The biblical book of Ruth is often referenced for the story of how Ruth met and married Boaz. While that story holds many important themes, today’s focus is the relationship between Ruth and Naomi. Ruth is a woman who is from a place called Moab. Naomi meets her after a long journey from Bethlehem, Judah (her home country) to Moab and some difficult years, following the loss of her husband. Naomi had two sons, named Mahlon and Chilion. These Hebrew sons married two women from Moab, Orpah and Ruth. The story reports that they stayed in Moab for about ten years before both Mohlon and Chilion die. At this point, things seem a bit bleak for these women. The story makes no mention of either of the wives bearing children. All they have left is each other. In a patriarchal society, that was a great disadvantage. However, as these women begin a new journey, things take an enormous shift in a new direction, though they don’t know it at the time.
Naomi hears of her homeland receiving a blessing from the Lord, bread, and decides that she wants to return there. The significance of the bread is made clearer when we backtrack to the beginning of this story, which states, “…there was a famine in the land.” (Ruth 1:1 NKJV) With that cleared up, let’s continue. Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth set out on the journey to Bethlehem when Naomi began to have second thoughts. She instructed her two daughters-in-law to “turn back” and return to their parent’s homes so that they may have the possibility of remarrying. At first, both women respond with the desire to remain with her, but after Naomi repeats herself, adding the implausibility of her to produce additional sons suitable for them to marry in the near future, Orpah decides to kiss Naomi goodbye. Ruth, on the other hand, “clung” to Naomi (Ruth 1:8-14 NKJV). Here, our first lesson is introduced. Naomi tells Ruth, once again, to turn back. However, this time she uses the example of Orpah’s decision to try and persuade Ruth’s choice. Ruth responds with a clearly worded oath of commitment:
“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 shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 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
The first words out of Ruth’s mouth rebuke Naomi’s persistent request. She basically tells her, “Stop chasing me away. I’m not leaving.” That is a powerful statement, particularly because it causes Naomi to stop complaining for a moment and consider what Ruth wants.
Lesson #1: Be careful not to push away the people in your life who are committed to you.
In Naomi focusing on the desolate nature of what their current situation looked like, she encouraged her daughters-in-law to leave her. The thing is, both Orpah and Ruth originally expressed a desire to remain with her. Orpah then turned away after Naomi kept urging her to. Perhaps she obliged out of respect for her mother-in-law’s wishes. Maybe the idea of staying with someone who kept pushing her away was too exhausting so she decided to lovingly part with her. The text doesn’t provide any additional information, so we can’t know for sure. Nonetheless, Naomi’s reasoning stemmed from her own understanding of what seemed more beneficial at the time. Ruth’s decision to stay with her is persistent in spite of Naomi, as she makes her commitment as clear as words can express with the hope that Naomi will get the point. Thankfully, she does:
18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her. – Ruth 1:18 NKJV
Unfortunately, the message didn’t resonate with Naomi quite long enough for her to consider an attitude adjustment. When she and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, they were greeted with an incredibly warm welcome. The text states that, “all the city was excited because of them.” Yet, Naomi’s disposition remained pessimistic . The woman of the city asked, like friends who haven’t seen each other in years, “Is this Naomi?” and Naomi, in all of her disappointment, replied:
“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty.” – Ruth 1:20-21a NKJV
Naomi’s response is very symbolic. Her name means “pleasant,” but she told the women to call her Mara, which means “bitter.” Naomi chose to identify herself based on the negative aspects of her circumstance, even though she set out on a journey intended to lead her to a place of prosperity. She effectively arrived in a place of abundance and brought a mindset of scarcity and discontentment. In her complaint about leaving Bethlehem “full” and returning “empty,” she ignored the fact that she still had Ruth at her side. I could only imagine how Ruth must have felt in that moment. Was her commitment to remain at Naomi’s side not enough? Did Ruth waste her time accompanying Naomi? Surely, Naomi meant no disrespect to Ruth, but that didn’t mean her words weren’t hurtful.
Lesson # 2: We get a two-fold lesson here.
- Be careful not to dismiss the time and effort provided by the people who support you.
- If you have nothing positive to contribute when people greet you with love, warmth or heartfelt praise, keep it simple and say “thank you,” or receive it with polite silence.
In her response, Naomi created such an awkward and uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. She didn’t need to pretend to be happy but saying nothing would have been more beneficial than inviting people to discuss how bitter she was. Now, I’m not saying that Naomi’s emotions weren’t valid or that she didn’t deserve to share what was burdening her heart, but her incessant focus on the negative prevented her from experiencing the blessing she initially set out to find. The story continues with this chapter ending statement:
“Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:22b NKJV)
Naomi and Ruth arrived at their intended destination at the perfect time to obtain resources for food (remember, there was a famine in the land y’all)! This was a reason to celebrate. A time to put aside, even for a moment, weeping and sadness, to embrace gratitude that the land produced grain after people everywhere were probably struggling to acquire their next meal. Naomi wasn’t the only one enduring hardship during this time. Famines were usually followed by death due to starvation as well as poverty for those whose livelihood depended on those crops. The women of the city were probably excited just to see that Naomi was alive! Also, their arrival at the time of harvest should have been a relief from the likely arduous journey they made. The next lesson we learn here is this:
Lesson #3: Take time to change your perspective so that you can receive your desired blessing with the right attitude.
Ultimately, Naomi and Ruth settled into Bethlehem and Ruth went on to marry Boaz. The significance of their union is in the role Boaz accepted. He became the family’s “kinsman-redeemer,” which, in one respect, is a close relative who assumes the responsibility of purchasing property and possessions that are lost when a husband in a family dies with no sons to inherit them (which possibly indicates part of the reason Naomi was “bitter”). How wonderful that Naomi’s husband’s legacy is now able to be kept in the family after all. Our last lesson for today is this:
Lesson #4: Don’t underestimate the blessings you already have.
This familial blessing would not be possible without the person Naomi was trying so hard to push away on her journey back home, Ruth. Later in the book, the women tell Naomi that Ruth is “better to [her] than seven sons,” which is, again, a huge compliment within their patriarchal society where sons held birthright and blessings that continued throughout generational lines. Because Ruth gave birth to a son, Obed, Naomi’s family inheritance now had the promise of continuing on to the next generation. And to think, Ruth was Naomi’s blessing all along!
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of another biblical story and resonated with the lessons extracted from the text. Below, I included some reflection questions to help you identify some areas for personal growth:
- Is there someone or something in your life that you have not fully appreciated?
- If so, what do you think is in the way?
- What is one thing you can do so show greater appreciate for that person or thing?
- What do you think may be holding you back from experiencing the fullness of the blessing you desire? (This is a great question to bring to God in prayer.)
- What areas of your life can you focus on to remind yourself of the blessings you already have?
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Upsplash