When we read the story of Ruth, we often see it as just a romantic tale–a Cinderella story of a girl who went from tragedy and poverty to marrying one of the most wealthy and kind men in town.
But it’s so much more than that. The book of Ruth, like the entire word of God, is rich in wisdom. And one of my favorite things is that Scarlet thread that weaves its way through Scripture. Elements in Ruth’s story actually point forward to Christ and what He would accomplish for the world.
Tips before diving in:
- Be prayerful about it. Ask the Holy Spirit for understanding before beginning.
- Keep a notepad handy, and write down anything that stands out to you or questions you may have
- Take your time! There’s no rush in it. The goal is to glean whatever you can and grasp a clearer picture of the God we serve.
Now that you’re all prepared: Read Chapter 1
** Bonus points if you read it in multiple translations! (Ya know, if there were points…)
Questions to Consider
Here are some questions that came to my mind while reading this chapter:
- Why did Elimilech’s family leave Judah and settle in Moab? Was it a wise decision? Was it a relatable decision?
- During difficult seasons when tomorrow seems unsure, what’s my response?
- Are there areas of my life where I am relying on my own efforts instead of trusting God? If so, what attitudes, viewpoints, or heart postures are keeping me from trusting Him?
- Why did Naomi suddenly change her mind about bringing Ruth & Orpah to her home country?
- In my eyes, where does my value come from?
- Does my own understanding of who I am and what I can give affect others around me?
- What significance is there in Ruth’s response to Naomi pushing her away?
- Why does Naomi ask to be called Mara? And what does she mean when she says that the Lord has “testified against” her?
- Have I ever become bitter toward God and blamed Him for something I did out of my own understanding? In what ways can that bitterness linger and shape the way I see God and His provision?
The Importance of Identity | Ruth 1
But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
In the Days when the Judges Ruled
We’re told that this book was set during the time of the judges. When reading, we may picture what we know judges to be, but that’s not who they were during this biblical time period. These were often people of war who brought correction and justice to Israel. They were leaders who God raised up to deal with corporate sin and thwart Israel’s enemies.
During this period, Israel was extremely rebellious. They had intermarried with the other people living in the promise land (against God’s instruction) and had even adopted their religious practices and idolatry. When things would get too tough, suddenly they would remember God and go back to Him, pleading for mercy and His help.
God would respond with a judge who would bring His people out of whatever bondage or oppression they were facing. But after that judge’s death, the people would go right back to doing what God had commanded them not to do (for their good). The cycle repeated itself over and over again.
This was the time when our story takes place.
Naomi’s Family Left the Protection of God
Naomi left Judah when she was full, and she came back empty. Her family left the land given to the Israelites by God and instead settled in Moab, a land where false gods were worshiped. Moab was one of the nations that came from the drunken and incestuous rendezvous of Lot and his daughters (see Gensis 19:30-38). The Moabites were people of war who worshiped idols, particularly Baal. Worshipers of Baal are believed to have engaged in burnt offerings of the community’s firstborn children as well as in immoral sexual practices for purposes of good harvest and fertility.
Before leaving Judah, Naomi and her husband were full. But when famine struck, they couldn’t see what tomorrow had in store, and they no longer trusted God for their provision. They instead decided to leave the promised land of God’s people and take care of themselves in a foreign land.
While we may be tempted to wag our heads and click our tongues, their response was honestly relatable. And it’s one that we see more than once in Scripture. How many times do God’s people take matters into their own hands? How many times do we? I’m not advocating for abandoning good sense and natural wisdom, but when the choice is between staying within the borders God has set for us or stepping out into the world’s systems, are we willing to trust Him? Even when things get difficult?
Names in the Bible have significance. Let’s take a look at the names of places for just a moment. Bethlehem means “house of bread” in Hebrew, and Judah is “praise.” They left the place of bread and praise for Moab, meaning “of his father” or “seed of the father.” But not the heavenly Father. Instead this refers to Lot. A man who himself had inhabited a land that did not know God (see the story of Sodom and Gomorrah).
Unfortunately, in the years to follow, Naomi’s life saw a lot of tragedy. Her husband and sons all died. Naomi was the only one left of their original family unit.
In verse 3, the words “was left” can also be translated “remnant.” It’s something left behind, a piece preserved. Contrary to Naomi’s belief in her bitterness, God had preserved Naomi. She was a remnant of her family. And because He had preserved her, she would live to see all that was in store.
What Changed Naomi’s Mind?
So Naomi decided to go back to Judah. It seemed like the agreement was that her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, would be returning with her. Then suddenly, Naomi changes her mind on the road and began to push them away. What would make her do that? The answer is in what she says to them.
But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
Ruth 1:11-13 (NKJV)
She was allowing a root of bitterness to grow and eat at her. She allowed it to inform who she was and what she had to offer (or didn’t have to offer). She could have no more children. She had no husband to produce more children. Even if she did, they didn’t have the time to just wait around. She had nothing she could give to them. Their family bond died with her sons. In her eyes, she wasn’t worth the hassle of the journey.
Because her mind was so focused on what she could not give, she completely missed what she could give. Sadly, she told her daughters-in-law to go back to their home AND their gods. This was a woman who came from the people of the one true God. And yet she placed so much emphasis on her lack of worth that she pushed one of her daughters away from Him.
Ruth Accepts God as Her Own
Then comes the famous answer from Ruth.
Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.
Ruth 1:16-17 (NKJV)
Her sister-in-law has already said a tearful goodbye and departed to her home, never to be mentioned again. Ruth could have done the same. She had only ever known Moab. It was where she was from, where her family was from. Now she had no husband, meaning she and Naomi had no support, no covering, no financial means. But Ruth remained loyal and selfless toward Naomi anyway. And in doing so, she accepted God as her own. “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” This Moabite woman became one of God’s people through love and compassion for her mother-in-law.
What’s in a Name?
After the journey, they’re greeted in Bethlehem by women who Naomi used to know. These were women who stayed during the famine.
Let’s look at Naomi’s bitterness for a minute. She was so consumed by it that she acknowledgeit openly, declaring her name was now Mara, meaning “bitter.” The name Naomi, meaning “pleasant,” no longer felt like a suitable title.
Names in the Bible have significance. They all have a meaning. So there is more than one example of name changes throughout Scripture—Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, Simon to Peter, and Saul to Paul. They all have significance in the way the name was meant to reflect the new identity.
When Naomi tried to claim the name Mara, she was saying that bitterness had become who she was.
When God Testifies
She goes on to claim the Almighty had testified against her and afflicted her. The word “afflicted” was translated from the Hebrew word raw-ah’ that means:
- make good for nothing
- bring calamity
- bring trouble
- act wickedly toward
It’s a strong choice of word.
But I also want to look at the phrase “testified against.” In a positive sense, when we testify about something, for example what God has done, we are using the words of our mouth to profess it. Scripture says that we actually “overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony.”
God created everything in the Earth through the Word of His mouth. Naomi was saying that God had spoken against her. Since he is Almighty, creating reality with what he says, she was in essence proclaiming His contempt and judgment against her.
But the events to come would show that God’s plan was for her good and His glory.
♥ The Word says that we have a place of refuge under the wings of the Lord (Psalm 91:4). But it also warns us to not lean on our own understanding but to trust God in all things. While His presence and love go with us where we go, our decisions still have consequences.
♥ When we fail to see the goodness of God and instead see only what we lack, we aren’t only hurting ourselves. We can also hurt those around us who need the Lord we know.
♥ Ruth had no covenant with God (since she was not Jewish) but accepted Him as her own. And it’s the first step in the unraveling of a story that foreshadows the work of Jesus to come. It may not have been in her country’s tradition to serve the Lord, but in this story, Ruth chooses Him, making her a forerunner for all future Gentiles (including us).
♥ Naomi called herself bitter. We may be calling ourselves by the wrong name too. Who we are in Christ includes the following (and more!): children of God, the righteousness of God, His beloved, His masterpiece, members of the body of Christ, new creations, temples of the Holy Spirit, sought after, more than conquerors…
♥ Naomi believed that God had testified against her, and maybe during difficult times, we turn to the same thoughts. If God is all-powerful and he loves me, why is this happening? We can be assured that He is for us and not against us, as evidenced by the sacrifice of His own life in place of ours. However, difficulties are still allowed to come to us. Over time, we will be strengthened by them, and our faith through them brings our God glory. he has given us His Holy Spirit as our Comforter, Teacher, and Counselor. Jesus himself sits at the right hand of the Father as our advocate, silencing the accusations against us. His blood was enough. And now we can live a life (while not always easy) that gives Him honor.
What are your thoughts on this chapter? I’d love to read them!
Find the next installment here:
Until next time,
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