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. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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. ESV
We are now worshiping the Lord by listening to his word to us in the book of Ruth. The book is one of the festival scrolls of the Jews, and we are calling it the “scroll of kindness”. In our text we encounter the idea of kindness for the first time. The Lord is speaking to us about kindness, and so may his kindness toward people and our kindness to one another fill this gathering.
In the opening verses of this story, we have heard of the tragic events that have come into Naomi’s life. A famine strikes her native land, and her husband Elimelech decides to take Naomi and their two sons to the foreign land of Moab, in order to attempt to provide for them. However, everything goes wrong in Moab! First, Elimelech dies. Next, Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women, which given the history of Israel and Moab was not a promising marital decision. And then, both of Naomi’s sons also die within ten years of arriving in Moab. So, Naomi is left with the triple of burden of being a widow, childless, and lacking any honorable means of financial support. Her condition appears to be hopeless!
Many people, including religious or spiritual people, would simply collapse at the terrible blow that Naomi received. There are various ways this personal collapse can happen:
- Some might abandon belief in God completely and criticize him angrily
- Some might withdraw into a hermit-like shell of bitterness
- Some might reinvent their religious beliefs, like denying God’s sovereignty or seeking ways to manipulate God by works and rituals to regain his blessing
- Some might seek to ease their pain through alcohol and drug use
- Some might turn to crime to provide for themselves and/or to seek revenge on God and others for their terrible condition
- Some might commit suicide or make a suicide attempt to gain pity from others
But Naomi does not give into despair. She does not run from the true and living God in this desperate hour of her life. Instead, she runs toward God with continued belief in his rule over all things and with the deep pain that fills her life. So then, this is a helpful message from God for us to listen to in this uncertain day in which we live.
I. God’s grace at the darkest time (1:6a)
A. The Lord takes the initiative.
1. God set his plan in motion, before Naomi had any reason to hope. For years, she had not heard any hopeful news from her native land, Israel. But at the moment of her worst circumstances, God was already at work to change her life forever. At the loss of her sons, her thoughts were focused on her grief and needs. She had no idea that God was at that same time at work to help her.
2. She was still in Moab when good news came to her. The Lord did not wait until she was on the way back. No, he set in motion the process that would lead to her return to God and his people.
Apply: Many times when we are flooded with sorrows and trials, we cannot see or fail to see how God is already at work for his glory and our good. This is part of our weakness as humans, but God knows our weaknesses and does what it takes to draw us to him or back to him. This is a good reason to worship the Lord!
B. The Lord came to the aid of his people, or more literally, “to take note of or look after”.
1. When God takes note of people, it can be either in a positive or negative sense in the OTS. Here it is plainly positive, as in Gen 21:1; 50:24-25; Ex 3:16; 4:31; 13:19; 1 Sm 2:21; Ps 8:4; Jer 15:15; 29:10 Zeph 2:7; Zech 10:3.
2. God is in charge of providing food for his creatures (Ps 145:15-16; cf. Mt 6:11). Usually he uses what we call “natural means”, but he oversees the whole process and acts in positive or negative ways to give us food. Notice the worldview of the God’s word. It does not say things like, “the weather changed,” or “the raiders left”, or “there is an upturn in the economy”. Instead, the Holy Spirit emphasizes God’s activity. Here, God takes note of the suffering of his people from the famine and he sends them bread.
Point: We need to restore a deliberate, conscious recognition of God’s care for his creatures. Food comes ultimately from God, not from the grocery store.
Apply: The person who believes in God will see God’s action in our present situation. Only if you see God at work now can you pray for his mercy for a recovery. “It is concentration on the Great Cause which teaches us to live by faith” (Atkinson).
II. Naomi’s response to God’s action (1:6b-7)
Principle: When God acts, we are to respond in faith according to his action. We are to think upon God and what he does (Ps 77:10-12; 111:2-5).
A. Naomi prepared to return home (to Israel) from Moab.
1. The meaning and importance of “return” in this chapter. The Hebrew word translated “return” is the verbal glue that holds this chapter together (1:6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15 [twice], 16, 22 [twice in Hebrew]; cf. also 2:6; 4:3). The chapter talks about the “return” of two women. For Naomi the return is personal renewal of the obedience that comes from faith (cf. Rm 1:6; 16:26; cf. 12:1-2). For Ruth the return is conversion to the true and living God.
Apply: This story is about turning back to the Lord. How do you need to turn back to him? What parts of your world and life view and the actions that flow from it need immediate change? For example, how does your life honor God everyday? How does love for your neighbor produce generous, self-sacrificial action in your way of life?
2. When Naomi hears the good news of God’s care for his people, she senses her need to return to God and his covenant community of people, for whom he is providing bread. “Her return is a choice to identify with that community again. It is a return, not just to Bethlehem, but to Yahweh and Yahweh’s people” (Webb, p. 42).
3. Naomi responds in faith to the word about what God has done. She continues to believe that God is gracious and merciful, and that he will receive her back to him and his people. It is important to grasp this in order to understand what follows properly.
Apply: How can your faith remain strong when you feel crushed by life’s events? Remember what God has done for others in similar times.
B. Naomi’s decision influenced Ruth and Orpah to return with her.
1. Observe that both daughters-in-law decide to go with Naomi. Clearly, they loved her, which speaks well of her previous interactions with them. Godly women should strive to draw their families close with the cords of love.
Apply: Ladies, is this a priority in your life? Are you seeking to draw your family members to Jesus by the influence of your love for them?
2. This was an unexpected decision by Orpah and Ruth. “While Bethlehem had once been Naomi’s home, it was never theirs. Her people were not their people. And if Orpah and Ruth came with her, it would mean two more mouths to feed on a fixed and limited budget, two more bodies to clothe and house, all the while dependent on the charity of family members” (Duguid). And those family members knew neither Ruth nor Orpah! But they went with her!
3. Their decision complicates Naomi’s life. She would be taking two unwanted and widowed foreign women back to Israel. But she allows them to start on the way back with her. We must appreciate Naomi’s problem. To have them with her would be a reminder of her tragedy. A look at their foreign faces would remind her of the loss of her sons. Consider what a woman goes through when she chooses not to abort a child from an illicit affair or rape, and who also chooses to keep the child! The child can be a sign pointing to her tragedy.
Apply: Sometimes we need to weep. Show compassion on people who have suffered terrible events, even if you think they’re to blame! (Why are people who claim to believe in grace so judgmental? Why do they say, “He or she made their bed and now they have to lie in it?” Would they like God to say that to them?) Don’t you rejoice in God’s compassion toward you? Then how dare you not show it to the suffering? Suffering people need daily mercy and grace. I beg you; I plead with you—please show compassion for Christ’s sake!
III. Naomi’s seeks the Lord’s blessing on her daughters-in-law (1:8-9).
A. The place of kindness in relationships
1. The meaning of kindness – The Hebrew word translated “kindness” is a rich word that means “covenantal loyalty, kindness, goodness, mercy, love, and compassion” (Younger). People in covenant relationships (family and the church) are to show kindness to one another. You have a right and an obligation to receive and to give kindness.
2. Naomi acknowledges their kindness in her family. When people act properly, we should commend them for it. She honors them for acting in her family, and especially toward her deceased sons, in the way that they should have. May each of you experience this in all your relations with your in-laws!
B. Naomi seeks or seems to seek the end of her relationship with Ruth and Orpah
1. The ways she does this:
a. By suggesting they return to their mothers’ homes, which is an unusual expression in the OTS – In the three times it occurs, it has reference to marriage and marital love (Gen 24:28; Song 3:4; 8:2). So Naomi is suggesting that they return to their mothers to seek assistance in finding new husbands.
b. By kissing them goodbye – She intends to seal her permanent separation from them in a loving manner.
Apply: We are wise to always and only part with true affection for each other, since we do not know if we will ever see each other again in this world.
Illustration: How my Uncle Bill and his pastor parted the last time my uncle was in church
2. We are not given an explanation in the text for Naomi’s reason. But we should not be overly critical. In addition, in her current condition, Naomi cannot make any promises to the young women. She is destitute herself and unable to suggest that they might be able to remarry within the covenant community of Israel. All that Naomi could see for them at this point would be poverty and long lives as desolate, childless widows.
3. In addition, by returning to Judah, Naomi is throwing herself upon the mercies of the Lord, who promises to care for widows. But do her daughters-in-law, who were of a people who worshiped false gods, now share her worldview?
Apply: However troubled Naomi may have been in her friendship with God, she is on the way back to God, to live in conformity with his word. Now, she can give a clear witness of her faith in God. Are we living in faith, so that we can also testify to our reliance on the Lord’s provision? In other words, what is there in your life that provides evidence that you are living by faith?
C. Naomi prays for God’s blessing on Ruth and Orpah. “It is very proper for friends, when they part, to part with prayer” (Henry). Observe how she mentions “the Lord” (Yahweh) twice in her prayers. She consciously uses the covenant name of God to seek blessing. Her prayer is based on the assumption that the Lord is God over all nations and can bless in any place.
1. She prays that the Lord would show kindness to them. Having heard of God’s renewed kindness for his people, she dares to pray for his kindness for two women from the nations. How much more should we who live in the new covenant pray for God’s kindness on the nations!
2. She prays that the Lord would provide both with new husbands. Notice the idea of “rest” for women in the marital relationship. “In essence, it connotes permanence, settlement, security, and freedom from anxiety after wandering, uncertainty, and pain” (Hubbard). Much more could be said on this subject!
Apply: Ladies, do you pray for your families, as Naomi prayed for her daughters-in-law?
Apply: Men, are we concerned that our wives experience “rest” in our marriage?
Pastor Dave Frampton
When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.