Ruth and Naomi Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi.
Theme: Messages from the Book of Ruth.
Text: But Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; 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” (Ruth I: 16).
Bible Reading: Ruth 1:1-18 (Living)
1,2 Long ago when judges ruled in Israel, a man named Elimelech, from Bethlehem, left the country because of a famine and moved to the land of Moab. With him were his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.
3 During the time of their residence there, Elimelech died and Naomi was left with her two sons.
4,5 These young men, Mahlon and Chilion, married girls of Moab, Orpah and Ruth. But later, both men died, so that Naomi was left alone, without her husband or sons.
6,7 She decided to return to Israel with her daughters-in-law, for she had heard that the Lord had blessed his people by giving them good crops again.
8 But after they had begun their homeward journey, she changed her mind and said to her two daughters-in-law, "Why don't you return to your parents' homes instead of coming with me? And may the Lord reward you for your faithfulness to your husbands and to me.
9 And may he bless you with another happy marriage." Then she kissed them, and they all broke down and cried.
10 "No," they said. "We want to go with you to your people."
11 But Naomi replied, "It is better for you to return to your own people. Do I have younger sons who could grow up to be your husbands?
12 No, my daughters, return to your parents' homes, for I am too old to have a husband. And even if that were possible, and I became pregnant tonight, and bore sons
13 would you wait for them to grow up? No, of course not, my daughters; oh, how I grieve for you that the Lord has punished me in a way that injures you."
14 And again they cried together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, and returned to her childhood home; but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi.
15 "See," Naomi said to her, "your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; you should do the same."
16 But Ruth replied, "Don't make me leave you, for I want to go wherever you go and to live wherever you live; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God;
17 I want to die where you die and be buried there. May the Lord do terrible things to me if I allow anything but death to separate us."
18 And when Naomi saw that Ruth had made up her mind and could not be persuaded otherwise, she stopped urging her.
The book of Ruth opens with the crystal-clear statement that the events recorded there took place in the days when the judges ruled; which was around 1200 B.C. I have heard it said that the little book of Ruth is the greatest love story ever written, and I believe there is something very important and wonderful for us there. The passage I read tells us that once upon a time, long ago and far away, in the small village of Bethlehem, there lived a man named Elimelech, his wife, Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. Elimelech owned a small plot of land, where he grew barley, and around the border of his plot olive and almond trees grew. Then one winter the life-sustaining rains failed to fall. Without them, crops failed, and springs and even the deepest wells dried up. Panic struck the area. A man could not feed four hungry adults, so Elimelech and his family gathered up their meager belongings, and like a hundred million refugees before and since, made their way to another land.
The text doesn’t say that God intended for Elimelech to leave his home in Bethlehem. It was a decision that Elimelech made by himself. Hundreds of years earlier, God told Abraham to leave his homeland, but that wasn’t the case with Elimelech. Elimelech and Naomi sinned when they left Judah for enemy country. They should have stayed and waited out the famine, because it is better to be hungry and in the will of God than to have a full stomach and be out of His will.
The family traveled east, down the steep hills of Judea, and across the Jordan River to Moab. The Moabites were not friendly toward the Israelites; throughout Israel’s history, the Moabites often antagonized the Israelites. Imagine that family making their sad trek into a foreign land, where the people practiced polygamy and idol worship. They were Judeans living among the ancient enemies of their own people. Not long after settling in Edom, Elimelech became ill and died. But Naomi still had her sons. They were her source of pride and security. Shortly after the death of their father, the boys married Moabite girls, Ruth and Orpah, who were Gentiles and pagans. Within the passage of two years, both sons died, leaving three widows in one household in a day when there was no work for women. Elimelech’s departure from Bethlehem did not keep him and his two sons from dying in a foreign land, and leaving his wife Naomi perhaps more destitute and isolated than if she had remained at Bethlehem among her friends and relatives. You can run away from famine, but you cannot escape death.
Naomi and her daughters-in-law were desperate and overwhelmed by their bad situation. The plight of a widow in biblical days was for the most part very uncertain. Young widows were allowed to stay in their father’s home, but an older widow whose parents were dead was dependent upon her children for support. Now, without children and living in a strange land, Naomi may die if someone wouldn’t take her in. She believed that God had dealt harshly with her. Naomi believed, because of her personal losses, that God had turned away from her, and therefore, she decided to reciprocate by turning away from Him. In fact, Naomi changed her name to Mara, which in Hebrew means “bitterness.” She felt that she had been dealt a bitter blow by God. Naomi sinned by getting bitter and blaming God for her plight. Naomi means “pleasant” and Mara means “bitter.” But it was her decision to go to Moab, so why blame God? Remember, a “root of bitterness” can poison your life and the people around you, so avoid carrying grudges. And, although God does not prevent the painful consequences of our sins, He does overrule us and our sins so that His purposes are fulfilled. And by the grace of God, Naomi’s emptiness will become fullness, and her sorrow will turn to joy.
Finally, Naomi got word that there was rain and fertility again in Judah. So, after ten years of tragedy, she decided to return to the only place in the world where her husband had owned a piece of ground. She would make her way back to Bethlehem. It must have been a tearful scene when those three women reached the border between Moab and Judah. They lifted up their voices and cried. Naomi said, “Go back to your homes. There’s no hope that I can have other sons whom you can marry, and even if I could, who would want to wait so long?” They said, “No, we won’t go!” But the mother-in-law insisted. As they stood there crying, Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye and left her to return home. But Ruth refused to go back; instead, she clung to her mother-in-law, and begged her to let her stay. Naomi reminded her that her sister-in-law had gone back to her own people and also to her gods and then she suggested that Ruth should do the same!
Today, we can see that Naomi sinned by urging her daughters-in-law to go home. She did not want to take two Moabite women back to Bethlehem with her and reveal the family’s disobedience to God. Imagine a Jewess sending them back to their false gods! But Ruth had come to trust in the God of Israel and she refused to go back. This was certainly the lowest point of Naomi’s spiritual life and serves as a fitting climax to the weakness that was so obvious in her family. She returned to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and by doing that, she was denouncing her own family and religion. I believe Naomi must have learned something; that even in the midst of the greatest suffering and adversity; God is good, and kind, and full of mercy.