Have you ever been bitter and angry about the pain that life has brought your way. If so, you’re not alone. So often we are dealt a horrible hand, and at no fault of our own, we are faced with loss, ruin, or sickness. In those moments, bitterness can take root. Maybe its not you. Maybe you are close to someone who is struggling with bitterness. Whether it is you or a friend, is there anything you can do to move in a healthy direction? As we continue the story of Ruth, there is something we can do, and Ruth will show us.
In the previous post we observed Ruth’s amazing reaction to tragedy. In our world we see many different reactions to tragedy. We have felt them within ourselves. In this post let’s discover Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi’s reaction to the tragedy when she and Ruth return to Bethlehem. If you want to read for yourselves, open a Bible to Ruth chapter 1, verse 19 and following.
Some of your Bibles will have text notes connected to some of the words in this section because Naomi, in her reaction to tragedy, uses some creative wordplay regarding the meaning of her names. Naomi means “pleasant”, but she says, “Don’t call me that. Instead call me ‘Mara’,” which means “bitterness.” Why? Naomi is upset at God. When she left Israel with a husband and two sons, a full family, now ten years later, she has returned to Israel, empty.
If you’ve been through loss, you get what Naomi is saying. Just the loss of one person is deeply painful. But Naomi has just had her husband and two sons taken from her. If you were walking with Naomi through this, what would you say to her? How would you counsel her? Many of us get extremely angry or bitter at God for lesser things. When we hear Naomi pouring out the pain in our soul, then, we don’t blame her.
Let’s not forget, Ruth, however. She is right there hearing Naomi say this. I wonder what was going through Ruth’s mind as she listened to her mother-in-law.
Ruth could potentially hear Naomi say, “Call me ‘bitter’ because I have returned empty,” and think to themselves, “Why is Naomi saying that? What about me? Am I worth nothing to her? She shouldn’t say ’empty”! She has me!”
It would be very easy for Ruth to join right in with Naomi’s bitterness but direct it back at Naomi. How many times have you experienced something like that in your family relationships? Have you ever thought, “I can’t believe they said that!” Or “They are taking me for granted.” Or “I’m not being treated right.” Or “Look at all I have done for them, and this is the thanks I get?” Ruth could easily have thought to herself “Wow, lady, I just lost my husband too, and yet I decided to leave my homeland, my people, and travel all this way to start a whole new life, just to support you…and you give me this. You call yourself ’empty’? I’ll show you ’empty’…I’m out of here.” And Ruth could head back home.
But Ruth doesn’t do that!
No, her reaction shows no sign of bitterness. Instead look at chapter 2, verse 1. We meet a new character: Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. Into the pain and bitterness, Ruth says, “I’ll go to work.” She decides to pick up grain to make ends meet for herself and Naomi. When she goes to work, she ends up in Boaz’ fields. Boaz shows up and does a double-take when he sees Ruth, saying “Who is that?” He learns her story, and he is amazed. Here again, I urge you to read the story for yourself in Ruth chapter 2, starting at verse 8 and following. Ruth and Boaz have a very nice conversation. After the work day is over, Ruth returns to Naomi with a bundle full of food. At home, when Naomi learns what happened, her mood shifts dramatically from bitterness to joy! The two widows have been in Bethlehem for only one day, and the Lord has provided.
Did Ruth get noticed because she is beautiful? Maybe. We don’t know. Did she get noticed because she was new? Maybe, certainly Boaz realizes someone new is there, and if Ruth was beautiful, I’m sure that didn’t hurt. But when Boaz hears her story, then his heart is warmed. He learns about a foreign lady who has left her people to help her mother-in-law! Through this we learn about the kind of person Boaz is, as he is willing to help a foreigner, which was something else that God put in the law. God’s people were to welcome the foreigner into their land.
So just as Ruth has gone out of her comfort zone, sticking her neck out for Naomi, Boaz decides to the do the same thing for Ruth! Even though she is a foreigner and immigrant, he welcomes her and blesses her with loads of food.
Naomi also responds with joy because she has inside information about Boaz. She knows who he is. She tells Ruth, “Boaz is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”
What is Naomi talking about? What is a Kinsman Redeemer? Remember the Levirate marriage I mentioned in Part 2? Widowed girl marries her brother-in-law? By the time of the era Ruth lives in, it seems that Levirate marriage had expanded to be even more generous than the specific law required. That’s a good thing. That means the people of Israel got not only the Law, but the heart behind the law. They got the principle that God was trying to teach them: help those in need! Just because there wasn’t a brother-in-law available, that didn’t mean the other relatives were off the hook. Instead, the levirate practice extended outward to other relatives. Cousins and uncles could be counted upon to care for Naomi and Ruth. They were kinsman, family, who could redeem or rescue her.
For Naomi and Ruth, therefore, Boaz, as a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimilech, was one of their kinsman-redeemer.
At this point we learn that Ruth continues her job with Boaz. As we continue reading in Ruth chapter 3, the author doesn’t tell us how much time passes. It is enough time, though, that Naomi seems to have gotten over her bitterness, and she begins to play matchmaker for her daughter-in-law. Naomi knows that Ruth is young enough to get remarried and start a family, and perhaps Naomi saw romantic sparks fly between Ruth and Boaz. So Naomi concocts a plan. Get ready. It might sound bizarre. …And we’ll learn about the plan in the next post!