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Today is the first Sunday of Advent.
When we meet in person, we share our joys and concerns. Take some time to consider the past week, and any prayer requests you might have. When you are ready, use the prayer below (source) to get started.
God of love- I feel like I am lost but your words say that you will always guide me. You do not leave me wandering through life but you are with me during every moment of every day. Help me to follow your ways when I feel weary and frustrated and help me to experience joy in life. May I be like a well watered garden which thrives because the roots are firmly planted in your love. Amen.
Today's lesson is on Ruth 1:6-18, 22.
The book of Ruth is one of my favorite books in the Old Testaments. It shows that you do not have to be blood related to be family. Ruth shows us in her beautiful vow how devoted she was to Naomi. She left all of her family and everything and everyone she knew to follow Naomi.
Tragedy creates a before and an after – before the job loss, the accident, the fight; after the breakup, the death, etc. When tragedy strikes, we might question God's sovereignty or fear that he is using his strength to punish us through our pain. No matter how strong our faith, tragedy can leave us raw and feeling that we are merely surviving.
Reading stories of tragedy found within the Bible can offer comfort. When we see examples of how others remained faithful to God, we inspire to persevere. And even more, when we see how God demonstrated his faithfulness to others, we can regain confidence in his provision no matter our current circumstance. We don't need easy answers in pain; we need God's love, often expressed through the love of other believers. Ruth's story is one biblical example of love expressed in the after time of tragedy.
The setting of the events in Ruth were during the time of the Judges. The conquest of Canaan was completed with the Israelite tribes settled in the land. But the Israelites' experience oppression from outside nations, Moab occasionally being one of them. The Moabites were descended from Abraham's nephew Lot. The Moabites were banned from entering the assembly of the Lord though marriage to Moabites was not banned specifically.
Despite these deep feelings of dislike for Moabites, a persistent famine in Israel motivated Naomi's Israelite family to leave Bethlehem and settle in Moab. Ten years are covered quickly in the text, apparently beginning with the death of Naomi's husband, Elimelek and ending with the death of her sons. In the meantime, these two sons had married Moabites women, Ruth and Orpah, before leaving the childless with their untimely deaths.
Widowhood was an especially precarious state for women. In the ancient Near East, including both Moab and Israel, men had far more economic power than women. A woman left without male relatives to care for her could be reduced to poverty and prostitution might result. Fathers or sons were the best lines of defense to protect widows: in the case of a younger widow, this protection lasted until new husbands could be found. God had given Israel specific instructions for caring for widows, both within the family and the larger community.
Returning to Bethlehem to her people was Naomi's best option to be cared for in her widowed state. She had gotten word that the famine was over. And God's renewed provision in her homeland meant that her family's legal obligations to care for her would not burden an already famished community.
For Naomi, the journey back to the land of Judah was a return to family and the safety net they represented. But using the same rationale of familial obligations and care, Naomi's two daughter-in-laws would have been expected to stay in their homeland, Moab.
That the Moabite women began this journey with their mother-in-law speaks to the depth of their love and devotion to her. Traveling with Naomi potentially put her well-being over the younger widows' own future prospects for marriage and family. Naomi urged her two daughter-in-laws to go back to their mother's house. Naomi did not want them to share in the difficulties that widowhood would represent to herself.
As Moabite widows, Ruth and Orpah would be incredibly vulnerable in Israel. She intended to leave the women in the Lord's care even though she also intended to leave them in the land of Moab. Naomi's future was far from assured; the gift she felt she could give her daughter-in-laws was to free them to find more likely sources of stability that she could offer. In a typical farewell gesture, Naomi sealed her hopes for them with a kiss. It signified her love in what she expected to be her final act of care for them.
Naomi knew she was beyond childbearing years and could not have any more sons for them to marry and would be too long of a wait even if she could. She knew the best thing she could do is send them back to their families in Moab where they would be taken care of.
Naomi felt that God had turned against her. Not that God had abandoned her but that God had judged her for going to Moab. Ascribing motivation to God is a dangerous business. We need only to read Job to be reminded of this. But in the middle of so much grief, one way of arriving at meaning, either legitimately or illegitimately, is to find God's judgment in pain. We do well to remember that we cannot know why God allows hard circumstances in our lives, We are wise to remember that his ways are not ours and his thoughts are above ours. And we can rest in the hope that God uses all things to benefit if we place our hope in him, regardless of our circumstances.
Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye but Ruth would not be swayed by any argument Naomi could make. Ruth's choice was between what she had known before and what she had come to know in her husband's household.
Verses 16-18. The introductory statement is an emphatic statement of Ruth's immovable will to follow Naomi, strengthened by Ruth's listing her commitments to Naomi. Ruth's response reflected Naomi's hope for Ruth but unexpectedly anticipated their fulfillment in a future that included the two women together. The commitment to Naomi's people and God directly tied back to Naomi's plea to Orpah's example. The commitment to go and stay with Naomi tied Ruth's future with Naomi's. Whatever provision Naomi would find among her people, Ruth would accept as well. Naomi would expect to die well before Ruth. Yet Ruth's commitment was to die in Judah and be buried there. In these ways, Ruth declared Naomi to be her mother and outlined the devotion that she would demonstrate as Naomi's true child.
Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning which would be mid-March to mid-April. What is not discussed in today's lesson was the rest of the book of Ruth. Ruth went out to the fields to gleam barley that was left in the fields so that Naomi and her could have food to eat. She was gathering wheat in a field when Boaz's the landowner was checking his fields. He asked the overseer about Ruth and found out that Ruth was so caring of Naomi and sacrificed all that she knew to come there with Naomi. Boaz was a relative of Naomi's husband. Ruth and Boaz were married which also meant that Naomi was taken care of also. God blessed Ruth and Boaz by having them to be in the lineage of Jesus.
We are created to be in community with God and with others, Ruth's faithfulness to the Lord and to Naomi is an example to all of what living and loving in community might require of us. Ruth's words and actions demonstrated true commitment to carrying Naomi's burdens. Showing up in the midst of pain and anguish is difficult, especially if we are dealing with our own feelings of loss. How we respond to tragedy will determine whether we are following Ruth's example as she followed Christ's example without even knowing her many times great grandson.
Questions for discussion
This week's benediction is from the New International Version.
Next week's lesson will be on 1 Samuel 17:31-37, 45, 48-50.
We are a small, rural Presbyterian church in southwestern Pennsylvania.