21 Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also told me, ‘Stay with my young men until they have finished all of my harvest.’”22 So Naomi said to her daughter-in-law Ruth, “My daughter, it is good for you to work with his female servants, so that nothing will happen to you in another field.” 23 Ruth stayed close to Boaz’s female servants and gathered grain until the barley and the wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
In my twenties, I went on a mission trip to Scotland. Part of the preparation process was training on cultural differences, specifically focusing on words that have different meanings to help us avoid embarrassing situations.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t cover every word that has a different meaning, which led to one interesting conversation with some Scottish college students. After one of our group members made a comment, the students reacted in such a way that we knew we had said something wrong. Luckily, the college students we talked with were understanding, and we were able to get past the faux pas.
Isn’t that how it sometimes is in our lives? We think we know what to do or say, but in actuality we can be one small act or word away from a major misstep. We see this sort of cultural challenge in the story of Ruth.
In verse 21, the author calls her a Moabitess. It may have simply have been a way to identify this Ruth from another Ruth in the area, but more likely the author used this term to denote that she was a foreigner living in a culture much different from her own. She didn’t understand the full implications of who Boaz was, nor did she understand his generosity, the safety he was providing her, and how it would be perceived by Boaz if she worked another person’s field.
Ruth needed someone to help her understand what was going on around her. Naomi was that person for Ruth. She understood the Jewish culture and what a kinsman redeemer was. She understood the danger Ruth might face if she moved to another field. Ruth simply knew a man was being kind to her, but Naomi saw God at work.
We need people in our life who understand what we don’t understand, people who can speak truth, encouragement or warning into our lives. Often others can see where God is at work when we fail to notice it.
In the story of Ruth, Naomi was much more than a helpless mother-in-law. Yes, she was relying on Ruth to physically provide and care for her, but Ruth was relying on Naomi to help her understand the new culture in which she lived. This was no accident, for God knew they needed each other.
You and I need people like Ruth and Naomi in our lives—people who know God and who understand a different culture. We need them so we can grow in our relationship with God and can successfully navigate the challenges in our lives. At the same time, we too can act as a Ruth or Naomi in the lives of those who may be new to our culture or new to the ways of God.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- We all operate in a variety of cultures and situations. Which of your cultures is new or foreign to you? Who can you ask to help you understand this culture in a way that allows you to successfully navigate it?
- You’re probably an expert in at least one culture. Who has God placed around you that is new to that culture? If you can’t identify anyone, ask God to make you aware of that person. Then make yourself available to them, not only to help them thrive, but also to speak God’s truth and love into their life.
Pray for school situations for children in global worker families. Pray for language and culture fluency, favor with teachers, at least one believing friend, and wisdom for parents in choosing from available school options.