But GOD — Episode 7 (finale) – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 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.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.Ruth 1:6-22
I hope this finds you well and ready to dive back into the world of Naomi (“Pleasant”) and Ruth. Last week, we started our journey through this narrative and saw that “Pleasant” and her two daughters-in-law were in grief-stricken after losing their husbands (or in Naomi’s case her husband and both her children). While this is an extremely sad situation, it says something about the genuineness of the Bible that it does not glaze over the sad and unfortunate moments. It does not glaze over the sin, either. After all, what good is an example if we cannot identify with it? And what good is a Savior if no one needs rescuing?
Good News (Gospel) for Broken-Hearted Sinners
There is a common phrase in modern-day culture: there is good news and bad news. This usually prompts the person talking to ask if their audience wants the good or bad news first. No matter the order, the good news is always preferred over the bad. Naomi and her daughters-in-law already had the bad news covered. But God made sure that they were in the right place and time to hear the good news; Verse 6 tells us that “she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited His people and given them food”!
Even though they were in a foreign land (where they went to avoid consequences of sin and their need to repent) and heard specifically that God Himself had heard His people’s cries of repentance and ended the famine in the promised land – it was harvest time at the “house of bread”! While that news was indeed good, no amount of food would cure Naomi’s broken heart, but it was enough to prompt her to return to the promised land from Moab.
Before she could “return to the land of Judah” (v. 7), she needed to take care of her daughters-in-law. They, after all, had their own gods, their own ethnic group, and no ties to Israel since neither had children. So, Naomi sent them back to their “mother’s house” – basically giving them permission to go home, get over their sadness, and start fresh. Before she parted ways with them, she did something interesting: she blessed them – she prayed for them.
This is good news for two reasons. First, it shows that even during her sorrow and bitterness God was working in her life. Second, the specific things she prayed – “May the Lord deal kindly with you” and that He would “grant that you may find rest…in the house of [your] husband” – were very clearly and specifically answered for Ruth (and Naomi, as well, but more on that next week)!
Naturally, there was crying – a lot of it and understandably so since these women had shared life and grief together. Orpah went home just as Naomi told her to do. There was nothing sinful or wrong in her obeying her mother-in-law and starting fresh. There was just something else going on in Ruth’s life that compelled her to stay. Here, it is important to see how the phrase “good news” means something different in the New Testament: it refers to the gospel. And God was working in Ruth’s life in a gospel sort of way which impacted her decisions.
This is good for us because it reminds us of the good news – the gospel – impact of what Jesus has done for us through His death and resurrection. It helps us to identify with Naomi and Ruth. I love the way that Tony Merida illustrates this:
“According to the gospel, it is all of us who are the afflicted, the weak and wounded, the sick and sore. And Jesus has come to our aid. Christians are the people who should most identify with the orphan and widow. We were the orphan, and God adopted us. We were the widow, and Jesus became our Bridegroom. We were the stranger, and God made us citizens of heaven. We were the poor, and Jesus gave us a glorious inheritance. We must remember how God has visited us with grace.”
Let’s look at how God visited Ruth with His grace.
Ruth’s Conversion and Naomi’s Identity Crisis
Looking at this backward across the New Testament at these events, we know that there was no true hope for them in the land of Moab – that the only hope anyone had came from Ruth’s great-great-descendent Jesus Christ. Knowing that highlights how awesome what God was doing in the lives of Naomi and, especially, Ruth truly was. After Orpah went home, Ruth doubled down on her intent to stay with Naomi (v. 16). She did not care that Naomi would not be able to produce another son for her to marry. She did not care that she would be a foreigner in Naomi’s land. She did care for Naomi. And it is in this care that we see the change that God produced in Ruth’s heart.
She told Naomi, “where you go, I will go”, showing their deep bond that she was unwilling to forsake. It showed a commitment to her mother-in-law, but there were bigger changes afoot. Next, she said, “your people will be my people, and your God my God”. This is a big deal because she was forsaking her Moabite heritage and native religion to completely embrace Naomi’s! This meant more than simply moving to a different country; it was equivalent to moving from death to life – from false gods to the God, from the wages of sin to the grace of the promised land. That is good news!
The spiritual change in Ruth’s life shows us the same sort of change that we need even today. Yes, the blessings that Naomi sought for Ruth would occur. God would bless her with a husband in her new home. God would deal kindly with her in many ways. But, before any of the physical or surface-level needs were met, God gave her a new life found only in Him! And, through His blessings in Ruth’s heart, Naomi would eventually find these same blessings again in her own.
Ruth’s conversion provides a huge contrast to Naomi’s identity crisis. Remember, Naomi meant “pleasant”, yet she found herself feeling the exact opposite, bitterness. She changed her name to reflect her heart: “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara [Bitter]” (v. 20). For Ruth entering the promised land allowed her to begin to realize that she could “hold fast to the confession of hope” (“your God will be my God”) as she learned that “He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). But, for Naomi, re-entering the promised land felt like a prison sentence.
The Barley Harvest & the Beginnings of Healing
“Bitter” and Ruth were a sight to behold when they came into Bethlehem. In fact, we see that “the whole town was stirred because of them” (v. 19). Instead of seeing the family of four that left for Moab, or even the six that could have been including Ruth and Orpah, two grieving widows entered town alone. Ruth had the testimony of a new God and was coming into the land of her new people. “Bitter” believed that “the Lord [had testified] against [her] and the Almighty [brought] calamity upon [her]” (v. 21).
In her sorrow – and anger and grief and, yes, bitterness, she could not see the hope that came from Him, that, in repentance and humility, the “mighty hand of God” would reach down, not to strike but to “exalt” (1 Peter 5:6) and lift her up out of her sorrow and restore her to Naomi. And while the town was stirred and the people had questions, God had stirred the ground in Bethlehem and produced a barley harvest where there was once famine – land that was once cursed by God was bringing bread. “Bitter” misunderstood God’s actions as dealing bitterly with her while, behind the scenes, He was dealing kindness to her like she could not fathom because bitterness had blinded her.
Unfortunately, bitterness can blind us as well. But, fortunately – actually graciously – for us, Jesus offers salvation for people “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive the forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Him]” (Acts 26:18). Amid whatever difficulties we are experiencing – whatever bitterness, Jesus offers hope; He says,
“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
May it be so for you today!