The story of Naomi is akin to that of Pilgrim’s Progress. Just as Pilgrim, on the way to the Eternal City, was surrounded by a cast of colorful characters with catchy names, so our Naomi finds herself surrounded by a bevy of noble and ignoble people whose names add to the drama of the story.
Naomi’s story is the story of a mother. Nothing much special about Naomi. The Bible doesn’t say anything about her family tree. Indeed, she’s quite plain. Ordinary. Random. She’s had a tough go of it. Heartbreak? Her story is fraught with hurt. Naomi’s name means “Pleasant” but life had left so many hard lines, shadows, heaviness, dark circles, and ashy grayness that her friends who hadn’t seen her in some time asked, “Is this even the same person?”
She more answered these days to “Bitterness” than “Sweetness”. And it’s no wonder.
Her husband was a terrible leader in the home. Though his name means “my God is King” it was nothing more than a slogan, for, when the name mattered most, he made himself king of his own family and moved them from their blessed inheritance, and made a 30-mile trek to a highly pagan and inhospitable wasteland. Of all places, to move his wife and sons to a dark stain on the map – a land whose one claim to fame was that its citizens were products of an incestuous relationship between drunken Lot and one of his daughters.
Likely, the King God made Elimelech pay for it. Because of Mosaic Law, his family was cursed because of Dad’s boneheaded rebellion. And to make matters worse, his two sons, named “Sickly” and “Used Up” respectively, married Moabite women – strictly forbidden under the law.
Can you just feel the the heart of Naomi being wrecked by the weight of such burdens?
One of her sons married a young woman who battled her way into the family with a name meaning “Stubborn”, “Obstinate”, “Strong of Neck”. Who wouldn’t want her for a daughter-in-law?
Naomi’s dunder-headed husband takes his family from “House-of-Bread” – though cursed with a famine because Judah had turned to idols – and moved them to “Wasteland”. He, the priest of the home, did not teach his family the valuable truth “in the days of famine they will be satisfied” (incidentally those words would be added to scripture via Naomi’s future shepherd-boy great-great grandson). Instead, he made his own plan.
And he died. Probably stricken by God. Naomi’s two sons, living in rebellion along with their dad paid for it with their lives too.
Naomi, a widow, is faced with homelessness, starvation and certain death. There is no widow’s pension. If someone doesn’t take her in, she will die.
Word arrives that Judah has repented and God has ended the drought. Naomi, looking far more aged than her 50 or so years, begins the long 30-mile journey home. What isn’t read in the story, but is easy to spot, is that a Voice is bidding her to return. “Come home, come home, all who are weary, come home…earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling…calling: O sinner, come home!”
Her widowed daughters-in-law are obliged to join her, but one will go back to Moab. Just as well, she’s the head-strong one, devotedly attached to her gods.
The other, Ruth, the one, lone, undeserved “good thing” in Naomi’s pathetic life, insists that she must remain with her. There’s nothing for her in Moab. Not just a dead husband but gods who cannot satisfy.
“I want Your God!” Ruth cries.
Why? What would Ruth know of Israel’s God that would cause her to change allegiances? A God who sends drought. A God who takes lives. A God who breaks up families. A God who takes away hope.
Naomi is so over her life that she accuses God of making her life hard (1:21). She is so incredulous with Ruth that the sweet, young child wants her God that she all but shoves her back toward Moab. She tried 7 different ways to get her to go back. But Ruth is relentless! She will not be deterred.
Naomi becomes so frustrated with “Friendship” that she abruptly ends the conversation. The Hebrew of verse 18 even says, “she stopped talking to her.”
I picture Naomi turning on her heels and striking out for Bethlehem, perhaps dismissing her daughter-in-law with a wave of her hand. And there is Ruth following quietly, a few tentative paces behind…Which is when hope begins to grow some wings.
Chesed – the goodness and mercy of YHWH – is following Naomi…
Verse 22 says they arrived in Bethlehem at the “beginning of the barley harvest.” Not sowing season, for she has sown quite enough with tears…but reaping in joy.
Carolyn Custis James said,
“In the story of Ruth, despair and hope travel side by side.”
Naomi, though complicit in the disobedience while in Moab those ten years, found reason to Hope Again as she encountered the TRUE GOD as her:
Rescuer – Chapter 2
Restorer – Chapter 3
Rewarder – Chapter 4
I. RESCUER (Ch 2)
Ruth 2:1 – her return means access to her redeemer…
“Boaz” – His name has two possible meanings, both are equally important to the story:
(1) swiftness – Naomi desperately needed something to happen, to change her fortune and outlook; her heart was embittered, lost and lonely. She needed help to hope again. Quick.
(2) in him is strength – the two ladies who traveled from Moab were widows, childless and homeless, with little prospect for turnaround. But they soon (quickly!) discovered the Good News: a rescuer had crossed their cursed path and was willing, able and determined to right their courses!
Sandy recently visited The Bridge of Sighs in Venice, Italy…The bridge name, given by Lord Byron in the 19th century, comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells where they would never see the light of day again. They would die in darkness and hopelessness, forgotten and alone. No champions for them.
In the town where I grew up, the fire dept. gave out red stickers to homes. Parents were to display a red sticker in the window of each child’s bedroom, signifying how many children to look for in case of fire.
God has engraved your NAME on His palm, whereby you will never be overlooked. Trust in Him again. I know you feel He’s let you down but that is the enemy’s lie.
Trust Him to be swift to own your cause and believe He is ready, able and willing to show Himself strong on your behalf.
II. RESTORER (Ch 3)
Some weeks ago my wife and I were watching a popular period piece on BBC. In one of the more emotional episodes one of the more affable characters died in a tragic manner. As the weeks went by, and life slowly began turning normal for the afflicted family again, my wife pointed out that the mother and sisters to their dear departed were each wearing lavender.
Do you know why this is? she asked.
I admitted my ignorance.
She told me that years ago, in the old country, women would signal the ending of their time of mourning by shedding their black dresses for the transitional lavender. I pointed out the eldest matriarch was still in black. Sandy told me that she was from an even older era – when it was customary to remain in black for a full year!
This morning I want to give you this great bit of news: you never have to feel hopeless again. About anything!
Are you disease-ridden?
A parent of a prodigal?
In a loveless marriage?
Have an upside-down mortgage?
Are you battling addictions?
I have Good News: Your Father means to remove the dirge from your life, to cover your black raiment of mourning with the lavender garments of hope!
He is plotting a “Boaz encounter” …
I recently raised some eyebrows and had some friends saying “hmmmmm…” to something I said. I said that my disability is not the disease I am afflicted with – in fact, I even see it as a CURE for my deeper disease of pride and self-centeredness.
God wastes nothing but uses our Moabs, Elimelechs, and Marahs … famines, judgments, difficult people…our hurts and even our wrongful accusations…ALL of it to bring us to glory!
III. REWARDER (Ch 4)
The story of Ruth opened with the grim reminder of a time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes” and the folly that ensues.
The final word of the story names a man who will right all the fortunes of Israel, their beloved king, David.
Between the two is the story of two Moms: one, an unlikely addition to Messiah’s genealogy, being a woman and a despised foreigner. The other, a woman with regrets who almost perished from the pages of scripture had she not made the bold decision to return to the place of Promise. She “went out full, but returned empty” which was exactly the way God purposed it. For even those – perhaps even especially – those who are perishing in wastelands like Moab, can be rescued, restored and rewarded by God’s ‘chesed’ love.
We quickly go to Ruth and her blessing, but do not pass by too quickly the words in Ruth 4:14-17 that are given for Naomi…
The change of fortune, the blessing of the kinsman redeemer, the joy of an opened womb was not only Ruth’s, for the Word says,
“A son has been born to Naomi” (v17)
Happy Mother’s Day.