(11/7) Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Psalm 127 • 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Psalm 146 • Hebrews 9:24-28 • Mark 12:38-44
The book of Ruth is less about Ruth and more about another heroine, Naomi. When the story begins, Naomi is in Moab – a place detested by the Hebrew people. It's Biblical. The story (Genesis 19) was that an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter had led to the birth of a boy named Moab. A number of additional Bible texts are hostile towards the Moabites. To make things crystal clear, Deuteronomy 23:3 states that Moabites aren't allowed to dwell with God's people.
But people have to eat. A famine in Judah forced Naomi, her husband, and their two sons to move to Moab. After her husband dies, Naomi and her sons remain there, with the sons taking Moabite wives. Then both sons die, before either of their wives have conceived a child. Naomi and the Moabite wives start heading to Bethlehem when Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to go back to their families. She plans to journey home alone and embittered. One daughter-in-law does choose to go back home; the other, Ruth, goes back to Bethlehem with Naomi.
The relationship between Ruth and Naomi has been celebrated often – mainly at weddings, where Ruth's words, Where you go, I shall go… and your people shall be my people, and your God, my God, (1:16) are adapted for use by the couple. For a mother-in-law to inspire such loyalty in her daughter-in-law, though, is a more impressive feat. When partners unite, enhanced body-mind chemistry supports the union. When Naomi and Ruth band together, something more is at play.
In the lifestyle of that era, the sons and their young wives would have made their home with the sons' mother, who would have managed the household affairs. In the close daily lives of domestic chores, Naomi would have had choices in how she treated Ruth: with the contempt a Jewish person might show a Moabite, for instance, or with the grudging tolerance of one trying to make the best of a bad situation, or with genuine respect. She opted, apparently, for respect: speaking to her capacity to be her own person, no longer following automatically whatever she'd been taught about those people.
Reviewing whatever principles one has absorbed as a child – deciding what to keep and what to toss – is hard work. Maybe it had happened slowly for Naomi, as her life in Moab unfolded and reality turned out to be different from her expectations. Maybe it had happened quickly, if the culture of Moab had appealed to her. Maybe Ruth herself had helped Naomi to see the beauty of these other people; maybe Ruth faced a similar challenge from her end. The Bible does not say. What's clear is that Naomi and Ruth developed a relationship that lasted a lifetime.
In a sense, every wedding brings a challenge to honor differences. At a wedding, each new member brings not only herself, but her whole family, with their principles and their practices. The family unit as a whole is strengthened as these new members are accepted. Boaz, a rich kinsman of Naomi, sets the example, recognizing Ruth's loyalty to Naomi (2:1-13). His capacity to see Ruth for her strengths rather than denigrating her background offers a template for what all resilient families do.
Boaz and Naomi exhibited another aspect of healthy families. Under stress, neither got stuck in helplessness; rather, each could pivot as needed. Naomi moved to a foreign place, and later, back again, when it was important to do so. Boaz was quick to see to the needs of the family and quick to go to the elders at the city gates to manage changing circumstances. Naomi, seemingly ever-aware of the next step required, deftly directed Ruth's actions as in a made-for-television play (3:1-5). The family moved ahead, with Ruth as the great-grandmother of David (4:13-17).
Morning: Where am I stuck in helplessness? How might I pivot?
Evening: How did my principles show up in my life today? Where was my automatic response inconsistent with who I'm trying to be?
Psalm 127:2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.