Famines, Funerals, and Families

Hughes Merle of St. Marcellin, France - Ruth in the Fields (Note Boaz in the Background), Paris, 1876.

. . . Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. – Matthew 1:5–6 (NIV)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 (NIV)              

Eleven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, there lived in Bethlehem of Judea an Israelite named Elimelech. A famine struck the land, and Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and two sons, Mihlon and Kilion, to Moab, a land east of the Dead Sea where grain was abundant.

Now Moab wasn’t on Israel’s friends list. In fact, they were bitter enemies. (For the whole sordid story, read Genesis 19:30–36, and Numbers 22–25.) But Moab was where the food was, so . . .

The sons took Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. In time Elimelech died. Then Mahlon and Kilion also died. All this in the span of a decade.

There were no career paths or jobs outside the home for women at that time. No Social Security, no IRAs. Unless she was well off, a widow faced a future of poverty and had to depend on the charity of relatives. Naomi, whose name means “pleasant,” determined it was time to return home, where the famine was finally over, and where her late husband had relatives. Orpah and Ruth would accompany her.

Along the way, however, Naomi realized her daughters-in-law’s plight: As Moabite widows living in Israel, they had little, if any, chance of ever remarrying. The “kinsman-redeemer” practice of levirate marriage, in which the widow marries her dead husband’s brother to produce a son in his name so the family line doesn’t die out, wouldn’t help them. Naomi was too old to have any more sons.

“Go back home,” she urged them. There they could remarry, have children, and not face a life of poverty.

Orpah, in tears, kissed Naomi goodbye and returned to her pagan homeland. But Ruth made a surprising choice.

“Don’t urge me to leave you,” she said. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16–17 NIV).

Naomi’s faithfulness to God while living in a heathen nation had made an impact on her daughters-in-law, whether she realized it or not. But now she wondered if this was how God rewarded faithfulness.

“Could this be Naomi?” the womenfolk exclaimed when she returned to Bethlehem.

“Don’t call me Naomi,” the grieving woman said. “Call me ‘Mara’ (Mara means bitter), for the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD brought me back empty.”

You know the rest of the story. How Ruth “just happened” to glean in the fields belonging to a wealthy relative of her late father-in-law. How Boaz redeemed Elimelech’s inheritance, taking Ruth as his wife. And how Naomi’s life became full again when she bounced her new grandson, Obed, on her knee.

She didn’t know that this grandson would be an ancestor of the Promised Messiah. All she knew was that God had turned her mourning into dancing, her sorrow into joy—just like God.

According to tradition, the Field of Boaz, where Ruth gleaned after the harvesters, where Boaz first set eyes on Ruth, is the field where, eleven hundred years later, an angel appeared to shepherds and made a startling birth announcement. And the house where Boaz took Ruth to be his wife, a millennium later, was the site of a stable where a virgin from Nazareth gave birth to the Son of God.

Have you, like Naomi, cried out in the depths of grief, disappointment, and pain? “God, how could You let this happen? Haven’t I been faithful?”

Just wait. Like Naomi, God works in all things for your good (Romans 8:28). He will turn your bitter, crushing losses into joy unspeakable. He promised. And God always keeps His promises.

All you have to do is believe.

When disappointments and sorrows and trials come and linger, remind me, Dear Lord, of Your promise—that You will work ALL things for good. Amen.

Read and reflect on the Book of Ruth.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Tamar’s Trump Card

Tamar
“Your seal and your cord and the staff in your hand.”-

 

Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. – Matthew 1:3

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

One of the skeletons in Jesus’ genealogical closet was a woman by the name of Tamar, the Canaanite wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er.

At that time, the sons of Israel weren’t a nation yet. They were a bickering, jealous, scheming lot who sold their own brother into slavery. Judah’s was the line that would eventually produce the Messiah. You’d think it would be a line that was pure and noble, filled with brave men and women who did what was right.

Think again.

Now Judah’s son Er so wicked that God put him to death. Since he had no sons, his widow, Tamar, was given to his brother Onan, Judah’s second son. This was the custom back in those days to keep the family line going. Problem was, if Onan fathered a son, the boy wouldn’t legally be his—it would be his dead brother’s.

That didn’t go over too well with Onan. So he made sure he wouldn’t sire a child through Tamar. That didn’t go over too well with God, who zapped him, too.

“Live as a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up,” Judah told Tamar. But he had no intention of giving his remaining son to a woman who went through two of his offspring already.

Tamar did what she was told. She went to her father’s house and waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually she realized that she’d be a widow in her father’s house until the day she died if she waited for Judah to make good on his word. So she took matters into her own hands.

Disguising herself as a prostitute, she sat down by the roadside when she knew he’d be passing by. Her plan worked. Judah “hired” her.

“What will you give me?” she asked.

“A young goat from my flock,” he said.

“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?”

“What do you want?” he asked.

“Your seal and your cord and the staff in your hand.”

Without a thought he handed them over.

Shrewd of Tamar. Stupid of Judah. These items were the driver’s licenses and Social Security numbers of that day, used for identification.

When Judah sent a servant with the promised goat, he couldn’t find her.

“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” the men of the area told him.

“Ah, let her keep what she has,” Judah said when the servant reported back to him.

Three months later Judah learned Tamar was pregnant. Furious, indignant, he called for her to be burned to death. She played her trump card.

“See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are,” she said. “I am pregnant by the man who owns them.”

Ever want to get away? I’m sure Judah did at that moment.

“She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah,” he said.

One of the twin boys she bore, Perez, would be an ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah.

This isn’t a story of “all’s well that ends well.” Neither is it evidence that “the end justifies the means.” And don’t claim Romans 8:28—“all things work together for good.” “Good” isn’t “best.”

But to fulfill His promise, God used the only thing He had—flawed human beings who thought nothing of shirking their duty, going back on their word and obtaining what they wanted through deception and manipulation.

Human nature hasn’t changed. But what has changed is that now we can do something about it. For God “has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9 NIV).

And that’s a trump card in anybody’s hand.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.* Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord! Amen.

*From “Amazing Grace,” by John Newton (Public Domain)

Read and reflect on Genesis 38:6–30.

This is the second in a series exploring the genealogy of Jesus.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons, © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.