As I read the genealogy of Jesus, I was struck by the connection of Ruth to another of the women. Rahab was her mother-in-law. Now who knows what their relationship was like – history doesn’t record it – but I love the prospect of these two women doing life together. Rahab, I see as formidable, yet Ruth is just as faithful, perhaps in a quieter way.
Ruth’s adult life begins as we all often imagine ours might. She meets someone and they get married and everyone lives happily ever after, right? Wrong.
Her father-in-law dies. Some time later, her brother-in-law and husband both die too. Their mother Naomi is left in this foreign place with her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Ruth’s story is the narrative of disappointment we can often forget to expect. A dangerous prosperity gospel can have us believe that life will turn out just as we’d hoped and imagined if we pray and believe in God. But this isn’t true. Ruth’s life is a narrative of disappointment despite her faith.
After over ten years of marriage, she has no children. In a society where children, and particularly sons, provide for their parents there is therefore no-one to provide for her. So when her husband dies, she is encouraged to return to her mother’s house, in essence to start from the beginning again. Ruth’s story here mirrors that of Tamar: return to your parent because, in Ruth’s case, there is no son to marry to continue the family line.
Ruth chooses to stay with her mother-in-law – which may seem a baffling choice. There’s the optimism and boldness of moving to a new land offering only new experiences; perhaps there were those convinced that this new land would offer all Ruth had missed out on – yet it disappoints. Her mother-in-law returns to her friends bitter and pained from all she’s experienced. She describes her life as “empty” (Ruth 1:20) without her husband and sons, despite Ruth’s loyalty to her.
Ruth successfully gleans for food and is noticed by the landowner. Yet she must feel further disappointed when, despite boldly approaching Boaz and suggesting through her actions that he buy their family’s land and marry her, he says he must first offer that chance to someone else. She escapes the place before evidence of her actions can be found and misconstrued, and then Naomi says these words “Sit and wait, my daughter, until you learn how this matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today” (3:18).
There is, in all five stories, the wait. And in the narrative of disappointment there is always time to wait. When nothing turns out as you expect you await the pain lessening, the new opportunities, and you sometimes forget that once again your hopes may be dashed and you may experience disappointment again.
Now truth be told Reader, she marries him. She gives birth to a son – the grandfather of King David, of David and Goliath fame. It’s that perfect ending. Yet at the beginning, we often know the end of the story. Within the narrative of our own disappointment, we don’t know the end. We don’t see the twists and turns of the road ahead and how things will veer off in a gloriously or horrifically unexpected direction. And even if we knew the end, we’d cut corners to reach it more quickly. But what does the narrative teach us? It teaches us to wait, to mourn, to plough on, to persist.
“And not only this, but let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance. Such hope never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died [as a substitute] for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:3-6)
And it is this promise that Ruth’s son helps to fulfil; the bringing of Christ to earth to die for our sins. She has experienced hardship, endured, proven her faithfulness and shown a confident assurance in God’s provision. If there’s one thing I would like my own narrative of disappointment to say about me, is that whatever the road may bring, that any hardship will produce patient endurance, the endurance hone my character, and my character develop hope and confidence assurance in God.