In the Book of Ruth we meet a family – Elimelech, his wife Naomi and two sons, Malon and Chilion. They leave their homeland in Bethlehem and travel to Moab, because there is a famine in Israel. What does that mean? The rains have not come, and the crops have failed. The wells may be running dry. In Israel with its hills and valleys, canals as they had in Egypt were of no use. Unless God sent the rain, the crops would fail. Sometimes we fail to see in the stories of this ancient land parallels to our own lives, because our lives are so different. For us there are supplies of food stored in other locations; we have a public water supply. While we may have to decrease our use of water, we never think that there may not be enough to drink to sustain our lives. A drought to us is simply an inconvenience.
Elimelech did all that he was supposed to do – protect his family. It reminded me this morning of the set of stories that came from “Sarah, Plain and Tall“. In one of the stories the husband Caleb sends his wife Sarah and the two children back to New England where Sarah’s family lives. The crops have failed, the wells are running dry. Caleb stays at the farm to take care of it, while he sends his family to safety. Sending his family away causes great distress to Caleb, yet he does all he can to protect his family. Elimelech did not have that option. He had to travel with his family.
In thinking about the story of Elimelech, it occurred to me that God plants a seed, perhaps a kernel of the man’s truth, in the heart of every man who is called to be a husband and a father. That little seed develops as the man grows, marries and has a family. The man comes to recognize his primary responsibility – to care for his family, no matter the physical or mental cost to him. For this reason the man goes out to work every day, raising crops or working for someone else to support his family. While we may see a man as having ambition because he works long hours and tries to advance in his career, the ambition is really at the service of his family.
For some men that seed may be poorly developed or even damaged in some way – the man fails to work to support his family, or he abuses his family or even abandons them. Perhaps that man sees his ambition as only for himself. That man has failed in his calling. Sometimes the man does not know what his responsibilities are – perhaps no one has taught him. The recent film “Courageous” is a good way of thinking about those responsibilities. In the film a father, who has lost a young daughter in a tragic accident, eventually comes to a realization of what his responsibilities are and that his calling is from God. He comes to understand that his calling is Holy, that he has been set apart by God for a specific purpose.
I like the thought given to us by the commentary that we can see through the story of Ruth that God works out His purpose, that God uses the events and the environment around us to fulfill His plan of salvation. Without moving to Moab, Chilion could not have met Ruth and married her. Ruth could not have come to know the God of Israel and traveled to Bethlehem with Naomi. Ruth could not have been the great grandmother of David. Something in Ruth’s character perhaps – call it DNA if you want to be scientific about it – was to be passed on to David and from David eventually to the Messiah. What was that something – loyalty, complete love of God and another, total dedication to a purpose, courage? Our Bible tells us that God brought Gentiles into the heritage of Jesus, the Messiah, for Jesus came to save all of us – Gentiles and Jews alike.