When we left Naomi, Ruth and Orpah last time, all three women had lost their husbands, so they were widows. Naomi was a foreigner, so she was left with no way of supporting herself, and even though Ruth and Orpah were “natives“, they weren’t going to find husbands on their own. For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble. What will they do?
There was only one solution, for Naomi to go back home to Bethlehem, and for Orpah and Ruth to go back home to their families.
It wasn’t going to be an easy journey, because no matter which route they took, it was going to be about seventy-five miles long. Moab was separated from Israel by the Salt Sea, the Jordan River, and a range of mountains, so they were going to encounter rivers to ford and mountains to cross. Unless they had pack-animals to carry extra goods, such as a tent, they were going back with little-more than the clothes on their backs. Were the routes even safe-enough for three women to travel alone? There were SO many unknowns…
Naomi Returns with Ruth
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. 7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. 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 in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:6-9)
Even though God’s judgment was over, the famine was lifted, and prosperity was being restored in Israel, Naomi still had grave-concerns about how she would be treated when she got home. Would she be welcomed with open-arms, or would she be ostracized for having left the country? She was even more concerned for her daughter’s-in-law because they would be strangers in a foreign-land. The relationship between Israel and Moab hadn’t always been very good, even though they were distantly-related. If she was ostracized, her daughters-in-law would be ostracized too. She was prepared to “go it alone“, but she didn’t think it was a good idea for them to go with her. They were going to be better-off going back home to their families.
So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.”
Parting company with ones we love is hard to do, which is why we prefer to say “See you later” rather than “Goodbye“. I went up to see my dad just a few weeks before he died because mom had told me that he had been unresponsive all week. As I drove up there, I was afraid that this would be the last time I saw him alive, and I was correct, but he “woke-up” for a few minutes while I was there, so rather than having to say my final “Goodbye“, I was able to tell him “See you later“. He died a few weeks later, so that was the last time I saw him alive, but I was spared that final “Goodbye“. I know that we will be reunited in Heaven, so I WILL see him later and he will no longer be suffering from the devastating diseases that killed him.
11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
Once again Naomi appeals to her daughters to go back home to their families, for their own good. They were still young and would more-easily find husbands in their own communities, while she was beyond the age of bearing children, and even if she could, she didn’t expect them to wait long-enough for her sons, if she did have sons, to grow up. No, they would be better-off going back home, and if we didn’t know “the rest of the story”, this would seem to have been “wise-counsel”.
How many times have we received what seemed to be “wise-counsel” which turned out to be “bad-advise”?
Who does Naomi blame for their predicament? God, of course. SHE had been faithful to God, but SHE had still suffered the same fate as the rest of the Jews, a famine. How could God do that to her? How many times have we blamed God for our struggles and problems?
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
Orpah finally heeded Naomi’s appeal and went back home, but Ruth was stubborn. We don’t know anything about Orpah’s fate, but we do have the rest of Ruth’s story. Which one made the right decision?
15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
Once more, Naomi appealed for Ruth to go back home, but Ruth wasn’t going to be deterred from continuing-on with her. We start seeing Ruth’s character in her response:
1. Her unyielding-devotion to Naomi.
2. Her desire to worship the God of Israel.
3. Her promise to go wherever Naomi goes.
4. Her willingness to share whatever their future may bring.
For whatever reason, Ruth declares that she is in it for the long-haul. Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi gives in and lets her travel with Naomi to Bethlehem and an uncertain future. Ruth was staking her future, as uncertain as it was, on believing that the God of Israel would take care of her. That was remarkable faith for a person who had come from an idol-worshiping culture.
18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.
Has anyone ever given you the “silent-treatment” when you said something they didn’t like? It was going to be a long trip…
19 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
Far from being ostracized, the people in Bethlehem were excited that Naomi had returned. Some of them may have been wondering about her since she and her family left over ten-years ago. They didn’t have the kinds of instant-communications which we so heavily-depend-on, nor was there a “postal-service“, so any communications had to be entrusted to someone who was traveling back “home“. We also don’t see them asking why she has this “foreigner” with her. They were just glad that Naomi had made it back home safely.
20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
Many names in the Bible had special-significance or meaning, which was why Naomi (pleasant) wanted to be known as Mara (bitter). She is still blaming God for what has happened…
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. (Ruth 1:6-22)
When they got to Bethlehem, the barley harvest had just began, which sets the stage for our next encounter.
Sola Deo Gloria!