Naomi – The Book of Ruth – Part One

By Karen Bledsoe

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

During the days when the Judges ruled, lived a family in the small town of Bethlehem (“The House of Bread”) -Judah (“Praise”[1]) in the district of Ephrathah. Elimelek, who was well-off, and never went without, lived there with his wife Naomi and his unhealthy sons, Mahlon and Kilion.

Now, Israel was under judgment for their disobedience in worshipping other gods and God sent a famine upon the land. Instead of staying in Bethlehem and repenting of his own sins and encouraging others to also do so, he packed it up, moved his family out of Bethlehem to Moab (Moab means “from my father[2]” because it was founded by Moab, the son of one of Lot’s daughters with whom Lot had two sons.) To give you an idea of how much going to live in Moab is not a good idea, in Psalm 108:9, God calls Moab his washbasin. Think about that. What is a washbasin? It is a sink where all the dirt and filth go when you wash. This is what God considered Moab to be, a place for all the dirt and filth.[3] God had cursed the land of Moab for refusing to allow the Israelites passage through their land to get to the Promised Land (See Genesis12:1-3).

The famine caused a great need in Bethlehem and some scholars believe Elimelek grew tired of helping the poor and needy there. He leaves with his wife and two sons, who are sickly (their names meaning “Unhealthy” and “Puny”)[4] out of the land of Promise, the land named “the House of Bread” and “Praise” and into the garbage can, God’s wash pot, the cursed land of Moab.

When we act out of the will of God and do our own thing, God will punish you for it. Some more severely than others. In the case of Elimelek, after a time, he died, never returning to the Israel. He died in Moab. The man whose name meant “God is King” died in a land of idolatry and sin. The wealth he tried to save by moving there did him no good. He stayed too long in Moab (There’s a lesson to be learned here.).

Naomi is now a widow, a wonderful woman, always good to everyone and even though she lived in Moab her faith and loyalty to God was outstanding. She loved God and led a life that was exemplary. Her name means “Pleasant” or “Blessing,”[5] and to everyone she knew she was that.

The death of her husband left her alone with two sickly sons. Their wealth was running out, and instead of returning to Israel, her two sons did a terrible thing. The broke the Mosaic Law (Deut. 23:3-6) and married two Moabite women, Kilion married Orpah and Mahlon married Ruth, whose name means “Beauty,”[6] which was forbidden by God. They continued to live in Moab for another ten years until they too, died. This left Naomi alone in Moab, with only two widowed Moabite daughters-in-law. At this point the wealth that they came to Moabite with was now spent and all gone. She did not want to remain in Moab and so she decided to go home to Bethlehem, not knowing if she had any living relatives there to turn to. Her daughters-in-law decided to go with her.

She loved her daughters-in-law dearly. She had shown them the ways of God even though they were Moabites. She was an excellent witness of her faith in God. Both women decided to go with her because they too, loved Naomi as much as she loved them.
Along the way, Naomi began to wonder if going to Bethlehem would be the best thing for them. She also knew in Israel that they would remain in poverty, never having the chance to marry again and have a family. She stopped them on the road to Bethlehem and told them to return to their mother’s house where they would have a life, a chance to marry again and have children. At first, they argued with her, wanting to go to Israel with her. They loved her dearly and did not want to leave her. Naomi continued to convince them to go home until Orpah whose her heart was in Moab, and not in the land of Israel, agreed to go home. Naomi knew this. It was why she insisted they go, but Ruth was different. I think Naomi knew Ruth would never leave her. As she tried to convince the young lady to return home Ruth would not budge. She was staying with Naomi because she had come to know her mother-in-law’s God. She wanted to worship Him also. She wanted Him to be her God

“But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.” (Ruth 1:16-18 NIV)

Seeing that she truly did not want to stay in Moab, Naomi allowed her to go, and so they went, just the two of them, on to Bethlehem-Judah.

Naomi was truly a godly woman. She put all others before herself. She knew if the two women had gone home to their mother’s house it would create a great hardship for her. Her unwavering faith in God throughout the years, the hardships and loss, Naomi still held fast to what is true, the One True God of Israel.

Naomi’s faith had a tremendous impact on Ruth and Orpah, so why did Orpah return to Moab and her mother’s house? She knew of God and how good He was through Naomi. She knew of God’s grace and mercy through Naomi. She also knew that in Israel, she would be hated. Life would be hard because she was a Moabite. She knew she would live in poverty and never marry or have children in Israel. She did not have the faith in God that Naomi did and never gave Him a chance to change her life. She denied Israel’s God and returned to her own gods and life of idolatry.

This still happens today. You will see someone go to church and experience a call from God. They will do one of these three things:

  1. They blatantly ignore and reject the call. They do not want to live for God, they want to live for themselves. They may develop a true hatred for God and for His people; or
  2. They make the decision for God and allow Him into their lives but after a time it gets to be tedious and tiresome. Their decision was made while they were in an emotional state or pressured by other Christians to go to the altar and say the sinner’s prayer that they were not sincere about. Living as a “Christian” becomes burdensome to them. The sacrifice to let Jesus live through them is too great so they return to the life they had before. The sinner’s prayer is nowhere in the Bible and it is often said in an emotional state due to a very emotional church service or intense pressure by other Christians. They say the prayer but deep, deep down they don’t mean it. They have heard the Word and taken it, but their hearts were stony and even though the seed took root, it was not planted deep enough and it died (Matthew 13:1-23). They fall away from God and return to the life they lived before, preferring their sin over God. Since their conversion was never real, they were never really saved. There are some though, who do return to God later and live for Him; or
  3. They make the decision to live for God and it is sincere. They, like Ruth, they have witnessed the True and Living God and want to live for Him. It is the seed that takes root and grows and they are truly saved and live for God all their lives.

Usually when a person decides to accept Christ it is because of the witness of others, their lives, and how God has worked through them and for them. That person’s life is a testimony of the goodness and grace of God and it’s a visible faith that others can see that He is real.
Orpah saw this in Naomi yet the seed planted in her was not planted deep enough and she gave up the God of Heaven and returned to her life of idolatry.

Ruth however, seeing the One True God through Naomi’s witness, decided she wanted Him in her life too. The seed took root and she thrived. She had faith that God would care for them in Bethlehem, even if she never married or had a family of her own, she would have God and so she stayed with Naomi on the road to Bethlehem, dedicating her life to Israel’s God.

When they arrived in Bethlehem, all who had known Naomi before asked if this was truly her. By this time, Naomi had grown depressed of all that had happened to her since she’d left Bethlehem with her husband and sons. She left having everything and returned having nothing. Nothing except Ruth, the widow of her son Mahlon. Naomi told them to call her Mara, which means “bitter,”[7] for she had gone away full and had come home empty. She told them it was God’s punishment upon her but God was not to blame. When they left Bethlehem to go to Moab, they left God’s blessings and paid the price for their disobedience, her husband and sons were now dead. Now that she had returned God would restore her blessings through Ruth.

The Bible tells us that by a person’s works (fruits) we will know them. Fruits are evidence of whether a person’s salvation is true or not. If their fruits glorify and point the way to God, their fruits are true because of their salvation. If their fruits glorify and point the way to the world, their fruits are false. Those who say they are Christians but live their lives as they did before they were saved have no good fruits in them that testify of God because God is not in them. Jesus Christ is not their Savior and it is evident in their actions. Actions truly are louder than words, no one is drawn to Christ with a person like this.
If others see in a believer the quiet strength and faith in Jesus Christ through the hard times as well as the good, they will yearn for Christ and His gift of salvation.
We should be like Naomi. We should live a life devoted openly to Jesus and have trust and faith in Him, living for Him and our lives will testify of Him when we are obedient and true to Him in the good times and the bad. Our lives should make others want theirs to be like ours. No longer empty, but full of God.

Naomi’s faith and life was such a testimony of God, that it led to Ruth’s own salvation, accepting Naomi’s God, the One True God of Israel, as her own. It is because of Naomi’s witness and her obedient return to Bethlehem with Ruth that led to the fulfilling of a future prophecy. The prophecy of the Lord’s Christ and His birth in Bethlehem, and through the descendants of Ruth, He would be born.

To Be Continued

Sources:
Life Application Study Bible, NIV

Life Application Study Bible Notes, NIV

Thru The Bible Commentaries, Volume 2, Joshua Through Psalms, The Book of Ruth, Dr. J. Vernon McGee  ©1982 J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Radio, ISBN: 0-8407-4979-1 Royal; ISBN: 0-8407-4974-0 Nelson, compiled from previous publications by J. Vernon McGee

Bagwell, Mike, http://drmikebagwell.org

[1] McGee, J. Vernon, “Thru The Bible Commentary, Volume 2, Joshua Through Psalms, The Book of Ruth”, page 90.

[2] Bagwell, Mike, http://drmikebagwell.org

[3] McGee, J. Vernon,  “Thru The Bible Commentary, Volume 2, Joshua Through Psalms, The Book of Ruth” ,page 90

[4] McGee, J. Vernon, “Thru The Bible Commentary, Volume 2, Joshua Through Psalms, The Book of Ruth”, Page 90

[5] Ibid.

[6] McGee, J. Vernon, “Thru The Bible Commentary, Volume 2, Joshua Through Psalms, The Book of Ruth”, page 91

[7] Life Application Study Bible, Study Notes, NIV, Page 380