March 1, 2008

Naomi's Story: Starting Again

At left: Ancient Moabite inscription, The Stela of Mesha

I just finished re-reading the Old Testament book of Ruth as I make my way through that portion of Scripture. Teachers and commentators have described the book as a human love story, a picture of God's love for Israel, and a picture of Christ's love for the Church.

For me, the story of Naomi and Ruth is also a story about making peace with loss, expressing fear (fear= face everything and recover), finding a new way to live, and losing attachments to old dreams. It's a story about starting over.

The four short chapters of this book (it's a quick read--click on this post's title) tell about two women who experienced the deaths of their husbands (and, in that day, their economic support and security), temporary homelessness, living on charity, and living as foreigners in a strange land. In spite of all of this, when these women turned to God, God granted them joy, security, family, love, and a future. What more could anyone want?

Even though the book is named "Ruth", the book really begins and ends with Naomi's life, trials, and happiness. Here's the progression of Naomi's life events as told in the book (my key words are in caps):

LEFT God's land and people due to economic hardship and fear; sought prosperity in a godless place. For us, that "place" can be a physical location or an emotional/spiritual perspective.

LOST, through death and abandonment, her husband, both children, and a daughter-in-law.

RETURNS to God's land and people, calling her life "bitter."

HELPS remaining daughter-in-law (Ruth, for whom the book is named) find a home and husband.

RECEIVES love and security and the joy of seeing her family line continue when she once thought her legacy forever lost.

How did Naomi manage this? Once Naomi returns to doing things God's way, she begins to see things turn around. Also, Naomi accepts Ruth's offer to come with her, although Ruth has nothing to offer but companionship. There was some stigma attached to Naomi returning home with a foreigner from an enemy nation, but Naomi didn't push Ruth away.

For her part, Ruth was willing to embrace Naomi's God and live in God's ways even though she expected to be considered an outcast on the fringe of Israel's population. Ruth wasn't too proud to accept charity while working hard to support her mother-in-law.

The key verses in this book sum it all up:

"14 The women said to Naomi: "Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth."

16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David." Ruth 4:14-17, NIV.

Naomi got off track in a time of fear and uncertainty. Once she returned to God, God gave her a home, a family, love, a legacy, and a place in the genealogy of King David and in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, King of Kings.

The same offer is extended to us today, through Jesus Christ. When we get off track, He is waiting to bring us back to wonderful place He'd planned for us all along. I'm sure Naomi had some gut-wrenching moments as she started over, but when you read her story, can you doubt she made the right decision?

No comments: