The books of the Old Testament can be quite daunting reading – stories of hardship and exile, of mistreatment, abuse and deceit – of rebellion and warfare. And in amongst it all, the thread of God, weaving a pattern of love, of concern, of right and wrong, of forgiveness and justice.
The books of the Old Testament paint a broad picture of God’s interaction with His people on an epic scale at times. Exhausting reading – exciting and challenging, but also quite frantic at times.
So when we come to the book of Ruth, we can actually draw breath, relax and sit and enjoy a quiet story of a family. No references to bloodshed, to Kings fighting for power, to people rebelling and suffering. This is a peaceful story of the recovery of dignity, of loving relationships, and of care for others.
It gives us an insight into a family who care for one another, who want to do what is right, and who seek to follow God.
The passage we read is the beginning of the story, so please go on and read the rest.
It starts with a Jewish family, from Bethlehem, who decide to leave their home and go as refugees, during a famine, to another country to find a better life. Elimalek, his wife Naomi and two sons. They must have got on alright as they stayed and settled there.
– and then the husband died leaving Naomi a widow with two sons. But they grow older and the sons marry local girls. All seems well until, after ten years, both the sons die leaving three widows to fend for themselves – Naomi, and now Ruth and Orpah.
So – what do widows do! Widows in that society depend on their family for support. Naomi has no family in Moab to look after her so she decides she must return to her homeland, to Bethlehem, where she will find a place of support and care.
She tells her two daughters in law – you go back to your families locally and find new husbands from your own people – and you can start a family with them – live a new life.
Now this is where the story gets interesting.
Both of the daughters cling to her and weep – and say no we won’t leave you – we will go with you.
Why would they do that? Naomi is a foreigner, they have family close by, this is their culture – here is an opportunity to start a new life with a new husband and possibly have children. Why stay with their old mother in law?
Naomi must have been an attractive person. After the second time of cajoling them to leave her, one daughter accepts the advice and leaves to go to her family – but Ruth stays on. Why?
Listen to what Ruth says:
“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 was a Moabite, they did not worship the God of Naomi, the God of Abraham – they did not follow the Jewish God Yahweh, they worshipped a god called Chemosh, the national deity of the Moabites whose name most likely meant “destroyer,” “subduer,” or “fish god.” . doesn’t sound very attractive does it?
But Naomi must have maintained her allegiance to Yahweh – Ruth recognised in Naomi a person who followed a different God – and that she is now saying she is ready to follow also. Something in Naomi’s lifestyle, her character, her relationship with others convinced Ruth to make the decision – “I don’t want to leave this lady, I want to stay with her, be her friend and companion and “follow her God”. There is something about her and her God that makes me want to follow her, learn from her and go with her back to her family – that is the life I want to lead – so I will stay with her.
As we reflect on Naomi – what was she like – do you think she was caring, how did she treat others, did she look after her family, how do you think she responded to strangers and foreigners – was she wise in her advice to others – what was her first concerns for her daughters in law – did she think of herself?
She lived a life which influenced others – she lived a life which Ruth wanted to follow – and what was Ruth’s ambition – to go with her, to stay with her – but above all – to accept her God as her own.
How do people view us, how do those around us view our lifestyles, our characters, the way we treat others? Do others look at us and say – “that is a person I want to follow, to get to know – and why are they like that?” – do others look at us and say “I want your God to be my God?”
That is the difficult challenge of being Christian – “How do others view us?” – and do we live in a way which causes others to say – I want to know more, I want to know about their God, I want to find out about their faith? Not through singing hymns, not through listening to sermons, not through clever arguments – but by watching our lives and deciding – Yes I want to know them. – and their God.
That is the challenge we have as we commit ourselves to follow Jesus. But the wonderful news is that Jesus doesn’t leave us alone to try to live in a way which is attractive to others –
John records Jesus as saying:
…I will pray the Father and He will give you another Helper,, that He may abide with you forever – The Spirit of Truth, …., whom you know for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
Jesus promises us the Holy spirit to help us in our Christian lives – and what does that mean – it means we are not alone, we have help.
In the letter to Galations – Paul reminds us that the fruit of the Spirit – the result for us of accepting His help – is a life signified by:
Love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
I am sure Naomi had a lot of those attributes – and we think of ourselves, do we have the humility to ask the Holy Spirit to grow this fruit, these attributes in our lives – and
– may we remember Naomi, and her influence on Ruth and consider – who are we influencing with our lives, and who will follow us as Ruth followed Naomi?