Jim Voisey, Cardiff, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Naomi had never thought to hear such words again. They were spoken with good-natured humour by her neighbours because she 'took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it'. Yet Naomi would not have forgotten her own words in those difficult early days when she had urged her two widowed daughters-in-law to go back to their own homes, saying 'are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands', Ruth 1. 11. Her faith then had been small, and after all, she was only an insignificant woman, in a strange land, a widow whose sons also had died. How could she ever have thought people would say 'there is a son born to Naomi'?
But the Lord had been gracious unto her. What had then seemed so utterly impossible had been brought about, in a manner completely unexpected. Now she had a son again to embrace. What joy was now hers, and how she praised the Lord who had done such great things for her.
The reality was, of course, that even in those early days the Lord had never left her and was still watching over her. Those days had seemed so depressing: she had wept over her sorrows and frustrated hopes, her feeling of emptiness. She would not have forgotten her complaint that the hand of the Lord had gone out against her and as if she had been singled out for the experiences through which she was passing, perhaps for some misunderstood transgression of hers, 5. v. 13.
Many of the Lord’s people pass through such times. We should not ever think that the Lord is indifferent to us, or that He is unaware of the painful circumstances of life through which we pass. Naomi’s husband had died, and then her two sons, and she seemed to have nothing left. She felt empty, Ruth 1. 21 – what an expressive word that is! Her life seemed futile and worthless. She did not know that she would be sharing her bitter experiences with the Lord’s people for many generations to come. If only she had realized that God saw her pain.
'No pain that we can share
But He has felt its smart;
All forms of human grief and care
Have pierced that tender heart'.
Henry Williams Baker
Remember also, these were the days of the judges, and dark they were for Israel. There was lawlessness and anarchy in the land. 'Rule had ceased in Israel', Jdg. 5. 7 RV, and 'every man did that which was right in his own eyes', Jdg. 17. 6; 21. 25. The people of God were often in rebellion against Him, and the nations round about were permitted to oppress them for long periods, until the Lord raised up the judges to deliver them. And even those judges the Lord deigned to use were rough-hewn men whose blemishes of character are revealed in the Scriptures. As ever in the things of God, He chose the foolish, the weak and the base and their contemptible weapons, because 'no flesh should glory in his presence', 1 Cor. 1. 27-29.
Against this background there is something particularly pleasing about the events and personalities of the Book of Ruth. There is no jarring note anywhere in the book. Civil courtesies and personal religion are conspicuous. We may mark the ways in which the name of the Lord is piously invoked in the forms of greeting and expressions of good will, Ruth 2. 4, 12, 20; 3. 10; 4. 11, 12, 14. Boaz is a very fine example of a 'good and gentle' master, 1 Pet. 2. 18. He is revealed as a kind, courteous, considerate and generous man, whose 'handfuls of purpose' survive to this day as an example of anonymous generosity.
Ruth also conspicuously shines for us in the book which bears her name, as one to whom the Lord showed His grace. She is a model of devotion, industry and virtue. Her words to Naomi are among the most tender expressions of human feeling in all literature, Ruth 1. 16, 17.
Orpah is a sad woman because she made the lesser choice, and 'returned to her people and her gods', but she too had obviously wrestled within herself, and her tears and kisses testified not only to her genuine love for Naomi, but give us an insight into her own character. No blame is attached to her in Scripture. We feel sorry for her. Mahlon and Chilion had, both of them, chosen good wives, but Ruth made the better decision.
Now for Naomi, there is a new beginning. It was God who had led Ruth, 'to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz' and had brought the two together in what is a true love story. The book that began with sadness, is to end with gladness. That little son, Obed, born to Boaz and Ruth, and destined in the purposes of God to be in the line of kings, was to be 'a restorer of Naomi’s life and a nourisher of her grey hairs', Ruth 4.15 margin. Thus does Naomi take her honoured place among the mothers of Israel.
Let Naomi’s experience of God’s grace and kindness be our encouragement today, for however dark and threatening the situation may seem to be, we can be sure the Lord is watching and really has thought for us, for He always cares.
'Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face'
The poet who first penned those words had his dark days too, but we know that 'all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose', Rom. 8. 28.