Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So, she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But 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. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you, in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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 will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town 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 away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

This week, I came across this illustration: It comes from The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy has run away from home in hopes of finding a better life somewhere over the rainbow. The the tornado strikes and her wildest dreams turn into her worst nightmare, all she wants to do is to click her heels and go home. The illustration says that, much like Dorothy, Naomi and her family ran away from home full of hopes and dreams. But with the death of her husband and both of her sons, Naomi’s dreams were dashed, and her hopes were gone.

Then she had news: “Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So, Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law, she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.” Ruth 1:6-7

All it took was a word from home that God had shown up and blessed His people with food, and all she wanted to do was to click her heels and go home.

Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah began the return journey to Bethlehem, but somewhere along the way, she turns to her two daughters-in-law and suggests they stay in Moab. Moab is their homeland.

She knew what it was like to move away from home. She had done it herself. And as a widow who was considered too old to remarry and too old to bear children, she knew that she could not promise anything to Ruth and Orpah except a life of solitude.

After some persuading, Orpah finally relented and agreed to Naomi’s pleas that she returns to her own people and land.

Ruth would not.

Ruth was determined to stay with the woman who had become her mother, Naomi was going home. Home to her land. Home to her people. Home to her God… and so was Ruth. As far as Ruth was concerned, whatever the future held, they were in this thing together.

And so, they began to make the return journey from the plains of Moab to the town of Bethlehem. It was a dangerous journey for two women to take. Even a thousand years later that area still was known to be dangerous for travellers – Jesus tells a parable about a man who is attacked by robbers and left for dead – a familiar image to his hearers. The ‘days when judges ruled’ were chaotic and often violent – even more violent than in Jesus’ day and Naomi and Ruth as women on their own, making a journey few women would dare to take without a man would have been even more vulnerable. For them, there were no street lights, no paved roads, no rest stops, no police officers to protect them and no men to travel with them for security. They would be easy prey for the bandits in the bushes – and then there was the Jordan River to cross and the 2,000-foot slope they had to climb – but these women were determined to make it home.

What can we learn from this section of Ruth?

Naomi’s reasons for returning echo those for leaving.

Elimelek leaves Bethlehem because of a famine, we are given no information about the state of the famine in Moab, though it seems likely it was not biting as hard there as it was in Judah (if at all), or Elimelek wouldn’t have upped sticks and left Bethlehem. Rather than trusting in God in the midst of their struggles, they take action and try to do things for themselves. A short stay in Moab turns into a 10 year season away. While they were away, it seems they assimilated into the culture. Their sons took Moabite wives and they built what I am sure they expected to be a future there. Would Naomi have ever decided to return had the men not died? We simply can never know that, but I think not. I think they would have remained in Moab.

When Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, we ARE told why: it is because the famine had ended and God had once again brought fruitfulness to the land. She returned to Judah for the same reason she left it.

Self-Preservation. in other words, ME

When I was mulling over this thought, it struck me that today, many Christians use the same measure when they make decisions. It always has an element of ‘me’ in it.

Many people become Christians in the first place either for self-preservation reasons (I don’t want to go to hell), or because they’ve been told that when they become a Christian everything will get better for them. Both of which are essentially selfish reasons. Then, often someone’s criteria for choosing a church is largely down to how it meets THEIR needs. Too many people will leave one church and go to another in a heartbeat if it doesn’t (meet their needs). If they give money at all, they want influence or even control over how it is spent. I have lost count of people who don’t give into their local fellowship, but decide for themselves how they will give. Choosing for themselves what they will support and what they won’t. I even know someone who gave quite a substantial sum to enable someone else to go on mission for a while. It didn’t work out, and they were very unhappy about it. They even spoke of not getting value for their money. That turns a gift into an investment.

Why do we go to the church we do? Why do you come here to The Seed?

Are we making decisions and choices based on how they will affect (benefit) us? What about the challenges of living as a Christian in today’s society? Life is often hard, and it’s not always down to the choices we make.

My point here, and the lesson I believe we can learn, is that whatever life throws at us, we don’t have to make all the running ourselves. We can trust in God and follow His leading.

The journey is always better when someone travels with you.

No matter how far we stray, coming home is easier when we walk hand-in-hand together. Naomi’s companion was not just anyone. There was a very special relationship between her and Ruth.

The writer of Ruth takes care to always describe both Ruth and Orpah as Naomi’s daughters-in-law. Yet although Naomi calls them both ‘my daughters’, they are not actually her daughters—they are the widows of her dead sons. I know it’s a bit nerdy, but I did check in the lexicons and this is the meaning of the original text. When we read the narrative, the narrator always describes them as mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Whenever the text is recording what they said to each other, not once do they ever use the term ‘in-law’.

In-law relationships can be quite difficult, in fact, the mother-in-law joke is a staple amongst comedians. You know: ‘my mother-in-law booked on a cruise recently. You could tell which boat it was – you could see the rats leaving!’ I used to tease my mother-in-law relentlessly, I called her the old dragon, or the battle-axe! She’s not with us any more, but our relationship was close and the teasing was the typical English banter sort. A close relationship between someone and their in-laws is a really significant and special thing.

That Naomi called her son’s wives ‘daughter’ and not ‘daughter-in-law’ speaks to the very great love and tenderness between them. Ultimately, Orpah allows Naomi’s urging to convince her to go back to her family. Ruth, however, does not. She insists that whatever happens, she is sticking with Naomi. This marks Ruth out as different to her sister-in-law. She has wholeheartedly committed to her mother-in-law, which includes adopting her faith in God: ‘Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God’ (Ruth 1:16).

That Ruth adopted Naomi’s faith, her God and committed to walk with her whatever the future holds must have been really significant for her. And such an encouragement. One of the things which will impact our faith and our walk with God is the love and faith of those who travel the journey with us.

The Bible says in the first chapter, ‘it is not Good for man to be alone’ (Genesis 2:18) and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tells us: ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken’.

Proverbs 20:6 asks this question: ‘Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?’ (and note, this question includes women!).

In order for us to not walk through life alone, we need faithful people who will stick with us through thick and thin. It is true that, as Proverbs 18:24 says: ‘A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother’ which is often spoken of God himself, and that Jesus is clearly our friend who walks with us.

John 15:15 Jesus says: ‘No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends’.

We all need faithful human friends as well. Loneliness is a real issue nowadays. We have to remember that being alone and loneliness are not always the same thing, and that our personalities will impact how lonely we feel. However, one of the root causes for loneliness is lack of significant human contact. It is possible to be lonely in a crowd. I suggest that people who seem to have loads of ‘friends’ may well be lonelier that those with fewer friends, if those friends are superficial. Naomi appeared to have one friend only, Ruth. But what a friend! A faithful friend is a treasure to be cherished.

Bottom line today? We all need friends. Commit to being a friend to those around you, and trust God to bring to you those who will be significant friends to you.

Despite what Naomi says, it’s not God’s fault!

Echoes of Job sound throughout Naomi’s life:

Job And Naomi
Lost everything – even his wife and children.
Lost everything – even her husband and sons
Ends up on a rubbish heap.
Ends up in a foreign land
Attributes his misfortune to God. For example, he says:
God has cast me into the mire,
and I have become like dust and ashes.
I cry to you for help and you do not answer me;
I stand, and you only look at me.

(Job 30:19-20)
Attributes her misfortune to God. ‘God has done this to me’ is her answer to her situation.
1. ‘The hand of the LORD has gone out against me’ (Ruth 1:13).
2. ‘Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me’ (Ruth 1:20).

Neither has any hope for the future, but both see their situation as God’s fault.

It is a human trait to look for reasons for everything that happens to us. In ancient times, the things that happened to people were often attributed to God (or the gods if they weren’t Jews) if they couldn’t see any other reason. This tendency is one thing which is ridiculed by unbelievers—I don’t understand this, so God did it (‘God of the gaps’).

We still do it, but nowadays we don’t blame God (‘we’ve outgrown God’). What they blame now is society, and historical inequalities. They say: ‘my problems are NOT the result of choices I’ve made or even simply because I live in a world where bad things happen to people. No, my problems exist today because of:

  1. Racism
  2. Homophobia / Transphobia
  3. Misogyny
  4. The Patriarchy
  5. Christianity / Islamic Terrorists / Islamophobia: let’s blame those religious bigots for everything!
  6. Climate change
  7. Brexit / The European Union / The USA
  8. Donald Trump / Boris Johnson / Justin Trudeau / Jacinda Ahern etc. (who you blame says far more about you than it does about them!)

Or any one of a number of other things. It would seem that people blame anything and everything for their problems rather than taking responsibility for themselves.

The point is this:

We live in a fallen world. In some regards, if we blame the things people are blaming nowadays for our problems, we are being more Biblical. The problems we face on a day to day basis have far more to do with living in a fallen world (that’s Adam’s fault), amongst sinful people (that’s their fault), and being sinful ourselves (that’s our fault). None of which is God’s fault.

The Good news though is that when we turn to God, we can rest assured that whatever life throws at us, we can be sure of God’s presence with us. This is Romans 8:35-39 stuff:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake, we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord

(Romans 8:35-39)

Notice that the first ‘list’ of troubles are what we might describe as ‘natural’ or ‘man-made’: tribulation / distress / persecution / famine / nakedness / danger / sword.

The second list are ‘supernatural’: angels / rulers / powers / height / depth etc.

And finally,

Naomi had gone to Moab, she had lived there 10 years, but she made a decision to return to Judea. No matter how far you go from the place God wants you, it is NEVER too late to make a choice to return (echoes of the prodigal son).

Where are you? Did you wander far from God because you thought life would be better elsewhere? Have you realised that life isn’t where you should be? Are you in the middle of your journey home and in need of someone to travel with you?