Naomi’s future just took an unexpected turn for the worst.
Her husband passed away. And a few years later both her sons were dead.
So, what’s a woman to do?
Before answering, we have to remember when looking at Scripture, not to “American-ize” the Biblical record, and not to interpret God’s Word using a 21st century perspective.
Naomi, Ruth and Orpah lived during ancient times in a pagan country.
To interject a bit of history: Israel is on the west side of the Dead Sea. Moab was located on the east side. Today this land is known as Jordan.
Moab was named after Lot’s son—one of two sons born following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Lot, his wife and two youngest daughters fled the cities before God poured destruction. God told them not to look back, but the girls’ mom was too fond of her cosmopolitan lifestyle. Turning to look behind her, she turned into a statue of salt.
It’s possible they thought the destruction would usher in the end of the world. After finding shelter, the girls got their father drunk and seduced, him, to preserve his seed, to produce offspring, to repopulate the earth.
(When we act in the flesh, and not in faith, it always brings trouble.)
Ammon was the younger son; his descendants, the Ammonites, lived north of Moab. They spoke the same language as the Hebrews, but with different dialects.
The Israelites had a long history of conflict with the two nations:
Balaam and the donkey – King Balak of Moab wanted Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-25). Balaam didn’t pronounce a curse, but he let the king in on a little secret: God would have to curse the Israelites for mixed marriages (Israelite men taking Moabite women). This led to Baal worship, and yes, resulted in God’s judgment.
Oppression by Moabites – King Eglon of Moab ruled over Israel for 18 years (Judges 3).
David’s unlikely friendship – David was a friend of the Ammonite king, but when the foreign king died and his son ruled, things turned sour (2 Samuel 10). During the reigns of King Saul and King David, Israel again experienced hostilities with Moab.
But in the book of Ruth, Israel and Moab were at peace.
Moab was cursed by God – this race was an abomination (another word for vile, criminal, abhorred, horrific, shameful) and a reflection of the roots of incest and pagan idolatry. Moabites worshiped the god, Chemosh and practiced human sacrifice. Later when Solomon married foreign wives, he re-introduced Israel to the worship of false gods.
***Remember, though, God always extends grace to those who reach for Him in genuine belief. He never withholds His love or help or goodness based on race, culture, gender, social standing, on a person’s denominational tag, or on our personal preferences or likes and dislikes, as long as they don’t violate His principles. Although Ruth was a Moabite, her faith brought her into favor with God.
So… back to Naomi’s dilemma: without her husband and sons, she had no source of income, no way to provide her material needs. Her daughters-in-law were in the same predicament. Three widows, bitter trials, immense need, with a loving God. (Looks like all the right ingredients for a miracle!
How many of us have never reached the bottom of our plans or the end of our dreams, only to shake our head and wonder how we ended up in such a mess?
Friendless? Widowed? Orphaned? Rejected? Wounded? In poverty?
Heart-broken? Discouraged? Disillusioned?
Or just clueless, with no idea of what to do or where to turn for help?
This is why we’re looking in depth at the story of Naomi and Ruth. What God did for them, He can do for you and me and for all who love Him(!)
- Ruth 1:6-7 – Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard… that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread… Therefore she went out from… where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her… on the way to return to the land of Judah.
We shouldn’t paint into Scripture overtones or undertones that didn’t exist or weren’t intended. But… because human nature is consistent through the ages, we can sympathize with these women. We can understand the complexities and fluctuations of female emotions and a woman’s longings and needs.
We aren’t given details of her life in a foreign land, but if we’ve ever lived beyond American borders, we have an idea of what it was like for Naomi.
Where in Moab did she live? In the hills along the shoreline of the Dead Sea, or farther east? Was she able to see across the water to her homeland on the other side? Did she ever walk in the cool early morning or as the sun set, to the top of a hill to gaze westward, and sit on a boulder, watching and longing for home? Or had she settled in among her foreign neighbors, resolute to make the best of the new circumstances?
We don’t know.
But we do know that news traveled when the famine was over, and Israel had food again. The famine was over. With that tiny glimmer of hope, suddenly, returning to Israel appealed to her—and was a real possibility.
Nothing held Naomi to Moab, because her sons no longer tied the Moabite women to her. They could go back to their homes, and she could go back to hers, to all the comforts, familiarity, friends and privileges.
With that decision and her first steps in that direction, God’s plan for her began unfolding in a new way. Not that His plans weren’t at work before—just that those severe trials would soon be behind her, and God would once again show favor and provide abundantly more than she could see, more than she expected…
…to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:10-21)
***Remember: God sees your life from the instant of conception to the moment you take your last breath. He sees your whole life, spread out before Him in its entirety. And no matter where you’re at in life, He’s already there.
For Naomi, the people, the conditions, the customs—everything was in place to lead her in the direction God wanted, and to meet her needs, even though she didn’t realize what was taking place, how God was already at work. But it wouldn’t be long before she would see.
(The following are verses on widows, strangers, gleaning and the role of kinsman redeemer, in no particular order: Deuteronomy 10:18; Exodus 22:21-24; Genesis 25:5-10; Leviticus 19:9-10, 33-34; 23:22; 25:25-28, 35, 47-48; Numbers 9:14. These were God’s instructions to the Israelites as to how they were to handle difficult situations and people with needs, etc. Naomi and Ruth would benefit from what God put into place here.)
Being human, we can assume Naomi’s faith wavered at times. But because of her character, even through the trails there would have been prayer—the seeking of God’s wisdom, direction and provision, her consistent living according to the Law, and still responding to whatever came her way with strength, virtue, with concern for others, and with wisdom, as we’ll soon see.
Without prayer and faith, she would have strayed, withered, grown calloused, turned bitter or worse. But we’ll look at that in more detail next time.