Do you have a favorite book of the Bible? I have two really – the book of John, full of so many of Jesus’ words, and the book of Ruth, with its beautifully woven love story. The Bible is full of stories involving marriage and family, but few give such detail of love and devotion as the story of Ruth. I’ve always been a sucker for romance, so this book is one I’ve returned to over and over again. In addition to the love story, however, Ruth is chocked full of Biblical qualities to learn from: courage, compassion, faithfulness, friendship, sacrifice, the list goes on. And then there is the unmistakable and powerful analogy between Boaz and Christ, our one true Redeemer. With so many lessons this book can teach us, I never fail to learn something new from its pages.
Reading Ruth today, however, my mind focused for the first time not on Ruth or Boaz, but on Naomi. Ruth’s mother-in-law is a central character in the story. As a younger, dewy-eyed reader, however, I passed right over her and focused on the younger heroine. Perhaps because we’re living in a time of pandemic, recession, and grocery shortages or perhaps because of my more matronly age now, whatever the reason, today Naomi’s character took on a new significance in the story.
As she returns to her hometown penniless and destitute, having lost her husband, her children, and all normalcy of life, Naomi feels as if she has been afflicted by God Himself. She does not rejoice for the one constant God has given her (Ruth). On the contrary, she claims she has been emptied, there is nothing good left in her life. The text does not tell us she prays for a change in circumstance or looks to God for rescue. As I read of her return to Bethlehem, I see a depressed Naomi who cannot see past her plight. She seems to have lost all hope.
Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.Ruth 1:5b NIV
Ruth is Naomi’s faithful daughter-in-law; she refuses to leave Naomi even when given her blessing to do so. Though we have no insight into Ruth’s faith in God prior to the start of her journey with Naomi, from her avowal in chapter 1 verses 16-17 and her actions following we see a woman who willingly left her people, her religion, her family, and her customs in order to stay with Naomi as she returned to herpeople, herreligion, herfamily, andher customs. Ruth showed an intense commitment to Naomi and this new way of life. Yet Naomi’s response to this is surprisingly silent. After Ruth’s beautiful, poetic response in verses 16-17, we read “When [Naomi] saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.”
But Ruth said “Entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”Ruth 1:16-17 NKJV
After they arrived in Bethlehem, it is Ruth, a foreigner unfamiliar with the local customs, who first suggests going to glean in the barley fields. Naomi’s response? “Go, my daughter.” At least she responded with words that time! Naomi and Ruth are in survival mode, subsisting off other people’s leftovers. Naomi knows the people of Bethlehem, knows the customs and laws, yet we see no indication that she is formulating any plans for their future.
As I read through these first couple of chapters in Ruth today, Naomi’s relative silence is what speaks the loudest to me. I can’t help but draw parallels to our current situation. Many have reacted to this pandemic with prayers, cries for help, and social media posts. But others, myself included, have reacted with relative silence. That’s what my depression does: it silences me.
There have been moments these last two months when I have found myself unable to speak or pray or cry or even write. Thankfully, for the most part, these have just been moments. I realize for others, this is a more prolonged response. That’s why I think the story of Naomi is so important right now.
We can look at the short book of Ruth as a whole and see past Naomi’s silent season. In these four concise chapters, we see a story from beginning to end. We see her loss and pain, her silent depression, and her eventual restoration. Since we don’t have the ability to see our current crisis from beginning to end, I see the book of Ruth as a reminder that every loss can be restored, every desperate cry satisfied, every need accomplished, every fear dispelled.
In my small group last night, we talked about hope (specifically the hope of His callingas mentioned in Ephesians 1:18). We discussed how the hope we find in Christ is different from hoping that our team wins the game or even hoping that the scourge of COVID-19 ends quickly. Secular sources often define hope as an optimistic desire for a positive outcome. The biblical definition, however, would read more like this: a confident expectationthat God’s promises are true. It involves trusting rather than wishing.
Although I have lately been struggling in my silence, today I choose to cling to my Hope. Though I feel sadness and pain, today I choose to meditate on God’s promises, training my mind to hope, rather than despair. I acknowledge this doesn’t mean every moment will be happy, but every moment can be rooted in my faith and trust in the One who has never let me down, the One who redeemed Naomi and Ruth and who I know has already redeemed us as well.
Oh Lord, thank You for the story of Naomi and Ruth. Thank You for opening my eyes today to the dynamic character of Naomi, to her growth and restoration. As your people struggle through the death and destruction facing our world today, help us cling to the hope to which you have called us. Grow your people through this difficult time and restore to us in the end all that has been lost. Our hope is in You alone. Amen.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.Ephesians 1:18-19 NKJV