18 Jun On the move
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When misfortune and tragedy decide to pay a visit in our lives, facing it is not an easy task. Any negative event, whether minimal or significant, has the power to stir up and trigger inconceivable consequences. Adversity is a bitter drink we would rather avoid at all costs. Sometimes negative events come as a result of our own mistakes and oversights, but others enter our paths without an invitation. When we’re forced to face negative events, perhaps a more helpful question to ask would be, “What is our response?”
So how can we respond to negativity?
Sometimes, the Bible offers us advice; other times, it offers us a story, a kind of open invitation which invites us to view our own circumstances through a new kind of lens. So today, I offer you that: a story. And from this famous story, I’m going to propose that we were designed to live “on the move”: on the move with others, on the move with purpose and on the move towards a Creator who’s crazy about us.
On the move with others
The story? It’s about two women who faced unimaginable negativity.
There was a family from the ancient city of Bethlehem: their names were Elimelech and Naomi, and they had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Elimelech took refuge in the country of Moab when famine struck his land. He eventually died, followed by his two sons who had taken two Moabite wives named Orpah and Ruth. In a sudden turn of events, Naomi’s husband and sons all die, and she finds herself a widow, childless and with only two surviving, non-Jewish daughters-in-law.
Facing grim and narrow alternatives, Naomi decides to return to her native land and attempts to persuade Orpah and Ruth to remain in Moab. She thinks their best hopes for remarrying can be found in their own land. While Orpah ultimately decides to remain in Moab, Ruth famously says, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17). This declaration would be the first in a series of others that would unleash God’s powerful intervention, as Ruth’s life would take a radical turn. With nothing left to say, she and Naomi set out for Bethlehem.
It’s clear that Naomi is the least equipped in coping with the grand tragedy that strikes her life in old age. Should we blame her? Her misery seems reasonable enough. Cultural norms instructed the closest male relative to redeem a family’s heritage by preserving both the name of the deceased male and his inheritance according to land redemption laws found in the book of Leviticus. This law also protected women, a group in society considered vulnerable. However, without a redeemer in sight and with no prospects for Naomi, it’s not difficult to see why she laments.
Naomi behaves in response to the calamity she believes God has inflicted upon her. Yet the temptation she gives into is a temptation many of us have probably faced in our lives: the temptation to give into self-pity which can only make things worse for us.Thankfully, Naomi’s extended mourning, as we’ll see, had an approaching deadline! Her brave daughter-in-law somehow rises above this temptation and clings to the small hope that everything is going to work out in the end, and this heart posture singlehandedly brings about the happy ending Naomi can’t imagine for herself in the middle of her pain.
Can I invite you to consider that your lot in life isn’t found in an isolated journey through this lifetime?
Ruth’s story is found in the bond she secures with her mother-in-law, in life and in death. We’re stronger when we walk together as a family, in friendships, and especially as a Christian community. It is Ruth’s character that sets off the events that ultimately save Naomi and restore her days of joy. Ruth triumphs and blooms in humility, detached from her past and in surrender to her fate in the hands of the Israeli God.
On the move with purpose
Scripture says that Naomi becomes informed that a man named Boaz is a family redeemer. One day, Ruth says to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor” (Ruth 2:2). As she sets out, she happens to stop at Boaz’s field, a wealthy man with significant power who also fears the Lord. His kindness towards Ruth reveals that he is a virtuous man as he not only grants Ruth’s requests for fair labor but ensures her safety as well (Boaz instructs Ruth to remain near his young women in order to avoid assault). This was a treatment that God had implemented for the tending of the poor and vulnerable, which Boaz displays.
Touched by such kindness, Ruth bows before Boaz and says, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10). Boaz informs Ruth that he is aware of her love towards Naomi and how she left her land for an unfamiliar people.
Naomi also recognizes Ruth’s faithfulness, so she sets a plan in motion to seek rest for Ruth in Boaz’s redemption. Dressed in her best evening attire, Ruth obeys Naomi’s instructions and finds herself at Boaz’s feet one night. She speaks up and says, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:9-11).
At this point, one final legal agreement with a closer “redeemer” leaves Boaz without further barriers to take Ruth as his wife. Ruth’s faith in a foreign nation and a foreign God gives way to the most unexpected ending. The witnessing elders at Boaz’s wedding declare, “May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman” (Ruth 4:11-12).
Who was Perez? Well, a woman back in Genesis 29 named Leah, whose loyalty and steadfastness resembles Ruth’s character, gives birth to Judah, who fathers Perez. Perez gives way to Boaz, who gives way to King David three generations later. David gives way to Jesus many generations later. In other words, God chooses a foreign woman as Jesus’ predecessor! Ruth was on the move with purpose, though she could not have seen how far her choices influenced the future–and the encouraging truth is that none of us can!
On the move towards God’s heart
As Father’s Day approaches this weekend, I’m reminded of my childhood. As a little girl, I used to love lying on my dad’s chest while he watched his favorite soccer games on the TV screen. While I didn’t care for soccer, I loved pressing my ear against his chest. I could feel the precise beatings of his heart, the vibrating sounds of his deep voice, and I felt the closest to him positioned securely on him. This emotional connection was strengthened over the years and it would prove crucial years later.
A month following my university graduation, I suffered an accident that led me to years of therapy and recovery. During those first critical hours, I waited in a home as my parents drove in from a different city. Fixed onto a bed, I knew immediately that my father was searching for me with relentless focus. When he finally arrived, he approached me with an almost imperceptible sensitivity and gentleness that I desperately needed and that I immediately recognized. When I caught sight of him as he entered the room, and I knew he would take me to his car and our home, I felt immeasurable relief come over me and I gave in to his arms. Before the exhausting attempt to retain my composure during the disorienting 48 hours leading up to his arrival, I knew my father’s protective presence had finally arrived to step into the situation. In less than five minutes he figured out how to get me downstairs and into the car without hurting me. I never doubted that he could anticipate what I needed then as he had in countless situations in my life. He is my father, after all.
This wonderful man loves Jesus and in his own fastening to Him I have learned how to draw into the heart of a protective God through every situation in my life. I do not know if you have had the delight of a father figure in your life though I hope you have. I also don’t know if the opposite is true for you: you’ve had a character in your life who has disappointed you, or worse, has hurt you. What I know is that a life on the move towards God’s heart will never fail you. Ruth’s life is a resounding testament to this truth. God sees you, and always will, as the apple of his eye, as he saw Ruth, as Don Quixote saw Dulcinea: as a rescued son and daughter through his own Son: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). You were designed to enter into the journey of a lifetime with the Creator who adores you. I invite you to set your journey in motion, to life a life continuously on the move towards the heart of God.
Ultimately, Ruth and Naomi’s restoration is the result of their direct actions and faith in God, as feeble and weak as it was sometimes. Their faith was in a God who was masterfully working out a redemptive ending for Naomi’s entire household, for the people of Israel and later, for an entire world. This same hope is available for you and me today.
With tender love,