This article is an exposition of Ruth 1:6-22.

Source: The Evangelical Presbyterian, 2010. 3 pages.

The Long Road Home

They say that “home is where the heart is”, Naomi’s heart was very much at home in Moab. Her husband Elimelech had decided to relocate his family to the green and fertile fields of Moab, to escape the famine in Israel and to build a better life for themselves.

Now these plans were shattered, through a series of painful providence that leave Naomi bereft of her husband and sons. But those providence loosen Naomi’s attachment to Moab and bring her to the point when she is ready to go home. And in this study, we are going to follow her, has she makes that journey.

1. Not the Obvious Choice🔗

There are two lessons that we need to grasp.

Firstly, notice that the road to life isn’t the obvious choice. Two years ago I was climbing a mountain on the Isle of Skye, which has two summits, one slightly higher than the other. The trickiest part of the climb is getting from the first summit over to the second. The only way of doing this safely, is to climb down a steep gully on to a ridge that separates the two and then to climb up the other side. Now the guidebook that I was using, didn’t state whether the gully was to the right or the left of the first summit, and because of low cloud cover that day, it was difficult to know which way to go. The easiest route seemed to be on the left, but just before I headed in that direction, I noticed faint footprints heading off to the right. Mercifully, I decided to check this out first and sure enough the footprints led me to the top of the gully. The path to the right wasn’t the obvious choice, but it was the only safe route.

Now we see something similar in our passage in the decision that faces Naomi’s daughters-in-law, and although we are separated by centuries, their situation mirrors our own. Naomi herself must be shell-shocked. Put yourself in her shoes. Her hopes and plans lie in ruins. She was trying to escape death, but death caught up with her. She has lost everything. So she must be thrilled by the news that reaches her in v 6 – “the Lord had visited his people and given them food”. (ESV). She doesn’t seem to waste much time weighing the pros and cons for staying or going. She is off and there is no stopping her. (v 7) But this creates a dilemma for Naomi. What about Ruth and Orpah? What should they do? This question seems to preoccupy Naomi for the first part of the journey, as the three of them make their way to the border.

Now she comes to her decision in v 8-9. The girls should return to their own people. Ruth and Orpah protest, but Naomi is adamant and she explains her reasoning in v 11: “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?” Now she expands upon this, but her main point is clear enough, she is not in a position to provide them with husbands nor will she ever be. Remember that according to the custom of the day, a younger brother would marry the widow of his older brother, to preserve the family line. But that’s not going to happen, Naomi says. Interestingly, she also seems to rule out the possibility of the girls marrying other Israelite men, probably because she realises that the girls’ nationality will stand against them. So on balance, it is better for them to stay in Moab, where they are not going to be ostracized or shunned. They are still relatively young and the chances are, if they return to their parents, they will find husbands and live happily ever after.

Now Naomi’s reasoning makes sense doesn’t it? You can’t fault it, can you? And you can understand why Orpah eventually accepts her mother-in-law’s advice and returns home. (v 14) At least she has a chance of finding happiness, whereas Ruth seems to be choosing a path of hardship and loneliness. But we all face a similar choice, a choice between Moab and Judah. Between the world and the Kingdom of God, and because we are born sinners, we naturally feel at home in the world. We know the ways of the world. We speak the world’s language, and let’s be honest, the world holds out the possibility of real happiness. By contrast the way of the Kingdom seems so different, so difficult. (Matt 7:13-14) At face value the road to life isn’t the obvious choice is it?

But it is not as simple as that. Some years ago, a large group of people in America received notification, that they had won a luxury holiday and they were invited to a reception, where they would be presented with their tickets. On the day, they arrived at a plush hotel and were met with glasses of champagne and ushered into a large dinner-room, which was set for a lavish meal. But all of a sudden, armed police stormed the building and arrested everyone. You see everyone that had supposedly won the holiday, was on a wanted list and the whole thing was a ploy to get them in one place.

Now the world is like that. The world seems to hold out so much more than the way to life, but ultimately it fails to deliver. Orpah may have found Mr Right, but as she walks away from Naomi and Ruth, she walks away into oblivion. She is making the sensible choice, but in doing so she is forfeiting so much. She is walking away from God, from salvation and from eternal life. Ruth may be choosing the more difficult road, but she wins out in the end. But which road will you choose?

2. The Most Painful🔗

So the road to life may not be the oblivious choice, but it is the best one.

Secondly, notice that the road home is often the most painful. Do you remember Private Frazer in Dad’s Army? He was the pessimistic Scotsman, who in tight spots, often used to say We’re doomed. All doomed.”

Well, Naomi is a bit like that. In v 16-17 Ruth professes her faith in the God of Israel. This is surely one of the most amazing moments in the OT Scriptures. This kind of thing doesn’t happen everyday does it? And it is almost miraculous, when you remember that everything she knows about Israel’s God, has been learned from a family who are hardly shining examples of piety. But look how Naomi responds in v 18: “And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.” Literally the Hebrew says that Naomi stopped speaking to Ruth! God has brought about this amazing conversion, but it would seem that Naomi can’t see it.

Now there is real disagreement over how to interpret Naomi’s actions in this passage. Some want to paint her in the best possible light, whilst others take a different line. But the plain reading of the text, seems to show us that Naomi isn’t handling things very well. This comes across again as she arrives in Bethlehem and says to her former friends and neighbours: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” (v 20 ESV) There is no mention here of Ruth and her amazing conversion, neither is there any acknowledgement of her husband’s sinful choices. She simply wants to be known by a name that means ‘bitter’, which reminds us of Israel’s grumbling in the wilderness. (Ex. 15:22-25)

So what are we to make of this? How do we explain Naomi’s behaviour? Personally, I think that Naomi is struggling to come to terms with God’s providence in her life. She doesn’t appreciate how he has dealt with her. Do you remember when you were caught doing something wrong as a child? As you fought back the tears, there was often a sense of injustice at the punishment received, wasn’t there, and a sense of hurt pride? You didn’t like the fact that you had been caught in the act. But often at the back of it all, there was the pain of a guilty conscience. You didn’t want to admit it, but you knew you were in the wrong and it hurt that your parents were in the right. Well, I think that that is where Naomi is right now. She is hurting, because God has dealt with her and she doesn’t appreciate it that much, and surely many of us can identify with her at this point. Haven’t there been times in our lives when we have chosen a path that is contrary to biblical standards, and the Lord steps in and deals with us and we don’t appreciate it?

The sad thing is, that in situations like this we can’t see the wood for the trees. All we see is the discipline and not the motive lying behind the discipline. That is the case with Naomi. In v 22 we read: “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” Can you see what is going on here? Naomi receives a report that the Lord has given food to his people (v 6) and providentially, she arrives home at the best possible time. But there is more. Although Naomi doesn’t realise it yet, through Ruth’s conversion, the Lord has guaranteed Naomi’s future security and well-being. Not to mention the fact, that the Lord has brought Naomi back to the sphere of blessing, from her sinful wanderings. The Lord has been so gracious, but Naomi can’t see it as yet.

Friends, don’t be too quick to accuse the Lord of treating you unfairly, because it may well be, that your heavenly Father, who has already proved his love for you in Christ, is actually saving you from yourself and bringing you right back to him. Now the road home may be painful, but all long that road, there will be tokens of God’s love, if you have eyes to see them. Amen.

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