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Mothers of the Bible — Naomi (Part 2)

One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking. Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.” “I will do everything you say,” Ruth replied. So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law. After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.” “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.” So Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet until the morning, but she got up before it was light enough for people to recognize each other. For Boaz had said, “No one must know that a woman was here at the threshing floor.” Then Boaz said to her, “Bring your cloak and spread it out.” He measured six scoops of barley into the cloak and placed it on her back. Then he returned to the town. When Ruth went back to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “What happened, my daughter?” Ruth told Naomi everything Boaz had done for her, and she added, “He gave me these six scoops of barley and said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” Then Naomi said to her, “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens. The man won’t rest until he has settled things today.” So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!” Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.
Ruth 3,4:13-17

Dear God, as a widow in that time, Naomi was really pushing water uphill. She had so few options for herself, and she knew that if Ruth didn’t act soon she would be in the same boat. Did they manipulate Boaz? Yes. Did they use Boaz for his money and position? Sure. But in that system, did she have much choice?

Here’s what I like about this story that is subtle. The name “Mara” (Ruth 1:20) didn’t stick. You didn’t make her life bitter. In fact, through Ruth, you gave her hope. Through her son Kilion (presumably Kilion is the one who married Ruth), you brought this woman into her life who would look out for her. She didn’t know it. Had her husband not died and had her sons not died, they might have stayed in Moab forever. But with those deaths she was forced back to Judah and Bethlehem. She was forced back to what would become the City of David. And why did it become the City of David? Because her daughter-in-law, Ruth, would marry Boaz and have a son. And what did the women of Bethlehem (the future City of David) say to her?

Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to. you that seven sons!”

Not all of us will get to see even that beginnings of what you are doing like Naomi did. We don’t know if she ever saw David born, although it’s certain she never saw him as king or even kill Goliath. But she got to see Obed. She got to cuddle him and care for him. There was nothing about her any longer that fit the term Mara.

Father, my prayer right now is for everyone who feels like their name is Mara because they feel like you have made their life bitter. I saw a man in church this morning who was sitting alone. I noticed some things about him that made me wonder if he was there seeking you from a desperate place. I spoke to him briefly, and he didn’t indicate anything was wrong, but I at least wanted him to know that someone noticed him this morning and cared. I have some family members who are currently struggling. They might feel like the name Mara fits them. Help them to let go of that label. Help them to embrace your love. Help them to look for ways to extend love to others. Help them to take their eyes off of themselves and find ways to serve. And heal their wounds through your Holy Spirit and your presence. And help me to be there for them as well.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2020 in Mothers of the Bible, Ruth

 

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Mothers of the Bible — Naomi (Part 1)

Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “ No, but we will surely return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.” And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city 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 out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
Ruth 1

Dear God, Naomi is an interesting woman. It’s great that we get her story and Ruth’s story. Of course, Ruth’s claim to fame is that she ends up being David’s great grandmother, but there is no reason that we should have had this story at all except that someone chose to capture it and preserve it for us. And it all starts with a woman named Naomi and her quickly deceased husband, Elimelech.

There are a couple of things I notice about Naomi in chapter 1:

  • Her daughters-in-law love her very much.
  • She tries to do right by her daughters-in-law, even at her own expense.

She must have been a remarkable woman for Orpah and Ruth to exhibit so much love for her: Then she kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” Even Orpah didn’t want to leave, and I’m sure she was conflicted all of the way home and for the rest of her life. There was something about Naomi that had engendered great love and affection from Orpah and Ruth.

The fact that she tried to send her daughters-in-law away is also evidence of her love for them. She knew that she could not provide for them in the present or in the future. Their attachment to her was likely a death sentence–perhaps not in actual death (although possibly), but certainly in living out the rest of their lives as old widows. But letting go of them meant letting go of two people who might care for her and help her. She would be alone to fend for herself. Her selflessness in this story is remarkable.

Father, as I go through this day, help me to be selfless. Help me to be selfless with my wife, my children, and with those I encounter. Open my eyes to where I might be wrong. Show me how to act in any given situation. Help me to know when the Holy Spirit is moving me to action. Help me to be good about praying for continuously. Help me to love you with all of my heart, mind, and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2020 in Mothers of the Bible, Ruth

 

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Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups — The Threshing Floor (Ruth 3:6-13)


The above image is from Revealed: A Storybook Bible for Grown-Ups by Ned Bustard. The image itself is called “Ruth and Boaz (after Ben Zion)” and was created by Ned Bustard. 

So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law. After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.” “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed. “You are showing even more family loyalty now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor. Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman. But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you. But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.”
Ruth 3:6-13

Dear God, I’ve spent some time looking at Ruth and Boaz, but I don’t know remember spending too much time thinking about Boaz himself. You know, trying to get into his skin. To do that, we have to go back to his introduction in chapter 2. Here are some verses in chapter 2 that are striking me about him and his character:

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to water they have drawn from the well.” (Ruth 2:8-9)

Not only did Boaz provide food for her, but he also cast a net of physical protection over her. I have been reminded over and over again how vulnerable women are to physical harm. I was talking with a friend yesterday morning about our daughters and wishing we could protect them better. My wife and I have talked about her uneasiness walking in crowds and fear of being groped by an anonymous man walking by. These just aren’t fears that I have, but they are real and legitimate fears for women. In fact, until this morning, I don’t think I’ve ever given much thought to the physical danger Ruth was in by going out to glean in the fields. But Boaz thought about it.  Why did he care so much? What was it about Ruth that got his attention?

“Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. May the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.” (Ruth 2:11-12)

I think that speaks for itself. So I guess my question is, were Ruth and Naomi manipulating Boaz in chapter 3? At the end of the day, I suppose this was part of the culture at the time. In fact, I don’t know that I’ll ever fully understand this story because I don’t understand the culture of that time and place enough. But I do know that this ended up being part of your plan because these two people became David’s great-grandparents. Boaz did a lot of wonderful things, but he never knew he had done this. He was faithful in what you had given to him to steward, and the results would have been beyond anything he ever would have dreamed.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t go back to this image by Bustard and at least say what he had to say about it in his book:

Ben-Zion Weinman (1897-1987) was a sculptor, painter, and printmaker. An emigrant from Ukraine, he came to the United States in 1920 and was a founding member of a 1930’s avant-garde group called “The Ten.” Curing the 1950s he completed several portfolios of expressionistic etchings/aquatints. This print is a reworking of one of those pieces from The Books of Ruth, Job, and Song of Songs portfolio. The Bible is ambiguous about what may or may not have happened that night on the threshing floor: Weinman leaves the way open for either reading of the passage in his visualization of the famous night. He depicts both people asleep under the starlight, the future great-grandmother of King David under a blanket at the feed of Boaz, who snores against a heap of grain.

I looked for the original, and I couldn’t be sure which image was the one that Bustard used as the inspiration, but it’s interesting to consider that the author of Ruth left the events of that night vague. I’d never considered that before. I just took it for what was written on the page. Perhaps I’m naïve.

Father, help me to be faithful this day. Help me to not look to my legacy or my future because I have zero idea how you might be using me. The author Gary Thomas said in one of his books (it might have been Sacred Parenting) that our role in history is to be born, possibly procreate, and then get out of the way. What you do with our lives after that is up to you. Help me to embrace that simplicity and to offer you this one life that I get on earth to further your kingdom and your glory.

In Jesus’s name I pray,

Amen

 

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