Saturday, June 09, 2007

When Life Changes Your Name--Book of Ruth 1

Touted as one of the earliest and best short stories, the Book of Ruth introduces us to ordinary, down home people. No majestic kings, no warring armies, no ragged, craggy prophets. We meet instead an old widow, a young widow and a farmer.

Naomi, Ruth (the Moabitess), and Boaz.

Some background (from Ruth 1).

Elimelech takes Naomi, his wife, and his two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, to Moab to avoid dying of starvation in famine-ravaged Bethlehem of Judah. As it turns out, Elimelech's decision does not ward off death. He dies, and so do his two sons after they had married Moabite girls, Orpah and Ruth.

Three widows remain. Naomi hears after some 10 years in Moab that the LORD had visited Bethlehem and there was food there once again. Naomi sets out for home, strongly urging Orpah and Ruth to stay in Moab. Orpah does stay, but Ruth, in a rare and deep commitment, stays with Naomi, declaring to Naomi that she, Ruth, now owns Naomi's people and God--Yahweh.

Naomi and Ruth enter into Bethlehem and the women of the town are startled, "Is this Naomi?"

Naomi responds, "Don't call me Naomi ('Pleasant'); call me Mara ('Bitter') for the LORD has dealt harshly with me."

Life, especially the struggles and trials of life, changed Naomi's name. She reported that she "went out full." Life had been good---good husband, good sons, apparently a fair life, but for the famine. She goes on to say, "But I came back empty." She is now a hardship case. She is a poor widow--no husband, no sons, and an alien daughter-in-law to care for as well.

The LORD gives and the LORD takes away.

So, why did Ruth so passionately cling to Naomi? Wouldn't you and I cut and run? Why was this young Moabite woman so taken with Naomi and her God, Yahweh, and her people? Why was she willing to abandon Moab and all that it offered for being a poor widow and living with a bitter, old widow in Bethlehem, a strange town in a strange land?

I believe it was Naomi's honesty before God that riveted Ruth to the faith. Something about Naomi's relationship to God even, maybe especially, when things got rough, and Naomi laid it all out before God. No painting a pretty face on hardship; no pretending things were good when they weren't; no shame about the tragedies. Naomi accepted life as it came and "told it like it is." She didn't have platitudes to give Ruth; she didn't have a "nice" God (she even refers to God as her enemy). Yet, she had Yahweh--I AM WHO I AM--and even though she was dealt a bad hand as we say, she still brought all of life to God.

I don't think Ruth had ever experienced a person's relationship to God with that kind of honesty. Brutal honesty. You didn't experience that reality with the Moabite gods. There must have been something about Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon and Kilion---this Bethlehem family---that aroused curiosity, a hunger in Ruth and in Orpah. These two Moabite women wanted in on this Judean family's faith, so they married into it. And death itself could not turn Ruth away.

How has life changed your name? Are you honest with God, yourself and others about it? Honesty is the identical twin of holiness.

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5 Comments:

At 6/11/2007 6:48 AM, Blogger flyawaynet said...

This is a hard story for me. I just can't equate being bitter, angry (long-term, not short-term) with being Christian.
I've never faced what she faced though, or lost what she lost... I guess I just don't know what to make of this.

 
At 6/11/2007 8:02 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

flyaway,
Think of when and where Naomi lived and the limited revelation she had access to (compared to you). I think you will rise up and called her "Blessed." :)

 
At 6/11/2007 4:55 PM, Anonymous sacred vapor said...

wise words John... I never looked at Naomi and Ruth's relationship from that perspective before. People who are honest are far more influential than those who hide behind an image.

 
At 6/12/2007 7:17 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

sacred vapor,
I agree, and or Christian culture for some reason provokes struggling people to wear masks.

 
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