Today’s Reading: Ruth
In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there. – Ruth 1:1-2
We read back in Genesis of the origin of the Moabites and it is not a pretty story. After Lot fled from Sodom and Gomorrah, he settled in a small village of Zoar. He became afraid of the people there and retreated to a cave in the mountains with his two daughters. These young women began to fear they would never marry and have children now that they were isolated and living away from their people. So they shamefully got their father drunk and took turns going in to lie with him and do things that should never be done. As a result they both became pregnant with their own father’s child. Instead of trusting in God to meet their needs, they took their future into their own hands and sinned against both God and their father.
The oldest daughter gave birth to a son and she named him Moab. The younger sister gave birth to a son and named him Ben-ammi. These two boys grew up and their families became the Moabites and the Ammonites – two perennial enemies of Israel with a history of grotesque wickedness, just as their incest-born origin (Genesis 19:30-38).
The reason this history is significant to me is that Elimelech and his family were able to peacefully settle in the land of Moab regardless of the history of these two nations – Judah and Moab. In time of severe famine, when their family needed a place of refuge, God graciously provided a peaceful resting place for them – even in a place like Moab.
But trouble and sorrow are often a part of everyday life and Elimelech died, leaving Naomi alone with her two sons. Contrary to God’s command for Israelites to not marry foreigners, Naomi’s sons each married a Moabite woman – Orpah and Ruth. Ten years later, tragedy struck again and Naomi lost both her sons.
“…the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.” – Ruth 1:13b
These are the words of a woman with a broken heart, struggling to understand why the God who had provided so well for her during her everyday existence would now allow such tragedy to strike her family. She had praised God during times of plenty but now only pitied herself during times of loss.
Ruth encouraged her two daughters-in-law to return to their families, but Ruth loved Naomi and begged to return to Naomi’s homeland with her, pledging “…Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God…” (1:16b).
When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited to see her. The women could hardly believe they were seeing their longtime friend, Naomi, returning home. It did not take them long to realize this wasn’t the same person who had left years before. Naomi had suffered tragedy and lost her joy for life. Naomi left seeking God and returned bitter towards God.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?” – Ruth 1:20-21
Naomi left Bethlehem during the time of a severe famine but she described herself has “full” at that time. Her physical needs were suffering but she had her family and, therefore, joy. She returned to Bethlehem with her physical needs met and the blessing of a loyal and virtuous daughter-in-law, but she could not see beyond her pain to rejoice in what God had blessed her with. She only saw what she was without.
How often does our praise turn into pity when tragedy strikes? We struggle to understand why the same God who has blessed us so generously could allow heartache and pain to come into our lives. We live in an imperfect world where death and disease are a reality, yet we blame God for not intervening and saving us from the worst pain we have ever felt.
God saw the broken heart of Naomi and He was not done blessing her. Through a “family redeemer”, God provided Ruth with a husband and a son. Then the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi:
“Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”
Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather or David. – Ruth 4:14b-17
God knows the good things He has planned for us and our children. From Naomi’s grandson would come the first King of Israel and then the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. What a great reminder for us to TRUST GOD THROUGH THE TRAGEDIES – to let the hard times increase our faith and trust in the God who knows what is ahead and loves us enough to send His son to die on a cross for us – to become our ultimate Redeemer.
Praise the Lord, who has provided a Redeemer for all of us!