(Reflections and notes on Ruth 1. To find out more about the series of Ruth Reflections, read this.)
You can listen to the book of Ruth read to you in roughly 15 minutes. What’s that? Hardly any time at all. Reading the whole book shouldn’t take that much out of your life. Meditating on it, though, that should be a bit more involving of your time – and that is worth doing.
The start of Ruth connects to the previous book in the Bible as it makes reference to the time of Judges. That time as recorded in that book is notable for being a time of regular boom and bust for God’s people. Despite being told what it takes to remain in His blessing, God’s people frequently turn from him, do their own thing and bring a curse upon themselves. That curse is expressed in different ways, often it’s about being taken over by opposing and neighbouring countries who did not acknowledge or respect this God who revealed Himself as one who redeemed His people from slavery to establish them in this land. As well as that, though, the land would suffer because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people through times of famine. The time of Judges was known among other things as a time where people would do what was right in their sight. There are some messed up episodes in the book of Judges reflecting the nature of humanity when it rejects God to do its own thing – whatever is right in its own sight.
Elimelech and his family leaving Bethlehem in Judah because of the time of famine is in line with a number of biblical characters who would look to find a more prosperous area in the time of famine. Abraham did that among others. Elimelech, however, is not the focus of the story. Elimelech had sons – Mahlon and Chilion – as they settled in Moab, they got married to Orpah and Ruth. A decade later, though and they also die. The focus of the story however is neither Mahlon nor Chilion. It’s fascinating to go through this route to get to the focus of the story.
In as much as people go to Ruth and Boaz as the key characters of the story – the focus of the story really is on Naomi. She is the wife and then widow of Elimelech. She is the mother of Mahlon and Chilion. She is the one that used to have a lot and now she has nothing. That is measured by relationships and the fruit of the womb all of which are now gone. This chapter is really effective at conveying how a stranger in a strange land who has nothing feels bereft and so is ready to return to her homeland as soon as she hears that the famine hat home had lifted.
Naomi is advanced in years, she’s unlikely to get married again. She’s even less likely to have children again. As far as she sees she has much to be bitter about because she’s got nothing. As far as she sees. As she mourns the loss of her sons, she still has the company of the women who married her sons. There is something about the life that Naomi lives that leaves an impact on both daughters for them to accompany her on the journey back. They could have stayed where they are – it was their homeland. There was no obligation or connection to Naomi – other than the relationship developed.
We can and should make much of the degree of devotion shown by Ruth to Naomi. The loyalty that was shown and the extent to which she would cling to Naomi goes beyond remarkable. Turning her back on all that knew and all that she was to embrace all that belongs to her mother-in-law even at the potential cost of her own future should give pause for further reflection. Imagine that. What is it about Ruth that leads her to make such a significant decision? What is about Naomi that leads Ruth to make such an impact? There is much more we can say about Ruth, which we will in the coming chapters.
The focus, however, is on Naomi. She is the one who is returning to her homeland. She is the one who has something to say about how her circumstances have come about. There is clearly something loving about her as she blesses her daughters – even to the point of referring to them as daughters. She does not distance herself from them and indeed blesses them by the God she feels has dealt bitterly with her. She is the one looking out for these young women – she knows they are free to stay at home and get new husbands and set up their families. This woman is s
As those who knew her from her homeland come around her, she defines herself by her feelings based on what she believes God has done to her. The faith that attracts Ruth to stick to her is how she explains her circumstances. That’s intriguing in itself. If bad things happen to us today, who do we blame? Who do we hold accountable? It’s important because, in as much as she holds God responsible for her bitter plight, she will later give God credit for the turnaround on its way. We can go in various directions in this. Some can criticise Naomi for this response to her situation. Others can look at how all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and thus learn that even in what are trying circumstances, God can be using these for our good if we persevere. There may be some who take some consolation in knowing that being honest with God in trying times does not have to be the end of faith, but a real part of it. Not knowing what God will do, but being real with God in the meantime.
In the context of this book, the role of Naomi cannot be underestimated. Not just for Ruth, but for us who are enduring times of emptiness, loneliness and bitterness. It’s why reading the rest of the book is important. There’s also something about the wider issue of how redemption – a major theme in the book – is about how someone is bought back to flourish where they belong. That assumes that you are not in that position to start with. That assumes that to be redeemed we recognise our position of needing to be redeemed. That is something that Naomi typifies so well for us and that is why the place that this chapter ends is so pivotal. Naomi is home and she’s home in time for the harvest. She is located in the right place and the right time for redemption – even if as far as she can see nothing could be further from her mind.
Questions from Ruth 1
- What does this episode tell you about the character of God?
- What does this episode tell you about the character of Naomi and what can you learn from her?
- Naomi blames God for her condition on her return home – what do you think about that?
- Following Jesus requires us to make a similar commitment and devotion as Ruth to turn our back on the old and cling to the new – what challenges come with that?
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden