Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem. It’s good to be home but there is little joy in Naomi’s heart. She is now Mara, bitter. She feels judged by the Lord.
When thinking about Naomi’s response to the woman when she and Ruth get to Bethlehem I’m prompted to remember God’s purpose; HIS plan. God had a plan ALL ALONG for His Son to enter this world and do the work only He could do. He wasn’t altering His plan as man kept messing it up. He knew man’s hearts and used them within His framework. NO. Men were not mere puppets on a string! God knew what their choices would be even before they made them.
The story of Joseph is a perfect example of this. God allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery, thrown in prison, and rise to power as part of HIS purpose for His people. He even allowed the 430 years of slavery to build His people into a sizable nation. He performed AMAZING signs and wonders to teach His people of His power and authority. For such a purpose He did all these things!
Who is to say that it is not for that same purpose that Naomi entered Moab with her family in the beginning and returned with Ruth in the end. We will see the line of David at the end of this book and Ruth is a part of that line. God could have used another woman in her place but He CHOSE her to be part of His Son’s heritage. Without Naomi and her losses Ruth would not have come to Bethlehem. So even though Naomi sees the disasters and the bitterness that she has suffered, I see the fingerprints of God. I’m sure she would change her mind too if she saw it from our point of view.
Let’s join our two women as they journey further on their appointment with God’s plan. We left them with the caravan as it was about to head leave Moab. They have been granted a place within it for their protection instead of following it.
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The donkey Naomi and Ruth receive for their journey is a gentle soul. He is well accustomed to these journeys as he has served in this caravan since his birth. He is skilled at carrying burdens of all kinds, including passengers. He can’t carry both of the women but carrying one will prove no problem to him.
Ruth greets him with a smile and a stroke of his head. “Hello my friend. We have a long journey before us. I trust you know the way and will lead us safely there. We promise to take good care of you and trust you to do the same for us.”
Naomi watches the exchange between Ruth and the donkey with a smile. She and Ruth strap their bundles onto the donkey with the tether he wears around his middle. Just as they are finishing up they hear the caravan leader.
“Form Up! We are moving out!”
They are on their way. Naomi and Ruth take one last look around them as they pass out of the city. Both wonder what lays ahead for them. Naomi feels the pull of home but carries the emptiness of the losses she has suffered since leaving there ten years ago. She expects no future at the end of this journey; only a closing of her life. To Ruth everything is new. She holds no expectations beyond being at Naomi’s side until death. Funny thing is, even with low expectations on both their parts they can’t help but feel a little excited as they begin this journey.
The first day Naomi walks beside Ruth while the donkey carries their bundles. They talk of the sights they pass. The pace is reasonable because of the size of the caravan requires more time than individual travel would but the distance covered feels relentless. By the time they stop for the night Naomi is beyond exhausted. She doesn’t voice this but Ruth sees it in her steps and her face.
Ruth insists on caring for their animal herself after she settles Naomi on her bundle. She takes it to the area where the animals are gathered for the night. The animals are gathered near the water source that provides for the caravan’s needs as well. “I will see you in the morning my friend. I’m going to ask you to carry Naomi tomorrow. I trust this will not be a problem for you. She is lite and should not overburden you.” She ends her talk with the donkey and gives him water and grain from the stores for the animals. “I will be back later to brush you. But I must tend to my mother now.”
One of the drovers watches as Ruth gently speaks with her donkey. “He suits you Miss? I can see to his care for you” he offers.
“Thank you. I appreciate your help. I will feed, water and brush him but I can’t stand watch over him in the night. I entrust him into your hands during this time.”
“I won’t fail you; or him” he says with a smile.
Ruth nods and bows slightly as she turns to her next task. She quickly fills both her and Naomi’s water skins before leaving the drover to his duties. The drover watches her go and thinks that this is one lucky donkey.
Back at their place in the caravan Naomi has fallen asleep while sitting on her bundle. Ruth quickly unties her bundle and spreads a blanket for Naomi. She also unpacks a simple meal for both of them. Ruth rouses Naomi and encourages her to eat for she will need it for strength tomorrow. Naomi eats the bread and dried dates Ruth offers her and washes it down with the water she brought back. Finally Ruth settles Naomi on her blanket and heads back over to finish her care of their donkey.
As Ruth is brushing their donkey she is softly humming to him. The drover smiles each time he looks her way while. “Like I thought; one LUCKY donkey!” Ruth finishes her ministrations of the donkey and turns her steps back to Naomi and sleep. As she passes the drover he speaks to her.
“You care well for your animal but while on the trail we don’t usually brush them every night. You may spoil him” he says with a smile.
“A little extra love never spoiled anything and I am simply showing him how grateful I am for his help. He is a fine donkey and he has a lot of work ahead of him.”
Ruth opens Naomi’s bundle and retrieves a blanket for herself and settles in beside her for the night. Tomorrow is not far off and she too will need her rest to face it.
As the sky is just beginning to open itself to the possibility of morning the drover’s voices rouse the sleeping members of the caravan. Everyone needs to rise so that they can eat, repack their bedding, gather their animals, and be ready to move out as the sun breaks the horizon.
Coordinated chaos fills the morning as the caravan prepares to leave. Ruth brings their donkey to where Naomi waits with their bundles. Before Naomi can tie her bundle to the donkey Ruth puts a hand on her arm. “You must ride today mother. I will carry the bundles.”
“I will walk with you.”
“No mother. I see the pain in your eyes and the stiff movements of your steps this morning. You need to rest. Our strong donkey will carry you today.”
Naomi sees the determination in Ruth’s eyes and doesn’t argue. She shakes her head in resignation and climbs onto the donkey’s back, with Ruth’s help. Ruth ties the two bundles together and they are ready as the caravan surges forward for the day. Ruth walks beside the donkey which carries Naomi.
When the caravan stops briefly for the midday meal Naomi alights from the donkey with great pleasure. “My feet may be spared the journey’s trials but my backside certainly isn’t” she says with a laugh and a groan.
Ruth laughs too. “Maybe I can make you a more comfortable seat with one of the bundles.” Naomi nods her approval. While Ruth sets about arranging and tying the softest parts of her bundle onto the donkey’s back Naomi gathers their midday meal. They are both fed and the new seat ready in time for the drovers call to move out.
The end of the second day finds Naomi and Ruth in better spirits. Naomi’s seat has been successful in making her backside stop protesting. The lightening of Ruth’s bundles has helped her step stay strong all day. Ruth helps Naomi down from the donkey and they prepare for their night time rituals.
“I will prepare the meal while you tend to the donkey. I have enough strength tonight to be of use” Naomi says with a smile.
“Thank you mother. I am glad you are feeling better tonight. I will return as soon as I’m finished.” Ruth takes the donkey’s bridal and heads towards the animal’s pen. “You hear that my friend? You did very well today. I will give you an extra handful of grain for all your hard work. I will also brush you before I return so you don’t have to wait.”
After caring for their animal, entrusting it to the drover and refilling their water skins Ruth returns to Naomi. Their evening meal is waiting when she gets there. They settle down together to eat. “You didn’t have to wait on me mother. You could have eaten while I was caring for the donkey.”
“I wanted to wait. Besides, I needed something to wash it down with” Naomi says while picking up her water skin.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I should have brought the water back first.”
“No my daughter. I was only teasing you. I truly wanted to wait for you.”
They eat and then retire for the night. Another day awaits.
The arrangement worked out well for the rest of the journey. Naomi rode the donkey on the seat Ruth created for her and Ruth walked beside her carrying their remaining bundle. Occasionally Naomi would walk with Ruth for a while just to stretch her legs.
As the days stretched on they talked of the scenery they passed, what Bethlehem is like, and what awaited them. Sometimes one of the other members of the caravan walked with them and they shared stories of their lives and journeys. The closer they get to their final destination though the quieter Naomi gets. She is thinking of the path her life has taken. She is looking forward to being home but not the homecoming itself.
Nearly three weeks later Naomi and Ruth departed the caravan at Bethlehem. The caravan had trading business with the town so they were brought right into Naomi’s home town. Before leaving the caravan Ruth and Naomi thanked all those who had helped them on their journey, including their donkey.
“Thank you my fine friend” Ruth intoned as she stroked his head.
The caravan master laughed as he watched Ruth with the donkey. “I think he is going to miss you very much! Now he has to go back to the life of a regular caravan animal instead of all the extra attention he received.”
“Thank you my lord for the use of such a fine animal. He has made our journey much easier” said Naomi.
As Ruth and Naomi are saying their good-byes to the caravan a buzz begins to build in the city. Naomi’s presence had not gone unnoticed. Word quickly spread about her arrival. Questions abounded too as none could spot Elimelech or her sons among those who had arrived.
Ruth and Naomi leave the caravan stand and are making their way through Bethlehem’s center when they feel eyes following them. They look around and notice people staring. Some of them are whispering to one another. One group of women is emboldened and approaches our two new arrivals.
“Is this Naomi?”(verse 19b). This is said by the leader of the group as they near Naomi and Ruth.
“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty” (verses 20-21a).
Ruth’s eyes fill with tears as she bears witness to her mother’s pain. She has lost a husband but her mother-in-law has lost much more. She had hoped that Naomi’s grief would have lessened but this welcome seems to have brought it all back to the surface. She must be careful it doesn’t drown her again in its weight.
“Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (verse 21b).
With these words spoken in the hearing of all who watched, Naomi takes Ruth’s hand and leads her out of the city. They come to the home Naomi hasn’t seen in more than ten years. Her home. The one she and Elimelech made a life together in. The one she birthed her children in. It stands as empty and broken as she feels. There is much work to be done to make it a home for the two women.
“This is it my daughter” says Naomi as she stands and stares at the changes ten years have made in the house she once called home.
Ruth surveys it with different eyes than Naomi does. Where Naomi sees the ghosts of the past, Ruth sees the promise of the future. Ruth makes mental notes of what needs repair, what materials are available, and where to START. “May I open the shutters mother to air it out?”
Naomi just nods. Ruth opens the door, removes the bars from the shutters and opens every window in the house. She finds a stool, dusts it off and brings it to Naomi to sit upon.
“Let me just sweep the inside quickly while you rest here mother.” Again Naomi just nods.
Ruth sets about sweeping the cobwebs down and the piles of dirt on the floor. She removes the coverings from the few items of furniture that remained in the house. She is careful in her tasks but also hurries because she wants to present Naomi with a sense of home again as soon as possible. Partway through the process Naomi joins her.
Together they finish cleaning their home. The place where they will make their new future. Ruth knows she will have to be the one to carry them forward in the beginning. Naomi’s strength has waned over their journey and especially as she faced those who once knew her. Her cloak of grief, which was put away for much of their journey, is once again firmly in place about her.
Ruth continues her list as they settle in for the night. Two things of importance are food and water. She will address these both in the morning. For now they have the little that remains from their stores from their journey. “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” thinks Ruth as she settles her mind and slips off into sleep.
(to be continued)
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Thank You Father God for knowing my tomorrows. I firmly believe You planned for Ruth’s future with Naomi. I’m looking forward to seeing it up close with Your Holy Spirit. It is a beautiful story of redemption and acceptance. A foreign woman that You took into Your own family. A story of love poured out. With a heart so brimming with love for Naomi, I wonder how much more Ruth had that poured from her as a mother.
I want a heart like Ruth’s. One that is filled with love all the time. One that isn’t begrudging or self-centered. One that sees the promise of what lies ahead instead of dwells on the past and what was lost. A heart strong enough to bring joy to the one who has lost without disregarding the experiences that caused the pain. A quiet oasis for refreshing.