By Sharon Nickerson
Each day we are faced with decisions. While the simple choice of what to have for breakfast needs little thought or prayer, a major life choice requires turning to God and making him the foundation of our decision-making process. In the Bible we see an example of two young women making such an important decision. One woman received magnificent blessings for her choice because she made it with God’s sacrificial heart in mind, while the other was never mentioned in Scripture again.
In the first chapter of Ruth, we find a Hebrew widow, Naomi, who had decided to leave her home in Moab and return to her homeland of Bethlehem, Judah. Her two widowed Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, stayed with her, journeying toward Bethlehem as well. Eventually Naomi stopped the girls and beseeched them to return to Moab.
“Go back, each of you to your mother’s home,” Naomi said as she kissed them goodbye (Ruth 1:8). She prayed each would find a new husband in their land of Moab.
Orpah and Ruth had arrived at a major crossroads in their respective lives. Being unsure of which way to turn, the girls openly wept because they loved their mother-in-law. “We will go back with you to your people,” they cried (v. 10).
“If I should have a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up?” responded Naomi. “It is more bitter for me than you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” (v. 13).
For one daughter-in-law, this statement finalized her decision. She cried, kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, and Orpah headed back to Moab.
Like Lot’s wife in Genesis 19, Orpah still favored her old way of life. Her heart likely leaned in the direction of returning to her former land and its gods and the nudge from Naomi was all that she needed. Jesus warned us, “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:32, 33).
During difficult times, we may consider returning to former lifestyles. Being tempted by the past is a common occurrence. But God can bestow the faith needed to endure the time of temptation. Asking for the faith to endure is necessary. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). In God’s view of time, the temptation and the suffering are “momentary troubles.”
I wonder what went through Orpah’s mind as she decided to turn back. Did she doubt God’s ability to provide? Did she want to return to certain security and hope someone else would provide for her widowed mother-in-law? The same thoughts can infiltrate our minds. Maybe someone else will do the work, make the sacrifice, tend the need. Guilty of those thoughts myself, I behaved like Orpah toward a niece of mine.
Young and rebellious, my niece lived homeless in the state of New York. One Christmas day, she took a bus to visit her grandmother who lived near me. That night, relatives asked me to drive the girl back to the bus station. No one was willing to take her in for the night. One uncle joked, “There’s no room in the inn!” Letting fear rule in my heart instead of faith, I drove her to the station and cried like Orpah when I left her. Five months later, her 23-year-old lifeless body was found in a public park.
Some of our choices are a matter of life and death. I learned the hard way. We are God’s hands and his feet. Opportunities will come that require only a mustard seed of faith and a willing heart. God supplies both at our request.
When it was Ruth’s turn to say goodbye to Naomi, Ruth clung to her. Naomi pleaded with Ruth to follow after Orpah, but Ruth refused. Tearfully asking Naomi not to beg her to return to Moab, Ruth cried, “Where you go, I will go, where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth would be a sweet drink in the bitter cup Naomi now believed was her life.
To Naomi and the people of Judah, Ruth shone as a beacon of God’s love. They knew she sacrificed her future for her mother-in-law’s. She relinquished her right to a husband, home, and family of her own. Romans 12:1 says, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” Supporting herself and Naomi would be Ruth’s life.
Concern for her mother-in-law opened Ruth’s heart, and God filled her with faith. As Queen Esther was called upon to possibly sacrifice herself for her people, Ruth knew a sacrificial calling faced her. Widows were destined for poverty. Ruth would not allow Naomi to face it alone. Her attitude was, “If I perish, I perish!” (Esther 4:16). She prayed only death would part the two of them. Despite Ruth’s strong will, she still needed Naomi to accept her sacrifice, though God already had.
Sacrifice is costly. It acts as a turning point, bringing joy and pain alike. It cost Ruth her freedom to find a husband and a home on her own terms. It costs us whenever we volunteer, care for another, or resist temptation. And it cost Jesus his very life.
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done,” Jesus agonized in prayer (Luke 22:42). His stress level intensified as he faced the cross. His sacrifice had no equal. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground. The Greek word for great is polus, meaning abundant. The word for drops is thrombos, a thickening. Athletic people pour with heavy, salty sweat. Jesus did too. He prayed to be surrendered to the Father’s will. Then as athletes do, he gave his all “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2).
Although Ruth’s sacrifice pales compared to Jesus’ sacrifice, she still handed over her entire life. She worked long hours, sweating in the hot sun, bending repeatedly, gathering their daily bread. They suffered hunger together, she and Naomi, eating their daily ration. Meeting the toil without complaining, Ruth portrayed humble dignity and thankfulness for the meager provision.
Though God veiled her future, Ruth served wholeheartedly. She trusted him for tomorrow’s provision. Eventually what he brought was a new husband named Boaz and a baby boy they named Obed, which means servant. If that wasn’t enough, Ruth’s sacrifice secured her a place in the lineage of Jesus Christ. God completely changed Ruth’s life because she was a willing sacrifice. No longer a starving widow but a rich man’s wife, she entered a promised land of her own.
Yielding to the call of sacrifice draws us to the door of our own promised land. The cross beckons for the laying down of our wants and the practice of obedience so Jesus can shine. Those who acquiesce will endure hardship. Fleshly desires continue to tempt us. Sweating is normal. The future is veiled.
When God clears our vision, we find he replaces a hundredfold what we offered in sacrifice. Jesus said, “No one who has left house or brothers or . . . field, for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers . . . and fields, along with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29, 30).
Ruth did not know where her choice would lead. She could not see her future husband or her place as the great-grandmother of King David or her most famous descendent, the Messiah. She could only see the immediate need and was available to fill it. May we too see the needs before us daily and ask God for a heart of faith to fill those needs, making a God choice, just like Ruth.
Sharon Nickerson is a freelance writer in Weymouth, Massachusetts.