In order to learn from the book of Ruth in the right way, you must remember that this is not a parable. Parables are stories constructed to teach. The book of Ruth records something that happened to someone in real life. To learn from real life, You have to observe and ponder. You have to think about what happened, how the people in the story interpret what happened, and whether you interpret the events of the story in the same way as the participants.
Before you continue this post, read at least the first chapter of Ruth (CLICK HERE to read it on Bible Gateway). I am writing with the assumption that you are familiar with Ruth chapter 1.
There are four names in Ruth chapter 1 with significant meanings:
- Bethlehem means “house of bread”
- Elimelech means “God is my king”
- Naomi means “pleasant”
- Mara means “bitter”
Elimelech’s name calls to mind the Israelites’ loyalty to Yahweh. As the story begins, there is a famine in “house of bread,” so “God is my king” decides to go to another country. Not much loyalty there, eh? To make matters worse, “God is my king” chooses to go to Moab, a country 30 miles East of Bethlehem that is specifically off-limits to Israelites. Why? The Moabites treated the Israelites poorly as they passed through on the way to the promised land. In response to this treatment, the law commanded:
“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. — Deuteronomy 23:3–4 (ESV)
As I read Ruth 1, I notice at least three things we all deal with that come up in this real life story.
1. There is something about escapism.
Elimelech decided to leave the promised land in order to (as he thought) save his family. As it turns out, he and his two sons both died in Moab. His idea of escaping the troubles in his own land didn’t really pan out. In “The Conduct of Life” (1860), Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote of this truth:
“The efforts which we make to escape from our destiny only serve to lead us into it.”
There is a strong tendency in many people to try to escape difficult problems of all varieties: internal/emotional, relational and situational.
We run from internal difficulties when we refuse to take the voyage of self-discovery and face our dark side.We try to escape when we don't discover our deeper selves and face our own dark side. Click To Tweet
We escape relational difficulties in two ways. Some people withdraw like a turtle pulling its head into its shell. That’s the more obvious way. The other way, not so obvious, is to go on the offensive. Either way, the result is the same: escape from facing the situation.
The story of Noami’s life can prod you to think about ways in which we sometimes use escapism in our lives.
2. There is something about faith.
Naomi attributes many things to God. God brought the famine. God visited Bethlehem with food. In her mind, the death of her husband and sons is God’s testimony against what she and her family did by moving to Moab.
In all this, Naomi never curses God or calls God unfair. Her faith is still in Yahweh even if what she believes to be his judgment is against her.
Naomi is more consistent in her faith than many Christians today. For instance, we use the language of God directing hurricanes when the hurricane does something we think of as desirable, such as going easy on Orlando. So do we also say that God purposely mowed over Haiti with hurricane Matthew? Many people used the language of God directing hurricane Katrina when it did a big loop, turned around, and struck New Orleans, a city they thought deserved God’s special judgment. This view becomes problematic when we investigate further and find out that Katrina missed some of the most “sin-filled” areas of the city. Now what?
The life of faith has tension. This tension has been an openly acknowledged part of the Christian faith from the beginning. If God is not in control, what does it mean to call God, “God.” If God is in control, what does all the suffering and tragedy say about God?
Jesus intimated that things just happen.
“…those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you…” —Luke 13:4–5 (ESV)
Was Naomi right to blame the death of her husband and sons on God? I’m not sure. But at least she was consistent.
The tragedy that struck Naomi’s family can can encourage you to consider the way you deal with the tensions and unknowns of faith. Do you hide from them or openly acknowledge them?
3. There is something about grace.
As I mentioned above, the law in Deuteronomy expressly Moabites from becoming part of the nation of Israel. Yet here is Ruth, accompanying Naomi back to Bethlehem and being accepted into that community. As we will find out later, Ruth becomes Kind David’s great grandmother! Inconceivable!In Naomi's community, the city of Bethlehem, grace triumphed over legalism. - John C. Rallison Click To Tweet
In this community, grace triumphed over legalism. For whatever reason, these people decided not to follow the written rules in this case. What does this mean?
It means that you should take this moment to think about the role of rules in your life with both yourself and others. Jesus did not say that the central mark of his followers would be that they were exemplary examples of people who keep every rule perfectly. He said,
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:35 (ESV)
Points to Ponder
Here are three questions worth considering this week. As always, I encourage you to write your answers down. There is a concreteness in writing that can push us beyond the self-deception that can sometimes be a part of keeping things in our head.
- Are movements you are contemplating based in faith or fear? (could be physical, emotional, relational)
- What tensions exist in your faith that you need to stare in the face?
- Where do you need to receive grace over law in your life? Where do you need to offer grace over law?
(At Journey of Life (the church I pastor), we are beginning a four week series going through the book of Ruth. This post is based on the sermon from Sunday, October 10, 2016 at Journey of Life Lutheran Church in Orlando, Florida. Visit www.journeyoflife.org for audio and video recordings of the full sermon.)