THE COST OF LOYALTY
Can the Old Testament help us in our world today? Our culture is so different to theirs, can we read the Old Testament and be transformed as we are so easily when we read the New Testament? My answer is absolutely, when you truly understand the culture and journey of the people in the Old Testament, their bravery, their valour, their strength, in following the one true God, I am constantly overwhelmed and inspired to follow in their footsteps. It is really quite incredible considering the Holy Spirit was not dwelling in them but resided on them for empowerment. Do a quick study on Pneumatology in the Old Testament for more on this.
When we come to this tiny book of Ruth, it can become relegated to a romance novel with not much theological content but I beg to differ and Michael Els, our TYB contributor, is going to show you how much punch this tiny book contains. Actually, the NKJV Study Bible says “This poignant, fascinating, emotionally gripping, and historically significant narrative might be called the Crown Jewel of the Old Testament. Herein is not only a literary masterpiece, but a record of the genealogy of David, the crowned king of Israel appointed by God to sire the line leading to the Messiah’s royal and endless rule.” What a book we are about to read!
As you read Ruth take your time and think about the cultural aspects they are presenting to you, you will get so much more out of the book, think about Ruth gathering wheat for food, think about Boaz sharing a contract with his shoe! Write down your thoughts about Boaz as he saves Ruth and Naomi from death and think about our ‘Kinsman-Redeemer’ who saved us and gave us eternal life. There is so much in this incredible book, today I want to focus on one theme of loyalty and Ruth’s loyalty came at a time where everyone else was looking after themselves. Let me show you!
The first line of the book gives you the context
Ruth 1:1 “In the days when the judges ruled,”
We can see in the book of Judges 21:25 what these days looked like, it says “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” The time that the book of Ruth was set was a time of self-preservation, everyone did as they saw fit, Keener in the Cultural Bible Background expands on this:
“Not only was Israel embroiled in chaos at this time, but most of the ancient world was as well. The Egyptians, Hittites and Mesopotamians were in general decline, Greece was undergoing political upheaval; and the Sea Peoples (which included the Philistines) were wreaking havoc in the Mediterranean basin.”
And into this chaos and confusion we throw a famine and we find the setting for this incredible story of redemption. Now the author introduces Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, having just all lost their husbands, Naomi losing her husband and her sons and now we have total chaos. They are in Moab a foreign land for Naomi and without provision.
Now in this culture today we look at this situation and probably do not understand the complexity of how bad this is – you can see the dire situation Naomi finds herself in with her seemingly over dramatic statement in 1:20-21 “Don’t call me Naomi, she told them “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
I’m not sure about you but when I first read this I thought wow, you’re a bit of a drama queen! You’ll be right! Let me explain to you what happened to a widow in those times, a widow that does not have sons or grandsons or anyone to ‘redeem’ them.
Women in those days had little to no opportunity to get a job or career for themselves, they were dependent on their husbands for food and to take care of them. So, if a husband died the widow would rely on her sons to take care of her, but Naomi’s sons also died so at this stage she would possibly need to sell herself into slavery, resort to prostitution or die. She is now removed from the status of society in which she once had and now is in the category of orphans, widows and foreigners. Into the chaos of an already selfish time, in famine and without provision we find these three women.
Naomi tries to send Orpah and Ruth home to ‘her mother’s home’. What does this mean? This signifies that she is sending them home for them to find a husband to take care of them, she is sending them back to their mother’s home in Moab while Naomi goes on alone back to Bethlehem without any means of redemption. She is basically signing her own death sentence. Orpah goes but in an incredible act of loyalty and faithfulness Ruth signs her own death warrant alongside Naomi and stays with her. I love the statement of Ruth in 1:16 “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” This is so incredible and admirable knowing the culture and life of a widow.
In a time when ‘everyone was doing as they saw fit” this incredible woman stayed faithful and loyal to Naomi and gave away her own comfort to help and support another. Loyalty costs and in society today where self-preservation, selfishness and “selfies” rule, loyalty is fading away. Today as you read the book of Ruth, look at the cost of loyalty that Ruth paid, she left her home and went with Naomi into a life of widowhood and rejection. It was a desolate situation, Ruth had to go to Boaz’ field and collect the scraps that fell behind the harvesters, so they could eat. Now we know that God turned her life around, with a typology of Christ, the Kinsman Redeemer Boaz, which Michael is going to take you through in the Deep Dive, but Ruth didn’t know the ending of the story at the point of her decision to be loyal was at the cost of her life.
It is into this incredible step of loyalty steps the Kinsman Redeemer, to turn the whole situation around. You will find in life that loyalty to a person, to your faith, to Jesus and to integrity will cost you something. It will cost you your friends, possibly your family and at times your comfort and security. But know this, God will vindicate you, he will step into your story and turn it around for good. God turned these two women’s lives around so much so that they are part of the lineage of King David (4:18-22). From a place of rejection and begging for food, to a place of honour!
One more thing to note here is that Ruth wasn’t being loyal to God, it doesn’t say that she was doing this out of a heartfelt conviction to follow God it says that she was being loyal to Naomi. I pray that as you read this beautiful book of redemption and salvation that you would be renewed with a heart of loyalty, not just to our God and to Jesus but to the Godly relationships that God has put around you. Loyalty and faithfulness paved the path for Ruth’s destiny and it will yours. Your destiny is found in the people around you.
Perhaps today you are facing a loyalty test, you can choose to be loyal and faithful and it will cost you or you can forfeit loyalty and remain in comfort. I pray that you would have the wisdom and courage of Ruth to be loyal and to know that God will honour your loyalty. Your path of loyalty will be your path of destiny!
Have a great time reading this timeless book of Ruth!