Love Came Down with Strength

(Sorry for the delay!  Next post coming this Friday.  Please accept my apologies. – JS)

This Week’s Reading: Judges 18 – 1 Samuel 2

blue barrenTrauma can have a lasting impact on people’s lives. The story of Ruth and Naomi has Trauma’s handprints all over it. First, famine hit the land. Famine in an agricultural culture could only mean one thing: starvation. Then, a move occured to dreaded Moab, longstanding enemy of Israel. Two sickly boys and a wailing woman followed Elimelech “my God is King,” out of the parched “city of bread” (Bethlehem) into the land given to Lot in the long distant days of Abraham, hoping for survival.

Life in Moab cost the family dearly. The boys married women from Moab. Disappointment afflicted this Israeli couple who knew the Law of God their King. Every good Israelite knew they were to marry a good Israelite, not a Moabite.

Then tragedy struck hard. Elimelech died.

Unbelievably, more pain came. Both boys died. In deep grief, there sat three women in Moab, without spouse, income or a future. Ancient Middle Eastern culture was stone cold to the widow’s plight and remarriage, the only hope for a young widow. Older widows past child bearing like Naomi, might find work as indentured slaves or suffer starvation.

Suddenly, news arrived that the famine in Israel was over. Knowing slavery to an Israelite was way better than slavery in Moab, Naomi finally stood up. She started packing her meager belongings. Determined, Naomi trudged north with her two daughters-in-law, up through Moab, steadily moving towards the only place that mattered: home.

At the border between Moab and Israel, Naomi launched her farewell speech to the young Moabitesses at her side:
“Leave with my blessings, girls. May God treat you as kind as you treated me and my dead. I bless you that you may remarry and find rest in a new husband’s home.”

Her daughter-in-laws refused the send off, shouting and weeping, “We are coming with you!” they said.

IMG_1735Naomi then refused, declaring, “There is nothing for you here, girls. I am too old to have children. Even if there was a miracle and I found a man and conceived, you’ll be too old to conceive by the time they are of marriageable age. No, head home to your families, girls. I am so grieved that God’s heavy hand has touched you through me.”

The girls sobbed, refusing to lose Naomi, a loss too deep and too soon after their husband’s sudden deaths. At the border, huge decisions were being forced on these broken women. In pain, Orpah began the long journey home. Ruth wouldn’t budge and pleaded to Naomi:

Don’t tell me to stop following you or to head home once you get to yours. Don’t you understand? I am FAMILY. Where you go, I go. Where you lodge, I lodge. Your people, are my people. Your God is my God. Where you die, there I will die and be buried. May the Lord do more than bury me if anything other than death separate you and I! ( Ruth 1:16-17, transliterated)

Naomi heard Ruth’s determination and quit trying to convince her to change her mind. Together, the two women journeyed to Bethlehem.

News of their arrival caused quite the commotion in Bethlehem. Over fire pits and the city well, the story of their return spread fast.

“ Elimelech’s wife, Naomi’s back!”

“She’s here with a Moabitess!”

“The men died, but Naomi made it! Can you believe it?”

Naomi clarified the rumour mill with a grim declaration:

Stop calling me Naomi. I am Mara. I am bitter, not pleasant. I left here full and God brought me home empty. I am a living statement of what affliction looks like, to be judged by the Almighty, so stop calling me blessed. I have been terribly hurt by the very God who has brought us here. (1:20-21)

Trauma can crush anyone, clouding perceptions, paling celebration. Grief shrouded Naomi, and the pain of her homecoming, of finally returning to Bethlehem, but without grandchildren, equity or any foreseeable future had shifted Naomi into a most difficult place of sorrow and bitterness.

Naomi declared the worst news of all to the Hebrew town: “God’s hand is against me”. Now that may have been Naomi’s perception, but in truth, God’s hand of provision, favour and protection was mighty for these two women. They had arrived in Bethlehem, two vulnerable women from Moab, alive!  Naomi, in her sorrow, couldn’t see anything but her empty arms.

2014-08-22 18.12.09The women settled into town at the beginning of the barley harvest. Thankfully the famine was over and the fields were ripe. Ruth, perhaps knowing the Law from Naomi, which allowed the poor to glean from the field and gather the few stalks left behind by the harvesters (Deut. 24:21) sought Naomi’s permission to gather what mercy would leave behind.

On her first day, Ruth “happened” to go to Boaz’s field, a wealthy godly relative of Elimelech who was as strong and gracious as his name.Ruth may not have noticed Boaz, as she bent over in the fields collecting the barley from the ground, but Boaz sure noticed Ruth. After discovering that the girl in his fields was none other than Naomi’s famous daughter-in-law, that incredible woman who had forsaken her future to watch over her mother-in-law, Boaz called Ruth over and gave instructions:

Don’t go to any other field to glean. I have told my men not to touch you. Drink our water and follow the harvesters. For I have heard what you did for Naomi. May Jehoveh compensate you fully and reward you, under His covering whom you are trusting.(2:11-12)

Ruth hit the ground, bowed over by the unexpected favour of the landowner saying,” O my lord, may I find favor in your sight for you have been so kind and your words have made my heart have courage, even though I am not one of your staff, a foreigner in fact”. (2:13)

Boaz wasn’t through helping this young woman. He instructed his crew to intentionally drop barley on the ground to keep Ruth’s gleaning fruitful and to not rebuke Ruth for gathering a large share. Then Boaz invited Ruth to eat the food provided to the harvest crew. To all who watched, Boaz made clear that the foreign girl wasn’t to be messed with. Racism, sexism and abuse of the Moabite would not be tolerated.

By evening, Ruth returned home with a huge supply of barley, a full ephah. Naomi was shocked and demanded from Ruth to explain for Ruth had brought home unexpected provision, at least ten days supply of grain, after only one day of picking up scraps from the field. When Ruth recounted to Naomi everything that Boaz had said and done, Naomi was amazed. “Blessed be God, who hasn’t quit His kindness to the living or the dead! That man is our relative! He is actually one of the redeemers in the family! Stay in his fields, Ruth! This news is amazing.” (2:20-21)

You may know the rest of the story. Instead of facing rape and starvation, Ruth and Naomi were redeemed. At the end of the harvest, Boaz awoke after the barley harvest celebration with Ruth at his feet.  Naomi had set in motion a bold act to help Ruth make her intentions to be Boaz’s wife crystal clear. Boaz didn’t take advantage of Ruth at the threshing floor. Instead, Boaz thanked God for the gift of Ruth. He gently told Ruth, “the whole city knows you are a virtuous woman and I will do right by you”(3:1).

2013-05-16 16.35.34Heading to the city gate that morning, which was civil court for the town, Boaz undertook the transaction to purchase Elimelech’s property and redeem his line, with Ruth as his bride. The other relative who owned first rights to the property refused Ruth, saying it would contaminate his inheritance to marry a Moabitess. Boaz far more discerning, recognized the favour, grace and courage of a woman who would forsake her own future to protect Naomi and serve her. With joy, he announced to all, “ I am going to redeem this line and I take Ruth as my wife! You are my witnesses!”(4:10) To which the town pronounced their blessing: May this woman be like Rachel, like Leah, that you may build up the house of Israel, and be famous.”(4:11).

Their prophecy rang true. Within a short time, Ruth and Boaz had a son, Obed. Instead of dying bitter and broken, Naomi now nursed the miraculous, a grandson born despite impossible circumstances. Instead of being pushed aside as one of those despised Gentiles, Boaz had embraced Ruth as his bride and Elimelech’s family line was now redeemed.

Trauma no longer gripped Naomi.

Joyfully, as the women laid wee Obed in Naomi’s arms, the women of Bethlehem prophesied, “Blessed be Jehoveh who has not left you, nor ever has. Your lineage continues, in fact, your child will be famous in Israel. He will restore your life and nourish you in your old age. For your daughter, who loves you, who is better than seven sons, has born for you a son.” (4:14,15).

From facing starvation in Moab, Naomi now lived in Boaz’s wealth, with a new child to love in her arms. Obed did indeed become famous, for his son, Jesse, bore seven sons, and the last son was none other than David, otherwise known as King David. In fact, Ruth is part of the lineage of Christ, for Jesus came from King David’s line, the King of all kings, borne from a woman, who like Ruth, simply chose to do the right thing, no matter the cost ( Mat 1:5).

Boaz means strength. When life afflicted and trauma shifted Naomi’s heart from expectancy to flinching fear, Boaz stepped in with provision. Despite her confession, “call me Mara”, when Ruth arrived that day, laden with provision from Boaz’s fields, the kindness of God broke in.  Naomi shifted out of trauma and into the reality of God’s love for her. Naomi, instead of embracing her fear of loss and disappointment in God, chose to trust God’s intentional kindness and set in motion their redemption.After a full season of provision, Naomi sent Ruth to Boaz on the threshing floor. The process of recovery from trauma, loss, grief, started with Naomi expecting and trusting again.  Her faith walk reaped a great reward.

2013-05-16 16.38.01Whether perceived or acknowledged, God’s redemption, His kindness to give life and a future to those who cannot by themselves, is for each of us. Perhaps, like Naomi, we have sat in a foreign land, stricken by our sin and choices, unable to fix any of our mess and distress.

Have we, like Naomi, been amazed, as our Boaz, Jesus Christ, steps into our field and offers us provision to our starvation and new life for our sin, paid dear with His own life blood to give us eternal life?

Or have we, like Naomi, wallowed in our deep vulnerability and need, turned away in trauma, convinced that God is against us, when in truth, He just welcomes us home?

Can we hear the “voices of Bethlehem”, our family, our friends, rejoice over all God has done to spare us and join in, or are we determined to let Trauma win and suck the joy from our lives?

Are you Mara or Naomi in this story?  Ruth or Orpah?  Boaz?  What role will you play?  Do you understand the power of your life and its impact on others?  May the Lord open your eyes to see the truth of His love and His favour in your life this day!

Let’s Pray:
God, our Father, thank You for sending Your Son to redeem us all. We confess our deep need for redemption today. We rejoice in Your favour and we ask that Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth. Search our hearts, O God, and see if there be any anxious way in us and bring us into truth. We rebuke the spirit of trauma off our lives, our minds, our hearts and our memory and choose to rejoice that Lord Jesus, you are our strength! You are the restorer of our souls! Thank you! Thank you, O Mighty Redeemer, for you great love for us all. Amen.

Study Questions:
1. Like Naomi, how has trauma clouded your perceptions of God’s goodness? How can you shift into expectancy and faith in God?
2. Ruth was esteemed by Boaz and Bethlehem for her courage and kindness. What does your life speak to those around you?
3. Naomi was broken by loss. She blamed God. What do you do with loss? How do you recover from disappointment?
4. Ruth was strength for Naomi as Boaz was strength for Ruth. Who is strength in your life? Do you see God in that?
5. Ruth begot Obed who was King David’s grandpa. Can you see the dominoe effect of her choice to not leave Naomi? Have you been able to see the positive consequences of “yes” to God in your own life?

Next Week’s Reading: 1 Samuel 3-14