We’re talking about unlikely companions last week and today - Ruth and Naomi.
So, let’s recap from last week
- Naomi, her husband, and two sons fled their home in Bethlehem because of famine. They fled to a neighboring territory, Moab, where her two sons married Moabite women.
- Then, the men died. It was a rough week for the males here. So, Naomi planned on going back to her home country and told her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to their birth families. Orpah did. Ruth did not.
- Ruth pledged to Naomi that she would stay with her and endure whatever may come.
Some details that we found to be important last week:
First, Ruth was a Moabite, considered to be an enemy of Israel and, thus, Naomi’s family. So, Naomi’s sons marrying Moabite women was a big no-no.
Second, the law at the time stated that when a husband died, the next male kin would “take in” the widow. For Ruth and Naomi, though, the nearest male kin had died. So, they had to start looking further out for survival.
Third, when Ruth promised to “lodge” with Naomi, she was not only promising to live where Naomi lived, she was promising to endure. The Hebrew root for “lodge” shares roots with “suffer” or “complaint.” (Think: to lodge a complaint)
All of this added up to a biblical story with an unlikely main character: Ruth was a woman, a foreigner, a widow, and an assumed enemy of Israel. We were left with Kathryn Matthews’ question: How does this text shine a light on the edges of our communities, and what, or whom, does it illuminate there?
It is the last detail, that Ruth promised to lodge with Naomi, which bridges us to today’s message...the commitment and loyalty between these two women, an unlikely pair of widows and companions.
The story gets a nice bow on it, in the end. It’s a great story in the Bible, really - just four short chapters. Our snippets of Scripture today tell us the rest of the story:
- Ruth walks behind the harvesters in the field to pick up what is left behind - it is called gleaning - and was how the poor in the community were cared for.
- The man who owns the field, Boaz, notices Ruth - and Scripture spells out it isn’t necessarily because she had long locks of flowing hair and a body to die for - but because her reputation of being loyal to Naomi preceded her. As Rachel Held Evans noted, Boaz notices Ruth for being a “Woman of Valor.”
- Boaz, it turns out, is a distant relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband. Similar to the royal family and how each are “in line” to the throne, Boaz is down the line for being a potential husband of Ruth. In the society of the time, this marriage would “redeem” Ruth and Naomi.
- Finally, Ruth makes some bold moves and eventually she and Boaz are married. They have a son together named Obed, who turns out to be the grandfather of David, the eventual king of Israel.
It’s a very relatable story in the Bible - a very “of the people,” “on the ground” story about humanity and how we relate to one another.
Did you notice how many times God is mentioned?
God actually doesn’t have a voice in this entire book of the Bible. There is no “then Lord said do such and such…”
God is not missing, though. In last week’s selection, Naomi mentions that the Lord is the one who “acted against” her, when her husband and sons died. Ruth acknowledges that Naomi’s God will be her God. In multiple other places, God is asked to bless people in their decisions.
Cameron Howard notes “God intersects with the characters of the book of Ruth the way many of us experience God today: not as a divine physical presence, not as a booming voice from heaven, not as a visible mover of events, but as the one to whom we attribute some amount of agency in our own circumstances... In this way the book can feel more accessible than other parts of Scripture, where God is portrayed speaking directly to the prophets, kings, and heroes.” (workingpreacher.org)
This story is about people relating to people under the umbrella of God’s influence - people committing to one another and people working with one another to find hope for survival.
Did you notice how those who didn’t make commitments were talked about? Or not talked about?
Last week we saw that Orpah, Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, decided to return to her biological family. Nowhere in the story, though, is she bad-mouthed - called names for her decision.
Within the verses that weren’t read today, it’s discovered that another man is actually closer in line to “redeem” Naomi and Ruth, but he declines the offer after hearing that the land comes with women. (It sounds like a delightful offer, but who knows…) Despite the man turning down the land and caring for Naomi and Ruth, he also wasn’t bad-mouthed.
There was no wrath poured down upon the people who decided to go their own way.
The focus of this story is on the positive moves of loyalty between people.
Did you notice the boldness with which Ruth acted?
In the harvesting process, women were not allowed on the threshing floor. Yet, that is where Ruth meets Boaz.
Naomi instructs Ruth on meeting Boaz, but Ruth goes rogue on a few of those instructions. She does meet Boaz on the threshing floor, but she also goes one step further and tells Boaz he needs to act!
Kathyrn Matthews suggests that “perhaps there are two kinds of people in our society...those who live on the edge of survival and those who don’t.” Perhaps it was because these two women were living on the edge of survival that Ruth acted so boldly.
It is that boldness of Ruth that brings the women of the community to say that she is worth more than seven sons to Naomi! In that male-dominated society, that was a bold statement within itself!
This story is about people relating to people under the umbrella of God’s influence - people committing to one another, making positive moves toward that commitment, and boldly working with one another to find hope for survival.
We can learn so much from this story of unexpected companionship between Ruth and Naomi, and even Boaz.
- We can learn that, though God’s Divine Spirit is certainly active among us, our human actions matter, too. The good that happens in this world doesn’t happen by people sitting back and waiting for God to do everything. We make gains as human beings when we recognize God among and between us...where we recognize that God is "the glue in life rather than some extraneous royal being." (G. Malcolm Sinclair, Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 4)
- We can learn about hope and looking forward - especially when remembering to honor God’s presence within ourselves and others.
- We can learn from the commitment and loyalty to new, chosen family described throughout this book. Matthews states “Naomi and Ruth's survival skills are less important than the depth of their concern for each other, for that kind of concern (hesed), is something upon which to build churches, communities, and a better world. …[It] is a place, and an experience, where we can get a taste...of God's own steadfast and life-giving love for us.”
- We can learn that in this big world with sweeping generalizations guiding almost everything, we can get lost at times. It is important for us to focus on individuals - Ruth was not simply “a Moabite,” she was an individual. It is important for us to focus on our bold commitment to each other and to our belief in God, as the glue which holds us together. By doing so, we work to dismantle the many boundaries that otherwise keep us apart.
The story of Ruth is a beautiful story about people relating to people under the umbrella of God’s influence.
Scripture: the book of Ruth