We come to the book of Ruth. We start with Naomi’s story. A woman who is personally acquainted with sorrow. One day God will wipe that away and give her joy, but not today.
MANY years ago I was a counselor at a girls bible camp. While there the story of Ruth was one of the teachings. One thing they stressed was the places Naomi lived in. Bethlehem is the “House of Bread” and Moab is “Wash pot.” The point was that spirit of where you live has an impact on you. Not that that is going to come up in our story but just something that stuck with me over the years.
We don’t know a lot about the family of Naomi. How they lived prior to the famine. How old the boys were when they left Bethlehem. What kind of health they were each in. Or even the occupation of her husband and sons.
What we do know is that her family was struggling because there was a famine. The book of Judges doesn’t tell us about the famine so we don’t know who was judge at the time. Naomi and Ruth’s story could have fallen during a time when there was no judge and God was bring His people back around by removing His hand of protection.
Thinking about famine, I realize that there are different people affected at different rates. Those growing the crops are affected sooner than those who tend shops. Famine robs the farmer of his livelihood before it does the merchant. The merchant will suffer when there is no more goods available for sale. Before they are depleted the merchant can become very wealthy by charging higher prices for what he does have. They become VERY unpopular at that point.
We aren’t told that Naomi’s family was rich or went out in haste. Later when she returns the woman of the area are glad to see her, so it tells me that her family was probably one of the farmers in the area. They probably left out of need instead of fear. This would mean that her husband and sons would need to find employment once they reached Moab in order to feed their family.
Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies first. We don’t know how soon after arriving in Moab he dies or what was the cause of his death. I’m thinking it could have been related to the work he now had to take on to provide for his family. I don’t imagine the Moabites gave their best jobs to refugees. He probably found some low level ‘dirty work’ that was necessary but no one else wanted to do. I CERTAINLY don’t see him having property of his own to farm in Moab.
After her husband dies, Naomi has to find wives for her sons. She had no husband to negotiate these agreements. I don’t know if Moab required the “bride price” from her grooms or not. Is it possible that the customs were so different from Israel that the men were allowed conduct this business on their own? Is it possible that Elimelech had already concluded the negotiations before his death?
I watched a movie about Ruth MANY MANY years ago. In it Ruth was in a group of girls that were being looked over to be the sacrifice for their god. She was picked but then a bruise appeared on her arm and she was rejected. This made her an unacceptable offering and she was cast out.
We don’t know what Orpah or Ruth’s lives were like before they married Naomi’s sons. Maybe they came from unhappy homes. Maybe they were from poor families. What we do know is that the three women in this family became very close. They loved and cared for one another. Naomi was more of a mother to them than a mother-in-law.
Years went by and Naomi’s sons died also. We aren’t told if they died at the same time or which one went first. I’m wondering if they died in the same manner as their father. Were they employed in a hazardous job, maybe the same one that took the life of their father?
Now all that remains of the family are three widows. There are no grandchildren to bring joy to the house. No preparing dinners for husbands returning from a hard day’s work. No planning glorious things for the family’s future. Simply day to day struggles for life with hearts compounded with grief. Where there once had been hope now lay despair.
I can see Naomi at this point not wanting to even rise from her pallet in the morning. She is bereft. She sees nothing left for herself. The only thing keeping her going is that the fate of these two daughter whom she loves.
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“Good morning mother” Ruth quietly says as she takes Naomi’s hand, urging her from her bed. “It looks like it is going to be another warm day. Would you like to sit outside and enjoy the breeze before it gets too hot?”
Naomi doesn’t have the will to get up but knows it is impossible to resist Ruth’s loving prodding. “She is such a wonderful daughter. If only… No. I can’t go there today” thinks Naomi.
Orpah is preparing a simple porridge for their morning meal. It is more water than wheat but it is what they have. She has to make it last. She saves what flour she can for baking bread. She trusts that Naomi will have an answer for them as to what to do next. They just have to be patient while Naomi grieves. Orpah and Ruth are grieving too but nothing like Naomi.
Ruth brings Naomi to the table and gives Orpha a smile. One that embraces Orpah’s heart and makes it just a little bit lighter. Today is a ‘good day’ as Naomi spoons her own porridge into her mouth. There are days when she is not even able to do this.
After the meal is finished Orpah washes the dishes while Ruth fetches water for the morning. Orpah doesn’t have Ruth’s gift of gab for keeping Naomi’s mind occupied to divert it from her pain so the sound of washing up is the only sound heard in Ruth’s absence.
When Ruth returns she has a quiet song on her lips. She puts her jars down and comes to Naomi’s side. “Would you like a bath this morning mother? We could do your hair is a nice new braid before joining the sun on its journey this morning.”
Naomi nods her approval. Ruth readies the wash basin and a stool by the table for washing up. It will take much of the water she has just fetched to wash Naomi’s hair but that is of little consequence. This is the first time in weeks Naomi has consented to this ministration. Ruth will bathe her here because Naomi won’t venture to the bath house or the river.
Love fills Orpah’s heart as she watches Ruth gently washing Naomi’s long hair in their basin. Ruth is humming as she works and Naomi’s face is free of the pain she has been wearing since the death of her sons, Ruth and Orpah’s husbands, Chilion and Mahlon. Orpah continues with the task of straightening up the home after the night’s rest. She also puts out clean garments for Naomi for after her ‘bath.’
Ruth finishes with Naomi’s hair and fills the basin once again with fresh water. She washes Naomi with a cloth, being careful to protect her dignity by averting her eyes at the appropriate times while continuing to hum softly a soothing song of praise Naomi taught her years ago.
Once clean, dressed and hair again in a thick braid coiled around her head, Naomi looks refreshed. Her face is not as drawn as it has been in past days. Ruth can almost imagine a slight smile resting on her lips. Naomi rises easily from her stool as Ruth takes her hand and leads her into the garden. They sit together and watch the people walking by, the children in the street, and anything else that happens to cross their way.
Ruth knows she has tasks she needs to attend to, like refilling the water jars, but being with Naomi right now is more important. After an hour outside with Ruth quietly commenting on the activity around them Naomi reaches out and takes Ruth’s hand.
“Thank You daughter for this beautiful morning. I’d like to sit here a while longer on my own.”
“Are you sure mother? It’s no trouble sitting with you. I can be quiet if that is what you need too.”
“No. You have brought peace to me with your kindnesses this morning and I have felt lifted by your company. But I want to sit here for a while and don’t want to take up any more of your time. I know you have things you want to do.”
“Being with you here is more important. The other things can wait.”
“I don’t think Orpah would agree if there is no water for her midday cooking.”
Ruth is happy to see a smile not of her imagination on Naomi’s lips. “As you wish mother” she replies with a smile of her own. “I will check on you when I get back with the water to see if you are ready to go back inside.”
Ruth decides to fill all the water jars now to give Naomi time to enjoy the sunshine. Her mood seems much improved since coming out of the house.
Naomi realizes it is time to plan for her family’s future. She has allowed her grief to paralyze her and her daughters. She can’t let it go on, but what can she do? This is what occupies her mind while Ruth fills the water jars and Orpah tends to the few animals they have left.
(to be continued)
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Father God, my heart breaks for Naomi. Her whole family and future have disappeared. But You sent her two women who would love her through this difficult time in her life. They were hurting too but they put her needs above their own.
I LOVE how You bring people into my life right when I need them. Some for a season and some for a reason and some for both. Ruth was both for Naomi. Orpah was both too but for a shorter season. I do not believe I would be here today if it were not for others You placed in my life, even those who You placed me into their lives. I have little doubt Naomi would have survived either without these two women.
Thank You Holy Spirit for taking me inside the story for even a little bit. I look forward to seeing where You take me in the rest of this story.