So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favour.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem.
There is much in this passage for us to learn from. Naomi and Ruth have arrived in Bethlehem and are greeted by the people but they must start a new life together. They both have a different perspective on situation that they find themselves in. Therefore we will consider:
- Naomi's situation.
- Ruth's situation.
- The townspeople's situation.
- The true situation.
Whatever circumstances that we find ourselves in we always see the situation through our own perspective and that is highly coloured by all of our life's experience up until that time. It is also affected by many other issues, for example our expectation of other people's viewpoint concerning our situation, the future that will be affected by it, how it fits in with our belief system and our particular theology etc. There are a multiplicity of factors that build up our understanding of the situation that we find ourselves in at any one particular time. It might be worth just pausing this moment and just consider the situation that you find yourself in and list all of the factors that are influencing your understanding of what you are experiencing. This is not a mindless exercise but is helpful in our understanding as to what happens in the rest of the experience of these two ladies.
We have by now come to know Naomi quite well. We can understand something of what makes her tick and if you are anything like me you are by now appreciating this somewhat complex character that tends to wear her heart on her sleeve. Upon her return home the first thing that we see is that she does not put any spin on her situation, by now that is no surprise to us. As Naomi meets the townspeople she is open and honest about her situation she hides nothing of her situation and her understanding of what is happening to her. The background as we already know is that with her family they had gone to Moab to find a new life and whilst there she had experienced the death of her husband and both of her two sons. He grief is obviously immense and she is now having to make decisions that are new to her and are outside of both her cultural and personal comfort zones. As a woman she is having to make decisions that are usually the domain of the man and also she is deciding what is right for her (and by now Ruth) from a perspective of destitution. From our 21st century perspective we might be tempted to think that things could have been quite easy for Naomi. We have our social services etc. to fall back on but things were quite different for Naomi, she could guarantee nothing. It is true to say that the Law of God made provision for the poor in the land but that was dependent upon the faithfulness of the people of God and as we see from the last verse of Judges there would be a great probability that the people would not be obeying God's word! Naomi could guarantee nothing from the townspeople. Naomi's situation was not simply that she was stepping back into her home town but what she was walking into was uncertainty.
Put yourself now into her situation and consider what your thoughts, expectations and reactions might be.
Naomi simply did not know how her people would react to her after all much water had passed under the bridge both for her and for them. There was friends to catch up with and family to explain the deaths of loved ones. It was going to be re-living the whole sad story over and over again. On top of that “would she be accepted ?”
Where and how would she live, how would she pay the food bill etc. there was also Ruth to explain away and also to provide for. She had no Social Services or National Health provisions to fall back on! For Naomi it was a time of great stress and so it is no wonder that she appears a little prickly when she meets up with friends who were clearly delighted to see her again.
This whole episode ought to help us when we meet up with believers who have gone through hard times. We have already considered Naomi and tried to understand her but it is important for us to see Naomi as a type of hurt and damaged believer similar tom many that we meet with on a regular basis. Even though Naomi was clearly hurt and full of self pity along with accusation to God being the cause for her situation the townspeople were gracious, loving and kind towards her. Sadly it has been my experience of Christians and also from time to time showing little or even no compassion for the Naomi's that belong to them. This book of Ruth is far more than a lovely love story it is also a paradigm as to how hurting believers when they are in the deepest of distress should be loved, helped and accepted by God's people.
For Naomi this was a returning but for Ruth it was to be a new experience. She had observed and belonged to a family of faith in Moab. She had seen Naomi in her grief and had decided to be with her and to belong to her people but more significantly to follow God Almighty. Now she was about to enter into the place of faith and worship. This situation is akin to a believer walking for the first time into the church! We can imagine Ruth's anticipation and expectations. Would they all be as lovely and caring as Naomi and her husband and boys? She had been impressed by their lifestyle and their faith in God. She had also been impressed by their God and called into relationship with Him. She was now about to experience what it is like to be in fellowship with God's people.
What she observed I am sure will have gone a long way to put her heart at ease. The friends of Naomi were clearly delighted to welcome her back home. They refused to do as Naomi suggested by calling her bitter and thus to enter into the temptation to blame God for all that has gone before. They simply accepted Naomi as she was and as we shall see in later studies they were supportive to her throughout her settling in process and joined in her delight at the outcome of the experience! Also how would the accept her? She was an outsider! Was she a “gold digger?” who was after something from the family? She was after all a Moabite and not one of them! As a foreigner in their midst, would she be accepted. Again we shall see in a later study how she was accepted but for our purposes now we simply record that the townspeople, friends and family took Ruth to heart and fully accepted her.
As Christians and also the church we have much to learn from the example of how the friends and townspeople accepted Naomi and Ruth. They were a great example for what had been God's directive to His people for many years previously in that they accepted and helped the grieving, the poor and the broken hearted and they also wholeheartedly accepted alien or foreigner who joined them!
This is an important lesson to all believers everywhere but there is more. Ruth at first was an observer but she became a recipient of all of the benefits of belonging. Eventually she became a vital link in the purposes of God and is found entrenched in revelation history by belonging to the family line of the Lord Jesus Christ. When we entertain strangers we are never quite sure who they are and what purpose God has for them. We must learn to be hospitable to all who God puts in our way. Just for a moment imagine how all of this might have worked out if the people of Bethlehem had rejected either Naomi or Ruth or even both! At times we are guilty of being quite unnaccepting: We must be hospitable and accommodating of people just as these people were and as our God is to us.
The townspeople's situation:
again there is much for us to ponder and learn about how the townspeople reacted. It is important for us to consider what happened in Bethlehem on that day. Not only did Naomi return but Boaz's wife to be was coming to town. God had all of this in His plan and purpose and as we can now appreciate there was so much more for the future involved. What to many would have been the return of Naomi and all that entailed was in fact of a far greater order for which they were intrinsically involved. Their reaction could have had disastrous consequences but as it happened they were an amazing example of how to get it right.
For a moment consider how it all came about. The “grapevine” would have gone ballistic, Naomi was on her way and have you heard the news. Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion are dead and she is accompanied by one of her Moabite daughter's in law, the other one deserted her and stayed at home. All of this was potentially juicy gossip but the townspeople would have none of it, they were simply pleased to have Naomi back and accepted her and Ruth into society as it had now become. We could speculate much and it is worth doing so in a discussion group as to how it could have been but there is a wonderful example and lesson here for us that is often missed in our studies in Ruth, it is the importance of the corporate acceptance of the backslider and also the new convert. The townspeople were a perfect example.
It is simply to be more accepting of those who return from backslidings and also to help them as they return without taking on board all that has gone before. We are to be helpful and not a hindrance to their re-settling in. We shall once again see from future studies what effect that had on this whole episode.
The true situation:
It is simply that God is in this, He is working His purposes out. The protagonists of the story did not see what God was doing through ordinary circumstances that affected each of them but we are privileged to see what His purposes were through them. They were in the dark and yet were faithful, we are equally in the dark as to what will become of our daily circumstances but the one thing that we learn from all of this is that whatever befalls us god is working His purposes out through us!
I wonder how our story will be told.
Will it be one of faithfulness or failure?
We have a great responsibility to be faithful in all that we do!