| The Story of Naomi and Ruth
The story told in the book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful in the Bible. It focuses on the lives of two women, Naomi and Ruth, and shows how God can turn sufferings into joy.
The story focuses on Naomi first. When we are introduced to her, she has a husband and two sons, but they have lost everything because of a famine in the land of Judah. So, in desperation, they leave their family property located near Bethlehem and go to Moab, a neighboring country, to try to find a way to make a living. In our own culture, their situation would be comparable to the story told by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath, a book about people leaving Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl days trying to find a job in California. Things must have been pretty bad for Naomi's family if they were willing to lose their family inheritance in order to survive.
In Moab, Naomi's two sons found wives. It looked like life was going to turn out okay, even though they were not in their own country. However, things went sour. First Naomi's husband died, leaving her without support except for what her sons could provide. Then the two sons died, leaving her at the mercies of her two daughters-in-law and their families. She must have felt very vulnerable, being entirely dependent on the charity of people who were not from her own people. Hearing that the famine had broken in Judah, she decided to go back to Bethlehem, and she encouraged her daughters-in-law to return to their families.
The second part of the story continues Naomi's story, but the focus shifts to Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law. Ruth refuses to leave Naomi, and returns with her to Judah, where she now becomes an alien in a foriegn country, just as Naomi had been in Moab. Things were at their absolute worst. When they return, people recognize Naomi, kind of, but she has changed so much that they say, "Can this be Naomi?" (1:19). Naomi responds, "Don't call me Naomi, but rather Mara because God has made my life bitter. I left full, but I'm coming back empty. God has brought misfortune on me" (1:20-21). "Mara" means "bitter." So, not only was Naomi completely at the mercies of peoples' good will, without money or property, and completely bereft of her family, except for Ruth, she was also bitter, and she attributed her misfortune to God's afflicting her life.
Things were bad, but life had to go on, so Ruth volunteered to go gleaning in the fields. This practice was like a work-welfare program in that culture (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). People who were destitute would go to fields that were being harvested and follow along, at a respectful distance, behind the harvesters and pick up the little bit accidently left behind. Even though God had instructed his people to allow this practice as a kindness, some people resented the poor getting even the little bit they could pick up by gleaning. So it must have been humiliating and frightening to go to the fields.
The story begins its upward swing at this point. Just when Naomi and Ruth are at the very bottom of their lives, they keep walking in obedience to God, and He begins to open doors. First, she picks a field at random, but it turns out to be the field of Boaz, a kind man, who was a close relative of Naomi. Incidently, Boaz's mother was Rahab, a non-Israeli from Jericho whose story is told in Joshua 2 and 6:23. Perhaps he was more willing to be kind to Ruth, an alien, because his mother was an alien.
Second, Naomi begins to have hope that she will be able to get her land back. God had made provision in the Law for relatives to be able to buy back property that had been sold in hard times (Leviticus 25:23-28). This provision came to be known as the "law of the kinsman redeemer." Boaz was a wealthy man, and he was a relative (or kinsman), so he could buy back Naomi's land for her if he wanted to, but the law had also come to have an extra condition attached to it: if there was a widow of the person who was the rightful heir of the land, then the kinsman redeemer was to mary her so that she could have children and thereby keep the line of inheritance going.
So, not only woul Boaz need to be generous enough to buy the land back and give it to Naomi and Ruth (who was the widow of the rightful heir), but he would have to mary Ruth so that she could have children. This part of the story is very important, because Jesus came through the line from Judah, through Rahab and Ruth to David (Matthew 1:3-6). The line of promise nearly died out, and would have, had not Boaz married Ruth.
As it turned out, Boaz did mary Ruth, so Naomi and Ruth got their land back and were provided for. Furthermore, Ruth had a child with Boaz, and she named him Obed. Obed became the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David, and Jesus is from the line of David!
What do you think? Did God have good in mind for Naomi and Ruth? If He did, why did He allow them to fall into such desperate conditions? Is God unloving when He allows such things to happen? What can we learn from this story?
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