What do you say, what do you do, when the trials and difficulties come upon you in tsunami-like proportions? How does one suffer well for the glory of God? Jesus said, “All who desire to live a godly life, will suffer!” It is a promise! How then do we cope “when trials come?” The book of Ruth serves the body of Christ as a wonderful resource for understanding and responding to the trials that come in this life.
Setting the Stage (Vss. 1-6)
In the first six verses of Ruth, the author sets the stage for the short, encouraging story that is about to follow. The author writes, “During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land.” Anyone that has studied this period of time in the life of the people of Israel knows that the time of the Judges was an awful time. The people of Israel lacked consistent, godly leadership, and the result was that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” On account of the nation’s sin, the LORD suspended His blessing upon the people and the land experienced famine.
Instead of repenting of their sin, the people sought out their own physical salvation from other nations. In the case of our study, Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, relocated his family to Moab. While in the land, Elimelech and Naomi’s son, Mahlon and Chilion, married Moabite woman. In a greatly condensed way, we learn that Naomi’s husband and two sons eventually die while in Moab. (Attempt to put yourself in the shoes of Naomi – You are in a foreign land. Your husband dies. Then your sons die. This degree of grief is almost unbelievable.)
These hard circumstances are met with news from Judah that the LORD has provided food for His people. Having no others recourse, Naomi sets out to return to Judah.
Returning “Home” (Vss. 7-22)
The rest of chapter one details the interaction of Naomi with her daughter-in-laws (Orpah and Ruth) and her subsequent travel back “home.” It is in this account where we begin to see the first glimmer of hope for Naomi when Ruth insistence on going to Judah with her and living with her until death would separate them. According to Naomi in verse 8, both Orpah and Ruth showed a loyal commitment to love and care for her. A loyal commitment that reminded Naomi of God’s loyal commitment to love and care for His people. In the end, Ruth stays and Orpah returns to her home.
At this point, Naomi reveals that she believes the LORD is disciplining her (See Vs. 13). At this point, the text does not tell us one way or the others whether this is true or not, but based on the circumstances we consider in the first six verses, it does not appear as though Naomi is being punished for anything she did wrong. It was not her decision to leave Judah and go to Moab. She does not appear to have abandoned the LORD, but still, she finds herself in a terrible situation and feels as though the LORD is punishing her. (Have you ever felt like Naomi in this respect? It is easy at time to feel like our circumstances (both good and bad) are tied to our behavior. While there may be some situations that are relate to discipline – See Hebrews 12 – there will be others that we simply won’t understand until they have passed, which may or may not be on this side of heaven.)
As the story progresses, Ruth declares not only her allegiance to Naomi, but also her allegiance to Naomi’s God and Naomi’s people. In other words, Ruth renounces her people and her god to follow the One True God, Yahweh and become a part of His people, the Israelites. Ruth is committed! She is faithful!
As the first chapter closes, Naomi and Ruth make it to Judah. (Can you envision the welcoming committee waiting to see Naomi?) Sadly, as they make their way into Bethlehem, Naomi answers the crowd of well-wishers with a request: Do not call me, Naomi! But, Mara – For the LORD has made me bitter. The name, Naomi, means “pleasant, beautiful, good,” yet Naomi’s circumstances have made her feel anything but “pleasant, beautiful, or good.”
In the chapters that follow, we will see how the LORD redeems Naomi from her despair and ultimately fulfills his grand purpose of redemption through this trial.
Application –When great trials and difficulty come upon us and others we know, how should we respond?
- Personal Trials — In the midst of all that we do not know (why are we or others suffering), we must return to what we do know – God is sovereignly working all situations and circumstances for our good (Romans 8:28). We see this in Naomi, when even though she was bitter, she knew that the LORD was providing for His people in Judah. Hence, she packed her things and headed to Judah. In the difficulties of your health, your finances, your relationships, your work, your family, focus on what you can and do know (God is at work for your good), not on what you cannot or may never know.
- Community Trials — Commit yourself to bearing the burdens of your friends, family, and fellow believers. Ruth could have easily gone back to her home, gotten married, and left Naomi high and dry, but she did not. She renounced her rights and committed herself to her mother-in-law until death separated them. Ruth is a wonderful example for us of what it means to carry the load of those we love!
May we have the faith in the mist of our struggles and trials to look to the LORD who still provides for the needs of His people. Commit yourself to Him. Resign yourself to His wisdom and His will for your life.