My subject today is Ruth – a biblical character much talked about and already featured in an earlier Thought for the Day.
Andrew Jewell spoke one recent Sunday night of hearing the call of God coming in at the edges of our lives along with an awareness of the other world. Ruth was such an example of that: a young Moabite girl into whose consciousness there had broken an awareness of the world of God and of God Himself. We see her in contrast with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth had caught a sight of God. She had caught something from that other world, and it was almost certainly through Naomi. It might have been through her husband, her father-in-law, her brother-in-law, but her subsequent behaviour with Naomi tells us something of what Naomi has meant to her. She has been stripped of all that could make life very sweet. She has lost her husband, her father-in-law and her brother-in-law, but she stays with Naomi. And Naomi also has been stripped of what could make life sweet to her: she has lost her husband and her two sons. She decides to return to her own country, which she left in the time of famine, to go back to the land of Israel. Her name means ‘pleasant’, but she feels life has been bitter, to the extent that she says: ‘Call me Mara’ (which means ‘bitter’), because of the suffering that has come into her circumstances. That suffering has come into Ruth’s circumstances too, but she is not bitter. Her name means ‘vision of beauty’. She seems to me to be one who has so caught the sound of the eternal call that it has captured her vision. She is determined to stay by Naomi and says to her:
Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God. (Ruth 1:16)
‘Don’t ask me to leave – I want your God – I want to be amongst your people.’ She is not one who has reacted as many (even Christians) can do in difficult circumstances when they turn to blame God. She is not one who says: ‘Well, I’ll trust my own gods from Moab – I’ll not trust your God.’
‘No,’ she says: ‘Naomi, I want your God.’ What an example she is to us! Independent of life’s circumstances, she says: ‘I want God’ – even when Naomi is saying: ‘Ruth, what can I do for you? You stay in your own land, return to your own gods.’ How bitter Naomi had become in that hour that she said: ‘You don’t want to follow my God. Return to your own gods.’ But Ruth has seen enough to say: ‘No, I’m coming.’ And she comes with Naomi into Naomi’s own land and back to Bethlehem.
There is something about Ruth that attracts attention, that makes Boaz (the kinsman who ultimately was to become her husband) say to her: ‘The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.’ The draw of God is upon her soul. She is just a young girl, but she has caught the vision. She is not thinking of all that she’s lost: she is thinking of what she could find in God. What an example! To me she is like the life that Christ speaks of, into which the good seed of the word has fallen, the fruitful soil that will bring forth a hundredfold in reward. Boaz treats her with great kindness and gives her advice as she is gleaning: ‘Don’t go to any other field. Stay in my field with my harvesters and you’ll be safe: I’ll take care of you.’
When she goes back to her mother-in-law, Naomi says: ‘Where have you gleaned today?’
It’s a question that God could ask of us sometimes: ‘Where have you gleaned today? Where have you gleaned this week?’ In other words: ‘Where have you been gathering your food? Where have you been going, what have you been looking at and feeding on in your inner being? And the word comes to us from God: ‘Stay in My field. Don’t go into another field looking for something. Even if life has been difficult, don’t go to another field: stay with Me in My harvest field. Stay with My harvesters.’ And others can help us. They are there who have gone ahead of us, who know God better than we do. They are there to help us find the way. But Ruth had had to find the way by herself, initially. She had to have her own integrity and a decision made in her own heart: ‘I have seen the vision of beauty … visions of God – just a glimpse – and the draw of the eternal world is on me.’
Does it seem mystical language? You know, it is wonderfully true. What keeps a soul faithful to God ultimately is when we have caught sight of the vision of beauty, when we have caught sight of the eternal realm that makes everything in the world seem faded and tasteless, until nothing in this world seems sweet unless it has the touch of God on it, and then the simplest things seem rich and satisfying and sweet. So it was for Ruth: content to glean there in that field, humbly waiting, until the hour came when Boaz made her his bride. She makes us think of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will take His church to be His own Bride, a church – oh! let her be a people that have found Him and have loved Him and are not ashamed of Him, that have heard His voice calling:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart. (Hosea 2:14)
It’s a cold kind of religion until God has spoken to our hearts and our hearts have responded. It’s not then a duty; it’s not a set of rules; it’s not just a challenge; but it is a contract, a covenant between us and our God in our inner beings. It’s a covenant of faithfulness, for He will never be unfaithful to us.
And Naomi? She did suffer; her suffering was real. But she had been perhaps brought down into that land of Moab just in order to find Ruth and bring back that one who was to be the direct ancestor of Christ. And I don’t think she remained bitter. She found, and was told even by others: ‘Your daughter-in-law is better to you than seven sons.’
But let us beware as we travel through life, as the years pass upon us – don’t lose sight of the vision of loveliness. Don’t lose sight of that that first charmed your heart and caused you to follow Christ. Never let life become bitter because of circumstances. Never doubt God. And never lose the thrill of belonging to Jesus Christ our Saviour.
Thou vision of undying loveliness,
Once glimpsed, cannot by any be outshone.
No fragrant morning, noon or dappled evening
Compare in any facet with the Son.
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