Manage episode 214778911 series 2225112
When was the last time that you encountered a story that made you cry?
If it is positive tears, we call these stories “tear jerkers.” They are “feel-good” accounts of heroism or some demonstration of the good that humanity can do. How can you not be emotionally compelled when you learn of how a human being gave up paid a high personal cost for someone else’s well-being? Or upon hearing of a faithful love which perseveres in the face of someone being so undeserving. I’ve cried from these stories.
And then there are other kind of stories that make us cry, though. These are the opposite of the “feel-good” ones. These are accounts of tragedy and darkness. Personally, I have the hardest time with stories that involve the neglect or exploitation of the weak and vulnerable. When I read of wicked acts such as abuse, slavery, neglect, rape, murder… it breaks my heart, I can’t help but be emotionally and even physically impacted.
When I read of such evil, I immediate feel a righteous anger that wants to see all wickedness cease, and Jesus come back and see him vanquish his foes and right every wrong. In fact, that will often by my prayer. Lord, this is so horrific, and sin is so devastating, please come and make things right.
Wickedness abounds under ungodly leadership and people suffer:
Proverbs 29:2—When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when a wicked man rules, people groan.
And so, if you were to pick an era that was the darkest hour for a people, when godly leadership was hard to come by, look no further than the nation Israel, in the period of the Judges. It was the dark ages of Israel marked by syncretism and moral degradation and the absence of godly leadership. Much of the time was anarchy.
And as I spent some time in Judges this week I found myself experiencing that urge to cry. Not just because of the human suffering, which is actually enough to make you feel like you want to vomit, but because of the profound Spirit darkness.
Just consider how the book opens:
Judges 1—Israel is supposed to go and drive out the enemies in the land of Canaan that God had promised them. It was a gift for the taking. They didn’t do it.
Judges 2:1-5—They are rebuked by God for disobedience. He is faithful to the promise (covenant) they are not, and so they will reap the consequences of disobedience (v. 4 they are weeping about it).
Judges 2:6-10—Joshua dies, the elders die, and the next generation did not know YHWH or the work which He had done for Israel. YHWH has just performed the mightiest acts of deliverance from Pharaoh’s hand and parting the Red Sea and bringing salvation to his people. And they don’t care enough about it to pass it on to their kids.
Judges 2:11-15—you begin to read of the very personal nature of worshipping other Gods. They forsook YHWH. They left their covenant relationship, their loyal lover for other loves, other gods.
All of these expressions are adulterous connotations. They speak of violating an intimate relationship of promise with giving your pledged love to another.
So how did Israel get here?
If you remember Jacob’s son Joseph was sold by his other brothers into slavery and eventually wound up in Egypt. Then the family moved to Egypt and after Joseph died, they got stuck there under a Pharaoh who didn’t know Joseph, was afraid of their power, and wanted to greedily harness their workforce to carry out his projects.
So, Israel was stuck in Egypt after Joseph died for roughly 400 years. God delivers his people then by his mighty hand and his outstretched arm through his servant Moses demonstrating that he was superior to Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods.
That first generation had some serious problems in terms of unbelief and most of them rejected YHWH. But there were a few faithful ones, and from that crop the Lord raises up Joshua to lead the people on the conquest, where they were to go and wipe out the ungodly people’s living in Canaan, essentially modern-day Israel.
They were moderately successful, with quite a few hiccups on the way. But then Joshua died, and we read about what happened next:
They failed to pass along the faith…
And so, the period of the Judges begins at the death of Joshua and it ends when Saul is made king. That’s roughly 400 years. The United States is approaching 250 years in our national history. We’ve had 45 presidents. In 400 years, they had 15 judges—served for decades at times instead of four-year terms. But it was a time of instability and moral squalor to say the least.
God will not be mocked, whatsoever a man sows this he will reap (Galatians…)
See, the Mosaic law, which provided the terms and conditions of the agreement that God made with his people defining their relationship to him and his relationship to them, there were consequences clearly defined. If you obey you will receive blessing and if you disobey you will receiving cursing.
What was the cursing? Oppression. Humiliation. Instability. Futility.
Leviticus 26:17—I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.
Leviticus 26:19–20—I will also break down your pride of power; I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze. ‘Your strength will be spent uselessly, for your land will not yield its produce and the trees of the land will not yield their fruit.
Deuteronomy 28:23–24—The heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron. The LORD will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.
Deuteronomy 28:32–33—Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and yearn for them continually; but there will be nothing you can do. A people whom you do not know shall eat up the produce of your ground and all your labors, and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually.
I don’t need to tell you, but being in a place where the hand of God is against you is a bad place to be. And that brings us to our opening line of this story:
(1) Now it came about in the days when the judges governed,
The book of Ruth comes to us by an unnamed master-storyteller who narrates very little. The story was written long after it occurred having been passed down by oral tradition/
A great storyteller knows how to set a hook that captures the interest of the audience. And so, it is here in our narrative. The first two verses provide the background information needed to make sense of all that will follow. We need to develop this a bit.
First of all, having taken place 3,000 years ago, this is an ancient story. And we live in a modern society. Second, from a cultural standpoint we are 7,000 air miles from Jerusalem, and then chasm between our practices and theirs are equally distant.
So, we will read this section and then take it phrase by phrase and develop it as it will serve us well throughout the rest of our study to get our minds around the story so that we can fully appreciate the themes that will shine through this narrative.
Act 1—Naomi Emptied, Ruth Brought Near
- The dark providence (1-5)
Providence means the governance of the Almighty God as he is directly involved in bringing about his plans and purposes in the everyday events of life. Providence is a precious truth to God’s people. It brings us comfort to know that our God is at work.
One theologian writes:
God’s providence means that… God is continually involved with all created things in such a way that he (1) keeps them existing and maintaining the properties with he created them; (2) cooperates with created things in every action, directing their distinctive properties to cause them to act as they do; and (3) directs them to fulfill his purposes.
In other words, God is the ultimate cause behind every secondary cause that you see and experience each day.
Dreadful providence then is a way of expressing when God’s governance results in difficult circumstances. And although providence doesn’t answer all of our questions in the face of adversity, but it gives us a place to come to and open our hands in worship.
Literally it came about when the judges were judging. There is a great deal of conjecture as to which part of the period this story takes place, but we don’t really know during which judge it was. But at whatever point we learn…
that there was a famine in the land.
The horrors of famine are unfathomable unless you’ve experienced it. Worldwide, although thousands of people die of starvation each year, the widespread deaths due to famine have decreased post-industrial revolution.
Our problems relating to food in the United States are generally very first-world. We talk about eating healthier or maintaining a balanced diet, or having meat cooked to our liking.
But in the Ancient Near East, during a true famine there is no rain, which means no crops and no crops means no food. And we aren’t talking about one bad month. In a famine the shortage goes beyond a bad few months or a bad year until there is significant shortage.
People die. Malnutrition leads to weak immune systems because the body isn’t receiving the calories and nutrients that it needs to operate. And the struggle for food as a basic need for survival begins to impact society in the most graphic ways imaginable:
In fact, God promised through Moses to Israel that when God brought about famine, the parents would eat their children.
Leviticus 26:29—Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.
Centuries later when Jerusalem was besieged it would happen according to the biblical record contained in:
Lamentations 4:10—The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they became food for them because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
Famine leads to desperation to the degree that normally loving mothers have to battle viewing their own children as a meal to help keep them alive.
So, you have moral degradation. You have political unrest and then to top it off, the hand of the Lord is against your farming and there is shortage of food.
And so, the narrator continues…
And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.
There is an irony here in the Hebrew that doesn’t come through in the English. Bethlehem means the “house of bread” and yet there is no food. This Bethlehem is the same place where Rachel, Jacob’s mother was born, the same place that would one day become the city of David—the very same town where Jesus was born.
It was a small town roughly six miles outside of Jerusalem, which never broke more than a couple of hundred people in population.
And so, we find out a certain man leaves to go to Moab. Moab is less than 100 miles to the east meaning this is a somewhat localized famine that isn’t severe or widespread to a degree that it would require migrating to another continent as when Abraham sojourned in Northern Africa when he experienced famine.
One commentator writes of Bethlehem:
The town was particularly susceptible to the climate because there was no spring and it relied on cisterns to gather water.
No rain. No grain.
But moving to Moab isn’t a good call.
If you remember, when God laid out his expectations for Israel one of the things he was very clear about was that they not intermingle with other peoples by marrying them (Deuteronomy 7). They were to be set apart.
In the period of the Judges this was violated (Judges 3:6—they married foreigners and worshipped their gods). Judges 14:3, Samson’s parents ask him straightforwardly, “can you not find a single Israelite girl to marry, must you marry an unclean foreigner?”
Things are bad in Israel. It’s common to associate with foreigners. Elimelech is numb to it and says, “let’s go” I’d rather get food somewhere else.
This man’s intention was to go there for a while, the narrator says he went to sojourn. He went to wait things out until the food situation improved back home. His ancestor Abraham had made a similar call nearly 1,000 years earlier when in…
Genesis 12:10—Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land.
People would migrate to food during famine.
But Moab was contemptible to the Jews. The nation was founded by one of the sons of Lot. In case you haven’t guessed his name was Moab (the naming convention wasn’t exactly rocket science at that time). Ammonites were from Ammon. Israelites were from Israel. Edomites (means red) from Esau who was red.
Perhaps you are thinking, Lot’s wife died when she turned into a pillar of salt. So where did the sons come from? Incest with his daughters when he was drunk with them in a cave. This was detestable to the Jews.
Not only were there immoral beginning, but later the people of Moab refused to let Israel pass through their territory when they left Egypt (Numbers 22-24); then after that the Moabite women seduce the Israelite men (Numbers 25:1-9); furthermore the Mosaic law explicitly stated that the Moabites were to be excluded from the assembly; and then there was the conflict with Eglon the king of Moab who afflicted Israel (Judges 3:15-30) and was subsequently killed by Ehud (one of my all-time favorite Old Testament Bible stories as a child).
To top it all off, the Moabites worshipped the ancient deity Chemosh.
Heading to Moab would be like leaving Southern California and moving to Northern Mexico at a time when our countries weren’t getting along with one another. Not a massive difference in geography, but you are clearly leaving behind your roots and going to a new people with a new language and in this case, different gods.
Notice the narrator doesn’t mention anyone else going with them from the little town of Bethlehem. They leave alone.
And now we meet the cast:
(2) The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah.
Sweet little family of four. Dad’s name means God is King, mom’s name means pleasantness. And they leave, I’m sure with the hope that the hard days are behind them. They leave with the expectation that the intensity of the struggles in life they have known for so long will soon dissipate.
Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.
So far, the narrator’s focus is in on Elimelech as he leaves to sojourn with his family. It’s his wife, and his two sons. Elimelech is the main character, and the family gets settled in to town and begins to find a place to live and work. And then in v. 3—
(3) Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons.
It isn’t important whether it was sudden and unexpected, or whether it was gradual. The point is that she is left alone, with her two sons. Here just two verses in the main character shifts from who we expect it to be, Elimelech, and it becomes Naomi.
And then we read of the results of moving into a foreign land… the boys meet foreign girls and one thing leads to another:
(4) They took for themselves Moabite women as wives;
Timeout! This is not okay at this time. Today of course there are no racial or ethnic parameters on who can marry whom in the New Covenant. But this is a different period in salvation history.
Ethnicity matters because religious purity matters. Although Moab wasn’t specifically listed in Deuteronomy, the governing principle is spelled out:
Deuteronomy 7:3–4—Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them [foreign nations]; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you.
God promises to get angry and bring destruction due to Jews marrying non-Jews! Why? It leads to spiritual compromise. I’m sure that clouded the joy of the wedding celebration. It was tainted. On the one hand, weddings are a time to celebrate, but when you know God’s standard and you are going against it, what happens? It sucks the joy right out of whatever you are doing.
The narrator then introduces us to these two Moabite women:
the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years.
Two marriages. Ten years each so twenty between them both. Zero kids. Seems statistically unlikely. Well, there’s a good explanation in this case.
Barrenness, the inability to conceive biological children is not an indicator of divine judgment. Jesus made it clear in the New Testament that we face physiological issues due to the purposes of God and not always punishment for sin.
But under the Mosaic law, there was a curse on the “offspring of your body” in Deuteronomy 28:18 for disobedience and marrying foreign women was direct disobedience.
God isn’t blessing these marriages:
(5) Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.
In short order then we have three widows.
But here again, the narrator’s focus is on Naomi. She was bereft of her two children and her husband. He switches from using the word sons earlier, here to children. These are her babies. And more importantly for the purposes of this narrator, these are her offspring.
There goes the family name, the inheritance, current physical and financial protection. You are desolate and disadvantaged. Then the grief of the loss of your companion and your precious boys. So, it is a mix of being overwhelmed by the sorrow and the massive implications for life changing forever as you know it, now becoming much more difficult. Naomi is reeling.
Naomi is in the thick of grief, and now we come to the next scene in our story.
Act 1—Naomi Emptied, Ruth Brought Near
- The dark providence (1-5)
- The devoted daughter-in-law (6-18)
(6) Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the LORD had visited His people in giving them food.
News came that there is food back home. And so now Naomi and her daughters-in-law, since they are all a family now so they begin to get things together to make the journey back to Naomi’s home in Judah.
And notice that this isn’t an arbitrary good crop that appeared out of nowhere. The Lord visited. The Lord פקד [paqad]. He came near to them. It isn’t that El Niño changed… or the farmers figured out how to transport water to the community.
In the Old Testament over and over, Israel would sin against God, experience his chastisement, then cry out to him for mercy and he would respond with benevolence toward his people. Often you will hear people talk about the wrath of God in the Old Testament. And surely the immediate wrath of God is seen regularly on the pages of Scripture in the Old Testament. But it is not apart from his longsuffering and his benevolence.
When his people turn to him in humble faith and repentance, he graciously relents.
(7) So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.
For Naomi, no prospects look amazing right now, and being a widow is tough at anywhere at any point, but if there’s food in both places, your hometown in Israel is a better place to be than Moab.
(8) And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 “May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.”
Can you see the love and selflessness of Naomi? She is urging these women with whom she has grown so close to leave her for the sake of their own futures. Notice that she says return each of you to her mother’s house.
Our first inclination is that her dad must be dead. But we will learn in 2:11 that her father is alive. The reference to a mother’s house was a reference to procreation. Naomi is saying start your life over with another man and have children… May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with me.
And as she speaks they all break down. They lift their voices and weep. This is the type of crying where you can’t hold it back. It is the snotty, ugly cry that let’s loose. These women had endured so much together.
The girls don’t want to go.
(11) But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 “Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying?
Levirate marriage was a stipulation in the law that protected a childless widow by requiring the dead husband’s brother to marry his sister-in-law so that his brother would have children. But that isn’t exactly what’s going on here because any new children would be step-brothers.
The point Naomi is making is this—you have no future with me. You won’t find husbands in Israel, you are Moabites. You won’t find husbands in my household, I’m old and even if I got pregnant tonight you’ve got 15-20 years to wait.
No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.”
You have youth. I’m aging. And my covenant God is against me. So go.
(14) And they lifted up their voices and wept again;
This is an emotionally raw moment for these three women.
and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, implied, and said goodbye. Now, lest we believe this is merely some sentimental, feminine instinct kicking in where Ruth the nurturer can’t bear to think of her dear mother-in-law living alone. That’s not what’s going on here.
And the next verse betrays it:
(15) Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people… and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
What is Naomi doing? She is testing these young women. Do you really believe in YHWH? Will he truly be your God? If he is, it will cost you your family, your hope in possessions, your personal plan for security.
This is the cost of discipleship in the Old Testament. You know that foreigners could come and be part of Israel. You know how it would happen? They would embrace YHWH.
(16) But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you;
Stop telling me to leave. Quit telling me to go away.
for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
This little paragraph is arranged as a chiasm, which is a poetic structure where the center of the paragraph is the most important point that everything else points to. What is the center of this paragraph?
Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.
It is present—your God, my God. Your people, my people. This isn’t a pledge, but it is an affirmation of what she already believes. God has brought a Gentile into the people of God through the unintentional missionary journey of one family to Moab.
This is a confession of faith, of devotion to YHWH, not merely to Naomi.
(18) When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
What a rich blessing.
Act 1—Naomi Emptied, Ruth Brought Near
- The dark providence (1-5)
- The devoted daughter-in-law (6-18)
- The deflated homecoming (19-22)
(19) So they both went until they came to Bethlehem.
A week of travel and they show up in the hometown. 15-year class reunion for any of you who have experienced that before. Pretty close to how this would have felt. As we said, there were under 200 people in this town.
And so, they show up…
And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
They would have seen her coming into town. Two women. One probably in her mid-twenties, the other two or three decades her senior. One looks familiar, like our old friend Naomi. But where’s Elimelech? Where’s Mahlon? And Chilion?
Naomi had time to ponder on that journey what she would say upon seeing her old friends face-to-face. And in v. 20—
(20) She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
Call me bitter. The Children of Israel after they left Egypt, in:
Exodus 15:23—When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah.
Stop referring to me as sweet and now please refer to me as sour. Naomi is giving expression to the experience of life that she has been dealt. It is bitter. One commentator writes:
It is natural, then, that Naomi identifies Yahweh as the source of her misery. It is important to note that this does not explicitly translate into blame. She does not proclaim her innocence or seek vindication, and she does not openly call into question God’s justice.
I am not sugar-coating this. The Almighty has taken from me…
(21) I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.
I left with a husband and two sons, in the prime of life. I’m coming back aged nearly 15 years with no husband, no sons, and just a daughter-in-law, which although she provides companionship isn’t exactly a major asset beyond the personal relationship.
Who gets the credit for bringing her back to Bethlehem empty? YHWH.
Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
The Almighty [Shaddai— שַׁדַּי] is the most powerful. And when this title is used it refers to God’s unrivaled status. He is far above all humans and he is far above all gods. It emphasizes that reality that God is in heaven above and he does whatever he pleases. He is answerable to no one but himself.
At times the Almighty is a name that brings comfort:
Psalm 91:1—He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
The Almighty is also the one who scatters kings (Psalm 68:15). [Shaddai— שַׁדַּי] appears less than 50 times in the entire OT and two-thirds of those occurrences are in the book of Job. Any connection between Naomi and Job?
Both experienced affliction that they attributed to the hand of the Almighty… see in the humiliation and abasement of trials that take away your illusion of control and your illusion of self-sufficiency you are left to testify that God is the all-powerful, most powerful.
Although there is a hint of complaint here, this is precise theology.
Perhaps Naomi experienced the guilt associated with moving to Moab in the first place. And then the marriages that she endorsed of her sons to foreign women. Feelings of guilt whether based in the act of guilt or only the feeling, add a dimension to grief that makes it almost unbearable.
I know that would be my struggle. The regret for my decisions. The longing to go back and do things differently having seen now how they all played out. If only we had stayed in Bethlehem. If only my boys had just waited to get married.
The other place to go is self-pity.
What would be the normal question in the heart to arise at this point? Why God? Why me? Why now? After all we’ve been through. You appointed the place of my birth, and my husband, and this famine, and now my boys. Why are you against me?
Naomi rightly blames God for her circumstances.
Ruth 1:13—… the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.
For Naomi it wasn’t El Niño that made a couple bad years of crops. It wasn’t that Elimelech’s family had a history of heart problems. Yes, Elimelech took them to Moab. Yes, her boys married foreign girls. But her loss was not merely the results of poor decision-making or sinful choices or mere happenstance. Naomi understood that every contingency of her life was foreordained by the Almighty.
See, here’s what you need remind yourself and Naomi got it. You fate is not determined by your difficult boss at work, or the poor decision-making of your spouse, a social worker, a government official, a family member, an economic slowdown or even a presidential election.
A biblical worldview requires that we see each and every one of these contingencies as taking place according to the foreordination of the Almighty God himself.
Naomi understood what would be spoken of one day in the future by the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 14:24—The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand,
Isaiah 41:4—Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.’
Isaiah 43:13—Even from eternity I am He, and there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?
Isaiah 46:10—Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;
Friends, do you long to worship God more whole-heartedly? Then you must by faith refuse to put God on trial, but instead believe that if you are in Christ, He is working in your behalf and He is good and powerful and just.
Can you face the bitter providence of God and still embrace him? Can you walk through painful circumstances and still say, “in faithfulness you have afflicted me”?
A biblical worldview embraces that where God puts us is best.
In one of the darkest seasons of my adult life, I came across a song that became very precious to me because it gave expression to this struggle, and put me back in the place of being the creator and not being God.
Shall I take from Your hand Your blessings
Yet not welcome any pain?
Shall I thank You for days of sunshine
Yet grumble in days of rain?
Shall I love You in times of plenty
Then leave You in days of drought?
Shall I trust when I reap a harvest
But when winter winds blow, then doubt?
Are You good only when I prosper
And true only when I’m filled?
Are You King only when I’m carefree
And God only when I’m well?
You are good when I’m poor and needy
You are true when I’m parched and dry
You still reign in the deepest valley
You’re still God in the darkest night
So quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart
Quiet my restless heart in You
This is the spot that Naomi finds herself right now. She has no answers from God. No indication of why any of these things are taking place right now. But God has not abandoned her. In fact, he is going to bless her richly through this bitter providence.
Naomi has the same scenario to wrestle through as Job. Curse God and die, or say the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven … whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’
So far from attempting to rescue God from the dark providence that she faces, Naomi testifies, that one with all of the power has done this to me.
(22) So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab.
Well we are approaching the close of the first Act here. But do you notice something about the preoccupation of this narrator that seems peculiar? He can’t seem to drop continually drawing attention to Ruth’s ethnicity. We already learned that the boys married Moabite girls in v. 4.
Why do we keep having to hear about it?
He’s preparing us for what comes next that this is going to be a Cinderella story. See, Ruth is worse than a nobody from nowhere. She’s a nobody from somewhere that you aren’t supposed to be from.
Personally, I’m not too big into celebrity news. But it was difficult to miss the headlines in recent weeks about a mixed-race American girl marrying a British prince. Why was that so shocking?
That is exactly what God is up to here. He is taking a woman, born into a family who worshipped the false god Chemosh who wasn’t supposed to be allowed to gather with God’s people according to the law. In the course of time she encounters a family sojourning from Israel and finds herself connected to them first by marriage, and now by religious affiliation. She was evangelized, saved, and will now serve a prominent position in the royal history of Israel.
See, what Naomi surely couldn’t see in that day was the plan of God that required all these factors to take place in order to accomplish his plan. I can’t think of any other scenario to get done what we will see take place in the next chapters and I will explain that when we get to it.
Naomi is fifteen years into her afflictions, that is wearisome. But dawn is starting to break on this dark providence. She gained a devoted daughter-in-law, there is bread back home, and now…
And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
There’s anticipation here for what is going to happen next. Finally, a small ray of sunshine is breaking through the dark clouds of providence. Next week will watch as God provides for these women who have nothing through the hands of a righteous man named Boaz.
The experience of Naomi’s redemption in this life isn’t promised to all believers. But the faithfulness of the God who acted in her behalf is.
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