A Tale of Two Choices

January 16, 2019 by Linda Maynard

She was a pagan redeemed; they were a redeemed drawn to paganism. She loved selflessly; they lusted selfishly. She was covered by the garment of her redeemer; they removed their garment covering.

A deeper dive into the Biblical stories of Ruth and the Israelites of Malachi’s day reveals noteworthy contrasts. Not only do we see the rewards of selfless love through Ruth, but we also see the pitfalls of selfish pursuits in Malachi. The comparison teaches important lessons about the one true God and our journey with Him.

Choices Protect or Expose

In the book of Ruth, famine and destitution in the land of Judah drove the Israelite Elimelech to lead his family out of the Promised Land and into Moab. There his two sons married Moabite woman, worshippers of false gods. While Moab looked like the answer to Elimelech’s needs at first, it proved to be a dead-end journey. Elimelech and his sons died, leaving each of their wives as widows with no one to care for them. They were left outside the covering of protection.

In contrast, Malachi shows us that God led the Israelites back to the Promised Land after years of exile in a foreign country. God also gave them resources to rebuild His temple. But famine and destitution in their hearts led them to divorce the wives of their youth—unions made in covenant before God—to marry women of other faiths and also to worship false gods. Malachi 2:16a details the consequences like this: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts.”

The Israelite wives in Malachi were left outside the covering of protection their husbands were charged to provide. In turn, these husbands left themselves outside the protection of God, our Bridegroom.

Are our choices leaving us covered or exposed?

Choices have Far-Reaching Consequences

Left widowed and childless, Elimelech’s wife, Naomi, chose to return to her homeland. She encouraged her daughters-in-law to return to their families of origin and find new husbands. The decision was logical, but the Bible tells us Ruth “clung to” her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:14), saying, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (verse 16). In that moment of selfless love, Ruth unknowingly set herself up for a great work of God’s redemption—not only for her life, but for every generation after her.

Conversely, though the Israelites of Malachi’s day were living in the land of their God—the God for whom they had been set apart—they chose to cling to worshipers of false gods. In that decision, they not only tore themselves away from God, but they compromised the faith of generations that came after them.

Are our choices building the lives around us or compromising them?

Choices can fill or empty us

Naomi found herself in a foreign land with no prospects for a future. Even as she returned to her homeland, she declared, “I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21). In hindsight, though, the full life Naomi thought she had in Moab was empty of God’s guidance. Her family had wandered away from the Promised Land and outside of God’s covering. On the other hand, the empty life Naomi thought was her homecoming turned out to be filled with more blessing than she could imagine! In a search for their sustenance, Ruth gleaned enough barley to feed them both and then some. Moreover, she did so in the field of a man who was part of an even bigger plan God had for them. Boaz would become her husband and the father of her child—Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, from whose line came Jesus Christ, our ultimate Redeemer!

The Israelites to whom Malachi spoke made opposite choices. Again, what looked full to them was empty, but God left an opening for the empty to be filled. As they went through the motions of returning home, rebuilding the temple, and reinstituting their worship practices, they expected God to fill His temple and restore their prosperity. But God saw that the practices that looked right on the outside were void of true commitment on the inside. His people’s eyes and hearts had wandered, filling their God-shaped lives with pagan-shaped idolatry and adultery. Yet God told them in Malachi 3:1, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming.” Even as they sinned, God gave them fair warning to bring their hearts back home.

Are we living empty or full?

Even Poor Choices can be Re-Covered

In ancient Biblical times, childless widows like Naomi and Ruth were left fully vulnerable, with no promise of a future. Yet Boaz recognized that the selfless decision of Ruth to cling to and care for her mother-in-law deserved blessing. Boaz declared, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12) Did Boaz know in that moment that he would be part of God’s full reward, that the wing of his very own robe would be the instrument of God’s refuge?

When Naomi learned that Ruth had gleaned in the field of Boaz, she knew immediately that he could be their kinsman redeemer—a husband for Ruth who would provide for her and restore Naomi’s property and lineage. So she sent Ruth to Boaz’s threshing floor one night to declare these words to Boaz: “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (3:9).

Boaz immediately knew the significance of her request, declaring, “I will do for you all that you ask” (3:11).

The Israelites of Malachi’s time, on the other hand, earned no commendation for their behavior: “Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god” (Malachi 2:11). But God also extended an invitation for them to come back under His cover of grace. “So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (verse 16).

Are we ready to be re-covered?

Whether you find yourself the victim of someone else’s choices or you sit in the consequences of your own choices, Ruth and the prophet Malachi provide great wisdom to follow. From the time Ruth lost her husband and father-in-law, she chose to seek refuge under the wing of God. Malachi admonished the Israelites of his day to do the same! No matter where we find ourselves today, we should follow their lead. The apostle James tells us how in his letter to fellow Christ-followers: 

  • We submit ourselves to God.
  • We draw near to Him.
  • We cleanse our hands and purify our hearts.
  • We mourn our sin.
  • We humble ourselves before God. (James 4:7-8)

When we do, our God tells us He will be with us and help us!

“You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

Photo by Giorgio Parravicini on Unsplash

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