In the dark days of the judges there was famine in the land of promise. Rebellion had stopped the flow of milk and honey. Abundance was gone and favor disappeared.
During those dark days, a man named Elimelech lived with his wife Naomi and their two sons. Desperate to find provision, the family left their home of Bethlehem, the house of bread, and headed to Moab. While they found temporary provision there, they found a painful permanence as well.
Elimelech died, leaving Naomi a widow with two sons. In time, her sons married, but much too soon, they died as well. She was then alone and without in a land not her own.
Some time later, upon hearing that the LORD has made provision in Judah, Naomi decided to return home. She encouraged her two daughters-in- law to return to their families as well. Though Orpah wept for Naomi, she returned home. But Ruth stayed.
Naomi returned to Bethlehem tattered and worn for the wear. Grief ages one deep.
She asked her old friends to call her Mara, which means bitter.
The Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty.
But no one called her Mara. The new name didn’t stick. God had other plans. And God’s plan included Ruth.
It was the beginning of the barley harvest in Bethlehem, an especially poetic season for the house of bread. The fields were full.
With Naomi’s blessing, Ruth gleaned the leftovers from the fields of a man named Boaz.
Young Ruth soon captured the attention of this man. Curious, Boaz inquired of her, too. Upon learning Ruth’s story, he extended to her both favor and praise.
May you be richly rewarded by the LORD.
Ruth shared the news of her newly found favor with her mother-in-law. Realizing Boaz’ relation to her dead husband, Naomi saw a glimmer of hope. With bitterness losing its grip on her heart, she devised a plan for her future. Their hope for a better future.
Wearing her best dress and her most fragrant perfume, Ruth approached Boaz after he had finished his dinner and perhaps, a nightcap or two. She uncovered his feet and quietly lay there while he slept on the threshing room floor. Bold, and yet vulnerable, Ruth waited. Her hope resting in the one lying next to her.
The next morning, the night’s proposal from Ruth was met with a proposition from Boaz. And after careful handling of a legal issue, Boaz married Ruth.
The wedding papers were also adoption papers for Ruth. No longer a pagan, but an Israelite. Chosen.
Giving birth to a son, Ruth named him Obed.
With a grandson in her arms, Naomi’s hope was restored. Though she had returned home bitter and empty, she experienced a fullness of hope and joy.
Can you imagine? Being an old widow without provision? A young widow without? Vulnerable? Pleasant turned bitter? Desperate?
Perhaps some of you know exactly how that feels. This story must touch your heart in places I cannot know. May God fill those places like only He can.
But just whose story is this little book of Ruth?
Is it Ruth’s story? A young pagan woman turned widow. With a heart tightly wound to the heart of her mother-in-law, she left behind all she knew for a life with Naomi. A life in Bethlehem, worshipping the one true God of Israel. Whatever that meant. Whatever that required and provided.
Or is it the story of Naomi? An Israelite woman, who following her husband, left the house of bread to find provision. (It seems so obvious, right?) And while there, felt grief so deep she became bitter. A bitter old widow without. Who, upon returning home, experienced the fullness of joy. God does indeed restore.
Or, is this story about Boaz? An old man, beyond his prime. Wealthy, but alone. Available and able to redeem an old widow and her young pagan daughter-in-law. (After all, his mother Rahab was no stranger to long looks and loud whispers.) A kinsman redeemer foreshadowing the Hope that was coming.
Yes. It’s all of that.
With whom do you most relate?
At one time, I was Naomi turned Mara (bitter). No. I’ve not known widowhood. But I’ve been unable to see beyond my circumstances, bogged down in bitterness. Seeing only what one sees with a head hanging low.
But we don’t have to choose bitter. I don’t have to choose bitter. I choose to trust that Mara is not God’s name for me. I lift my head and my heart toward Him, and know that He is working things out for my good. For His glory.
For all of you bold and beautiful Ruths out there, I am inspired by you. Perhaps even a bit jealous! May your faith always be risky, brave, and bold!
Father, You are always working. Even when we can’t see it. Thank you for this beautiful story of redemption and hope.
Father, in our darkest days, hopeless days, wearied days, You are there. Here with us. And even if Your plan for us here on this earth doesn’t have a fairy tale ending, Lord — You are enough. You, Lord are our greatest hope.
But Father, when You give us just the very best things, oh, how we rejoice. Full of joy. Because You are so so good. May we never forget to thank You. Amen.
Often, in our prayers, we ask God to give back what we have lost. Because that’s how we interpret the word restore. And often that is just what God does. Restores.
But what if…
What if God’s plan includes so much more than what we can see or imagine? What if the broken places created by our loss allows so much more of God to invade our hearts? What if our brokenness moves us closer to the heart of God himself. Desperate for Him. Longing for Him. Hoping He is more real that we’d believed. Finding Him more than enough. Even here.
No. I am not suggesting that Naomi’s heart wasn’t shredded with grief. Nor am I suggesting that grief doesn’t leave behind it an ache that lingers.
I won’t pretend to know your pain. But I have known my own. And I know it can linger. Oh, how it lingers, hiding in places we long thought had healed. God sees you. He sees you and He loves you.
My friend, I am promising that God restores an aching heart with more of Himself. And more of Him helps us trust that there is a new beautiful coming our way.
Ask God to fill all of your broken places with more of Himself.
Or maybe you have a friend who is struggling to let God fill these deepest places. Pray for her or him right now.