When we read the Bible’s stories it’s helpful to remember that these were real people who lived in a real place. Elimelech, Naomi, Ruth are people just like you and me. That’s part of why their stories stick with us. We can relate and identify with them. God speaks to us through them because God spoke to real people in real situations that we can relate with.
That’s the power of the Bible. God didn’t send it down from heaven complete and ready to go. No, it grew out of real people encountering a real God. It’s a real book, for real people, in real places. And that’s why we dive in and study the little story of Ruth.
This is part three in our study. You can find one and two here.
Let’s dig in.
At this point in the story Naomi is at her lowest. And from her perspective she has nothing. She is alone and in a foreign land but she hears rumblings that God’s favor has returned to Bethlehem. So, “she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.” (Ruth 1:6)
So Naomi who is from Abraham’s new tribe, the one whose mission was to bless all other tribes, but left to go to Lot’s tribe (Remember, Lot is the one who left the new tribe and became the symbol of what happens when you leave God’s new tribe.) is returning home. And not empty handed, she’s bringing Lot back with her.
A temptation we see frequently in this story is for people to be “practical”. Practical isn’t bad but sometimes it gets in the way of what God wants to do. Sometimes God wants to do things that only make sense in terms of faith. And faith sometimes doesn’t make “practical” sense.
Here’s what I mean. Part of this story is the restoration of Lot back to Abraham and ultimately through that the redemption of Israel and the world. That begins to happen here as Naomi’s daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, follow her back to Israel. But practical takes over, “But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go, return each of you to her mother’s house.” (Ruth 1:8) It’s beginning to dawn on Naomi that even in Israel she doesn’t have anything to offer them.
But Orpah and Ruth protest. They want to go with Naomi to her people.
Naomi then lays out a practical and logical list of reasons why they should stay. Namely they have no chance to find a husband. Naomi is too old to conceive and even if she could it would take years before they could marry. By all accounts life with Naomi is not hopeful. So Orpah decides to stay in Moab.
Ruth, however, won’t leave Naomi. She says, “No do not urge me to leave or to return from following you.” (Ruth 1:16a) Ruth, doesn’t follow the “practical” advice because somewhere along the way she decided that life with Naomi in Israel, however hopeless it is, is better than life in Moab.
So Ruth makes a pledge, “For where you go I will go, and were 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 I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16b) Think about that statement.
Where you go I will go.
Where you stay I will stay. It’s the reversal of Lot and Abraham’s parting of ways.
Your people shall be my people.
Your God is my God. Naomi’s God is the God who is intent on blessing every tribe. Naomi’s God is working to restore the world. And now Lot, through Ruth, is brought back on to this mission.
Where you die I will die. In other words, we are together for better or worse. And here is one of the greatest understatements of all scripture, “And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.” (Ruth 1:18) It’s almost as if the writer gives us a wink as he writes, “she said no more.”
So Naomi and Ruth begin the journey home to Israel and their story of redemption begins to take shape. We’ll look at that next time.