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.

Where Choices Lead

 

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. –James 1:5 NLT

When I met my husband at the end of January in 1973, I fell in love with those twinkling blue eyes and everything about him. A week later I knew he was the one.

But in March fear set in. I was still feeling the effects of a broken engagement six months earlier. My shattered heart hadn’t had enough time to mend.

“This is happening too fast,” I told him one Friday evening after our date. Then I slipped out of his car and out of his life.

For the next two days, an emotional wrestling match waged war in my heart. What if I was passing up the love of a lifetime? Deep down I knew someone like him might never come along again. But this was my chance to play the field. I was young, free, and independent.

Saturday evening I stayed home. Alone. Miserable.

We had a signal in those days before cell phones. If the living room light was on and the window shade was up, I wasn’t home. If the light was on and the shade down, I was.

I kept peeking through the drawn shade, hoping he’d stop by. I kept that light on and the shade down all night long. By Sunday evening, I made a choice. I grabbed my car keys and went looking for him.

Here we are, about to celebrate our forty-fifth anniversary. I shudder when I think of how close I came to losing him and missing out on the life we’ve had together.

Every choice we make carries with it consequences, some good and some not so good.

When I read the book of Ruth a few weeks ago, it struck me that this story that so beautifully shows the sovereignty and faithfulness of God, is a story of choices. Each of the four main characters had a choice to make. What they chose determined future joy or sorrow, rejoicing or regret.

Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, chose to step out of God’s will and not trust God to provide for him and his family’s needs. He moved his family to Moab, only 55 miles from his hometown of Bethlehem.

The result was disaster. He died in a foreign land, his sons married Moabite women, not women of the Hebrew faith. Then the sons died, leaving Naomi and her two pagan daughters-in-law without provision and protection.

Naomi chose to return to Bethlehem. Stepping back into God’s will led to more blessings than she could ever have dreamed of.

Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, chose to remain with Naomi rather than return home to “her people and her gods.”

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay,” Ruth told her. “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 even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16–18).

Ruth’s choice of loyalty led to the love of a lifetime.

Boaz, Elimelech’s relative, chose to honor the law of levirate marriage and take Ruth as his wife. The result was hope for all mankind. The child they had, Obed, became the grandfather of David, whose line produced the Messiah.

The end result for all but Elimelech was joy.

Every choice we make has consequences. Asking God for helpfor wisdom, guidance, and directionwill lead to the right choice, if we choose to listen to Him.

What choices are you facing today?

 Help me, Lord, to choose the right priorities, the right people, the right places, and the right Provider—You. Amen.

Read and meditate on Ruth 1–4.

© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.