Judges 21:1-Ruth 1:22; John 4:4-42; Psalm 105:1-15; Proverbs 14:25
The book of Judges stands in contrast to the book of Ruth. Over and over in Judges, we read the refrain that closes the book: "In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit" (Judg. 21:25). And how awful some of those things were - rape and murder and idolatry and kidnapping! Even this last chapter reveals depravity: the Benjaminites have foolishly defended the men of Gibeah, and the men of Israel have made a rash vow to withhold their daughters in marriage (see Judg. 21:7). To work around this vow, the Israelites slaughter an entire village. Sparing only the virgin daughters, they deliver these terrified, traumatized girls to the surviving Benjaminites (Judg. 21:10-14). But there aren't enough females to go 'round, so they collectively hatch a plan for organized and widespread kidnapping (Judg. 21:20-23). This is the plan to restore the future of the tribe of Benjamin. This is the fallout of the civil war waged to avenge the death of the Levite's concubine. Awful in every respect.
And then we turn to Ruth. Ruth, the story of women who actively and continually turn toward God and toward his good plan. It's set during this same time period (see Ru. 1:1) and starts off in much the same manner - Elimelech abandons his homeland, the promised land, the place of the dwelling of the true God. He does, as it says in Judges, as he sees fit. He takes his wife and sons with him, contracting marriage alliances for them with women who serve a foreign god (which is always a prohibition for God's people). He does as he sees fit. And then he dies. And then the sons die. What a burden for Naomi to carry - alone, widowed, childless, no support system, in a foreign land. She, too, could do as she sees fit. But Naomi instead turns toward God in this moment; she hears "that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them" (Ru. 1:6) and immediately prepares to return. The land of her ancestry and the God of her people call to her. It remains an anxious situation, though. Naomi will still be poor, still widowed, still childless, even in her homeland. She is undeterred; the call of the Lord is too strong. Over the next few verses, Ruth commits to the same uncertain future, surrendering to the same God (see Ru. 1:17, where Ruth uses the personal and unique name of God).
Many people read Naomi's comments upon her return as complaint and self-pity, even blame of God (see Ru. 1:20-21). I think it's more like what we'll read with Job - an acknowledgement of the mighty power of God. Job, though he cries out to God, though he establishes his own innocence, is yet considered blameless. Naomi here declares her belief that God is sovereign and supreme, even though her life is marked by sorrow and loss. She knows who is God; she knows where to turn. We'll see this time and again throughout tomorrow's reading. Naomi knows God's law and recognizes those who truly follow Yahweh, and she initiates a series of actions that will reveal the good plan of God. Not only that, but as Ruth and Boaz act in obedience to God's law, these three main characters will reap blessing. All as a result of Naomi turning toward God and toward his words.
We have a Naomi. She's a sparkplug - four going on princess. She has curly hair and puppy-dog brown eyes and roundness in all the places a four-year-old girl should be round. She fits her name: Naomi means "pleasant" (Ru. 1:20). We're crazy about her. And we pray that she'll be crazy about God, that she'll recognize his sovereignty and power and choose to follow his decrees toward blessing. We hope she'll be a woman who turns toward him in pain and in joy. We want her to know that God "remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations" (Ps. 105:8).
And I want these same things for you today, whether you're experiencing loss or celebration. God is still here.
- Sarah Marsh
P.S. Aaron Keyes wrote a song several years ago that speaks to the truths of Ruth 1. Listen to it here, remembering that God is present and active even in our pain, confident that our God is yet good.
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