It was kind of a relief to leave Judges and read Ruth.
Judges has a few bright spots but overall it makes me sad. People are so mean to each other and mostly the leaders are shining examples of what not to do.
Ruth comes along set in the same time period. It is this well-known story of a young woman named Ruth who is loyal both to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and and to their God. The women both suffer terrible loss and are nearly at the point of starving. Then a man, Boaz, also faithful to God steps in to help and he and Ruth end up as lovers in a happy ending.
Most of the time people talk about Ruth's loyalty to and love for her mother-in-law, Naomi. Certainly I admired that part this time around myself. It is such a prominent part of the story and so beautiful and emotionally uplifting that it overshadows the tragedies and pain and deprivation.
But this time around I was struck by a couple of new things.
One thing is how hard Naomi's life has been. First she and her husband and sons leave their home because of famine and travel to Moab. There her husband dies and her sons marry and then they die. That's when she decides to go home.
When she gets home the town's people come out and say "Is this our Naomi?" She says don't call me that but call me "bitter" because God has been hard on me. Naomi means delight or pleasure or something along those lines.
Names and their meanings are important in Ruth and further emphasize the key points the narrative makes.
I thought to myself that if some of my Christian friends and acquaintances heard her say that she'd get in trouble with them pretty quickly. They'd jump right in and tell her that God doesn't cause any bad stuff and she'd better straighten up her act and not say that.
But really the more I think about it the more I think this is part of Naomi's resolute faith in God. Naomi is faithful herself. Even after what has happened to her she clings to her God even in the midst of another crisis. It is easy to think of her as being bitter after learning her history and then reading what she says about her name.
But I think it might just be that she recognizes the bitter circumstances of her life rather than being bitter. Because to me she does not seem personally bitter really. Either way though it is certainly understandable if she felt some bitterness especially so soon after her son's deaths.
Like most of us her life had not been all bad. It is easy for me to construct in my mind a happy family life in Moab. The book is short but covers quite a bit of time. Certainly she had the love of Ruth in her life. Who would not want to experience such self-sacrificing dedication and love? I wondered to myself if that single aspect was enough to keep her going at this point in her life.
A lot of us, maybe most, maybe all of us will eventually experience sadness and grief and loss to the point of wondering if we can really make it.
Another thing I thought about was how our circumstances just force us into certain courses of action. If there had been no famine then Naomi might have not left Israel. And if she hadn't gone to Moab she wouldn't have met Ruth. And if her sons and husbands had lived there might not have been a Boaz. And if there had been no Boaz then there would have been no Jesus.
I can look at my own life and see how things worked out like that for me. Yes there were painful things but those very things ended up being good things because without that past I would not have this present.
This present is the foundation of the future. That is true for everyone of course but if the future is in the Hands of God there is a certain peace that comes from knowing that and thinking back on how the past became the present.
I think there is so much more to Ruth that I could stay a while and ponder it more and think about the names and the people and the times. I think I could spend a little time alongside Ruth as she works so hard picking up the barley grains in the field. Or maybe spend a bit more time with Boaz in the gates of the town. But my schedule makes me leave it too soon.
Still it has been wonderful to linger there in the story a bit and learn more of these people.
It was equally pleasant the last time I read it and I suspect it will be again if I am blessed with another opportunity.