Preached on 5/26/07 at Village Church
Series: “Women in the Bible”
Life is a spiritual journey, you have heard that from me many times.
We navigate through life, some times with a great understanding of purpose and mission. We feel excited, we are connected with the universe and we know what our role on this planet is. Maybe we have a fulfilling job, maybe church involvement and service make up large part of our mission, maybe being a good parent or a good spouse fulfills what, in our understanding, is our role on this earth, in the community you in which we live…
However, this spiritual journey that we call life, sometimes gets a bit confusing. One day we are driven, excited, and happy. Another day we feel like our life is going nowhere. We say “this is not working, I was meant for something more, I need to make a change.” Or worse, we feel like nobody is at the wheel. The compass is broken. The maps are either blank or too complicated for us to understand. Mayday, mayday… we have an emergency send the life rescue unit!
This usually happens when something unexpected, awesome or awful, blissful or tragic.
Welcome to the third part of this series: Women in the Bible.
We are exploring the remarkable lives of some of some of the biblical female characters.
This morning we will review the rollercoaster life journey of a strong woman of integrity, a faithful leader.
Naomi is one interesting journey. What amazes me about her life is her faithfulness and integrity in spite of the major hardships that she goes through. Even when she is in “mayday, mayday” situations the Lord is in charge of her life.
We find the story of Naomi in the book of Ruth. In fact the lives of Naomi and Ruth are deeply intertwined. Naomi was mother-in-law Ruth.
The time and settings are similar to the previous two stories we looked at in the past two weeks. The period is between the time Israel entered the promised land under the leadership of Joshua, and the time of monarchy which started with King David. It was the period of the Judges, the Israelites were scattered on a vast territory, and communities were mainly made out of large family clans, or tribes.
The Bible introduces Naomi in her family contest. She is a Hebrew woman living in the Promised Land, she is married and has two children. Let us find that in the Bible in the book of Ruth chapter 1:1, 2.
Naomi and Elimelech probably enjoyed the land of milk and honey for a few years before. However this is not a very happy time for the communities surrounding Bethlehem, because of scarcity of food.
It is not an easy decision to pack your things and leave. It is common, nowadays, but at that time and in Israel, the place you lived was the place where you had most support. The family clan was meant security, support, and resources. Leaving that meant in a way, jumping in the dark.
Elimelech and Naomi seem very determined. They decide to move to an area were food is more available, that place ends up being Moab, a territory outside the Promised Land. Here they settle, they find food and shelter, it’s a new start, a new day, a new page in this family’s life. Thus far everything makes sense and seems fair – however from this point on the story almost becomes a paradox.
Soon after they arrive at Moab, Naomi’s husband dies unexpectedly. Here we have a family that escapes famine, makes sacrifices and makes all the big changes to turn their life around, and when everything seems to fold right a tragedy strikes hopes and dreams.
Left a widow, Naomi must count on her two sons, who are of marrying age. Back in Judah they would have married Jewish girls – but because the family is far and there were no Jewish girls there, Mahlon and Kilion marry Moabite women: Ruth and Orpah. [not Oprah] respectively.
Things seem to shape up again with the two boys starting a family – but ten years pass and tragedy strikes again. Both sons die as unexpectedly ad their father before them. [read v. 3, 4]
Now, there is speculation that Elimelech and his children were punished for leaving Judah, instead of trusting the God would provide. Or a sign against mixed marriages. I tend to agree with a different interpretation of these events.
There is no valid lesson in a story that tells about a God that strikes his children because they have not followed the guidelines established. I do not believe in a God of fear, I believe the bible tells a story about a loving and understanding God.
Naomi’s story exemplifies the life Journey that everyone goes through. in life we need to make decisions, sometimes hard decisions that will change the way the rest of our existence will unfold.
Elimelech and Noemi made a difficult decision, during a difficult time. They new their Journey was taking a major turn. I believe God was very close to that family at that time, because of the extremely loaded situation.
It is in the very nature of God to be close to his children when they are most in need. That is true in our life journey as well. There will be times that we need to make a decision. And it is going to be a difficult decision that you know it will change your life radically. Difficult decisions are such, because there is no black and white situation… there is not clear cut answer.
We all face circumstances in life similar to the one Naomi and Elimelech had to face. Should we trust God to provide and stay here in Bethlehem. Or should we listen to what we think is His voice and go… I don’t know what God wanted this family to do. one thing I know though, God was there to give them strength when the difficulty came.
I do not know what important decision you are facing, or will you face. But I have the solution to your dilemma, no matter if you choose option A or B. The wisest decision you can make is to sincerely ask the Lord to be there and bless you with His presence.
I believe Naomi was abiding in the presence of the Lord. The rest of the story will make my point even more clear. In this time of hardship, Naomi finds the strength to react and lead. We could interpret adversity as God’s punishment for our wrong doings – but what I notice in the story of Naomi is not punishment by a vindictive God, rather blessing through suffering by a loving God.
At this point the life journey of Naomi gets really complicated. Widows could not survive easily at that time without a support system. The male figure was important for the simple task of winning daily bread. She is too old to remarry so she decides to head back to Bethlehem, and reunite with her family.
She new she could survive only by relying on the sympathy of others.
The journey back to Bethlehem is a crucial in the story.
Let us read it together. [v. 6- 19]
Classic painting by William Blake
Scripture says Naomi started the trip with her two daughters in law. They were the only family she had at that point. They learned to rely on each other, to support each other. However, Naomi realized how unfair this move might have resulted for the two Moabite women. See, ancient custom dictated that widows could marry the brother of their deceased husbands. If Ruth and Orpah went with Naomi they would have had a hard time marrying again. So, she tells them to go back to Moab where they would have a chance to start a new life.
From this episode, we can distinguish the selfless spirit, and the integrity of Naomi. Her personality reflected so intensely God’s presence in her life that Ruth decides to stand by her mother in law.
Ruth’s answer to Naomi’s invitation shows the impact that she had on her daughter in law. A conversion was taking place. Despite the difficult times God is glorified in the words of this Moabite woman. This is also important to understand the power of friendship evangelism. It takes time to build a friendship so transparent, honest, and sincere that allows God to shine through it. Naomi was not trying to bring Ruth to Yahweh. Her intent we for the overall good of her daughter in law. The Holy Spirit acts through the relationships we build.
Once back to Bethlehem the two women are still husbandless, childless, and poor. The famine had ended but Naomi and Ruth are still in deep waters.
[Read v. 20-22]
The rest of the book of Ruth, which I invite you to read, focuses more on Ruth than Naomi. Ruth goes to work in the only way she can – collecting gleanings (leftover grains) from the fields of a man named Boaz, who by the way is a relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband. Boaz can legally marry Ruth and their first born would be the legitimate continuation of Naomi’s family line.
Ruth and Boaz end up marrying [not without impediment to be resolved].
It seems to me that this is the turning point in this all story. Finally, Naomi’s journey will be a more pleasant adventure from now on.
The marriage not only assures Ruth for a husband to care for her and Naomi – but even more importantly it produces offspring who are extremely important for the historical Jewish line that leads to Jesus.