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"Many times they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me" (Ps 129:2).
I'm reflecting on the book of Ruth. A story I've read countless times. In 2010 I thoroughly enjoyed all six sessions of a Bible study inspired by this "four chapter narrative that wraps together the human experience of loss, love, and legacy with the divine hope and sovereignty of a redeeming God."
I raved over it. I loved the author's writing style--straight from the heart. And then a few years later, I found myself in a story I would not have chosen for myself. One filled with loss, where the hope of love and legacy hung by a thin thread. Everything my heart knew from years of Bible Studies crashed into everything it didn't know about its practical application to my circumstances--and so it shattered. My heart. My life. Everything.
How does what I learned "then" apply to my "now?" Because right now I don't care that Naomi had a husband named Elimelech and two sons called Mahlon and Chilion. I don't care that they were from Bethlehem and the nation of Judah. Right now I care that though I know my husband's name, it turns out, I no longer know ME. I care about the well being of my three sons. About where I live and more importantly, how the heck I'm going to get wherever it is I'm going as whoever it is I am because the life I've known is over. Where's the bible study for THIS?
The Book of Ruth in a nutshell:
Naomi, her husband, and two sons are all Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah, who reside in Moab. Both sons marry Moabites--a "bozo-no-no" in Jewish culture due to the risk of worshiping their false gods instead of the One true God.
Ten years later. Naomi's husband dies. And then her son's die. Seriously, all three of them. Can I be honest here? Honest AND human?
If Naomi's life were a mathematical equation it would read like this:
Colossal Loss + Overwhelming Grief x Powerlessness = Bitter (AKA super pissed at God.)
Nevertheless, the word on the street is that the Lord is revisiting His people by giving them bread. So, Naomi determines to leave Moab and return to the land of Judah for some much needed provision. Not unlike my youngest son, who gobbles up dinner despite the notion that he'd be better off without me all up in his teenage business.
Just as he heads for the kitchen. She heads home. But not before telling her widowed daughters-in-law to return to their families, where the opportunity to "get a life" abounds. They cry. She cries. They don't want to leave her. But she's all, leave! What are you gonna do, wait for me to remarry, have sons, and then wait for them to grow up so you can marry them?
Naomi openly confesses how much it grieves her that the hand of the Lord is against her. That's right, she is SO hurt and confused that she's convinced God is against her. But in spite of it all, where is she going?
Home. Toward Provision. To the One true God.
Do me a solid. Take this in: You can be angry with God--even as you return to Him. He's big. He can take it. And He's faithful to provide.
It turns out, one sister returns to her people while the other, Ruth, stays and vows to follow Naomi wherever she goes. Hence the infamous "Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" speech.
Off they go. Back to Bethlehem. When they arrive, the towns people gather around--elated to see Naomi, which literally means Pleasant. But her response is anything but politically correct.
"Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara (Literally Bitter), 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" (Ruth 1:20--21)?
Wait, what? Testified against her? Afflicted her?
I did a little research on this and she's basically saying that God took her life story--to which she gave Him all the glory--snatched it back and threw it away!
The secret word is: P _ S S E D. Would you like to buy a vowel?
What I love about this story today vs what I knew about it yesterday is summed up by Kevin Adams, author of The Extravagant Fool: A Faith Journey That Begins Where Common Sense Ends:
"It was a bit like falling into a crevasse and coming to terms with how simple your future is--you're either going to die in that hole or count it the best day of your life when rescued."
God is the God of breakthroughs. Make no mistake about it. So read on, and discover that Naomi AND Ruth are about to have one of their own.
As God would have it, a loyal heart receives a harvest. With the help of Naomi, Ruth captures the attention of a Jewish man named Boaz. Long story short, "So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, 'Blessed is the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel!' (Ruth 4:13--15)."
Check this out: They called this child Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. The direct lineage of Christ to come. How's that for a story that begins with loss and ends with love and legacy?
I say all this because only God Himself can take a story you "know" and draw the heart's attention to a subtle and gentle truth to heal a wound as deep as loss and wide as betrayal.
What did God use to seal--once and for all-- the bitterness caused by colossal loss + unspeakable grief x powerlessness?
The take away for me is that we cannot isolate forever when we've been hurt. There is a time and place and space with which we must draw near to God, often times alone. But when the winds change. When you know it's time to step out and let Him bring something or someone knew along the way, remain open when you're certain God is behind it.
In all the times I've read the book of Ruth, I've only marveled at Ruth's capacity to stay with Naomi at all cost. It never occurred to me that He used the loyal and gentle hearts of both Ruth and Boaz to fully express love coupled with the promise of legacy in spite of overwhelming loss.
"It is an inadvertent legalism when we teach a young man that reading the Bible is good, but we forget to teach him that it can only be understood as God intends--by faith through the Spirit's wisdom and revelation."
I encourage you to read the book of Ruth today. Not to learn, but rather, to lean on what God reveals to you about your own story. Naomi sought bread from God. In the end, she received His breath.
You are not alone,
*The Living Room Series: RUTH: loss, love, & legacy
copyright 2009 Kelly Minter
Published on Tuesday, December 16, 2014 @ 2:43 PM CDT