Ruth Chapters 1-2: God at Work through Hardship
Note: PRS.work is a plug-and-play video Bible Study. Everything you need to connect the Bible to your work is in the video above. Feel free to press play and just listen. Or follow along with the transcript below.
Welcome to PRS.work, a video series that helps us hear the Bible together at work. In this video you'll hear a brief introduction, a Psalm read as an opening prayer, a long passage from the Bible, and a commentary about what this means for work, workers, and the workplace. When the video ends you can discuss how this applies to your work.
The book of Ruth shows God working through the joys and hardships of our day-to-day lives. In Chapter 1 we meet a family struggling to survive. All the men in the family die and the widow Naomi decides to return to Israel in search of food. Her loyal daughter-in-law Ruth vows to go with her, although she herself is not an Israelite.
In Naomi’s hometown Ruth meets Boaz, a man of noble character, who allows her to work in his fields. Boaz protects Ruth and notices her high character.
Before reading along to a dramatic recording of Ruth Chapters 1 and 2, we will open with Psalm 145 in prayer.
A Praise of David.
I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
5 I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.
6 Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts,
And I will declare Your greatness.
7 They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness,
And shall sing of Your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
9 The Lord is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.
10 All Your works shall praise You, O Lord,
And Your saints shall bless You.
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
12 To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look expectantly to You,
And You give them their food in due season.
16 You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
18 The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
19 He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
20 The Lord preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
21 My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever.
Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4 Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. 7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.”
So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
16 But Ruth said:
“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.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.
19 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz. 2 So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.”
And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”
3 Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!”
And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!”
5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”
6 So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.”
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”
10 So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
11 And Boaz answered and said to her, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
13 Then she said, “Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”
14 Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back. 15 And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.”
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 Then she took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied.
19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.”
So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.”
20 Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.”
21 Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’ ”
22 And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that people do not meet you in any other field.” 23 So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.
God at Work through Hardship
From the Theology of Work Bible Commentary on Ruth
The book of Ruth tells the extraordinary story of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the life and work of three ordinary people, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. As they work through both economic hardship and prosperity, we see God’s faithfulness create opportunities for fruitful work. Their faithfulness to God brings the blessing of provision and security to each other and the people around them.
The story begins with a famine “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). This was a time when the people of Israel had abandoned God’s ways and fallen into idolatry, horrific social conditions, and a disastrous civil war. The nation had not been following the precepts of Torah with respect to work or anything else. As a result, the socio-economic fabric of society was falling apart, and a famine gripped the land.
Responding to the famine, Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their two sons moved to Moab—a move of desperation given the long enmity between Israel and Moab. We do not know whether they were successful in finding work, but the sons both found wives in Moab. Within ten years tragedy struck, and all the men died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law without husbands. The three widows had to support themselves without the legal and economic rights accorded to men in their society. They had no clear title to land, and no resources with which to make a living.
In this time of hardship, God demonstrated his faithfulness to Israel by restoring the productivity of their land. Naomi decided to return to the land of Israel, and urged her daughter-in-laws to return to their families. Ruth refused. Ruth mirrored God’s faithfulness through her faithfulness to Naomi.
“Where you go I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth’s promise was not a plea to stay on as a passive consumer in what remained of Elimelech’s household, but a commitment to support her mother-in-law as much as she was able. Although not an Israelite herself, she seems to have been living according to the Law of Israel, as embodied in the 5th Commandment, “Honor your mother and father.” The restoration of productive work for her and her family began with her commitment to working in faithfulness to God’s law.
God’s faithfulness underlies human productivity, but people have to do the actual work. Ruth was eager to work hard to support herself and Naomi. “Let me go to the field,” she implored Naomi when she got to Israel. When Ruth was given a chance to work, her co-workers reported that “she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment” (Ruth 2:7).
Her work was exceptionally productive. When she came home after her first day at work and beat out the barley from the stalks, her harvest yielded a full ephah of grain—approximately five gallons of barley.
Through Ruth’s work, God provided for Ruth and Naomi during their time of hardship. Ruth did not have a steady job with regular hours or a paycheck. She was anxious about whether her station in life would be enough to find “favor” for employment (Ruth 2:12). She went to work anyway. Many of the conditions we face today are deeply discouraging. Ruth’s example is that we are called to work nonetheless. Our work might not even earn any income at first. It could be volunteering to help others, caring for family members, getting education or training, or caring for our homes.
The saving grace is that God is the power behind our work. We do not depend on our own ability or the circumstances around us to provide for our needs. Instead, we work faithfully as we are able. God in turn is faithful to his promise of fruitfulness. This gives us confidence that our work is worthwhile. We can have hope even in the most adverse situations. We are seldom able to see in advance how God can make use of our work to fulfill his promises. But God’s power extends far beyond what we can see.
How Does This Apply To Your Work?