Today's lesson is one of the more beautiful, uplif... Read more
Today's lesson is one of the more beautiful, uplifting in all
of the old Testament. It is from the first two chapters of Ruth.
Ruth is one of two books of the Bible named after women, the other is Esther.
Ruth is the only book in the Old Testament named after a gentile. It takes place during the time of the Judges, a time when it often seemed that there was little true faith, goodness or even basic decency among the Israelites.
Unlike in the book of Judges, in the book of Ruth the Lord does not speak directly or by means of a heavenly messenger. Yet the Lord is frequently referred to in blessings and other statements. Obviously He was worshipped reverentially by the families of Elimelech and his kinsman Boaz.
Ruth's faith in Jehova and her love and loyalty for her mother-in-law Naomi is richly rewarded with eventual marriage and being the great-grandmother of King David, and an ancestress of Jesus.
It was a time of great famine, a great drouth, when the crops failed and the pastures withered. Elimelech was forced to take his wife Naomi (her name means Blessed) and two sons and probably his livestock east across the Jordan and the Dead Sea into the land of Moab in order to survive. This was apparently in a time when the Israelites and the Moabites were at relative peace.
Elimelech then died in Moab. We are not told the circumstances of his death, but it seems to have been not long after they arrived in Moab. Their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, married Moabites, Orpah and Ruth. Marriage of Jews to Moabites was not prohibited, although no Moabite nor his sons to the tenth generation, was allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord. Naomi and her sons lived in Moab about ten years before Mahlon and Chilion also died, again from causes unrevealed.
Naomi was now utterly bereft. She was left without a husband nor sons to look after her and while living among foreigners who would be of no help. In that time, wherever one lived, women needed the protection and provision provided by men, whether husband, sons or kinsmen. She had no one she could count on, even though she shared her household with her two daughters-in-law.
Naomi heard that the famine in Israel had ended and that the Lord was again providing food there. She had family in the Bethlehem area, and so she resolved to return home. As she started out for Bethlehem joined her. She gave them each her blessing and urged them to return to their mother's home and stay in their homeland where they might find another husband. She kissed them goodbye and then they began to cry and vowed to go with her to Bethlehem.
This brings us to our first lesson passage: Ruth 1:11-13a.
If Naomi's statements seem a bit frank to our ears, remember that she lived in a culture of herdsmen and shepherds where the facts of giving birth and nurturing to maturity was an everyday fact. Their survival depended upon successful reproduction for themselves and their animals. They would be expected to speak of such matters openly and without embarrassment. In the agrarian culture of that time men provided for and protected their women. Now the three women, and particularly Naomi, were without any men. They were in a truly desperate situation. Naomi knew that for her daughters-in-law there was at least some hope for remarriage, and so she urged them to return to their homes. Women given in marriage in that time, however, were bound to their husband's family. Should a woman's husband die, her in-laws would normally provide another male from the family either to marry her or at least to bear a son with her. In the latter case the son would carry the name of the deceased husband. The son would look after his mother when she became old. This was a duty and a relationship that ancient people took seriously.
Perhaps this is what motivated Orpah and Naomi to want to stay with Naomi. Or, they could return to their home and hope to remarry a Moabite. Clearly Naomi loved her daughters-in-law and wanted what was best for them, and she felt they would do better staying in their homeland and with their family.
Our lesson omits Naomi's understandable lament that the hand of the Lord had turned against her.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and left. But Ruth was determined to continue with Naomi. This brings us to the next lesson passage: Ruth 1:15-17
It should be noted that Orpah was not a "bad" daughter-in-law. She also loved Naomi and wept over her and kissed her when they parted. Naomi's advice was well-intentioned and it was no sin to follow it.
Ruth, however, was exceptionally loyal and devoted to Naomi. Perhaps she feared Naomi couldn't make the journey by herself. Perhaps she longed to go to a different land where food was available. Perhaps she might see if a husband might be found among Elimelech's family. Certainly she had found faith in Yahweh and desired to be among more of those who shared her faith.
Her commitment was based on love, love for her departed husband and his mother and his family and his God. In so doing she gave up her family, her tribe, her land, her Moabite culture and its pagan religion. To borrow a term heard often in modern times, she was "all in".
Naomi heard Ruth's words and realized further urgings would be fruitless. The pair then journeyed to Jerusalem.
This brings us to our next lesson passage, Ruth 1:18 and 2:2-3. Read less
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