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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

The first chapter of Ruth describes a journey:  The journey to Bethlehem and the return trip home.  Undoubtedly, both journeys were surrounded by difficult circumstances, but the trip home finds Naomi and her daughters-in-law in mourning.  A far cry from the mere discomfort of rumbling stomachs on the journey to Bethlehem.

 Read Ruth 1: 7-14

Scripture tells us that though the land traveled was the same in both journeys, the cast of characters returning home was far different.  Naomi was the only one to make both journeys.  She returns to Bethlehem without her beloved or her sons, instead, accompanied by two Maobite women she wishes would just leave her alone and oh, she is so bitter with God.  I doubt she ever envisioned that this is how she would return home.  What she didn't know is that God was already at work in Bethlehem waiting for her and whoever else would come, poised to give grace simply for the taking, just as it is today.  If we will come, He will give.  It's as simple as that.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home.  May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and me." {v.8}  Unfortunately, English lacks in translation at times and here is just one such example.  The word kindness is a weak translation of the Hebrew word hesed.  {Did you know the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament written in Greek?}  Hesed means to encompass all the positive attributes of God - love, mercy, goodness, grace, kindness, loyalty, benevolence, and covenant faithfulness: basically doing something for someone without any thought of what advantages it might bring to the one who expresses it.  I just wanted to emphasize that here so you have a better understanding of that concept as we go forward - it is a huge theme in the book of Ruth.

 It is at this point that Naomi tries fervently to get Ruth and Orpah to turn back, make a new life for themselves without her.  She even goes so far to tell them that there is really no way she can bear them any future husbands so move on!  Oh, and if that wasn't enough of a reason, she basically mentions that, by the way, "the Lord's hand had gone out against me so it does you little good to stay with me."

 It is here that we see Orpah kiss Naomi good- bye and turn back for home.  Ruth chooses to stay.  I wonder what it was in each of them that helped make their choices.  Were the adversity and sorrow too much for Orpah?  Did Ruth have more determination?

I know that there have been seasons in my life where I had choices to make.  Where all my circumstances were challenging and flat - out frightening.  I was never one to take a risk.  I always preferred to play it safe.  Not until the last several years, as I came into a greater relationship with the Lord, did I understand that I could turn and go back, crying all the way, returning to the 'safe zone'  or I could cry going forward, trusting that God is a good God and only gives good things.  Either way I'm going to cry - it's just what I do!

It is here that we begin to get a glimpse of Ruth's character.  Up to now, Naomi has done all the talking, now it's Ruth's turn.  She is nothing less than adamant that she stay with NaomiAnd Naomi wants nothing to do with that.  Is it because she wants to travel light - be footloose and fancy free?  Or could it possibly have something to do with the fact that she is returning home with a Moabite daughter-in-law?  Scripture never says, I just have to wonder. 

 At the end of our time today, we see that Naomi and Ruth finally arrive in Bethlehem - did you ever think we were going to get here?? { I am on verses 19-21 in chapter one.}  Go there with me to finish out our time.  I'm particularly intrigued by the statement that says, "... the whole town stirred because of them."  That right there tells me that Naomi was a woman of significance in her own hometown.   Others remembered her and were excited to have her back in their fold.   She was married to a prominent man in the town, was the mother of two sons and was a part of the nation of Israel.  These attributes alone made her a woman of great importance and rich beyond measure.

Contrast that with the woman who just arrived back in town.  It is difficult for us in this day and age to really comprehend the importance placed on child bearing in ancient times.  Nowadays we are more focused on individual success.   In ancient cultures, all focus was on the family.  All your dreams were were for your family's success and prominence.  There was little more important than raising children to love and honor you and walk in your ways.  Nothing was tantamount to that!  Barrenness was a horrible, shaming condition.  We can assume the same to be true for those who bore children and lost them, as well.

 It would be hard to miss Naomi's bitterness, at this point.  She left a woman of prominence and returned home empty.  She quickly tells people to no longer refer to her as Naomi {meaning 'lovely'} but to call her Mara, meaning 'the Lord has made my life bitter.'  Little did she know that the Lord was at work - literally underground.  The final verse in chapter one states that the barley harvest was just beginning.  His goodness was cropping up all around them!  Now, the mention of barley harvest may not thrill you, but for me I see it as a reminder of God's provision, sustenance, and hope - a reminder that God's timing is perfect!

Join me next week as our story unfolds into the manifest provision of our amazing God and an introduction to a biblical 'dreamboat'.

Have a great weekend!


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