Ruth: A Guide for Life’s Troubled Times
by Brian Bailey
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.(Chapter 1 verse 6,7)
Our modern western culture has no idea of the calamity the death of the father and the male heirs brought to a family in this ancient society.
Jews of this day had a very limited concept of immortality of the soul. For the Jew, the family bloodline was immortality. That, in part, was why Abraham and Sara were so broken-hearted over being childless. For these people, the cessation of a bloodline was death eternal.
This point cannot be stressed enough. Naomi felt like she was under a curse. There is no family to carry on the family name and they will lose their ancestral land. It could not possibly get any worse for Naomi.
Also, there were the practical implications of being a widow and having no grown children. There was no socioeconomic safety net for a widow. There were no food stamps, no housing vouchers, no aid for dependent children, no insurance, nothing!
Many widows would turn to prostitution for survival if they had no family to assist them. It’s hard, cold and brutal; that’s the way it was for widows without family. All that Naomi and her daughters-in-law had to look forward to was a bleak, dangerous existence.
This is one reason why kindness to widows was encouraged in the Bible. People, without any moral and legal restraint, mistreat and take advantage of those who cannot fight back, who seemingly have no voice.
"You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. (Deuteronomy 24:17, 18)
What we read of in the Law of Moses was very advanced and progressive for the societies of that day. Regardless, no woman in her right mind wanted to be in a widow’s shoes, even in Israel.
Naomi finds a bright spot in all of this sorrow; a dim ray of sunshine.
She hears that the famine in Israel is over; God had visited His people and provided them food.
God gave His people food once again.
The book of Judges, which we have mentioned is the historical context for Ruth, is nothing but a spiritual and moral roller coaster ride. The Jews moved from rebellion to repentance and faith back into spiritual rebellion. When the people rebelled, God sent some form of calamity to get their attention and drive them to their knees. When they repented God restored blessings to them.
God had not afflicted Moab. Why?
Why does it seem that the godless flourish and His people suffer difficulty and sometimes stern discipline? This of course is the question of Psalm 73.
Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind…
And they say, "How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?"
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
Moab had not experienced famine. Israel starved, and Moab was eating, which is why Naomi’s family migrated there. Doubtless the people of Israel wondered about the seeming lack of benefit of being God’s people. I am sure some wondered, “Where is the benefit in following God?” However, we must take the long view of things as the writer of Psalms 73, Asaph, had to learn:
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Truly you set them in slippery places;
you make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors…
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward you.
Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.
They were not the object of God’s special love. We will deal with this more later but the simple truth is God disciplines His children in ways that the ungodly may escape, but only for a little while.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:7, 8)
What is being conveyed here is that discipline is an indicator of love.
As a parent I sought to correct and discipline my children but I did not attempt to correct and discipline the children of the neighbor down the street. It wasn’t that I did not care about the neighbor’s children; I would be gracious and kind, but I had my own children marked for special care. God had His people marked out for special care. He had taken them out of bondage and richly blessed and provided for them. Regardless, they rebelled against the God who truly loved them.
Are we any different than the Jews of that day? We easily look down our spiritual noses at the Jews in the time of the Judges, but are we really any better? Are we really any more loyal to God? If God withdrew the hand that restrains us, what would we do?
Our text tells us that God blessed Israel with food again. So Naomi and the daughters-in-law go to where they know food is and where they will find relative safety.
A widowed Jewish woman was not going to be safe in Moab. Naomi is going home to the land of her fathers--where she belongs, where she stands the best chance of any type of reasonable existence.
The three women head from Moab, north.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
- Have you ever felt like the writer of Psalm 73?
- What were you experiencing in your life that made you feel that way?
- Has God ever disciplined you in your life? What was God teaching you?
Note: Brian Bailey's complete book of reflections on Ruth will be published by Deo Volente Publishing . It is scheduled to be available at the beginning of 2011. Meanwhile, enjoy the continuing series here.Last Update: 2012-10-19 17:10