I just love the 1936 song “Pick Yourself Up”, first recorded by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for the film Swing Time. My favorite verse is, “Will you remember the famous men who had to fall to rise again? They picked themselves up, dust themselves off and start’d all over again.” This isn’t about a famous man, however. It’s about a famous woman and why her story is in the Bible.
The Bible is an interesting book. Some books of it are so lengthy that they take up over 150 chapters. Others are so short you could fit the entire text of the book onto a postage stamp. Ok, that’s not likely. As I was once admonished, “I’ve told you a million times to stop exaggerating!” But the amazing thing about the Bible is that each of the books is exactly as long as it needs to be; no longer, no shorter. Think for a moment, without even the theological component of the Bible in mind, about what a literary accomplishment it is. A compilation of books, all put together in one book, written over different eras by multiple authors, and not one part of it unnecessary. Could you imagine if the internet tried to write a book that way today? Major news outlets don’t copy edit a thing they publish online. They would rather be first than be right. So goes the internet. Arguments would ensue, divisiveness over which denomination should be dominant in the text, social media outrage, trolling, keyboard commandos, and… you get the picture. Yet, somehow, the best-selling book in the history of the world started out chiseled on tablets and came from letters written to churches. Amazing!
One of those short books of the Bible that tells a powerful story is the book of Ruth. Yes, there was that “other” Ruth, the one they called George Herman Jr, that hit all of those dingers. This Ruth had a very different path to her stardom. Ruth started her journey into her own book of the Bible in one of the most unfortunate ways: as a widow.
Elimelech and Naomi from Bethlehem, along with their two sons Kilion and Mahlon, moved to Moab. There, Kilion and Mahlon married Moab women. Kilion married Orpah, and Mahlon married Ruth. Everyone would live happily ever after – for about 10 years. That’s when great tragedy struck them. Elimelech and his sons Kilion and Mahlon all died, leaving Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth as widows. Grief-stricken and with no blood relatives left in Moab, Naomi decided to pick herself up, dust herself off, and start all over again by moving back to Bethlehem. Although Orpah and Ruth tried to follow Naomi there, Naomi pleaded with them to go back to Moab. In Ruth 1:11-13, Naomi said to Orpah and Ruth:
Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, “There’s still hope!” and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. GOD has dealt me a hard blow.
Orpah and Ruth both cried at the thought of leaving Naomi. Orpah eventually relented and returned to Moab. Ruth, however, stayed with Naomi and followed her to Bethlehem.
Once Ruth arrived there, she immediately realized she was in a strange town and knew no one but Naomi. She realized, after the emotion of the moment had passed from deciding to follow Naomi, that she too had picked herself up, dusted herself off, and started all over again. Feeling alone and being an outsider, Ruth had no idea how she was going to make it. Then Naomi remembered having a family friend in Bethlehem and decided to mention it to Ruth. This would prove to be a pivotal point in the ancestry of the world. Naomi knew a man named Boaz, who made his living through harvesting of grain. Ruth went to work in one of Boaz’s fields, and Boaz was immediately drawn to her. In Ruth 2:10-13, their first encounter in the harvesting field was as follows:
She dropped to her knees, then bowed her face to the ground. “How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly—me, a foreigner?” Boaz answered her, “I’ve heard all about you—heard about the way you treated your mother-in-law after the death of her husband, and how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to live among a bunch of total strangers. GOD reward you well for what you’ve done—and with a generous bonus besides from GOD, to whom you’ve come seeking protection under his wings.” She said, “Oh sir, such grace, such kindness—I don’t deserve it. You’ve touched my heart, treated me like one of your own. And I don’t even belong here!”
More than just grain was planted that day; the seeds of a blossoming romance were planted. As Boaz and Ruth became more enchanted with one another, Naomi hatched a plan for Ruth. In Ruth 3:1-4, the plan unfolded as follows:
One day her mother-in-law Naomi said to Ruth, “My dear daughter, isn’t it about time I arranged a good home for you so you can have a happy life? And isn’t Boaz our close relative, the one with whose young women you’ve been working? Maybe it’s time to make our move. Tonight is the night of Boaz’s barley harvest at the threshing floor. Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do.”
Taking a bath is always a good idea before you try to get married, isn’t it? In all seriousness, it worked. After a “closer relative” refused to buy Elimelech’s property and take Ruth in marriage, the path was cleared for Boaz and Ruth to marry. They did, and they had a son, and lived happily ever after. Again.
Why is this short, simple story in the Bible? Two reasons. The first? Ruth’s son, Obed, became part of a very special ancestry. In Ruth 4:17-22, we learn:
The neighborhood women started calling him “Naomi’s baby boy!” But his real name was Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. This is the family tree of Perez: Perez had Hezron, Hezron had Ram, Ram had Amminadab, Amminadab had Nahshon, Nahshon had Salmon, Salmon had Boaz, Boaz had Obed, Obed had Jesse, and Jesse had David.
David! Yes, that David! King David! And guess whose lineage came from King David? There were a couple of folks in Bethlehem one night that had this baby that slept in a manger. Yes, Ruth became a direct part of the lineage of Jesus Christ (see Matthew and Luke)! An ancestor of Jesus! Now that is turning things around in life! From widow in Moab to great, great, great, great, great, great, great (not enough greats, but you get the idea) grandmother of Jesus! I’m impressed.
I think that is the other reason the story of Ruth is in the Bible. No, not because I’m impressed by it. I think it’s in there as an inspiration to us all that no matter what happens to us in life, we can overcome. We can take stock of where we are and what we have and move forward. Just like the song says, we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves up, and start all over again. We have to. Life moves forward with or without us, so onward we must march. Besides, how do we know we don’t have more in store in front of us than we’ve had behind?
I want to share some lyrics from a song I wrote about 25 years ago. They inspire me to keep looking up with eternal optimism for the future. Here goes: “Why doesn’t God always give us what we want? Why won’t he sometimes give us what we need? Maybe we’re meant to have more. Maybe he’s opening the door to the better things in store. That’s what God is for.”
Fight the good fight. Pray. Believe in yourself and in God’s plan for you. You can persevere, overcome, and find new purpose in your life. You can do it! Ruth has showed us it is so.
May God bless you, now and always.