Have you experienced a loss lately? Do you ever wonder where God is when loss hits? Does God care? Is God at work in my circumstances when all I see and feel is darkness? The book of Ruth tackles these difficult questions. We all deal with loss. During the Christmas holidays, Niki looked out the window and said, “I don’t think Kooper (our family dog) is breathing!” Sure enough we went outside and he was gone. One minute our bulldog is sleeping and we’re enjoying the Christmas holidays; the next minute our family pet is dead and we’re in grief having to bury him. Loss is inevitable, but how do we move on?
In our series New Beginnings we will see how Ruth deals with loss, grief and how she started over. Ruth teaches us the importance of clinging to family and faith. We will see that God was with her and will be with us to bring new life and opportunities. Ruth is the only book in the bible named after a descendant of Jesus Christ and one of only two women with a book named after them. Ruth lived in Israel during the time of the Judges. The four chapters that tell her life story are sandwiched in between the books of Judges and 1 Samuel.
Ruth’s narrative has been called the most charming short story in the Old Testament. Even people who are not believers have enjoyed reading this tiny book of the Bible. When Benjamin Franklin was United States Ambassador to France, he occasionally attended The Infidels Club, a group that spent most of its time searching for and reading literary masterpieces. On one occasion Franklin read the book of Ruth to the club members, but he changed the names in the text so it would not be recognized as a book of the Bible. When he finished, they were unanimous in their praise. They said it was one of the most beautiful short stories that they had ever heard and demanded that he tell them where he had run across such a remarkable literary work. It was his great delight to tell them that it was from the Bible, which they professed to regard with contempt, and in which they felt there was nothing worth reading! Well, let’s begin our own examination of this story by reading the first verses of the book.
The story of Ruth takes place “when the judges ruled” (v. 1). The days of the judges lasted from the death of Joshua to the coronation of Saul as king (approximately from 1380 to 1050 B.C.). If you want to learn more about this period of Israel’s history, read the book of Judges. The ending of the book goes like this: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25 NKJV). Out of the dark days of the judges comes the book of Ruth—a story full of romance, redemption, and hope. In chapter 1, Ruth and her mother in law Naomi have no idea that their story will have a happy ending.
Before the good news, there’s more bad news: “There here was a famine in the land.” 1100 B. C. was a hard time. The cycle of the Judges meant rebellion by the people and punishment from God. Whether the famine was the result of a particular set of sins on the part of the leaders of Bethlehem, we are not told. Bethlehem, which means, in Hebrew, “house of bread,” was a barren cupboard.
We are introduced to a family; a family that decides to move from their home in Bethlehem for greener pastures in Moab. It’s an interesting family: let’s get to know them a little better in verse 2.
The name of the man is Elimelech which means “my God is King.” What a great name for a Jewish man. But not if you’re running off to Moab, the land of your enemies. He doesn’t act as if God is his King. We have all been guilty of living like that.
The name of his wife is Naomi, her name means “pleasant.” Elimelech and Naomi have two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Mahlon means “sickly,” and Chilion means “crybaby.” She had two sickly boys. And we read that she and her husband were Ephrathites of Bethlehem-judah. “ And they went to Moab and lived there.”
They leave the house of bread and they go over to eat out of a pig pen. Did you ever hear that story before? I’m sure it reminded you of the parable that Jesus told about the prodigal son. It’s likely that every parable Jesus gave was a true incident. Probably there were many sons in that day to whom His parable could have applied. And from that day to the present that story has been repeated in literally millions of lives. Have you ever left God to live your own way? Have you thought that God’s way is not the best way and that the grass is greener somewhere else? I have. This family did too.
They arrive in Moab. Like Mexican families risking everything to cross into America, they find themselves alone in a foreign land… where Elimelech dies. Naomi now has only her two sons. Desperate, she negotiates marriages for them. This alliance surely brought stability to Naomi and her sons, so they stayed in Moab for ten years to be close to families of Orpah and Ruth. But the tragedy worsens: “Both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” (4-5)
For Naomi and Ruth, these women were in just about as dire a straight as women could be in that male-dominated age for to be women alone without men was to be faced with ruin. There was no social security in those days, no safety net, and no source for any kind of future if a woman didn’t have a man in her life. In those days, as Naomi alluded in verse 12, a woman without a man was a woman without hope.
In verse 6, everything changes. The Lord is mentioned! Naomi hears that God has provided food for His people! She packs up to go home, to back to the land that God had given her and her family.
How do we move on after loss? Remember that…
Loss is Part of Life, but God is Still with Us!
Question, is all suffering or loss bad? In other words, if suffering or loss brings us to God consciousness is it bad? I would say no. If God uses pain and loss to get us to look to him, it would be good.
The pain of shattered (lower) dreams awakens desire for God and for greater dreams. We dream of good things: happy marriages, healthy kids, comfortable lives, cushy retirements. Those are not bad, but we imagine they are best. And while we hold tightly to the hope of having those as the greatest good, we will not pursue an encounter with God. So God shatters those dreams to give us something better. Naomi would not find joy in a grandson by the son of the Moabite until she went through the bitterness of a loss of her cherished dreams of a happy life.
Ruth’s bad experiences deepened her trust in God. They led her to a new husband (ch. 4) and together they had a son who was the grandfather of King David. Often the most valuable lessons of life can only be learned during the unfair, the tough times of loss.
God was at work in these women’s lives during their times of loss. God is at work in our lives during times of loss. God is still there working behind the scenes. There may be death now, but God is working to bring new opportunities and new life.
The famine was over back in the Promised Land, and there was bread again in Bethlehem. Now she wants to return home. It’s interesting. The prodigal family and the prodigal son will long for the father’s house. And if they don’t long for the father’s house, they are not children of the father. The prodigal will never be happy in the pigpen. He or she wasn’t made for a pigpen. They don’t have the nature of a pig, they have the nature of the father, and will eventually say, “I will arise and go to my father.”
Can you identify with Naomi and Ruth? Have you experienced a loss? In difficult times God often does His greatest work. Maybe God wants you to turn to Him. Maybe God is calling you back home. Loss is part life, but God is still with us!
In the next post we will look at two more ways we can move on after loss.