How about another example?
Another famine. Another family that leaves Canaan (now Israel) to seek sustenance elsewhere.
This time the head of the family is Elimelech. He takes his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, and they cross the Jordan into Moab (Ru 1.1-2).
And then he dies (Ru 1.3).
The boys marry Moabite wives, named Orpah and Ruth (Ru 1.4). And then they die (Ru 1.5).
This is a disaster. A woman with no living sons is effectively unsupported. Such women often end up as beggars or prostitutes. The situation is worse for Naomi than for Orpah and Ruth, for two reasons. First, she’s an expat, a foreigner, a “stranger,” “not from around here.” And second, she’s not young enough to attract another husband. She’s bereft, horizonless, hopeless.
One of those problems she can fix. She can go home again. Which she decides to do (Ru 1.6).
Orpah opts to stay with her people (Ru 1.14). That’s clearly the wise choice. Young enough to have children, she can find a nice Moabite man and marry again.
But Ruth shocks us. She opts to go with Naomi, thereby leaving her people and all the life she has ever known (Ru 1.16-17).
There’s no rational explanation for this. She has seen no reason to follow Israel’s God, and as we shall see, Naomi doesn’t seem to either.
And so they arrive in Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Naomi is clearly not pleased with God. She accuses God of emptying her of all that she had (Ru 1.19-21).
And, frankly, she’s right.
Well, these unsupported women have to eat.
Israel’s law says that they can glean grain from the corners of any fields; in fact, farmers are under legal obligation not to harvest the corners (Le 19.9).
So Ruth, the young strong one, goes out looking for a field (Ru 2.2). She goes to the community field in the little town, and she starts gleaning the corners of one section of it. She doesn’t know who it belongs to, and she doesn’t care; it’s all grain to her.
A few hours later the owner shows up (Ru 2.4). He notices the foreigner and inquires of his foreman (Ru 2.5), who says she’s been working hard (Ru 2.6-7). He speaks with her and encourages her to keep gleaning in his section of the field (Ru 2.8-13) and even to eat with his workers (Ru 2.14). He tells his workers to drop grain on purpose for her to pick up (Ru 2.15-16).
Two good people.
By the end of the day she has plenty of grain (Ru 2.17).
Naomi, the empty one, is delighted by what Ruth has gathered (Ru 2.18). And she is astonished when she finds out who the man is. Of all the men in the village, he is the second closest relative, next in line under a legal obligation to restore Elimelech’s property to Naomi (Ru 2.20). She also reads the tea leaves, so to speak: sounds like the man has his eye on the young woman.
So she hatches a plot (Ru 3.1-5), and it works just as she had hoped. Ruth tells the man (whose name, by the way, is Boaz) that he has a legal obligation (Ru 3.6-9), and he demonstrates immediately that he’s willing to do it (Ru 3.10-13); he even fills her apron with seed as a sign of good faith (Ru 3.15). He lays a legal claim to redeem Naomi (Ru 4.1-4) and clears the way to marry Ruth (Ru 4.5-12).
And then, if you’ll pardon my bluntness, he fills her apron with seed a second time, and she has a son (Ru 4.13). Now there is a future for these formerly bereft women.
And what a future it is! Ruth’s son is the grandfather of a boy named David (Ru 4.21-22), Israel’s greatest king and recipient of God’s Messianic covenant (2S 7.8-16). David’s greater Son will redeem Naomi and Ruth and Boaz and you and me and anyone who believes (Ga 4.5; Ti 2.14).
And by the end of the story the baby is not in Ruth’s arms; he’s in Naomi’s (Ru 4.16). God has not emptied her after all; her temporary emptying was simply a step toward a fulfillment far beyond what she could ever have imagined. She becomes a significant part of God’s promise to crush the serpent’s head through the seed of the woman (Ge 3.15)—and an illustration of the process of redemption by which the Seed would accomplish that.
In our pain, let us not dream small dreams. Let us anticipate the kind of good that only God can do.