You can hear the nail gun of life's hard realities driving sharp nails into the heart of Naomi. Each blast of the nail gun leaves her more wounded and broken. Each nail embeds itself into the fabric of her shattered life, causing her more pain with every heartbeat. This once joyous woman who had everything — husband, two sons, land, friends, country, crops, and love — is now bitter, broken, and life-weary.
In the course of ten years, Naomi lost everything precious to her.
- Wham — famine.
- Wham — move to another country, the country of your enemies.
- Wham — lose your heart language and sense of home.
- Wham — lose your extended family and all your friends.
- Wham — her sons marry foreign women.
- Wham — her husband, Elimelek, dies.
- Wham — her two sons, Mahlon and Killion die.
When Naomi — whose name means pleasant — finally returns home, she tells her friends to call her Mara, which means bitter. Why?
...the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?" (Ruth 1:20-21 NLT).
The nails of loss, sorrow, and grief feel permanently attached to Naomi's heart and she cannot envision any other future but bitterness, pain, and emptiness.
What Naomi forgot in her pain is that God cares for the broken, the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner who sojourns among his people (Deuteronomy 10:18 and Psalm 146:9 are just two of many passages that emphasize this theme). She forgot that the LORD delights in setting the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). And while she is touched by her daughter-in-law Ruth and her amazing faithfulness, she cannot imagine the profound difference Ruth's love will make in her life when Ruth backs up her promise with her actions:
"Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!" (Ruth 1:16-17 NLT).
Few love stories, in the Bible or outside of Scripture, are as sweet and moving as the story of Ruth. Ruth's dedication to her mother-in-law Naomi, her hard work to care for Naomi, her willingness to give up everything to go to another country with Naomi, and her openness to follow Naomi's advice in reaching out to Boaz combine to open the door for God's grace to reach us all. God uses Ruth's faithful love and his own love for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner to take the nails of grief driven into Naomi's heart and replace them with a precious grandson who brought joy back to her life (Ruth 4:13-18). (If you haven't read this powerful and precious story recently, I encourage you take a few minutes and read it now in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament of our Bibles!)
God's love for the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner among his people, and the poor was woven into the fabric of his Law. Two powerful principles in God's Law ensured that Naomi and Ruth would not be abandoned and left alone — the law of the harvest and the developed law of the guardian-redeemer.
The first principle is the law of the harvest — sometimes called the gleaning law. God's people were not to pick up any of their grain that fell to the ground when they harvested: they were to leave the fallen grain for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 24:19). They were not to beat their olive trees a second time or go over their vines a second time during the harvest, but leave what remained for the foreigner, fatherless, and widow (Deuteronomy 24:20-22). When they reaped their fields, they were not to harvest to the edges and the corners, but leave those portions for the poor and the foreigner among them (Leviticus 19:9; Leviticus 23:32). God made clear that his people would have compassion that cost them something to make sure the poor, the father, the orphan, and the foreigner among them were given food and hope.
The second principle is the guardian-redeemer law (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). This law was given so that when a woman without a son was widowed, she would be given a son to take care of her and an heir to carry on his father's name and inherit his father's property. So much of the beautiful story of Ruth hinges on Boaz and his stepping up and fulfilling the guardian-redeemer law.* Ruth has the opportunity to become part of God's people and to take care of her mother-in-law Naomi because Boaz gladly fulfills the guardian-redeemer law. In the process, Boaz and Ruth become the great grandparents of King David (Ruth 4:21-22) and generations later from their descendants, comes Jesus the Messiah (Matthew 1:5-6).
The power of this story has many applications, but I want to challenge us to focus on two of them.
Some who read this will find themselves identifying with Naomi. Life's hard realities have driven nail after nail of pain and grief into their hearts. Some of my closest friends are in a season where this pain and grief is inescapable. God's presence seems non-existent, or maybe even worse, real and painful — they ask, "How could he let something like this happen to me and claim to love me?" So, I encourage you to read the story of Ruth through several times.
- The first time, simply listen to the story asking the Holy Spirit to help your heart absorb what your eyes read.
- The second time, read the story to see the honest talk by Naomi and her friends and realize that God doesn't ask us to hide our emotions from him or from those close to us.
- The third time, read the story and look for bits of hope, phrases of encouragement, messages of grace that are all found in this simple story.
- The fourth time, read the story remembering that we are in the period of the Judges, and that God uses the faithfulness of a foreign woman to bring great blessings to others — to Naomi and Boaz in the immediate moment and to us through being in the lineage that leads to King David and ultimately to the Lord Jesus.
Ask the Holy Spirit to rekindle your hope in the future as you hear each of these different streams of God's message.
Many of us who read this story need to be reminded of God's great love for the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner among us, and the poor. For any who doubt God's great love for people caught in these challenges, take some time and do a few word searches on each of these concepts. You will be amazed at what God has to say and how often he says it. While we no longer live under the theocracy of the old Jewish Law, the principles of caring for others, recognizing that some of our blessings need to be reserved to help those in need and remembering to show mercy and care for the widow, the fatherless, the poor, and the foreigner who sojourns among us. Such a concern is the heart of God. Such a concern is the story of Ruth. Such a concern is the grace that ultimately brought us Jesus.
* The guardian-redeemer principle is mentioned 8 times in Ruth: