Prayer Moves the Plot Forward: A Meditation on Ruth

by Timothy Howe November 17, 2022

No Christian would deny the importance of prayer, but many of us silently go through seasons when motivation to pray is all but absent. On the other hand, nothing revives our desire to pray like seeing our prayers answered. When God allows us to see the direct connection between our prayers and His intervention, our prayers flow. Answered prayer fuels more prayer.

One of the greatest biblical witnesses to answered prayer—and therefore a source the Spirit can use to invigorate our prayer life—comes from a surprising source: the book of Ruth. Ruth beautifully portrays God’s faithfulness to His (and every) people and God’s power in preserving a faithful remnant even in the darkest generations. But if we have eyes to see, Ruth also gives perhaps the clearest demonstration of answered prayer in all of Scripture. From beginning to end, the story hinges on prayer.

The best way to see the primacy of prayer in Ruth is to take time to read the whole book, noting each prayer. The book of Ruth records no fewer than a dozen prayers of blessing, petition, and praise (1:6, 1:8-9, 2:4, 2:14, 2:19, 2:20, 3:10, 4:11-12, 4:14). The prayers are often simple and easy to overlook as greetings. A closer analysis, however, sees the prayers in Ruth as the track along which the story runs.

The God Who Hears and Provides

From the outset, the author of Ruth describes God as the one who heard the prayers of His people and responded to their needs (Ruth 1:6). Many read the opening verses as background information, minor but necessary points to explain why Naomi left and returned to Bethlehem. But a sensitive reader will recognize this verse as an intentional description of God’s character that sets the stage for the entire story. God heard the prayers of his people. He is a God who acts on behalf of those who call on His name. Had God not paid attention to his people’s need, Ruth and Naomi would never have traveled back to Bethlehem, and their story of redemption would never have unfolded. The initial description of God subtly foreshadows answers to come.

The God Who Hears and Protects

Next, consider Boaz’s blessings over Ruth in 2:12 in 3:10. At their first meeting in the field, Boaz recognized Ruth’s sacrifice and devotion, and he prayed that God would reward her fully for her faithfulness. In time, the reader comes to see the beauty of God’s answer. God would indeed bless Ruth richly and provide her a full reward, including protection under His wings. And he would use Boaz to bring it about. Later, when Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet and made her request at the threshing floor, Boaz recognized Ruth’s virtue and once again proclaimed a blessing over her. Boaz’s blessing hastened the story to its climax. Boaz awoke and immediately acted to bring Ruth into his home as his wife. In doing so, Boaz provided and embodied the very protection he had prayed over Ruth in 2:14.

The God Who Hears and Heals

In both 2:19 and 2:20, Naomi responded to Boaz’s kindness to Ruth by praying that God would bless the man who showed her favor. Once again, Naomi’s prayer planted a seed that would eventually grow to fruition. God would indeed bless Boaz, both immediately with an abundant harvest (3:7) and permanently by making him the progenitor of the kingly line. For Naomi, her prayer represented a turning point towards healing. Rather than considering herself irredeemably afflicted by God (1:20-21), she began to experience the first fruits of God’s ultimate healing and blessing (4:14-17).

The God Who Hears and Redeems

Finally, the elders of Bethlehem invoked a triple-blessing over Ruth, Boaz, and their future child. They asked God to make Ruth like Leah and Rachel, the great matriarchs of the tribes of Israel. For Ruth the Moabitess, nothing would solidify her standing as an adopted-but-true- Israelite more than identification with these matriarchs. The elders also prayed that Boaz’s name would become great and his house strong. God answered the prayer emphatically by making Boaz the great-grandfather of a king, and God would make Boaz one of the most well-known Bethlehemite in Old Testament history. And finally, the elders asked God to bless Ruth with offspring. Nearly as soon as the blessings were spoken, the story records God’s faithfulness in bringing them about. God himself opened Ruth’s womb and caused her to conceive (4:13). The child would grow, and Ruth and Boaz would become the mother and father of the house of King David (4:18-22) and the eternal house of King Jesus (Mt 1:5-6).

Connecting the Dots

And those are but a sample of the prayers God answered in the book of Ruth. Each prayer—even those so neatly tucked away they often escape notice—was a hinge upon which the story turned. From beginning to end, and at every point in the middle, God heard and answered the prayers of his people. Even the simplest blessings changed lives and brought God’s purposes to pass. Prayers moved the plot forward.

As a final encouragement, consider that those offering the prayers had no awareness how God was using their prayers to forward His plans. They prayed in faith—even bitter faith—trusting God would hear and perhaps answer. And in his own perfect timing and unexpected way, God did. Only in hindsight could they connect the dots.

The same is true for us. At any given moment, we, too, may struggle to see how God is using our prayers to shape His story in our lives. But when we lose heart and the seasons come when the last thing we want to do is pray, we can look to Ruth as a reminder that God is using our prayer to bring about His intervention, protection, and redemption. May the prayers God answered in Ruth lead us to offer our own in faith.

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