The story of Ruth is essentially a love story with all the necessary story-line twists to make it compelling. Having been widowed and living in a pagan land, she was reduced to absolute poverty from which she had no way of rescuing herself. From this place of utter desolation, she had only one place to look, which is true of us all so much of the time – and that was to God and his people.

During a time of political anarchy and faithlessness to God, Israel was afflicted with a famine. Elimelech and Naomi, along with their sons Mahlon and Chilion, migrated to neighboring Moab, even though Israelis and Moabites usually detested one another; having shared a long history of uneasy co-existence which was broken only by outright belligerence. The Moabites were descendants of Lot’s eldest daughter, resulting from her incestuous relationship with her father; the child named Moab – who was coincidentally a second cousin to Jacob. (Genesis 19:30-38) Later, as the Israelites were approaching the promised land at the tail end of their exodus from Egypt, they were confronted by the Moabite King Balak, who hired Balaam, an Israeli seer, to curse Israel in an attempt to defeat them without actually risking a fight. (Numbers 22-24) They were almost successful, despite Balaam’s refusal to co-operate, when Moabite women intentionally seduced many of the Israili men, enticing them to then worship their idolatrous god as well; incurring God’s wrath and punishment. (Numbers 25)

Times were desperate for Elimelech’s family; they would have to be to convince even a nominally devout Jew to move to Moab. But like Abraham before them, they decided to leave their home for a land that appeared better able to provide for their needs. They too would pay a steep price for their decision. First Elimelech died, leaving Naomi stranded with her two sons in a foreign land, who had married women from that culture. After a number of years, they too died, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law destitute.

Once more on the brink of disaster, Naomi decided to return to the land she and her family should have never left. Initially, both girls expressed a desire to accompany her to Bethlehem. Naomi realized that the odds were slim that their futures would improve much in Israel, so she encouraged them to remain in Moab and return to their families; to which Orpah agreed, “…but Ruth clung to her.” She was determined to stay by her mother-in-law’s side, proving worthy of her name – which means friendship – in committing her life not just to Naomi but to Naomi’s people and God as well. (See Ruth 1:16,17) Although not started under the best of circumstances, Naomi and her family’s witness had evidently made a lasting impression on Ruth, leading her to a faith – however meager at first – that compelled her to follow Naomi to the land of Yahweh and his people. Her subsequent life in Israel proved the value of her decision and the faithfulness of God to bless whoever chooses to follow the path of righteousness. As a result of her allegiance to Naomi, a deepening familiarization with God and a willingness to work hard – she became a blessing to all about her even as she was blessed.

Boaz, whose fields Ruth found employment in, was a rich land-owner and relative of Elimelech (Ruth 2:1); being a direct descendant of Rahab, another rather notorious foreign woman. (See Matthew 1:5& Joshua 2:1) This could in part explain his sympathetic reaction to Ruth’s predicament, seeing her as someone who aspired to faith and citizenship in the kingdom of God as his great-grandmother had. Besides which he had heard of her diligent faithfulness to Naomi, earning his admiration and willingness to help; his concern and generous provision eventually blossoming into love.

As a result of Ruth’s long-suffering tenacity and desire to live a new life, she was rewarded beyond her wildest dreams. (See Ephesians 3:20) With membership in a new family and the family of God, she was then destined to be the great-grandmother of King David; becoming a magnificent example of the opportunities available for every redeemed believer who responds to God’s will.

The story of another foreign woman who encountered the One True God is found in the New Testament, although she goes un-named – merely being referred to as the Samaritan Woman. She is remembered exclusively for her response to an encounter with Christ; going to her friends and encouraging them to, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” John 4:29

Her encounter with Jesus while drawing water from Jacob’s Well that day transformed her life forever. The Samaritan countryside had once been part of Israel, having been the first piece of real estate actually owned by a descendant of Abraham. (See Joshua 24:32) It had been “contaminated”, however, by a mixed-race of pagans and Israelis after the Northern Kingdom’s conquest by the Assyrians in 722 B.C.; subsequently building up a distinct culture and religion combining certain aspects of Judaism and imported pagan beliefs, their center of worship situated on Mt. Gerizim.

Despite the importance of this land to their heritage, most Jews’ contempt for Samaritans precluded even walking through their territory, making a detour between Jerusalem and Galilee a must. But Jesus, as he so often did, broke with convention; astonishing his disciples and the Samaritans by speaking publically to a non-relative female in asking her assistance in getting a drink. (John 4:5-9 &27) The significance of this incident gaining greater import when we realize that this is the first record of Jesus explicitly revealing himself as the Messiah.

In the process, he turned a simple conversation into a deep theological discourse. At her initial expression of surprise at his request, he commented, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10 When this elicited a somewhat negative response, Jesus replied, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst again.” John 4:13 Which finally prompted her to request some, “…that I may not thirst, nor come to draw again.” John 4:15 Jesus then suggesting she go and get her husband, ostensibly so the whole family could receive some, to which she self-consciously admitted, “I have no husband.” John 4:17 In truth, she had had five, the man sharing her home now not legally a husband.

Her response to his apparent ability to prophesy at first appears to be an attempt at dodging the issue. ‘You Jews worship at Jerusalem, we Samaritans at Gerizim – who’s to say what’s right?’ The legitimate issue she may have been addressing being one of authority, a good issue to resolve before committing to anything or anyone. Before allowing this man to plumb the very depths of her soul, she needed to know who he was and where his authority came from. His reply accomplished several things. First, where you worship is not really the issue, who and how you worship is. Second, he made it clear her tradition of religion was indeed false. Third, he subtly steered the discussion to the topic He desired, the advent of a new covenant making both Gerizim and Jerusalem obsolete. Her expectation of a Messiah and willingness to consider his words seem out of place in a woman of corrupt religion and lifestyle, but it is exactly to that glimmer of hope and expectation that Jesus spoke. (See John 4:26)

That germ of hope blossomed into the beginnings of belief, her new-found faith generating a response of positive action as she shared her story with others throughout Sychar. The result being a new-found faith among many others as well (John 4:39), they then begging Jesus to stay and continue his ministry among them a while longer. He did so for two additional days, many more believing in him as a result of their own personal encounter with the Messiah. (John 4:40-42) A fire of revival started in the heart of one lone woman who refused to let her past hinder her response or limit her witness.