The past couple of evenings Jeanie and I have read the books of Ruth and Esther just before we retired. They are very different books in setting, culture, and literary style, but both the women they feature profoundly impacted Jewish history. We were blessed to consider their lives again, and I thought these ancient stories would encourage you in your holy expectation.
The book of Esther tells the remarkable story of an attempt to annihilate the Jewish people, and how a Jewish orphan girl, by God’s providence, was in a position to intervene for them by being dramatically chosen to become Queen of Persia, capturing the favor of all who encountered her. (Esther 2) It’s a stunning story, and very interesting as a part of the biblical record because it makes no reference to God, or prayer, nor does it purport to teach any doctrine or principle. It is just a fascinating human interest story, and a stirring testament to the impact one person of humility and courage can have.
Esther’s uncle Mordecai, a minor official in the Persian court of Xerxes, had raised her from infancy. When a wicked politician schemed to have the Jews exterminated, Mordecai challenged Queen Esther to put her life on the line for her people with a question that should energize every Christian to value where God has positioned him; “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” It is impossible to calculate how strategically important to the kingdom of God our lives and humble service will ultimately be.
Like Esther, Ruth had an unpromising start in life. She was a descendant of Moab, a gentile woman who married a Jewish man who had come to Moab to avoid a famine, but she was soon widowed. Her mother-in-law and sister-in-law were both widowed as well, and they were all pretty much destitute. The mother-in-law, Naomi, a woman of the tribe of Judah, decided to return to her homeland but encouraged her widowed daughters-in-law to make a life for themselves in Moab. It was a heart wrenching time for them.
Listen to Ruth’s touching plea to remain with 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.” So Ruth and Naomi journeyed to Bethlemen, Judah, where Naomi was born. They found a place to stay with relatives. Since it was the beginning of the wheat and barley harvest, Ruth began to glean (gather) fallen wheat and barley heads from the fields, a rough equivalent to “welfare” in the ancient world.
Interestingly, the bible says Ruth just “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech,” Naomi’s diseased husband. I always go on ‘alert’ when I read in the scriptures how things ‘just happened,’ and I’m still amazed how God helps and blesses good folks in ways that are unmistakably providential. Soon Ruth caught the attention of the wealthy Boaz, and throughout the harvest he instructed the reapers to “let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not rebuke her.”
Read this story again, won’t you? Eventually Ruth’s diligence, humility, and obedience to Naomi became widely known, leading Boaz to admire her, and eventually marry her. In so doing he redeemed all the land that belonged to Naomi’s family, restoring their inheritance. Soon Ruth bore Boaz a son and they called him Obed. I’m touched when I read the Word as it reveals the purposeful hand of God; “And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:17) The humble Gentile girl became great-grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, and a part of the lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:5, 6)
Here’s what we can take away from this: neither of these young women had any inkling of what God had in store for them, and neither do you or I. But both of them were guided by their loving relationship to older, wiser souls and by the character that is developed by that kind of humility. It reminds us to value the godly people the Lord has put in our lives, for often they play an important, though sometimes unwitting role in helping us get where we’re going.
Ruth and Esther were not women of achievement but were the humble recipients of God’s grace, a blessing that took them far beyond what human effort could have produced. And their lovely character could best be observed as they dealt with some very profound personal struggles.
Isn’t it time to cease lamenting our perceived lack of success, or accomplishment, or notoriety, and recognize God’s capacity to weave our modest lives into the tapestry of His glorious kingdom agenda? Who of us can say what is truly significant along this journey? Truthfully, my life has be altered dramatically on several occasions by a word or deed performed almost unconsciously by another of God’s saints who was just being ‘themselves.’
So, beloved, just keep being who you are, because it’s making a difference you have little ability to see. But we see it, and appreciate it! Just think how the Lord must treasure you!