Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
January 17, 2016
Naomi’s story part of a much bigger Story
The grief that follows the death of a loved one is a universal human experience. Sorrow is the twin sister of death who shatters our joy with sadness and tears. Faith is tested. Bewildered and broken, grieving souls wonder if there is a God who cares when we grieve. Bitterness can take over.
Consider the biblical story of Naomi. Like the other people in the Bible, Naomi had no last name. She was simply Naomi. When Naomi’s husband Elimelech dies, she is left a widow to raise two sons alone. Ten years later both her sons are dead. All she has left are two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.
Hearing that things are better back home, Naomi decides to return to the land of her birth. She had left in a time of famine. Now bread is scarce where she lives. So, bitter and resentful, Naomi turns her despairing heart toward home.
The scene is heartbreaking. Assuming she may never see them again, she bids a sad farewell to Orpah and Ruth. All three women embrace, weeping aloud. Then the unexpected happens. An emotional Ruth insists on going with Naomi. She will not let go of her mother-in-law.
Her speech has become a classic, her words recited or sung at countless weddings despite the fact that Ruth was not talking about marriage. It was her rationale for refusing to be separated from Naomi. Her words, while lovely, are used out of context when injected into a wedding ceremony.
The next time at a wedding you are moved by Ruth’s tender cry of affection, remember that she was not addressing her husband when she said:
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever 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. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”
One striking thing about the Bible’s little Book of Ruth is that God is seldom mentioned. Ruth evidently has no personal relationship with God but speaks of Him as Naomi’s God. She does imply that she wants “your God” to become “my God,” so she is open to a relationship with God.
The Book of Ruth has a surprise ending. God’s Big Picture emerges. Naomi’s story is more than a story of grief and loyalty. It is a part of God’s Story, his plan for the salvation of the world. The large role that God is playing behind the scenes is revealed in the writer’s stunning conclusion.
Ruth marries Boaz. They have a son and name him Obed. Naomi becomes Obed’s nurse. And who is Obed? He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. For awhile we think this is the story of Naomi and Ruth or of Boaz and Ruth. Then we discover that it is much more; it is one small chapter in the Greatest Story Ever Told – the Story of Jesus!
The book does remind us that God can help us with grief. Naomi could turn to God for help. We can do more. We can turn to God in Christ. We can turn, as believers, to the Christ who indwells us. That Naomi could not do.
Though our knowledge is finite, we know much more about God than Naomi did. We know that God is like Jesus. We are aware of the tender love of God for his sorrowing children for He made that love known through His Son as he walked among us.
In the days of the prophets the Jews believed the coming Messiah would be like a shepherd, gently caring for the lambs. When Jesus came that hope became a reality. The Good Shepherd walked among us and we beheld His glory! We realized that God was in Christ, reconciling the world and revealing to the world His true nature.
The God to whom we turn is a loving Father, a concept barely known to Naomi and her kin. We have a hope, a living hope much greater than Naomi’s for our hope is “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
When sorrows “like sea billows roll,” we are held steady by the unseen Hand of our Savior. He gives us blest assurance that “it is well with my soul.” Transformed by the living Christ, we can stand “on Jordan’s stormy banks” and be delivered from the bitterness of grief and the fear of death. We can sing songs that Naomi never sang, such as the great gospel melody:
“When I shall reach that happy place, I’ll be forever blest,
For I shall see my Father’s face, and in his bosom rest.”
Knowing the Savior makes us keenly aware of the kindness of God. That kindness invites us to walk in this life with Jesus, buoyed by the hope that when our battle is over and the race is won, we shall, in the words of Fanny Crosby, “see Him face to face and tell the story – Saved by grace”! + + +