Sometimes, people create their own “speaker tags” so we know whom they’re talking about.
For example, my freshman year of college, I was “Joe’s sister,” because he was a senior, and everyone knew who he was. I was a freshman, and for some reason, it was just easier to say “Joe’s sister” than “Kristen.” (When he graduated, I outgrew that tag.)
A woman named Ruth in the Old Testament was plagued by a speaker tag she couldn’t shake until the end of her story, thanks to the efforts of the gatekeepers* around her to forever remind her of her past.
The Moabites did not have a pretty history. Moab was the incestuous son of Lot by one of his daughters, and things only went from bad to worse.
The descendants of Abraham came to view the people of Moab with scorn. (It probably didn’t help that at one point, the princes of Moab tried to pay off Balaam, a soothsayer, to curse Israel – and were thwarted because God only spoke words of blessing on Israel.) In the Old Testament, Moab, not Israel, is the one eventually cursed.
So you can only imagine how the people of Judah must have viewed Ruth the Moabitess when she returned with her mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem.
Along the way, Ruth broke a few gatekeeper rules.
Gatekeeper rule #1: Go home to the people of Moab and remarry. That’s where you belong.
Naomi’s husband Elimelech had moved his family into Moab because of a famine in the land of Judah. Moab may have seemed like a land of plenty at the time, but Elimelech and his two sons died there (cause of death unspecified). As a result, his widow Naomi and her two Moabitess daughters-in-law are left bereft.
Naomi expects both women to return to their fathers’ houses until they remarry, but Ruth does something completely unexpected. She refuses. Instead, she clings to her mother-in-law, vowing that Naomi’s people will be her people, and Noami’s God, her God.
Gatekeeper rule #2: Your past defines who you are.
Ruth had to be a patient woman. Even I get tired of reading the number of times she is called “the Moabitess” in the book that bears her name.
When people asked about her, the response left no doubt of her history.
- 5 times she’s referred to as a Moabitess
- 1 time she’s called a Moabitish damsel
- The country of Moab is mentioned 11 times in the book
As I read Ruth’s story, I can almost hear the emphasis on the word Moab. It’s as if the gossips of Judah were telling her, “We know your past, and it will define your future.”
Gatekeeper rule #3: Treat people the way you’ve been treated.
I saw the Disney live action Cinderella last weekend and felt refreshed with its theme of kindness – even to those who are unkind. When the prince finally rescues Cinderella from her attic prison, she turns and tells her cruel stepmother, “I forgive you.”
She doesn’t dwell on the past. She doesn’t treat her stepmother the way she was treated. She forgives and moves on.
I think Ruth may be something of an Old Testament Cinderella. She doesn’t focus on the stigma of her heritage or treat others with the disdain she may have experienced. Her ambition is to care for her grieving mother-in-law, so she works hard. She gleans the leftovers in a kinsman’s field from dawn until sundown.
And her reputation is acknowledged by Boaz, the man who ultimately redeems her.
“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” (Ruth 2:11, NKJV).
She even receives recognition from the gossip gatekeepers of Bethlehem, the same women who likely whispered “Moabitess” until it seemed like a speaker tag that would forever define Ruth.
When Ruth bears a son, they tell Naomi, “…for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:15b, NKJV).
Ruth had the courage to break the gatekeeper rules that seemed to bind her to the cursed country of Moab, and as a result, she became the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17-22).
Don’t ever believe the world’s lie that your past defines you, that you’ll never “belong” or “fit in.”
If you’re God’s child, you’re an heir of promise (Ephesians 3:6).
Heir of promise. Now that’s a speaker tag I don’t mind defining me.
*I borrow the term “gatekeeper” from Chris Guillebeau and his book The Art of Non-Conformity.