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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Naomi, From Bitter to Better

We find Naomi and Ruth back in Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem (the “house of bread” at the right time, at the beginning of the barley harvest. From what I understand, the poorer people ate barley bread, and barley ripens before wheat. It was God’s perfect timing for Ruth and Naomi, both of them the poorest of the poor—two widows with only what they could carry out of Moab. God showed his care for Naomi even though she had all but left her faith and had become bitter against him in grief.

Isn’t that beautiful? God is rich in mercy. He cares for His own. The Psalmist David said, at the end of his life, I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread (Psalm 37:25).

Ruth is one of the few women in the Bible who shows a wonderful character without any blemish. She offers, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech (Ruth 2:2-3).

Do you believe in Providential “coincidences”? Ruth “just happened” to be in the field that belonged to her former father-in-law’s relative. (It’s possible he was his younger brother, but we don’t know.)

Ruth is a hard-working woman who truly wanted to provide for her mother-in-law. It was the custom to glean after the harvesters—and it was the custom for harvesters to leave the corners of the fields for the destitute. When Boaz saw Ruth, he asked who she was. (He uses the term damsel, which denotes a female servant or young lady. When he speaks to her, he calls her my daughter. Later, he asks Ruth why she would even consider an older man like he was, so we can assume there was a fairly large difference in their ages.)

Boaz heard from his foreman that Ruth had labored all day long in the field, and he knew she and her mother-in-law were widows. Boaz was a kind man. He said to Ruth, Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn. Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust (Ruth 2:8-12).

I realize that a lot of people see this as Boaz’s romantic response to Ruth’s dazzling beauty, but I have my doubts. I believe, for one thing, a woman who’d been working all day, sweating right behind the servants, wouldn’t be all that gorgeous.  

So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley (Ruth 2:17). An ephah is 21 liters or .6 of a bushel. Because of Boaz’s kindness, Ruth toted a lot of grain home. Here’s where Naomi comes in. She was very pleased with the amount of grain. She asked Ruth, Where hast thou gleaned to day? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee. And she shewed her mother in law with whom she had wrought, and said, The man’s name with whom I wrought to day is Boaz. And Naomi said unto her daughter in law, Blessed be he of the LORD, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen. And Ruth the Moabitess said, He said unto me also, Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest (Ruth 2:19-21).

Can you sense Naomi’s change of heart? Yes, she’s thinking about the barley flour and that she won’t die of hunger, but she’s also beginning to praise God. She now says God is kind, even though before, she said he was hard on her. Instead of blaming God, she’s praising Him.

By the way, if you want to live in joy, start praising God for His provision for you. Start with the “barley” in your life. Begin with food, clothing, a roof over your head—anything that is your “daily bread.” It will completely change your attitude. Ephesians 5:2-4 says that thanksgiving is a substitute for a whole list of sins.

So, the beautiful story continues, and Boaz considers redeeming Ruth, but there is a kinsman that is nearer to Elimelech than he is. That man gives up his duty to redeem her, and so Boaz publicly redeems Ruth. This meant that he bought up all of Elimelech’s property and married Ruth as part of the deal. Any child would be a child of Elimelech, so that his family name would continue.

They got married, had a baby, and the women of Bethlehem pronounced a blessing on Naomi: Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom (Ruth :14-16). Can you imagine the joy? The woman without a husband or sons now has a grandson! She has blessing! She has progeny—very important in that culture.

And, some of Naomi’s blessing was yet to come. Naomi, was the grandmother of David’s grandfather. David was fourteen generations before Jesus, the Messiah.

Naomi died a happier lady. She had learned to be thankful. She had a loving family, was cared for, and she lived to see her grandson.

I hope she changed her name back to Naomi! (It means “pleasantness.”)

(If you missed the first part about Naomi, scroll down to read it.)

(Did Ruth chase Boaz? Read my post here.)

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