Reflections on Ruth 1:19-2:3
And Naomi said to Ruth…"It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted."
Ruth 2:22 (ESV)
They arrive in Bethlehem.
But where do they go? Where do they stay? Is there family nearby to feed and care for them, provide shelter and protection? It’s not like they slipped into town unnoticed. Everyone’s talking: Is this Naomi? Did you hear her husband and sons are dead? Everything she owned is gone. All she has is a Moabite daughter-in-law caring for her and a name, a new name. She wants us to call her, “Bitter.”
Maybe for a night, or a week, they have provision and protection.
But it was the busy season of harvesting. And at some point, it was just the two of them again, alone. Maybe relatives gave them a place to stay and a few spare clothes to wear? But poor, widowed, childless and hungry, they were in need of something to eat – now, today, in order to live. Something had to be done.
For Ruth, she may have thought begging was the only option.
But Naomi knew a better way. God had given Israel a law for a time such as this.
…you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the
gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the
alien (the orphan and for the widow). I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 23:22 with Deuteronomy 24:19 in parenthesis
That’s all Ruth needs to know. She asks her mother’s permission to go into the fields to get food. And to pray for favor. She needs a harvester to treat her kindly.
Naomi doesn’t go with her, why? Was she sick? Had the journey from Moab sapped her strength completely? Were her emotions too raw – everyone seeing her like this? Maybe she wants to go – for Ruth’s sake. It’s not clear why, but she can’t. She has to let Ruth go alone, early in the morning, no doubt hungry.
They need food.
Out there, the townspeople are hustling to the fields for work. The sun begins to bathe the land in light, driving the dark away. At least, most of it. There’s some still out there lurking – dangerous, overpowering – and she knows it.
She feels it. Naomi does too.
In that time, that culture, like it or not, women came under the protection of their husbands, fathers, or a male relative. Bearing their name made them untouchable and safe. Without that covering, there was risk – terrifying risk. Especially for the single, young, and beautiful.
And even more so, for a Moabite. She doesn’t even belong to the daughters of Sarah and Rebekah, Leah and Rachel. She is, of all women, the most vulnerable.
Still, she goes out. Knowing she has no honor or worth. Knowing she’s open prey to young men who will see her and possibly assault her – hurt her. She knows this – all of it – and still, she goes. It’s her choice to be kind now. She must care for Naomi more than herself. Her mother needs food. She needs food. Today.
Each step, a risk. Each step, a choice.
How hard it must have been for Naomi to let her go that morning. Harder still to pray; how does she pray when it feels like the Almighty has turned His back on her and afflicted her. Will He hear her now? In her bitterness and pain? Will He be kind to her daughter Ruth? Will He give the favorless any favor at all?
As Ruth slips out the door, unprotected.
* * *
I slipped in the side door of the church drenched from a downpour of rain and heard the sound of little children everywhere. Toddlers mostly. As I hung my raincoat on a nearby peg and started down the hall, peering into the classrooms, I realized I had no idea Pastor Adam’s church had a pre-school.
Or nursery care for infants.
Or, in one room, a class for older special needs children. As I passed by that room, I thought I saw Pastor Adams off in the corner. I stopped and went back. And there he was, sitting in a chair too small for him, holding a crying young boy in his arms. Maybe 8 or 9 years old.
When he saw me, he held up his hand, pointed toward his office down the hall, and I shook my head knowing he wanted me to wait for him there.
This was my doing. I told him I wanted to know everything about The Naomi Project. I even asked if I could attend the Wednesday night monthly meeting. All he said was, “Not yet. Maybe though.” But he did agree to see me. I found his office, sat in one of the chairs in front of his desk, and got my notepad out.
“You taking notes?” he thundered, walking into the room a few minutes later. Like always, I got a bear hug and a slap on my hand that made it sting.
“Yeah, you okay with that?” I asked.
“We’ll see,” he jabbed, moving toward his big leather chair behind his desk, and went right to task. “We started The Naomi Project twenty years ago.”
“Why Naomi?” I interrupted quickly.
“Because life was hard for her,” he said slowly, rhythmically. “Everything she had was taken from her. But even when afflicted, she chose a better way. Even when it felt like God wasn’t on her side, she put her daughters in the school of God’s kindness and taught them no matter what life brings, no matter what it costs us, we do for others. We always do for others.”
He looked at me like I should know these things.
“Why use the word kindness?” I blurted.
“Because it’s everything to God. When King David entered into covenant with Jonathan, they promised each other kindness. When Jonathan died in battle, David asked, ‘Who in his family can I be kind to?”1 From that day on, the King took Jonathan’s crippled son and made him his own. You writing this down?”
I wasn’t. I was still trying to take it all in.
“That’s what happens to us in Jesus. He took us into His family and promised us kindness. One day in glory we’re going to know ‘the surpassing riches of His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.’ 2 But for now, He calls us to live it. He puts us in Naomi’s school of kindness so we can learn it. So we can do it right here on the streets of our community. How else will people come to know Jesus?”
I wanted more. Like what happens on Wednesday nights.
But a boy was standing behind me, sniffling. The same one Adams was holding when I first got there.
“Come here, son.”
The boy, with a slight limp, came around the desk and folded into Adam’s embrace.
“About two years ago, we found Hernando sitting outside the convenience store down the street belonging to nobody. Crying, scared, bruises on his face, like someone tossed him out of a car and just left him there to die.”
The boy turned to look me, his eyes moist and sad.
“Even to this day, we don’t know who his people are.”
The boy, rubbing his knee, said, “Papa, make it go away.” Pastor Adams put his hand over the boy’s and whispered a prayer in his ear. He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and gently rocked.
“There, there, it’s gonna be alright now,” he said tenderly.
A minute later, Adams went on with his story, “I stood in front of the church the next Sunday and told them we needed a family from The Naomi Project to step up. Every child deserves a home. No one goes unprotected or unloved. Somebody needed to show kindness today. Not just for a little while. It’s time to take this young child into their home as their own.”
He opened his eyes and frowned.
“One of the elders began to pray for King Jesus to open hearts for Hernando. As the church stood to sing and pray for this little boy, I looked over and saw my wife bent over in tears and I shook my head, saying, ‘No, Lord. You know what we need right now.”
I sat there quietly, trying to understand.
“We’ve got two kids grown and out of the house. Our youngest was a year away from graduating high school. My wife and I were dreaming of the day when we’d be empty-nesters and have some time to ourselves. But the Lord had other plans for us and I needed my heart changed. Isn’t that right, son?”
The boy giggled the cutest giggle ever.
“Better now, Papa” he said. “Better now.”
1 2 Samuel 9:1-3
2 Ephesians 2:7