As I read the genealogy of Jesus, I was struck by the connection of Ruth to another of the women. Rahab, according to some interpretations of Luke’s geneaology, was Ruth’s mother-in-law. Now threads posted a helpful piece a while ago on getting along with your mother-in-law, and who knows what Ruth and Rahab’s relationship was – history doesn’t record it – but I love the idea of these two women doing life together. Rahab I see as formidable, yet Ruth is just as faithful – but perhaps in a quieter way.
Ruth’s adult life begins as many of us often imagine ours might: she meets someone and they get married and everyone lives happily ever after, right? Wrong.
Ruth’s story is a narrative of disappointment – one 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 more than 10 years of marriage, Ruth has no husband and no children. In a society where children, and particularly sons, provide for their parents, there is 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 parents 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 with Naomi, offering only new experiences; perhaps there were those convinced that this new land would offer all Ruth had yet missed out on – yet it disappoints.
Her mother-in-law returns to her friends; to a place where Ruth knows only Naomi, who is 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.” (Ruth 3:18).
There is, in all the stories of the women of Jesus’ genealogy, 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.
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 within the narrative of our own disappointment, we often 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 unexpected direction. And even if we knew the end, we’d cut corners to reach it more quickly. But what does this narrative teach us? It teaches us to wait, to mourn, to plough on, and above all, 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)
It’s 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, it’s that whatever the road may bring, that any hardship will produce patient endurance – the endurance to hone my character, and the character to develop hope and confident assurance in God.