When it comes to the book of Ruth, the way the story has been told for years was that there was one hero in this story: Boaz, the family member who saves Ruth and her sad mother-in-law.
James points out that Naomi is a “female Job.” In the patriarchal culture in which she lives, Naomi’s role is to provide sons for her husband. But then Elimelech dies, as do her sons. Being past her childbearing years, she has no future, no identity. So Naomi decides to return to her homeland as a famine refugee. En route, she emancipates her daughters-in-law, giving them permission to return home and hopefully find new husbands in their own culture.
For these women—and many women around the world still—their futures hinge on marriage and bearing sons.
But as we know and will hear in today’s reading, Ruth decides to stay with Naomi. This is no small feat. In their patriarchal culture, young women didn’t get to make decisions. But she finds her voice and uses it. And that changes the trajectory of her life.
As you listen, put yourself in Naomi’s shoes. Imagine all she goes through—the famine that has her and her husband move to a foreign land, the loss of the men in her life, the loss of identity, and the long walk back to Bethlehem, where the famine from years past is finally over, but her soul is famished. Think of what it would be like to be Ruth, an undocumented immigrant heading to a land she has never known.
Also, consider how God uses suffering and tragedy in both Naomi’s life and that of Ruth to bring them to an understanding of God’s loving-kindness. But in today’s chapter, they’re not there yet. Today, Naomi does not yet see hope, and Ruth is but on the cusp of finding her identity outside of her own culture.
If you’re fresh out of hope today, hang in here for the next few days and see if you can learn something from this Hebrew widow and her Arab daughter-in-law.
In the end, I hope you’ll see that God is the only hero in the story but that we can learn from the alliance between Naomi, Ruth, and later, Boaz.