Reflections on Ruth 4:7-22
“A son has been born to Naomi!" So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The baby snuggles soft against her neck and coos. She gently rubs his back, wondering if he’ll fall asleep but he doesn't. The little man is wide awake. She lifts him into the air, rubs noses with him, stares into his big bright eyes, and instantly she’s transported back in time. Back thirty years ago and more.
When she held her firstborn son.
She and Elimelech were happy then. He’d come home after working in the fields and find the house full of family and friends. A big meal on the table. She can still see him – like it was yesterday. Not long after, they welcomed a second born son and, somehow, way too quickly, her little boys became handsome young men. Like their father. Working the fields of Bethlehem. And finding favor with God.
Until the famine came.
She cradles the baby in her arm and smiles at him. He squeezes her finger and stretches his pudgy little legs. She holds him closer and, just as she starts to sing, she hears the sound of people coming. Then a light tap on the door.
“Naomi?” someone whispers, cracking the door slightly.
She invites them in. These women are her friends. Some since childhood. She still remembers seeing the surprise on their faces when she returned from Moab dirty, poor, hungry. No husband. No sons. “Is this Naomi?” they cried out. And all she could do was shake her head and say, “No, my name Bitter.” For, back then, all she could feel deep in her soul was the Lord’s anger against her. 1
One of them sweeps the baby into her arms and, quite spontaneously, bursts into joyful song. They all do. They praise the Lord for Boaz who’d redeemed her. Then for Ruth who loves her better than seven sons. Then – with the baby passing one to the other – they sing God’s praise for the blessing of this beautiful child.
And they are right. Only the Lord could do this!
No one ever said it out loud. At least, not in her hearing. But everybody knew. They had to know. Ruth had been married for the better of part of ten years and had no children to show for it. In Israel, such a woman is branded as barren. 2 Now, in front of everybody in Bethlehem, she was supposed to conceive a child?
Impossible! But not with God.
One of the women shouts out, “A son has been born to Naomi!” and, who said it first? They started calling him Obed -- “servant.” As if he’d come into the world for the sole purpose of serving Naomi. As if this little man was here to give back what years of bitterness had stolen from her. And somehow, the name stuck.
Breaking every tradition of how a child is named!
Naomi quietly nods her head. The women are partly right. Obed is her son – the surviving heir of her marriage with Elimelech. At the same time, he’s the heir of Mahlon and Ruth. So, legally, she is mother. Grandmother. All at the same time. But no, she can’t agree, the child is not here to serve her.
She’s here to serve him.
Like she did her boys. Like she did Orpah and Ruth. And if she does her job well, she will etch the character of God into little Obed’s heart. So he’ll be kind with the “hesed” kindness of God – like his mother Ruth. And merciful – like his father Boaz. And he will rise up in his day as first, and always, a “servant” of God.
That he might serve his generation. For the sake of others. For the glory of God.
For this is her family’s legacy. Meant to be passed down not just to Obed. Or his children. Or his children’s children. But, like a runner holding high the torch, to every generation down the corridor of time. This is her prayer. That her family always be known as “Obeds!” Not those who are served. But those who serve.
And give themselves for the blessing of others. 3
* * *
Every once and a while, Pastor Adams gets invited to share the story of The Naomi Project. He always takes people with him and, this time, he asked if I’d like to go. “It’s a Baptist church upstate,” he said. “They want to do what we’re doing. You in?” I quickly accepted.
The van was full. I got the last seat in the back.
I was surprised to sit next to Hammer. “Adams let you come?” I asked, telling him I’d been there the Wednesday night he spoke.
“That was four months ago,” he said, nudging me. And then came the stories, one after the other, of rough teenage kids giving their life to Christ. We must have talked for nearly an hour.
“We've got trouble!” Pastor Adams shouted. We heard people gasp. There was an accident up ahead.
“Looks bad,” someone cried out.
“Call 911,” Adams barked. “We've got no traffic. No emergency lights. I’m thinking it just happened. We’re pulling over. Somebody pray to Jesus.”
“Pastor, we can’t stop, we’ll be late,” somebody said.
“No, we won’t,” he said strongly, his voice loud.
Seconds later, the van pulled to a stop. Adams turned around from his front passenger seat and said, “Church, you know what to do here. We never pass by. We do what we can, where we can, when we can. This is our time. Go out there and do what the Lord gives you to do. Let the Holy Spirit use you. Now go!” With that, the van doors opened and out we went.
Two cars and an SUV.
The SUV upside down with people trapped inside. One car back ended. The other badly damaged. We had an EMT and nurse in our van. They quickly assessed the scene: Eight people total. Two seriously injured. One critical. All three in the upside down SUV. The other five were either at their cars or trying to help the people who were trapped.
Our team seemed to know what to do.
Some surrounded the five. Some stayed back and prayed. The rest of us went with the nurse and EMT to the upside down SUV. Hammer and two other men pried open the car doors. The nurse started working with the most critically injured while the EMT dealt with the other two.
“We've got a bleed. I need hands,” the EMT called out.
I watched Pastor Adams get on his knees and crawl part way into the back seat. One hand on the bleed, the other holding the man’s hand.
The nurse and EMT put us all to work.
Within minutes, the place was filled with lights and sirens, medical teams and police. With precision and care, all three people were extracted from the car. Two went by ambulance. The most critical was flown out by helicopter. We stayed until all three were safely on their way to the hospital.
Soon enough, we were back on the road.
Pastor Adams was slated to speak at 9:00. When he started at 11:15, his first words to a packed church were met with laughter and applause.
Are we late? ‘Cause I’m thinking we’re on time if we’re on God’s time -- you with me?
And with that, he began. For most of the day, he let his team from The Naomi Project lead the conference and workshops. But his opening words, for me, said it all. He gently led us into the things that belong to the heart of God. I did my best to capture some of his words in my journal.
What happened this morning is all I've got to say to you
Jesus never passes by
If He doesn't pass by – we don’t pass by
All we've got to do is look
Walk the streets where God has placed us, Church
Start with our families. Go to our neighbors
Ask the Lord to open our eyes to see the needs around us
And hear the cries of the people
For if Jesus never passes by – we don’t pass by
All we've got to do is look
And when we do – we follow in the footsteps of Naomi
Great grandmother of King David
In the royal line of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
This is her story. It is His story. It is our story
We are here, Church, to serve our communities with mercy
For if He came not to be served but to serve
We are called to do the same.
Rise up, Church!
This is our hour to say what we need to say
And do what we need to do.
We never pass by!
1 See Ruth 1:19-21
2 See Genesis 11:30; 16:1-3
3 The great storyteller of Ruth concludes by surprising us. All along we've been reading the story of King David’s family. Their story, their actions, their character become the heritage passed down to Obed, Obed to his son Jesse, and Jesse to his son King David. And of course, from King David comes the royal Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Like the name “Obed” – “servant” – our Lord ‘s own character is revealed as He tells us He came not “to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45).
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