Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and man (Proverbs 3:3-4 NIV).
Sounds like a slogan. You've probably read, recited, or sung those words at some time or the other. But what do they mean? I'm not talking about a dictionary definition, but what do they mean in the life of a real person! What does it look like to actually live these words? What do these words look like with skin on?
We don't have to go far to find the answer. The eighth book of the Bible, Ruth, tells us a beautiful love story that powerfully shows us what it means to "let love and faithfulness never leave you." And the heroine of the story is a Moabite woman. The people of Moab were hated by true Israelites. So for her to even make the Good Book was amazing. For her to be the star of a book in the Bible is testimony to God's grace and His love for all peoples and of Ruth's "love and faithfulness."
Ruth displays "love and faithfulness" in the harshest of circumstances: her Jewish husband dies and her mother-in-law, Naomi, prepares to return home. Before Naomi leaves, however, she releases Ruth from any sense of responsibility or loyalty to her:
"Go back ... to your mother's home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband" (Ruth 1:8-9 TNIV).
But "love and faithfulness" define Ruth's character. She replies with words that still are alive today with promise, hope, love, and faithfulness:
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 (Ruth 1:16-17 TNIV).
Ruth journeys with Naomi back to Naomi's home, living in the shadow of Naomi's bitterness (Ruth 1:19-21) and also Naomi's love. Grief has a way of breaking us in places that words and slogans cannot mend. However, Ruth's "love and faithfulness" sustain Naomi, both physically and emotionally. Ruth finds food for Naomi and herself.
Ruth's loyalty stirs Naomi to help play the matchmaker as she instructs Ruth on how to win the heart of a special man of faithfulness, Boaz. Ruth's "love and faithfulness," and no doubt her hard work and attractiveness, catch Boaz's eye (Ruth 2:11-12). He makes sure Ruth is protected and given the opportunity to gather grain to take care of her needs and those of Naomi. Meanwhile, Naomi helps Ruth know the proper way to capture the heart of Boaz.
The story ends sweetly, with Boaz taking Ruth to be his wife, Ruth having a baby and blessing Naomi with a family, and God surprising us all by choosing the lineage of both King David and His Son Jesus to include Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:13-22). The thread of grace that runs through this whole story is Ruth's "love and faithfulness" and God's grace and mercy. Boaz' words sum it all up beautifully:
I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband-how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge (Ruth 2:11-12 TNIV).
"Love and faithfulness" are character qualities of God (Exodus 34:6). Not only does He desire these in us, He displays them repeatedly to us. So when as we travel through life, "love and faithfulness" tune us to God. They catch us up into His holy character. They allow God's grace and mercy to permeate our lives and include us in God's ongoing story in ways we could never imagine.
Think of the wonder. A no name young widow from a hated country with a bitter mother-in-law leaves her home, goes to live in a little dumpy town called Bethlehem, and ends up in the royal line of King David and the list of those from whom our Savior comes (Matthew 1:5-6). What a journey, and what a reminder God's traveling mercies for those who make their trip through all of life's ups and downs with "love and faithfulness."
The following questions are for your personal thought and for discussion with others as you consider the story of Ruth. Of course I'd love to hear from you on my blog about your response to the story of Ruth, the message you've just read, or the questions below: http://www.heartlight.org/thephilfiles
Why do you think God chose a foreigner and a widow to be in the lineage of King David and of His Son Jesus?
After you have read the four chapters in the book of Ruth, what are the verses you have highlighted?
- What do you think are the most important things said about Ruth?
- What do you think are the most important things said about God?
- What happens to Ruth's "love and faithfulness" if Boaz is not a person of "love and faithfulness"?
We sometimes force grieving people to pretend they are okay because we don't really want them to say how they are really doing. Yet Naomi is an example of bold honesty about her bitterness (Ruth 1:19-21).
- What can we learn from Naomi's honesty?
- Do you think it displeased God or stirred God's heart with mercy and grace?
- How did Ruth's "love and faithfulness" demonstrated by her actions help Naomi?
- How can we demonstrate our "love and faithfulness" to our friends in their time of grief?
If you were to summarize the message of the book of Ruth in one sentence, what would you say in that one sentence?