*Good morning. I hope you have had a great weekend. It was a beautiful one here in Madison. On Saturday I coached what was my final soccer game for the year. (One game left, but I will be away for conference.) I was reluctant to coach again (I did it back in Calhoun County many years ago), but I had a blast. And, I finished the season with a 5-2 record. Not bad. But, I had a wonderful group of 7-9 year olds to work with. Also, a big shout out to Jason Smith for reminding me of the rules of the game and helping our team get started. Well, back to our Bible Study.
We concluded our week with a look at Samson last Friday. Wow! That was quite a story. Just to remind you, Samson was a miniature portrait of Israel. Just as Israel chased after foreign gods, Samson chased after foreign women. Just as Israel was chosen to be God's people, Samson was chosen to be God's instrument to free the Israelites from the Philistines. But, just as Israel found herself at the mercy of foreign enemies, so did Samson. In the end, when Samson cried out to God for help God saved him, just like God saved Israel after each cry for help.
The story of Samson was the final judge story in the Book of Judges. But, keep in mind that it is not the last judge story in the Bible. The Book of Judges continues for several more chapters. However, we will not cover those chapters. The remaining chapters are filled with violence that is difficult to explain. There is a graphic account of a gang rape and mutilation. The remainder of the chapters help paint a picture of a time period when the people did whatever they wanted to do. In reality the Book of Judges closes with Israel being in a dark period of time. So, today, we will move on to the Book of Ruth. Now, this will be a fun study. I encourage you to check it out daily.
"In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab." (Ruth 1:1)
We are told that the time period for this story is during the time the judges ruled. Now, this story is filled with irony. I have mentioned before that names in the Bible often are filled with meaning. This is certainly true in the Book of Ruth. So, let's take our time here and understand what we are being told. A man from Bethlehem in Judah (could also be Bethlehem-Judah) took his family to Moab to escape a famine. Bible readers will already know of the importance of Bethlehem. Bethlehem in Hebrew is pronounced bait-LECH-em and literally means "house of bread." O.K., so this man and his family leave the house of bread and move to Moab. What do we know about Moab? You may recall that Moabites originated through an incestuous relationship between Lot and his two daughters after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Well, this is where this man moves his family.
"The man's name was Elimelech. his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband." (Ruth 1:2-5)
This verse is self-explanatory. Naomi is left with only her two daughter-in-laws. All the men in her life are dead. Plus, these two daughter in laws are foreign women. But, let's look again at the meaning of the names presented to us. English speaking people often miss so much when we struggle to even pronounce biblical names. Elimelech means "my God is king." This is a bit of irony. Why? Because if it is true that Ruth is set during the time period of the judges, the Book of Judges ends with "there was no king in Israel." (Judges 21:25a) Naomi means "pleasant or delightful." Both Elimelech and Naomi only appear in the Book of Ruth. Now, the two sons are named Mahlon (makh-LOAN) and Chilion (Kilion) pronounced (chilli-YOAN). The meaning of the first name: "sickness, disease." The name of the second: "failing, annihilation." I kid you not. These boys were doomed from the beginning.
O.K., so we are told that Naomi is left with her two daughter in laws. We are told that one is named Orpah. Now, if I understand correctly this is where Oprah Winfrey gets her name. I had a great aunt named Orpha Weaver. I never knew if she got her name from this biblical character. What does Orpah mean? Well, Orpah means "back of the neck." Hmmm...I wonder how this will play out as the story unfolds? The other daughter in law is named Ruth. Now, this daughter in law must be a very important part of the story. How do we know this? The book is named after her. The meaning of the name Ruth is disputed. It has similarities to the word for friendship. But, other scholars argue that it is related to a word that indicates "to drink one's fill" or "saturated." My Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Lisa Wolfe (One of my favorite professors) interpreted Ruth to mean "My Cup Runneth Over."
"When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughter-in-laws she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah." (Ruth 1:7)
Oh, by the way, Judah means "praise." I hope you are following the story. Naomi is left without her husband and her two sons and is left with only her two daughter in laws, who are Moabites. She is now on her way to Judah with these two foreign daughter-in-laws. Many years ago I moved my poor wife, Melody, 850 miles away from her home to my home in Missouri. For her, she was moving to a foreign land. And to every one in Missouri she was a foreigner. "Oh, don't worry about a thing! They will love you like you are one of them," I said. This is not an easy thing that Naomi is doing. Nor, can she be sure how it will turn out. Keep in mind, she has been away for a long time now.
"Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, 'Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.' Then she kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, 'We will go back with you to your people.' But Naomi said, 'Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have more sons, who could become your husbands?" (Ruth 1:8-11)
The word "return" is a very important word in the Book of Ruth. The Hebrew root appears fifteen times in Ruth, twelve times in chapter one. Naomi advises the daughters-in-law to return to their home as she returns to hers. Now, something very interesting stands out here. Notice, that Naomi implores the girls to return to where? Their mother's home. Hmmm. Usually, we would read about "the father's home." We know that this was a patriarchal system. This has led some to argue that the Book of Ruth was written by a woman. *No, Ruth was not the author. *We don't know who the author was.
Naomi's argument for the daughters-in-law to return to Moab is that she has no more sons to give in marriage. She then tells them that even if she could have more sons by the time they were old enough to marry the ladies would be too old. This plays into the theme of the story as it develops. Keep, in mind that if a husband died without a son to continue his name then his brother would marry the widow.
Well, we will stop here for today. We leave the ladies at a crossroads. What will Orpah and Ruth do? This will get good, I promise. Have a great day! -Pastor Rick