The Book of Ruth

“Too much Cecil B. DeMille and outsized language about the Power of God can give the false impression that when seas aren’t being parted or the dead raised, God is taking a nap on the couch.  But the reality is that the overwhelming bulk of God’s most intensely powerful moments in our lives are intimate, not spectacular and cinematic.  For every Miracle of the Sun there are billions and billions of moments in which some small nudge (the inspired writer calls it a “still, small voice”) is what touches the heart and can turn lives (or the fate of nations) for the good. ….  When the Son of Man comes and separates the sheep from the goats, it’s not going to be done on the basis of how may times you worked a miracle, healed the sick, or spoke in tongues.  Those gifts do get doled out by the Holy Spirit sometimes to various people, depending on what equipment God knows they will need to fulfill their vocation.  But the main event is the pursuit of virtue and living the works of mercy. “

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moab and judah

We will be studying the Book of Ruth in our Scripture Study class this week. I have read the Bible passages several times and answered the questions after the commentary. Today I decided to slowly read it in the Adoration Chapel. There were some passages which became more clear to me as I read. Perhaps as the author above says, it was “the still, small voice of God speaking to me” through His words.

In Chapter 1 we are told of the experiences of the family of Elimelech. He and his family seek refuge in Moab because of the famine in their home town of Bethlehem. The family includes a father, mother and two sons – perhaps fairly young. Some time after their arrival in Moab, the father Elimelech dies and the sons Malon and Chilion marry Moabite women. After about ten years both of the sons died. Neither of the sons’ wives had given birth to children or the Bible would have spoken of them.

book of ruth

Naomi, the mother, decides to return to Bethlehem. Her two daughters-in-law travel with her.  Naomi is now truly alone, for there is no one close to her who knows who she truly is – a daughter of Abraham. Who shares her culture, her thoughts, her knowledge of the God of Abraham, to whom can she truly speak the feelings of her heart? Much like my grandmother was after all her friends and family had died – no one knew the world as she did. No one. Such a life is a truly lonely life.

As the women proceed on their way, Naomi instructs the younger women to go back to their birth families, so that they can seek new husbands. Naomi decides she must travel the way alone. She is desolate and without hope, for she knows that she is too old to marry or have children. She can offer nothing to the two women who accompany her – she is probably penniless as women did not inherit their husband’s property.

Perhaps in Naomi’s mind, she thinks she might die on the journey to Judah. A woman traveling alone, then as now, was a target for unscrupulous and violent men. Perhaps that is acceptable to Naomi, for she sees no future for herself here or in Bethlehem; she is consumed by grief. In a gesture of love she attempts to send the two younger women, Orpah and Ruth, away. She blesses the women and prays that God will grant them a husband and a home. The two younger women don’t want to leave Naomi, for over time they have come to love her. Naomi is convinced that God has done this to her, that “He has extended His hand against her” in taking Naomi’s family away from her.

The distance between Moab and Bethlehem is between 30 and 60 miles, depending on where the starting point was. This would have taken someone walking between 7 and 10 days to make the journey.

Orpah finally is persuaded to leave, but Ruth cannot be persuaded. Naomi says to Ruth, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god.” When Orpah and Ruth married Naomi’s sons, they accepted and worshiped their husbands God (probably the custom of the time). By returning to their own people Orpah and Ruth would return to their own people’s ways and worship the god of the Moabites. Ruth refuses to go and makes the most astounding statement: “wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people and your God my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there be buried.” Ruth is willing to give up everything – family, friends, a future and to be buried among her people – for love of Naomi. One could ponder what kind of life Ruth had before marrying Naomi’s son? What had Ruth seen and experienced in Naomi’s home? How was it different from the life she had known before? Those questions cloud the real reason for Ruth’s drastic and courageous choice – love of Naomi.

In the time that Ruth lived with Naomi’s family, she had come to know their God. And God, we are told, gave to Ruth the gift of faith in Him. By traveling with Naomi, Ruth gives the older woman Naomi a gift as well – a reason to live, if not for herself, then for Ruth. No more can Naomi wait for or hope for death in the wilderness. She must live for Ruth, for she loves Ruth as a daughter and would not leave her to face the hostile wilderness alone.

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This story is special to me because I had given a Little Golden Book of this story to our mom when she became bedridden after dad died. Mom read the book every day, sometimes more than once a day. It seemed to give her comfort. Perhaps it assured her that just like Naomi, she would not be alone.  And she wasn’t. My sister Christine was always there – each day she came after work and spent a couple of hours with her. Christine was mom’s Ruth.