Old Testament Ruth Pain and Providence

Pain and Providence

Ruth 1:19-22- Pain and Providence

Last week we looked at this passage briefly, as we saw it in the narrative. This week I would like to study this passage more deeply, within the narrative but theologically. This passage has rich meaning and can teach us a lot about ourselves and the Providence of God. Particularly the providence of God in times of suffering. We began looking at the dark and depressing time that the book was written in and Naomi, who lost everything, her husband and her two sons. Not only has she lost everything, but she was in a foreign land. When Naomi returns, she explains to the women in the town that she is empty and bitter. We can look at the world and ask challenging questions, why do bad things happen? However, in the book of Ruth, we get an answer to why bad things happened to Naomi. We can learn a lot about the providence of God in times of suffering from these few passages.

Before we turn to the passage, we need to understand that we are reading a historical narrative. We should be cautious of taking a historical narrative and reading it and applying it precisely to our lives. God has given us the whole counsel of the word of God to be able to instruct us about the world, ourselves, and God. In this passage, we see God afflicting Naomi for leaving the promised land, and Naomi considers the correlation of God’s hand of discipline upon her life for her action. However, not all suffering is a result of sin.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples ask him why a man was blind from birth? Who sinned the man or his parents? Jesus’ response is, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The reason for this man’s blindness is ultimately for the glory of God. Not all suffering is a result of the direct sin of a person. However, all suffering is for the glory of God. Many horrific things happen in the world every day, and the sin of one man can bring suffering, pain, sorrow, and death upon another. So we read this passage, understanding this is historical, and we glean theological principles from this passage but it is not the only reason or cause of suffering.

I. Afflicted but loved

Naomi tells the women in the town not to call her Naomi, which means lovely or pleasant but to call her Mara. Mara means bitter. Her reasoning is not because she is bitter about the events, although you would think this would be the case. When we face difficult afflictions in our life, God is the first one to get the blame. We become bitter to God. How could he do this to me? How could God allow this pain in my life? Even the person who doesn’t believe in God is quick to point the finger at him. Naomi had lost everything, her husband, her two children, yet she does not tell others to call her bitter because she is bitter, but because “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

When we hear about her husband and children’s death in the first five verses, we do not see God’s name used in any of these verses. However, Naomi understands that God is sovereign over all things. It was no accident that her husband and sons pass away. A similar thing happens to Job. He loses all of his children like Naomi, and his response in chapter 1:21, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Hannah prayed in chapter 2 of 1 Samuel and said, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” Naomi explains that the Almighty has dealt bitterly with her. The word Almighty, “Shaddai,” speaks of God as all-powerful. God can do all his holy will.

Naomi shows that she went away full. There was a famine in the land, and you think she would have left empty and come back full. However, she left full can came back empty. In Genesis chapter 41, the word for full is used two times, talking about the full ears of corn before the famine. However, Naomi returns to Bethlehem empty. The Hebrew word empty is first as an emphasis on her status. When Naomi speaks of empty and full, what is it in relation to the famine, her family, or her faith? I tend to think it is a combination of all of these things.

II. Lost but found

Naomi is clear that she is the one that left, but the Lord brought her back. The sentence is showing a contrast between Naomi going full and the Lord brings her back empty. Again, Naomi sees the Lord working through peculiar providences. The Lord brought her back, and she does not see the news she heard in the field of Moab as a coincidence but sees that the Lord brought her back. She attributes the sin of leaving to herself and the joy of returning to God. Throughout the whole Book of Ruth, we do not have these great miracles occur. Naomi does not have the Lord appear before her and tell her to go back to the land of Judah. However, she does see it is the Lord’s doing.

Why did Naomi deserve to return to Judah? She walked away, left the promised land, and lived in the fields of Moab for over ten years. However, God still brought her back. It makes you think of the great shepherd who will leave the ninety-nine to go and get the one who will carry the sheep upon his shoulders to return him to the flock. I was lost, but now I am found. The movie Finding Nemo shows the extent that a father will go to bring his son home. The story of Ruth shows the distance that God, the Father, will go to bring home his daughter.

III. Proud but humbled

Again, Naomi brings up that she should not be called Naomi. She reasons that the Lord testified against me. The Septuagint, Greek translation of the Old Testament, translates this verse like this, “So why do you call me Naomi since the Lord humbled me.” The Lord has answered back against my actions. On several occasions, the prophets use this word, ‘testified,’ in relation to God testifying against them about the people of Israel’s sin. The NASB translates the word witnesses. Naomi says, “Don’t take my name for it, take the Lord’s providence. A poem written by an anonymous author speaks of walking a mile with pleasure and sorrow:

I walked a mile with pleasure,

She chatted me all the way,

But I was none the wiser

For what she had to say

I walked a mile with sorrow,

And ne’er a word said she,

But O the things I learned from her

When sorrow walked with me.

Naomi walked with sorrow for a long time in Moab, and the Lord used it to humble her. This is the message of Christianity, weakness. No point in Christianity is about our strength. We bring nothing to the table except the sin in our life. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:10, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” We are strong in our weaknesses because that is when we become dependent and humble. Naomi leaves in her strength but comes back trusting in God. John Flavel explains that we never come to God in our strength, for we would not need him, but we came in our low. God does not leave us in our low times. Others may leave you, but God will not.

“As God did not at first choose you because you were high, so he will not forsake you because you are low. Men may look shy upon you and alter their respects as your condition is altered. When providence has blasted your estates, your summer friends may grow strange, as fearing you may be troublesome to them. But will God do so? No, no!”

Another term you could use is ‘refuge’. Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” No one takes refuge in something weaker, but something that can provide the protection they do not have. To the Christian, we always come in weakness, our lowly estate, we come to the unchangeable, all-powerful, living true God. As the famous hymn says, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

IV. Tragedy yet purpose

The great hope we have as Christians is that there is an end and an end with a reward. We have the hope of tomorrow and the hope of heaven. Iain D. Campbell explains, “[Naomi’s] past has been woven with a variety of threads, light and dark, a mixture of light and shadow; her present now gives evidence that the blessing of God has been on her life and has been with her up to this point.” However, the Book of Ruth is not over. There is more yet to come. God’s providence is woven throughout this book; from the beginning of the famine, the death of her husband and sons, the marrying of Ruth. All play critical parts in this story that can only be understood looking backward. John Flavel said, “Sometimes providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backward.” Because we trust that God is sovereign over all things, we can trust that God has a plan, and is not merely solving a problem. Master chess players generally think about eight moves ahead. However, God has a plan and purpose. Joseph spends most of his life in a pit, as a slave or a prisoner. Yet God orchestrated everything to come to pass for his glory.

We have many letters from Paul while he was a prisoner. Throughout history, we can see God’s hand at work in the lives of faithful saints, even persecuted, afflicted, or facing trials. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in jail. It is because God has a plan that we can have hope in tragedy. Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:10, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Even if our life on earth feels like hell, that is the only hell we will go through. I have said this before, but the summary of the Book of Ruth can be found in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

V. Barley Harvest

Even the time when they arrived was important. When Naomi and Ruth came to Bethlehem, we find out that it is the barley harvest season. Barley takes about 60-70 days to cultivate, and here we find that Naomi and Ruth come to Bethlehem during this time. Not only do they come to Bethlehem at the right time, but the field in which she goes to in Chapter 2 is also that of Boaz, who has barley, which is significant because he is their kinsman-redeemer. The Barley harvest is one moment where the bitter bud starts to become the sweet flower. However, all these providences happened in history but were ordained before history began. God is sovereign over all things, and we see that these terrible tragedies that happened to Naomi are used for the glory of God. That a king would come from their line. David would be born a couple of generations in the future. But more importantly, Jesus Christ the Son of David and a descendant of Naomi.

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