Boaz is about 60 years old. Ruth doesn’t do this out of love for Boaz. She does it out of love for Naomi, to restore her inheritance, her family line.
For the original readers of the book of Ruth, the Israelites during the reign of David, it would have been surprising that one who reflects God’s love so clearly is a Moabitess. She’s showing complete loyalty to the Israelite family and total devotion to her lost mother-in-law. This marks her as a true daughter of Israel and a worthy ancestress of David, their king. She is an example of the truth that a place in God’s kingdom is not decided by blood and birth, but by obedience that comes from faith (Ruth 1:16-18). Her place in David’s genealogy, which was very important at that time, shows that all nations are included in God’s kingdom, through Jesus, the son of David (Matthew 1:1).
The outcome of Ruth’s decision
Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi to the land of Israel and to marry Boaz leads to hope and security for Naomi. The marriage of Boaz and Ruth results in the birth of a son, Obed, through whom the family line of Elimelech is restored. Their land is redeemed, and their social status is restored. God’s kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead (Ruth 2:20). God brings restoration in a broken and grieving family through the unexpected selfless acts of a foreign woman.
What does this mean for us today?
Ruth devotes her life to a selfless cause. And her selfless decisions lead to restoration. What if we decide to live selflessly? Can we even imagine this? Putting others first doesn’t come naturally. In all of our choices, we think about ourselves first. We want the biggest piece of meat during dinner, wake up in the morning with the thought of how to make this day the best for ourselves, we are prideful, and for the most part, focused on our own success. What would happen if we radically change this? We can take care of ourselves, we can “glean among the ears of grain” like Ruth. We can provide for ourselves. But what is the root of our decisions? The world would look totally different if we would live selflessly.