An Expositional Study Through: Ruth
By: Caleb Fleming
Session 3: The Plot Thickens (Ruth 1:6-18)
Over the last two weeks, we have started an in-depth look at the story of Ruth. We began with a brief introduction to the book. In this introduction we examined the historical and cultural context the events contained within the book actually took place. In our second session we were introduced to the cast list (apart from Boaz and Obed). In addition to the cast list we were introduced to the crisis this story develops from.
In today’s session we will further develop the crisis from last week and see our character list narrow even more. At the end of our study we will find the plot of this drama thickening, but we will begin to see how God is sovereignly orchestrating this situation to work out His perfect plan. Remember the theme for this book is, the faithfulness of God.
Understanding the Crisis: It is easy, if one is not careful, to identify the crisis in this story as the famine in chapter one, or the death of the husbands also mentioned in chapter one. In reality, the crisis this story focuses on is none of the above. Rather, the crisis identified as central to this story is that of lineage. Remember, when Elimelech and his sons died they did not leave any offspring. There was no one to carry on the family name. For Naomi this was a position of hopelessness. This then is the reason she calls herself bitter. The joys of family lineage have been robbed of her, and she calls this the “hand of the Lord” against her.
It is in understanding this crisis properly that we see the sovereign God of Israel providentially moving to bring about His purpose. Ultimately, this shows God not only faithful to the bitter widow but to an entire nation.
Naomi’s First Exchange (v.6-10): You will recall, Elimelech made the decision to take his family from the house of bread (Bethlehem) because there was famine in the land. This famine was an act of divine judgement because the people of God had not honored him by keeping the Law. In a twist of irony, Naomi hears that the Lord has visited His people. Therefore, she prepares to head back to her country.
In this exchange we should note the glaring reality, God visited His people. This is the faithfulness of God on display. He has not abandoned His people, and He has not neglected them. He has, however, punished them. There is a great take away for us today, when we feel distant from God it is not because He has abandoned us, rather it is often because He is disciplining us. The hope we have in this is, He disciplines the ones He loves (Hebrews 12:6). God’s discipline is not an act of arbitrary fury, it is a redeeming act of love. In times of discipline, even though they are not fun, we should recognize the blessing it is to be disciplined by a good God who loves us.
Additionally, in this first exchange we should notice the importance of the use of the proper name for God, Yahweh. Verse 8 employs this proper name and in the context, it seems to be out of place. Naomi was a guest in strange land. The actions taken by her husband would indicate a lack of trust in Yahweh. This lack of trust resulted in disobedience on multiple fronts (Session 2, What’s in a Name, Elimelech). The significance here is that Naomi referred to YHWH and not the Moabite god, Chemosh. It continues when we consider what she says regarding YHWH, “May the Lord deal kindly with you.” The word kindly is the Hebrew word hesed (חֶסֶד). This word stretches beyond kindness and is often translated as loving kindness. This is the word that is used of God to describe His covenantal love for His chosen people. That Naomi prayed for the Lord to show His hesed love toward these pagans is noteworthy since she recognizes the hand of the Lord is against her (1:13). In the end, the hesed love is shown to Naomi through Ruth via Obed.
The last point worth considering in Naomi’s first exchange is the use of the word rest in verse 9. One might recognize the use of this word to connote safety and security through a new husband and a new home, and while this is not wrong it is incomplete. The theme of rest is one that has eternal significance. Rest is what we see after creation and rest is what we inherit through the blood of Jesus. This is a significant biblical concept for us to grasp. When Joshua and the Israelites complete the conquest of the land, the Bible tells us they had rest on all sides (Joshua 21:43 – 22:8). Psalm 95:11 accounts for those who wandered in the wilderness for 40 not entering the rest of the Lord on account of His wrath. The author of Hebrews picks up this concept in Hebrews 3 and 4. Our understanding of this concept in Ruth should be, God’s rest is made available to us through Christ, a descendant of Naomi via Ruth.
Naomi’s Second Exchange (v.11-14): At this point in the story Naomi has kissed her daughters-in-law. This kiss is meant to signify finality and farewell, but the girls resist this urge. Both Ruth and Orpah say they will not leave Naomi, to which Naomi pleads her case before them. She does this through three arguments:
- Argument 1 (v.11): Naomi asks the absurd question; do I still have sons in my womb?
- Argument 2 (v.12-13a): Naomi says, even if she should have a husband and bear sons, would the women wait until they are old enough to be married?
- Argument 3 (v.13b-14): The hand of the Lord has gone out against me.
In these arguments, Naomi is not trying to be harsh with the girls; she even refers to them as her daughters (v.12). Rather, she is trying to explain to them that she has no hope, and the likelihood of a Moabite woman remarrying an Israelite man was not likely. With this in mind, she is encouraging the women to stay in Moab where they have a better chance of creating a life.
At this point Orpah realizes what her mother-in-law is trying to do. She responds with the same kiss Naomi initiated in verse 9, but Ruth clung to her. It is important to note, often Orpah is chastised by those who study this book. She in no way abandoned Naomi, rather she obeyed her mother-in-law’s request. This is an act of virtue and not something to be disparaged. On the one hand, Orpah desired to be a wife and a mother. She knew the way for this to happen is to remain. Ruth was willing to sacrifice this in order to remain a daughter. Both are noble responses.
Ruth’s Response (v.15-18): It is in Ruth’s response we get a glimpse at perhaps why God chose to use Ruth. This is the most well-known passage in this story and is a beautiful oath of loyalty, but it actually communicates much more. Naomi points out to Ruth that Orpah has returned to her country and her gods (Chemosh, namely), but Ruth’s oath indicates she has a faith in YHWH. Look closely at verse 17, Ruth says may the Lord (YHWH) do so to me and more if anything but death separates us. Not only was Ruth willing to accept Naomi’s move, she was willing to accept Naomi’s hopeless state, even to the point of death. This is where we see the gravity of Ruth’s devotion.
It is at this point Naomi realizes she will not be able to persuade Ruth, and I would argue it is at this point hopelessness begins to turn into blessing. Even though neither women saw what was happening, God was working. As we close this study consider this in your life. Even if you do not see God at work does not mean He is not working. What He expects of us is obedience and willingness to be used as He sees fit. This requires a great deal of humility and submission to His sovereign plan. May we trust His plan as we recognize His faithfulness to His people.
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