The famine in Israel is over but not the famine in Naomi’s heart. Naomi wants to go home. She has nothing to offer her daughter in laws and so releases them back to their “mother’s” home. But Ruth sticks like glue to her side.
We left our three women with an uncertain future. All the men in this family have died. In a male dominated society, being bereft of their protection is a serious issue. It can mean the difference between life and death, especially in a society that doesn’t value you. Naomi was a foreigner. Ruth and Orpah were from Moab but they had married Israelites. Their status as widows linked them to Israel, not Moab. I don’t know for certain the societal norms for Moab but I’m assuming the woman’s position was difficult. If not, Naomi may have chosen to remain in Moab instead of returning to Israel.
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It has been a week since Ruth had to coax Naomi out of bed each morning. She still wears her grief about her as one wears a favorite cloak. That ‘cloak’ has become so much a part of her day that she has difficulty remembering a time she wasn’t under its covering. She has learned to walk again under its weight, all be it a little slower and with head hung lower.
During this week Naomi has endeavored to help more with the chores around the home and interact with her daughters. Food for this little family has been an issue but the kindness of some of their neighbors has kept them from starvation. Ruth and Orpah have occasionally accompanied some of the other women into the fields to gather the leavings after the harvest. It isn’t much but it is what they have.
In the evenings Ruth likes to share what she has gleaned in knowledge from the fields with Naomi. Tonight, while Orpah is washing up after their meager Ruth regales Naomi with news of Israel while brushing and braiding Naomi’s hair. Ruth loves doing this task with Naomi each night. It brings both of them comfort. Ruth also knows that news of Israel is Naomi’s favorite subject and since the news is good she hopes it will lift Naomi even farther from her grief.
“I heard some wonderful news in the field today mother.”
“What is it my daughter?”
“I heard that the Lord has given Israel rest from the famine. It is said the fields are again blessed by Him and producing abundantly!”
“That IS good news my daughter. How is it you came about this information? Is it a source you can trust?”
“I overheard the master of the field and the overseer speaking as I and the other women were gleaning near them. The master was saying that the he would have to look for new markets for his grain as Israel is once again able to supply their own people’s needs. The overseer was offering him possible alternatives. I was discrete while I listened so I don’t believe I was observed.”
“Thank you daughter for bringing this joy to my ears and heart.”
Naomi quietly thinks about what this change could mean to her and her little family. “I could go back to my family. Surely it would better for me to die among my own people than to live out my days in this foreign land.”
During the morning meal Naomi addresses her daughters. “My daughters, you know the hardships that brought Elimelech and I to this land. How we stayed here and built a life for our sons. How all three of them have been carried away to their ancestors. And how we struggle for our very survival.”
Both women nod their heads. Ruth wants to speak and tell Naomi that all will be well if they just hold fast. Naomi sees Ruth’s chest swell, taking in breath she will need for her reply, and with a raised hand signals to Ruth to hold her answer a little longer.
“I feel it is time for me to return to my home. I know you have many questions and I can’t tell you exactly what will become of each of us, but I have family in Israel that I feel confident that they will welcome me home.”
“When do you want to leave mother?” asks Ruth.
“I want to leave on the first day of the new week. We need to seek a caravan that is traveling that way. I don’t know if we will be able to pay the price to travel with them but at least we can travel alongside them. I’m sure they would lend protection if the need arose.”
The new week dawns in three days so Orpah and Ruth double their efforts in gleaning as food will be needed for this journey. Naomi searches her possessions for anything of value that she can sell or trade to secure them a place in the caravan. She has a few keepsakes that Elimelech gave her as a new bride and when each of her sons were born. They are not of great value to anyone but her, yet they may bring enough to meet their travel needs.
Naomi must be selective in who she asks to assist her in securing passage for herself and her daughter’s-in-law. She needs someone who can be trusted to bargain fairly for her. One of her friends has been especially kind to the three woman. She is the one who arranged for Ruth and Orpah to glean with her daughter. Naomi will ask her to speak on behalf of them with the next caravan heading in their direction.
Two next two days pass in a blur of activity. The three women prepare what food they have gathered into meals that can be easily carried on their journey. Several of their friends have given a little of their pantries to see the women safely on their journey. The house is cleaned and set in order for its new tenants. And Naomi is due to meet with her friend this evening regarding passage with the caravan.
That evening the husband of Naomi’s friend gives her the news. “I’m sorry Naomi. I did all I could but there just wasn’t enough. The man has agreed that you can follow them and he will allow you to sleep within the confines of their camp at night, but that is all I could arrange.”
“Thank you for your help. It is what it is. It will be enough.” Naomi was hoping for more but was expecting news such as this. At least they would be safe in the nights. The Lord would have to see to their safety during the day and help them keep up as this group was under no obligation to wait for them should they fall behind.
The Sabbath starts that evening so preparations come to a halt. Naomi’s family had observed the Sabbath each week, even in Moab, and she had taught her daughters-in-law to do the same. There is nothing left to do but gather their bundles on the morning after the Sabbath and leave. All is as ready as it can be when they retire to their pallets that night.
Before first light Naomi and her daughters are tying their bundles and taking one last look around the house, in case they have missed something. They have to leave early to make it to the caravan shelter before it sets off.
Naomi’s heart is heavy. She has been wrestling with thoughts of her daughters’ futures. “I have nothing to offer them. They have no future with me. I cannot provide them with husbands or children. I love them with all my soul and will probably perish of grief once they are gone, but how can I ask them to forsake any future they have on my account?” Naomi’s footsteps slow and final stop. She has made up her mind. “For their sake, I HAVE to send them away.”
Ruth and Orpah keep pace with Naomi but when she stops they are concerned. “Is there something wrong mother? Did we forget something?” Orpah asks.
The early light allows Ruth to notice the wetness of Naomi’s cheeks. “Are you in pain mother?”
“Yes my daughters something is wrong and I am in pain.”
“What can we do to help” asks Orpah.
“You can do me a great honor. I want each of you to return to your mother’s house. There is no future for you with me. ‘May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me’ (verse 8b).”
“NO mother! Don’t send us away!” cry both women at the same instant. They drop their bundles and wrap Naomi in their embrace. “We will return with you to your people” (verse 10b).
Naomi is very touched by their love but she has made up her mind. It is for their sakes that she does this. “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me?’ (verse 11a) I hold no future for you. I’m too old to bear more sons to be your husbands and even if I could would you really wait that long for them to become of age to marry? You would be too old for children by then. Your future lies here. You are beautiful and could find husbands to fill your empty souls. I have nothing to offer. ‘It is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me’ (verse 13b). Do not ask me to carry the burden of your ruined futures along with my own.”
Tears run freely down the faces of all three women. Orpah hears the words of Naomi and recognizes the truth and love in them. There is no future for her if she remains. She must think of her own future now. “I Love you mother. I will do as you have asked.” With a heavy heart she kisses Naomi one last time, gathers her bundle from where she laid it. She reached in and removed the food from her pack and passed it to Naomi. “This will help you stay strong on your journey.”
Naomi watches as Orpah walks away. She is sad but also hopeful. “This is best. Orpah deserves a future” thinks Naomi. She then turns to Ruth. “You too must leave daughter. I will miss you but this is best for you too.”
Ruth takes Naomi’s hands in hers. “I will not leave you mother, for you ARE my mother. I have never known love until you showed it to me. I have never belonged until you took me to your heart. So ‘where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you’ (verses 16-17).”
Tears again stream from Naomi’s eyes. She moves Ruth’s hands to her mouth and kisses them then embraces her. When the embrace ends Naomi says, “Gather your things. We must hurry.” They quickly set off to reach the caravan before it leaves to their new home.
Once they reach the caravan stand Naomi enquirers as to which man is leading the caravan to Bethlehem. A man is pointed out to her and she is told to hurry as he is preparing to depart any minute. She approaches him and waits. He is speaking with his drovers and directing them as to their assignments for the day. When he finishes he sees Naomi and Ruth standing and watching him.
“How may I be of service?” he asks.
“I was told that you are leading a caravan to Bethlehem and that you have contracted with the husband of my friend to let us accompany you and sleep within the confines of your camp at night.”
“You must be the widow Naomi. Yes I spoke with your friend. I thought there were to be three of you traveling near us. We are leaving soon and I don’t have time to wait for the other to join you.”
“There has been a change in plan and there are only the two of us.”
“It is not safe for such a small group to travel without protection. The money you paid is sufficient for two travelers to join our ranks. I cannot offer more than a donkey for the two of you but you will be safer than simply following us.”
“This would be greatly appreciated kind sir! We will endeavor to be of no burden to you. If we can offer services in preparing meals or watering the animals, we would be glad to offer it as additional payment for your kindness.”
“I accept your offer. We will see as the journey progresses what needs may arise.” The man whistles to one of his drovers who immediately comes to join the group. “See that these women are provided a donkey. They will be traveling with us. I entrust their safety to you.”
“As you wish my lord.” He turns to Naomi and Ruth and offers a slight bow. “This way please ladies. I have just the donkey for you.”
Naomi and Ruth fall in behind him and make their way through the groups getting ready for departure.
(to be continued)
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As a grown daughter and daughter-in-law I understand Ruth’s position. My mother still has my father to provide a home for her but my mother-in-law is widowed. My husband and I have cared for her since his father died. I will continue to do so until the day she passes from this life too. We don’t always agree but our love remains unbroken. I have already talked with my mother about the possibility of her becoming a widow and offered the same love and care to her. I don’t know if she would willingly leave the confines of our family group she currently lives within and join me but she is MORE than welcome in my arms!
Father God, thank You for the love of these three women. Naomi’s love for her daughters-in-law was even greater than her care for her own life. I wonder if she would have been able to make the journey alone. Would she have survived it? Would she have been safe? Would her grief have drown her if not for Ruth’s faithfulness?
Orpah wasn’t being selfish when she turned away. She was willing to stay with Naomi if she had asked. She was faithful to her and only Naomi’s release freed her to seek after her own needs. If she had remained, was there a possibility for a kinsmen redeemer for her too? Did Naomi even consider this possibility before turning her back to her mother’s house?
Ruth’s love was a steadfast love that would stand against any circumstances. She could not have been closer to Naomi if Naomi had born her herself. Did Ruth have a mother she could have returned to? Was Naomi the first one to truly show her love? She cared more for Naomi than she did for her own life. Nothing but death would separate her from Naomi.
Thank You for growing me in love. Love from my parents, love from my spouse, love from his family, love from my children, and above ALL else, YOUR love. It is the foundation of all love in my life. Without Your love I would be a hollow shell.
I think it is interesting that Ruth’s words are often referenced in regard to marriage. They are also broken too often in today’s world. Forgive me for my part in breaking them previously. Let them stand true in my life from this moment on. Only through Your strength can I truly love like You do.