Friday, April 8, 2011

I'm Going Where You Go (Part 1)

Naomi stands on the road to Judah as her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, beg to accompany her to her native land, watercolor painting by Salvador Dali, image courtesy of Biblical Archaeology Review
Salvador Dali watercolor of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah

I began reading the Book of Ruth on Monday and had to stop several times because I couldn’t stop crying. I debated with myself whether I could swallow my pride and admit that I, all one hundred percent man through and through, cried reading a chick passage of scripture. At first, I tried to stop, regain my male composure and read on; but I simply couldn’t.

What was the cause of this emotional response from me?

I’m not the kind of guy that cries about anything!

I reminded myself that I grew up in one of the toughest areas of Chicago; a place where it was all about the survival of the fittest. You don’t survive gangs, drugs, shootings, and crime by crying. Back there, crying was definitely a sign of weakness. I learned not to show emotions about anything except one; anger.

People may not understand many things in life, but everyone understands anger. You may not be an angry person, but you know an angry person when you see one. You may not understand why a person is angry, but the brain cells in your head tell you to avoid a confrontation with an angry person. I learned how human anger is intimidating, unyielding, and insensitive. I look back and I realize now that I really didn’t want to be angry, it’s just something I learned to be in order to protect myself. If someone pushed, I pushed back harder; I was never afraid to escalate a situation because I didn’t care about the outcome.

I’m beginning to realize that the Lord has me actually feeling raw emotions now and it is a little unsettling. Actually, it’s a lot more than a little unsettling.

So this is the day that the Lord has made?

What are you saying to me Lord in Your word?

What is it about this story that touches my spirit and my soul so deeply and profoundly?

Last week I wrote about following Christ, and it never occurred to me that I would continue my examination of that subject, but the Lord knew better and chose to surprise me.

I’m certain that most of you know this passage of scripture about Ruth and Naomi, so what I have to say may not be anything new, but I need to share with you my thoughts. Here are my observations of this narrative:
  1. The family lived in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread. However, there was a famine in Judah.
  2. The name Elimelech means, God of (the) king.
  3. The name Naomi means, pleasant.
  4. The name Mahlon means, sick.
  5. The name Chilion means, pining, destruction:--consumption, failing.
  6. The name Orpah means, mane.
  7. The name Ruth means, friend.
  8. The name Moab means, from (her [the mother’s]) father.
  9. Boaz was the son of Rahab the harlot. His name has no known meaning.
The time frame of this narrative was during the time of Judges. It is believed to have been documented in chapter 6 of Judges.

Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years.1

For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them. So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey. For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it.2

The famine occurred because of Israel’s disobedience to God and the result was the invocation of the curses which Moses and Joshua warned them would occur as a result of disobedience. On the surface, it appears that leaving Judah for Moab was a wise decision by Elimelech, but his family lived in the land of promise (Canaan); yet he chose to leave it. Each tribe was given an inheritance of land by God, yet Elimelech chose to forsake his divine inheritance from God.

Was Elimelech following the will of God?

I thought about how many times when things weren’t going my way, I chose to do something which seemed like the right thing to do at the time; but was so opposite of God’s will for me. I remember wanting a diesel engine car because in my mind it would save on fuel cost. Everything was saying, “Don’t do it”, but I wouldn’t listen. God was trying to get my attention, but all I could see was what I wanted. God told me, my wife told me, even the car told me, but I wouldn’t listen. Even after I purchased the car and it quickly began having all kinds of mechanical problems, my pride wouldn’t let me acknowledge I was wrong.

I wonder if Elimelech ever wondered if he should have left Bethlehem for Moab.

Instead of running away from the just punishment of God, what if Elimelech chose instead to repent and stay?

After his death, both sons married Moabite women rather than women from the tribe of Judah. I have to ask myself if Elimelech sons understood the commandment God gave to Moses and Joshua concerning intermarriage with the people from other nations:

Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.3

Did this family, like many in Israel during that time become disconnected from their relationship with God and His commandments?

His sons were given names which possibly identified their health condition at birth. The bible doesn’t identify the cause of their death, but I wonder if they suffered from deteriorating health during their short life span.

It is here that I began to read that marvelous exchange between three women; all three experiencing tremendous grief.

To know grief is to know loss.

Naomi followed her husband (Elimelech) to Moab with optimism and hope for a better life. She left Moab without her husband and her two sons. Life in Moab had not been as easy as Naomi anticipated.

I wondered if Naomi’s identity was placed solely in her role of wife and mother to the exclusion of God.

It is here that I see three changes in Naomi:
  1. Her view of life changed.
  2. Her view of herself changed.
  3. Her view of God changed.
Sometimes in our grief, we become bitter about life. Grief may cause us to become bitter towards others. Grief may even cause me to become bitter towards God. These two young grieving widows (Orpah and Ruth) sought support and understanding from their mother-in-law (Naomi), but Naomi’s grief left her feeling empty.
  1. She had no husband.
  2. She had no sons.
  3. She had no life.
Naomi didn’t understand her purpose.

I'll talk more on this next week.

Almighty God and Father,

I've read of the loss of these three women, and I cried along with them because I understand the pain of loss. I may not understand it fully, but I understand that loss is painful, that grief is encompassing, and that sorrow leaves a wound that only You can truly heal. Like Ruth, I have no life in the past, I only know what lies ahead is what I seek; I will cling to You Lord. I know that not even death itself can separate me from You; I have put my life in Your hands; do what seems right my Lord and my God. You are holy, righteous, and just. I exalt You as the Lord of all. Your mercy endures forever. Look upon those crying out of their need, they seek Your blessings. Open the door of employment opportunity. Extend Your grace to those whose home may be perilously perched on forclosure. Send forth Your word as a balm of healing to those whose body waits to hear from You. One word from You Lord, is more than ten thousand words from a doctor. The doctor may have already said, "We've done all we could do", but I know You can do so much more Lord. Send forth Your Spirit and heal that man, that woman, that child whose body is failing. Speak life and health into their body, strengthen them, and extend their days. When You answer our prayers and petitions Lord, we won't forget that it was You. We will praise You even more, because You are the God who lives within us. Thank You Father for all Your many blessings in the name of Jesus, who has established an eternal covenant between You and us who believe in His salvation. Amen.


Spiritual SundaysNote: This post is linked to Spiritual Sundays (hosted by Charlotte and Ginger).

Footnotes:
  1. Judges 6:1, NASB
  2. Judges 6: 3-5, NASB
  3. Deuteronomy 7:3-4, NIV
References:
  1. Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, By James B. Strong, S.T.D, LL.D., Riverside Book and Bible House, Iowa Falls, Iowa 50126
  2. Unger's Bible Dictionary, By Merrill F. Unger, Moody Press, Chicago
  3. The Ryrie Study Bible (New American Standard Version), Edited by Charles C. Ryrie, Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois, ISBN 0-8024-8920-6
  4. King James Version, The Crusade Analytical Study Edition, Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc., PO Box 90011, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
  5. The NIV Study Bible, Edited by Kenneth Barker, Donald Burdick, John Stek, Walter Wessel and Ronald Youngblood, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530, USA
  6. The New Living Translation Bible, by Tyndale Charitable Trust, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois, ISBN-13: 978-0842384896
  7. Matthew Henry's Commentary, McDonald Publishing Company, McLean, Virginia 22101, ISBN 0-917006-21-6

18 comments:

Merana Leigh said...

God's cracking you open to let all the bad out in order to FILL you with the good that He has for you...otherwise, you'd overflow if all the bad stayed in there...and true healing couldn't take place! There's a reason for each book of the Bible because it has great stuff to teach of (altho', admittedly, Song of Solomon doesn't work for me at all....maybe some day, but....). Great post, as always, my friend! Hugs ~ Merana

Sherry said...

I never read the Book of Ruth like you did, it opened my eyes to a whole new meaning. I am grateful that God opened your heart and mind to it to share it with others. Thank you.

Sharon Kirby said...

Thank you for vividly putting the story of Naomi and Ruth into its historical setting. And I loved the way you interacted with the Scriptures (yes, the tears, too).

We must cling to the Lord - especially when overwhelmed with grief and loss.

GOD BLESS!

Charlotte/For Such A Time As This said...

I had a hard time moving past Boaz's name having no known meaning, because to me his name has the most meaning of them all. The fact that Rahab was his mother (which I didn't know before, or had forgotten?) brought such rich meaning to Boaz's name. Like mercy, grace, forgiveness, redeemed, transformed, renewed...the list could go on. What a blessing not only for him, but for us also, that God made him part of the story!

I never really thought about how Naomi felt when reading the book of Ruth, I've always focused on Ruth. But Naomi lost everything. I love the way God had already worked out the details of Naomi and Ruth's lives and planned a way to provide for them after such loss. It is sad that sometimes it takes losing everything to truly find God.

Charlotte said...

Thank you for sharing the great lessons you have learned in life. And lessons learned from the lives of these three remarkable women.
Blessings,
Charlotte

Anita Johnson said...

I love your fresh perspective on a book that we just studied...more from the relationship side of being mother/daughter in laws. But it is your prayer that always touches my heart the most.

Ginger~~Enchanting Cottage said...

I love the story with Noami and Ruth.I think about how the Lord has our life's all worked out for us as well.
God Bless,
Ginger

Saleslady371 said...

I love the book of Ruth. I, too, wondered about Elimelech's choice to leave Bethlehem and then his family fell apart. It's a great story of God's rescue. Have a great weekend.

Renee said...

Thank you for sharing with such openess your journey right now adn what God is doing in your life. Your insights are bringing wisdom to your readers...I enjoyed this very much. God bless.

sarah said...

Hey MTJ...this is an amazing look at the book of Ruth....you looked at it so thoughtfully.

JT said...

After I read your post I opened my Bible and read the book of Ruth. I love reading the Bible. It is a joy to read your blog. God Bless You.

Wanda said...

Hi MTJ, you always pull out such good, thought-provoking nuggets from the scripture. Helps me to see familiar passages of scripture in fresh ways. Look forward to read more of your insights from this book. Have a blessed week.

Pamela said...

This reminded me of my husband and I grasping hands in the darkened bedroom the day our Sarah went to heaven. We vowed we let our pain make us better, not bitter.

I loved reading the meaning of the names. Can't wait until next Sunday to read some more.

Blessings,
Pamela

A Lil Story said...

Wow, thank you for sharing this. I just read this same story last night, part of a devotion series on important women of the Bible- I loved reading your insights. Looking forward to reading more next week.

I know anger and I know loss, but I am thankful that Jesus has freed me from the captivity of that bitterness.

Hope you have a great week =)
Lily

Joan said...

The book of Ruth has always been a favorite of mine. I enjoyed reading your insights and look forward to reading more.

Also I want to thank you for the prayers over the past few weeks for my husband. He started a new job today.

Blessings,
Joan

Lloyd said...

The book of Ruth is one of the most profound love stories in the Bible. God works through His people to proclaim His will.

I want to thank you for your heartfelt prayer that I prayed several times for you my friend. Even though you may be experiencing pain and sorrow, Our Holy and Almighty God is working through you and He will guide you n the direction that He wants you to go (Romans 8:28). God bless you my brother in Christ. Lloyd

Anonymous said...

Started with the second but I had to go back and read the first post :)...I love you Daddy!

B. Niles said...

Great job, MTJ in breaking it down, MTJ.