Monday, December 21, 2009

Famines, funerals, and families

. . . Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. – Matthew 1:5–6 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Eleven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, there lived Bethlehem of Judea an Israelite named Elimelech. A famine struck the land, and Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and two sons, Mihlon and Kilion, to Moab, a land east of the Dead Sea where grain was abundant.

Now Moab wasn’t on Israel’s friends list. In fact, they were bitter enemies. (For the whole sordid story, read Genesis 19:30–36, and Numbers 22–25.) But Moab was where the food was, so . . .

The sons took Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. In time Elimelech died. Then Mahlon and Kilion also died. All this in the span of a decade.

There were no career paths or jobs outside the home for women at that time. No Social Security, no IRAs. Unless she was well off, a widow faced a future of poverty and had to depend on the charity of relatives. Naomi, whose name means “pleasant,” determined it was time to return home, where the famine was finally over, and where her late husband had relatives. Orpah and Ruth would accompany her.

Along the way, however, Naomi realized her daughters-in-law’s plight: As Moabite widows living in Israel, they had little, if any, chance of ever remarrying. The “kinsman-redeemer” practice of levirate marriage, in which the widow marries her dead husband’s brother to produce a son in his name so the family line doesn’t die out, wouldn’t help them. Naomi was too old to have any more sons.

“Go back home,” she urged them. There they could remarry, have children, and not face a life of poverty.

Orpah, in tears, kissed Naomi goodbye and returned to her pagan homeland. But Ruth made a surprising choice.

“Don’t urge me to leave you,” she said. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16–17 NIV).

Naomi’s faithfulness to God while living in a heathen nation had made an impact on her daughters-in-law, whether she realized it or not. But now she wondered if this was how God rewarded faithfulness.

“Could this be Naomi?” the womenfolk exclaimed when she returned to Bethlehem.

“Don’t call me Naomi,” the grieving woman said. “Call me ‘Mara’ (Mara means bitter), for the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD brought me back empty.”

You know the rest of the story. How Ruth “just happened” to glean in the fields belonging to a wealthy relative of her late father-in-law. How Boaz redeemed Elimelech’s inheritance, taking Ruth as his wife. And how Naomi’s life became full again when she bounced her new grandson, Obed, on her knee.

She didn’t know that this grandson would be an ancestor of the Promised Messiah. All she knew was that God had turned her mourning into dancing, her sorrow into joy—just like God.

According to tradition, the Field of Boaz, where Ruth gleaned after the harvesters, where Boaz first set eyes on Ruth, is the field where, eleven hundred years later, an angel appeared to shepherds and made a startling birth announcement. And the house where Boaz took Ruth to be his wife, a millennium later, was the site of a stable where a virgin from Nazareth gave birth to the Son of God.

Have you, like Naomi, cried out in the depths of grief, disappointment, and pain? “God, how could You let this happen? Haven’t I been faithful?”

Just wait. Like Naomi, God works in all things for your good (Romans 8:28). He will turn your bitter, crushing losses into joy unspeakable. He promised. And God always keeps His promises.

All you have to do is believe.

When disappointments and sorrows and trials come and linger, remind me, Dear Lord, of Your promise—that You will work ALL things for good. Amen.

Special-Tea: Ruth


  1. Love the story of Ruth! I didn't know there was a tradition that the "herald angels" later appeared in that same field--but what a lovely idea. You did a nice job of retelling this inspiring Bible story.