Today’s message text of May 24, 2015 from Melvin Gaines:
The book of Ruth is a beautifully written short story of a family’s love, devotion and perseverance that overcomes hardship and despair by remaining faithful to God. It consists of three central characters—Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. All three of them, in the passages, demonstrate a high moral character and are devoted to God.
We will focus on one of these characters—Naomi, and also look at why Ruth followed Naomi as closely as she did. There was something about Naomi that was indeed special.
Naomi is the first central character introduced in the book of Ruth as the story begins. She is married to Elimelech and travels from their home in Bethlehem along with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to Moab in order to escape a famine in the land.
In this story, where Solomon is deemed as the narrator of this book, it is important to look at the names of the people involved, as it will reveal to us a glimpse of either the character or makeup of the individual. Elimelech means “My God is King.” Naomi’s name means “pleasant.” Of the two sons, Mahlon means “sickly,” while Chilion means “weak or failing.” Knowing these meanings sets the tone for the beginning of the story, and how the tragedy plays out.
From the story, after arriving in Moab, Elimelech dies. Their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, married Moabite women—Orpah and Ruth. Both Nahlon and Chilion also died while they were in Moab. Naomi is a widow and she has also lost her two sons. Only Orpah and Ruth remained with her in the family. Sadly, Elimelech’s effort to avoid the famine in Israel ends in tragedy for the family. Naomi, empty and broken, decides to return to Bethlehem. All of the moments of happiness in her adult life—marriage to a godly man and seeing her children get married—are now overshadowed with sadness and despair.
It is from the tragedy of losing her husband and sons that we learn of Naomi’s embittered state of mind. As she is traveling back to her original home in Judah, she reveals to Orpah and Ruth that “the Lord’s hand has turned against me” and she tells them to go back to their original homes and not accompany her to Judah because “my life is much too bitter for you to share.” (Judges 1:13) Naomi now prefers to be called “Mara” (meaning bitter) once she returns to Bethlehem.
“I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:21)
Naomi’s pain runs deep. It is real and it is profound. It is a vivid expression of her emotional state. She believed that God had rejected her as she was still lamenting the loss of her husband and her sons.
There are two directions that you can go when you are in this state of mind. Only two. A person who is in despair can continue down the road of anger and self-pity, or take a path that lends to healing.
Consider this when you are speaking to a person who has undergone unspeakable tragedy. At times, the unspeakable tragedy requires nothing more than an unspoken word and your comforting presence—with hugs, embraces, and prayers of comfort. The moment we become a facsimile of Dr. Phil or some other caricature of a TV psychologist, that is the time when we may be at our worst in providing support for the other person.
Proverbs 12:18 ESV
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
James 1:26 ESV
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
Be careful, believers! Having the title of Christian does not give you a license to say something silly like, “Well, I guess it was God’s will,” or “maybe something is not right in your life.” Heed the warning in Matthew, Chapter 7:
Matthew 7:1-5 HCSB
“Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a log in your eye? Hypocrite! First take the log out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
We are to certainly identify sin when it is called for in the proper moment, but it is always to be done with prayerful consideration and at the appropriate time. The only appropriate time is God’s time. His timing is perfect when we are earnestly listening to the Spirit before we even open our mouths.
From everything that we can see in this story, Naomi, in her state of despair, did not project her personal feelings onto Ruth. She showed Ruth a kind, gentle and nurturing spirit, and readily shared her wisdom and good advice to help Ruth, a Moabite, adapt as a foreigner in the land.
Naomi was hurt, and she knows that God allowed the hurt, but to her credit, she did not reject God or His wisdom.
We are to credit Naomi as a person who relied upon godly wisdom and who spoke words of kindness to Ruth.
Proverbs 25:11 ESV
A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.
Proverbs 7:4 HCSB
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,” and call understanding your relative.
By sharing her godly wisdom and knowledge, Naomi showed herself to be unselfish, loving and caring—all of these are godly attributes. She demonstrated a steadfastness and strength that can best be attributed to God being ever-present in her life.
Was Naomi special in her ability to put aside bitterness? No. She was human just as we are. She was certainly feeling loss and despair for days, weeks and months at a time. Her key to recovery was choosing the correct path in response to her state of discouragement. She knew the direction to take because of her relationship with her husband, and she relied upon God to strengthen her, heal her and deliver her through the pain. She did not allow her personal feelings to completely overshadow her relationship with God. She chose to follow Him, trust in Him and remain in fellowship with Him; otherwise, we would have seen a different response in her relationship with Ruth.
The name of Ruth happens to mean “companion or friend.” Ruth was a relative of Naomi, but she certainly must have been a great friend. Ruth had been through a lot on her own, but she respected and admired Naomi and recognized her godly devotion. She implored Naomi to remain with her in returning to Bethlehem:
Ruth 1:16-17 HCSB
But Ruth replied:
Do not persuade me to leave you
or go back and not follow you.
For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
May Yahweh punish me,
and do so severely,
if anything but death separates you and me.
Naomi was able to share her godly wisdom with Ruth and treat her as if she was her own child. She had the desire for Ruth to find a new husband once she returned to Bethlehem, and was prayerful that she would do so (Ruth 2:19-20). In order for her to have concern for Ruth, she could not dwell on her own pain. In the end, her reverence for God and her ability to nurture Ruth, Orpah and others superseded her own feelings of hurt and despair.
Each of us can learn from Naomi. Naomi was far from perfect, but she was steadfast in her faith. She triumphed over her tragedy. She was victorious. She conquered bitterness by allowing God to move her to a better state of mind.
Bitterness is the end result of anger and prolonged despair. There are two paths that you can take in response to life’s moments of difficulty. Which one will you choose? Will you continue down the road to nowhere to experience more self-pity, or will you take the better road—the high road—the right road, and seek the comfort of Jesus Christ? Ministry does not stop for you when you experience pain and hardship. In fact, ministry in your life is just beginning. Your life is a story waiting to be told to a person who needs your wisdom and knowledge. You need to lead people to see the face and character of Jesus Christ when you speak from your experience. You need to call on the Lord, Jesus Christ for strength, wisdom and discernment in order to move through your own pain and discomfort, and continue to develop a heart for God that others will see in you.
All of this involves a humble heart. Humility is the road to stability. A humble heart allows you to make the right choices.
Matthew 11:28-30 ESV
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
James 5:13 ESV
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
Jesus Christ will strengthen you.
Jesus Christ will heal you.
Jesus Christ will lift you.
You will exalt Jesus for everything He does for you.
A humble heart allows God’s presence to shine forth in your relationship with Him and with other people. The book of Ruth shows how God orchestrates His will and His power in the lives of His people in preserving the genealogy of Jesus Christ. He readily works through those who remain faithful to Him as He is faithful.
Naomi was faithful. She is our example of triumph over tragedy.
For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. (Psalm 33:4 ESV)
Know that Yahweh your God is God, the faithful God who keeps His gracious covenant loyalty for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commands. (Deuteronomy 7:9 HCSB)
Copyright © Melvin Gaines