What does the story of Ruth mean? So often, we see it as just a romantic one. A Cinderella tale of a girl who went from being on welfare (yes, that’s what gleaning from the field was) to marrying one of the most wealthy and kind men in town.
But it’s so much more than that. The book of Ruth holds deeper spiritual applications for all of us as well as prophetic messages about Jesus and what He would do that the law could not. But we’ll discuss that more as we go along.
I am so excited to be sharing what I have with you! I’ll be posting the notes for one chapter at a time over the next month or two. Something to remember (and what I’m basing this entire series off of): while stories from the Old Testament are absolutely true, they can also be likened to the parables Jesus told. They have layers of meaning that we can gather as we dig deeper instead of just looking at what’s immediately apparent while reading.
Tips before diving in:
- Be prayerful about it. Ask Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word to you (after all, it’s living and active!)
- 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 only to glean whatever spiritual insight you can.
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 I can’t see how God will work it all out, what’s my response?
- Are there areas of my life where I am relying on my own efforts instead of trusting God? What mental or heart blocks 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 my identity 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 goodness?
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 at all. These were people of war who brought correction and justice to Israel.
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 unpleasantness 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 no longer trusted God to protect what they had. They instead decided they would need to protect it themselves.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”We can always trust God as our protector and provider. https://plantingvineyards.com/ruth-chapter-1/” quote=”We can always trust God as our protector and provider.”]
Names in the Bible have great significance–we’ll talk about that more in a minute! But 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.
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.
In verse 3, the words “was left” are the translation from a word that means “remnant.” It’s something left behind, a piece preserved. Contrary to Naomi’s belief in her bitterness, God didn’t pour death out upon her. Her family had left the protection and care of God by leaving the land of His people. And even though they left, He preserved her as a remnant of her family.
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 changed 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 negative mindset to eat at her and tell her who she was and what she was worth (or wasn’t worth). 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 them making the journey.
Because her mind was so focused on what she could not give, she completely missed what she could give. 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. But Ruth remained loyal and selfless toward Naomi. 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 a child of the King 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.
Let’s look at Naomi’s bitterness for a minute. She was so consumed by it (and acknowledged it) that she wanted to change her name to Mara, meaning “bitter.” The name Naomi, meaning “pleasant,” no longer felt like her identity.
Names have significance. They all have a meaning, so every time the name is spoken, that meaning is spoken over the person too. For example, look at some of the different name changes in the Bible—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 her new identity.
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
She had some pretty harsh things to say about what had happened to her and who she blamed for it.
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.”
[click_to_tweet tweet=”What is God’s testimony over us? https://plantingvineyards.com/ruth-chapter-1/” quote=”What is God’s testimony over us?”]
There’s significance in our words. God created everything in the Earth through the Word of His mouth. Scripture also tells us that “life and death are in the power of the tongue.” The words that we use to testify are powerful. When the Creator testifies, we know it has power! In her mind, all of the tragedy that had consumed her life was from the mouth of God Himself.
But the events to come would show that God was for her all along.
♥ 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 favor goes with us where we go, our decisions still have natural consequences here on this earth.
♥ When we don’t see the value of our identity in Him and instead see only what we lack, we aren’t only hurting ourselves. We can also hurt those around us who need the God within us.
♥ Ruth had no covenant with God (since she was not Jewish) but accepted Him as her own anyway. 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 the symbol for all future Gentiles (including us).
♥ Naomi called herself bitter. We may be calling ourselves by the wrong name too. Our identity 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, valued, desired, empowered…
♥ Naomi believed that God had testified against her. We now know that He is for us and not against us, as evidenced by the sacrifice of His own life in place of ours.
To watch the video that goes with Chapter 1, follow this link:
What are your thoughts on this chapter? I’d love to read them!
Until next time,
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