Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Loyalty, Sacrifice, and Reward

I read the book of Ruth this morning, and as many times as I’ve read it in the past I’ve never noticed how much Ruth sacrificed in order to follow Naomi back to Israel. You remember the story: Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion lived in the city of Bethlehem in Judah, but decided to “sojourn” in the nearby country of Moab because of a severe famine. But tragically, Elimelech died in Moab, and after having married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, the two sons died as well.

In those days, attachment to a male was the only form of social-security, so to speak, and so this left Naomi in a particularly tragic situation. The only thing she could do, really, was to go back home and hope that, out of the kindness of their heart, someone would take care of her. For Orpah and Ruth, the situation was tragic enough, but they could simply go back to their Fathers’ homes until they found another husband. But Ruth decided that loyalty to Naomi was more important than her own personal comfort and covering and provision, so she traveled back to Israel with Naomi.

Once there, Ruth went to glean in the field of a man she did not know, and when that man, Boaz, came to inspect the progress of the day he saw her there and inquired as to who she was. When he found out that she was Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, he instructed her to continue gleaning in his field and offered her all the food, water, and protection she needed.

She was blown away by this kindness and asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” To which Boaz answered, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (2:10-12)

So here’s what Ruth sacrificed in order to remain loyal to Naomi: (1) She left her father and mother and any other family she had in Moab, and not only suffered the pain of being away from them but also the insecurity of having no provider. (2) She left her native land, the only land she had ever known in her life. Travel was not then as it is now, and especially for women, it was not safe. Ruth not only sacrificed allegiance to her native soil, she risked her neck to remain loyal to Naomi. (3) She chose to live among a people whom she did not know, and who were not particularly open to foreigners. She chose the potential of being a social-outcast for life, over the comfort of remaining with her own people.

Indeed, when Ruth followed Naomi, she sacrificed much. And what was the ultimate outcome of her loyalty and sacrifice? She became the wife of Boaz, thereby providing protection and provision for Naomi, and she bore a son named Obed who would become the great-grandfather of King David, and who would be part of the lineage of Jesus the Messiah.

But consider this: Ruth never knew the ultimate outcome of her loyalty to Naomi. She never knew that her son would be the great-grandfather of the second king of Israel and, more so, in the line of the King of kings, Jesus the Messiah. Surely, in his mercy God allowed her to taste the bounty of obedience, but he hid from her, so far as we know, the fullness of his plans.

So, the moral of the story is this: doing the right thing will sometimes cost us dearly, but we must trust and obey the Lord, for though we do not know the fullness of his plans for us, we know the nature of his heart: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).

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