Ruth 1:6-21; Eyes wide Open

Ruth 1:6-21…just a little back-story; Ruth tells a story based in one of the darker period’s in the history of God’s people, running parallel with the book of Judges; so a reminder of what this era looks like, Judges 21:25 reflects on it: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.

Yet, in spite of this, one of my favorite Bible commenters, Tim Mackie, a professor at Western Seminary & co-founder of the Bible Project, states that “Ruth calls us to reflect upon how God is involved in the day-to-day joys & hardships of our lives.” And I think that’s a solid take…let’s jump in.

So, in review: having sojourned to a pagan land with foreign gods, when Naomi’s husband dies, she most likely feels that this is God’s judgement for her disobedience. Author/pastor John Piper paints this picture of Naomi: “A famine, a move to pagan Moab, the death of her husband, the marriage of her sons to foreign wives, and the death of her sons – blow after blow, tragedy upon tragedy.
 
And so we pick up in verse 6 of chapter 1:
 
She (Naomi) and her daughters-in-law set out to return from the territory of Moab, because she had heard in Moab that the Lord had paid attention to his people’s need by providing them food. She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, and traveled along the road leading back to the land of Judah.
 
Hearing word that there is now food again back in her homeland, she decides to return to Judah… but Naomi knows that she has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. If they are faithful to her, they will find nothing but pain & disappointment…
 
Naomi said to them, “Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. May the Lord grant each of you rest in the house of a new husband.” She kissed them, and they wept loudly.
 
Can you hear the heartbreak in her voice? God had put into place what were comparatively radical cultural protections for women for that day, protecting them from what often happened to widows (i.e., prostitution & destitution), but it involved putting responsibility on their previous husbands siblings to take on their brothers wives as their own. Naomi, however, had no more sons. She couldn’t imagine the lives Ruth & Orpah would have if they remained with her, so she released them to return to their own homeland, where at least they had family… but they responded:
 
10 They said to her, “We insist on returning with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi replied, “Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me to have a husband tonight and to bear sons, 13 would you be willing to wait for them to grow up? Would you restrain yourselves from remarrying? No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.” 14 Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
 
Naomi made a convincing case, & Orpah accepted it as wisdom. She did as she was told. Not so with Ruth…
 
15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. Follow your sister-in-law.”
16 But Ruth replied:
Don’t plead with me to abandon you
or to return and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me,
and do so severely,
if anything but death separates you and me.
 
The life of an unmarried foreign widow will be very hard so she compels her to stay behind, but Ruth is committed to stay with her mother-in-law. They have truly become family.
 
Do you have anyone in your life who is committed in this way to you? Not everyone does, but there is something absolutely beautiful in COMMITMENT – people choosing to weather the storms together, COME WHAT MAY. There’s something amazing when you have a friend that you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that YOUR NAME IS SAFE IN THEIR MOUTH, & no matter what, they’ll have your back. Instead of hearing reason & wisdom, Ruth is leaning into the commitment she made before God, & choosing to walk the path laid out for her…
 
18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped talking to her.
19 The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival[c] and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
 
As a nonbeliever & a seeker THESE are the sorts of passages that always struck me. You see, if Christianity were a religion that was invented to be marketed & sold to the deluded, passages like this show that they did a bad job. Much like the book of Job, or my favorite old testament book, Habakuk, it’s obvious that this isn’t a PR campaign for “easy believe-ism”, or “name-it-and-claim-it” prosperity – the life of faith can be hard. Very hard. The Bible is frank & honest about it. And I love that.
 
Ruth is bitter, and laments her tragic fate. But what strikes me is, Naomi was from among the enemies of Israel, but – even in the face of her mother-in-law’s pain & disappointment with God, Naomi chose to pursue becoming a God-fearer/Israelite, & name herself among God’s people… Ruth’s God… Yahweh’s people!
 
Isn’t it encouraging that, often in spite of ourselves, God’s good news still can impact the world & the people around us? Ruth’s isn’t the best witness, but God’s spirit is working in Naomi, & she says “your God will be my God!” I’m thankful that God can use me even at my worst.
 
But there’s another lesson here as well.
 
When we believe that God is against us, we have often become so bitter that we can’t actually see what He’s actively doing behind-the-scenes. 
Look at all that Ruth seems BLIND to because of her bitterness:
  • God ended the famine. 
  • God made a way home. 
  • God preserved a kinsman to continue Naomi’s line. 
  • And God’s spirit constrained Ruth to remain with Naomi. 
 
But Naomi is so bitter than she can’t see His hand working.
 
Some years ago I went through a season of tragedy that left me bitter & blind to God’s work around me. So many things happened back to back to back that good & well meaning ministry friends finally got overwhelmed themselves & pulled a “Job”, asking; “Dude,  did you do something wrong? Is God mad at you?
 
In a single month our house was broken into by a professional team, losing almost $7000 of personal items, the transmission in BOTH of our vehicles went out simultaneously, & I found one of my children blue, & cold, unresponsive, with a body temperature over 10 degrees below normal – rushing him to the ER to save his life. And I’m only touching the surface… there was MORE. The trauma overwhelmed me, & for a time, like Ruth, I was bitter.
 
God opened my eyes however one night when an old friend called, asking if she could bring her boyfriend (who is now her husband) by to meet us. We didn’t want company, but we hadn’t seen her in ages, so we said “yes”. During that meeting he told us his story: he was the son of a Nashville music legend (who I will not name), & had grown a successful music career himself – in fact, a major record label had just financed his new album, & he’d been on the road with the biggest names in the business. However, he’d just met Jesus & walked away from ALL OF IT. And now he had nowhere to go for Christmas: he lost his friends, his family, his career – he laid it all down because of Jesus. And he wasn’t sad about it. Jesus was enough. BOOM! My eyes were opened! JESUS IS ENOUGH!
 
This inspire me, to write my original song, “Wandering Heart” which you can find anywhere you listen to music – my artist name is “Saint Lewis”, so if you look up “Wandering Heart” by Saint Lewis, I hope the lyrics will bless you… writing it was an important moment for me.
 
From that I was also inspired to write a list of resolutions to strengthen my walk during the hard times:
  • First, I resolve to build my faith by reminding myself of what I believe & why. I will start by reading some simple Apologetics, and reminding myself regularly of the Gospel. I live out my faith effectively effectively if I don’t believe it, and I need to continue to grow in my faith, even in times of crisis.

  • Secondly, I resolve to regularly refocus and put things in perspective, giving thanks for the little things, and reminding myself both of what I deserve & what God has given me by grace. Not long ago, while crouching near the ground, a number of tiny ants caught my eye. Moving my face closer still, straining to see clearly, I noted that they zipped this way and that, looking as though the fate of the universe were in their hands. From what I could see, they accomplished nothing of note, but they were ridiculously busy-bodied. It was as though God was saying to me, “Slow down. You’re just a human. Relax. I’ve got this.

  • Third, I resolves to step back & note the goodness of God in others’ lives. I live too close to me – constantly in my skin – so I have no objectivity when looking at my own life, especially when things are rough. However, the Bible often refers to God as “the God of Jacob”, “the God of David”, “the God of Abraham” – each time the weight of each of those individual’s lives weighs in on our image of God. Often it’s helpful to look at someone around you who’s life is clearly being touched by God, and lean on that for hope. Sometime we’re just too close to ourselves to see well, so I may need to take a look around to see God’s hand.

  • Fourth, I resolve to live authentically, and if I can’t do that in my daily circle, to find someone I can be honest with outside of that circle. Our emotions exist for a purpose, but they shouldn’t be allowed to “lead the train” – they serve us, and are merely one part of who we are. One way we keep our hearts in check is to process with others. We were not made to do faith in a bubble – we were made for community.

  • Lastly, though it sounds Sunday school, and trite, it is absolutely essential: I resolve to make space for daily quiet time – just for me and God, in His Word, in prayer – talking and listening. As simple as it sounds, this has done WORLDS for my wife and I in helping us to lean daily on God and not just freak out in the midst of stressful circumstances.
 
God wasn’t angry at Ruth, even in her bitterness, but her bitterness blinded her to what God was doing, & diminished the joy of TRUSTING HIM through that season. In hindsight, let’s resolve to live with our eyes WIDE OPEN to God’s goodness, even in the face of tragedy. 
 
So be it.


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