As we work through the book of Ruth in our sermon series, I will be posting some devotional thoughts as I work through it with the help of the ESV Study Bible. The ESV Study Bible is a great resource and I hope that these weekly posts will help you as you process Ruth and grow in your devotional studies. I would highly recommend getting a copy of the ESVSB! I will be following their outline as I post these reflections.
Scene 1: Naomi Returns to Bethlehem with Ruth (1:6-22)
At this point in the story, Naomi, gets word that things have gotten better in Bethlehem and that “the Lord had visited his people and given them food” (v.6). The ESVSB tells me that return will be a very important word as we work through this scene.
Verse 7 says that Naomi starts back to Judah with her two daughters-in-law, but then in verses 8-14 there is a discussion. Naomi tells the girls to go back to their families. She cannot provide husbands for them and she blesses them. They want to stay, but Naomi insists on it. In the end, Orpah goes back to her homeland, but Ruth “clung to her” and would not go (v.14).
At this, Naomi, again urges Ruth to leave her, to go back to her mother and family. It is at this point that Ruth says words that seem very familiar to me, “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. Where you die I will die, and there will be buried.” There are two things that are of significance here in my mind. First, the connection to Genesis 17 (as well as various other scriptures) and as the ESVSB puts its, her “confession of faith.” These words are powerful for the Jew reading this, but should equally be powerful for the Christian today. Jesus came to us, lodged with us, became one of us and died as the God-man for us. These words should drive us to gospel. Secondly, we see a Moabite “cross over” from death to life. She, in these simple reflections of her heart, proclaimed YHWH as her God and revealed that she no longer served the gods of the Moabite religion. Can I dare say that Ruth’s conversion came from a marriage that probably shouldn’t have happened that resulted in a relationship that seemingly had no promise or made no sense (Naomi was thinking how she might be cared for herself not to mention adding another widow to her troubles!)? This should be a lesson to the Pharisee of this day. God uses sin, sinlessly. Perhaps he speaks in the midst of sin in ways that those who perceive themselves as righteous fail to even take notice of. As my mind wonders forward to Good Friday and Easter in a few months I’m reminded of the work of Jesus. He worked in the midst of the world’s sin in the most redemptive act of history. He bore our sin, that we might actually be righteous. I’ve heard it said by many, “Jesus + nothing = everything” (there is also a book by the same title by Tullian Tchividjian). Live in his grace and see him work in circumstances that don’t really make sense to the religious. Yes! Oh Pharisee! Jesus has ordained the ends, but also the means!
In verse 18, Naomi, gets it. She has heard the covenantal words that came from the mouth of Ruth. She has seen that Ruth’s life has been changed by the gospel. You know…she simply, “said no more.” So many times as a leader in the church, we try to mold people and how God is working in them into our formula. Sure, shepherding is vital and commanded, but sometimes, doesn’t shepherding look like Naomi here – being a little less outspoken and stepping back to see the Spirit work.?
There was “excitement” in Bethlehem with the arrival of Naomi and Ruth. The ESVSB notes that perhaps this was because they arrived without their husbands/sons. Naomi’s attitude here simply stinks. But she is pretty honest in the midst of her struggle. She says to call her “Mara,” which means “bitter.” And bitter she was! She tells the people of Bethlehem that she let for Moab in fullness, but she says, “Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
This section ends as it began. Return. She is back, with Ruth. She is still in need. She is bitter. Though the gospel has been preached and acted upon by her daughter-in-law, her circumstances cause her to be bitter, to blame God and to return in a state where she has “agitated” her homeland.
This section leaves a “wanting.” We want to see what happens with Naomi and her attitude, with Ruth and her decision to follow. And ultimately God, who has plans that are going to rock the socks off of both of them.
We are less without each other…