GEMS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT (FIFTH IN A SERIES)
One of the popular topics for jokes is mothers-in-law. Generally, the nature of these amusements is not very complimentary, as they poke fun at perceived weaknesses, shortcomings, and failings. Lighthearted quips can be good for the spirits, but not when they are demeaning to others. The Lord wants us to show respect for one another, and especially for those who represent Him (see the Fourth Commandment). His good and righteous will for us is to build up one another, rather than tear down others with unkind words.
When we survey the Old Testament account of Ruth, we see that it was not Ruth’s way to make fun of her mother-in-law Naomi. Even when Naomi’s life turned rather sour, so that she preferred to be called Mara—which means bitter—rather than by her given name—which means pleasant—Ruth did not speak disparagingly of her mother-in-law. Instead, she showed the utmost respect and loving concern for Naomi.
While living in the foreign land of Moab during a time of drought back in Israel, Naomi was having a difficult time dealing with the deaths of her husband and two sons. When making plans to return home, she was faced with the prospect of having no means of support in her old age. With all this hanging over her head, was she hard to live with for her two widowed daughters-in-law? Perhaps.
Ruth, not thinking of herself and her personal future advantages, was not about to let her mother-in-law return home all alone. In the spirit of selfless love, she made this well-known plea and declaration to Naomi: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17). What an extraordinary commitment for a young non-Hebrew woman!
Life was not easy for Ruth; it was difficult to put food on the table for herself and Naomi. She spent long hours of sweaty, back-breaking work in grain fields, gleaning barley and wheat. When she received a neighborly invitation to a meal during the work day, she saved part of her portion for her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:14-18). After toiling all day in the hot sun, Ruth came home with about a half-bushel of grain. This would make close to 20 loaves of bread to help sustain the two women.
Not only did Ruth work hard and long in order to support her mother-in-law, she was also willing to marry a much older man for the sake of preserving the family name and the heritage of Elimelech (Naomi’s late husband) and Naomi.
In all of this, we see the gracious hand of God at work. It was the Lord who brought Ruth into a Christian family where she learned to know and believe in her Savior-God. It was the Lord who worked the spirit of Christian love in the heart of Ruth so that she gave of herself for the sake of her mother-in-law. And it was also the Lord who, according to His providential will and gracious planning, included the Moabitess Ruth in the family tree of the Savior of the world; for she was the great-grandmother
Ruth was richly blessed by the Lord, according to His abundant grace and mercy, for being a woman who would have no part in making fun of her mother-in-law, but who rather went the extra mile for
the benefit of her mother-in-law.
Mark Gullerud is pastor of
Redeemer Lutheran Church in Bowdle, South Dakota, and Zion Lutheran Church in Ipswich, South Dakota.