*Good morning! It's a new day here in Madison, West Virginia and it is beautiful. Well, as you can probably see we have updated the web site. I'm trying to get it figured out. We can now archive our studies that we are now calling blogs. I guess I am now a blogger. My Dad and Grandfather were loggers once upon a time. I wonder if they would be proud to know that I am a blogger? I don't know, but they first would have to figure out what it means. I just like saying that word; "blogger." Oh, Well! Back to our Bible Study. (Or, Blog)
The first thing I have discovered is that this new format is not letting me indent. I like being able to indent. I wonder what else it wont let me do? Yesterday, If you recall, we left Naomi stopped at a crossroads somewhere between Moab and Bethlehem-Judah. She is there with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. They are both Moabites whose husbands have both died. Naomi's husband also died. So, three widows stand at the crossroads of life. Naomi instructs the two daughters-in-law to return to their home in order to find husbands.
"At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. 'Look,' said Naomi, 'your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.' But Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God...' When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her." (Ruth 1:14-6,18)
If you remember from yesterday I said that the meaning of names was important. Orpah means "back of the neck." Ironically, Orpah shows the back of her neck by leaving and returning home. Ruth, means "My Cup Runneth Over" (My Seminary Instructor's interpretation) and she vows to remain loyal to Naomi. Naomi decides to return home (Bethlehem) with her loyal daughter-in-law by her side. Now, keep in mind that it has been a long time since Naomi lived in Bethlehem. She has no idea how she will be received. Not only that, she has no idea how she will survive. But, when she arrives the women of Bethlehem greet her.
"Can this be Naomi?' 'Don' call me Naomi,' she told them. 'Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter." (Ruth 1:19b-20)
Well, if you remember Naomi means "pleasant or delightful." But, now she instructs the people to stop calling her "pleasant/delightful" for she now has a new name. They are to now call her Mara which means "bitter." Naomi goes so far as to blame her situation on Yahweh. Notice, she didn't introduce her daughter-in-law who vowed loyalty to her. It's all about her and her grief. Naomi could have played in the old Hee Haw skit. You know? The one in which they sang "Gloom, Despair and Agony on Me." There is further irony. While Naomi blames God, Ruth expresses devotion for God. Ruth has even forsaken the gods of her people to follow and worship the God of Naomi.
In verses 20 and 21 Naomi calls God "the Almighty" in our English translation. However, the word she used here is Shaddai. Perhaps you have heard the beautiful Amy Grant song "El Shaddai." (It is in our United Methodist Hymnal) Shaddai is a name that ironically indicates God's ability to nourish and provide care. However, what we may not realize as we sing this beautiful hymn is that Shaddai is a name that relates to the word used for "breasts." I kid you not. Hebrew words are sometimes tricky. For instance, Shaddai relates to the word used for breasts(shadayim), but also the word for fields (sadeh). Both words have to do with substance through food. Anyhow, Naomi has found herself without. She has nothing. She has lost everything. Everything! Everything, except Ruth. Wow, Naomi ignores the one who has left everything to be with her. Isn't it true that we sometimes get so wrapped up in our situations that we fail to see how blessed we are? Naomi becomes Mara (bitter), all the while Ruth (My Cup Runneth Over) walks along side her probably hinting "Hey, I'm here. Hey, don't forget me. Hey, how can I help you. I want to help you."
"So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning." (Ruth 1:22)
The end of Chapter One serves to remind us that Ruth is a foreign woman. This verse sets up what is to come. Again, remember, Naomi has referred to God as Shaddai (nourishes) even though she has returned empty. But, she has returned at the beginning of the barley harvest. We need to realize something before we move forward. A widow in that time period did not receive a social security check, or other sources of income. She had nothing. She was entirely dependent on the mercy of others. *This led some to live by what ever means they could. What will Naomi and Ruth do? Will God turn Mara back to Naomi? Stay tuned. -Pastor Rick