Reflections on Ruth 1


by Doug Ward

On March 8, 2020, Wheaton College archaeology professor Daniel Master was a guest speaker at Oxford Bible Fellowship in Oxford, Ohio. It was a homecoming of sorts for Dr. Master, who attended Oxford Bible Fellowship in the early 1990s when he was working on his master's degree at Miami University.


Master chose to speak about another homecoming, the one described in chapter 1 of the book of Ruth. He began his message by noting that a key word in Ruth 1 is "Bethlehem", which in Hebrew means "house of bread." The town is mentioned by name five times in the chapter (in vv. 1, 2, 19, 22). Naomi and Elimelech leave Bethlehem in search of bread during a time of famine, and Naomi returns after the famine at the time of the barley harvest, when there is the promise of more bread.


For the first readers of Ruth, the town of Bethlehem had further significance. It was the hometown of King David of Israel, and so those readers began the book expecting to hear a prequel to David's story. Master suggested a modern-day Ohio analogy. If Ohioans hear a story that begins in Akron, Ohio, in 1985, they might assume they will hear about professional basketball star Lebron James.


Ancient readers of Ruth knew that the story would have a happy ending, but they could anticipate trouble ahead when Naomi and Elimelech migrate to the territory of Moab. They could remember the trials of Abram and Sarai when they went to Egypt in a time of famine (Gen 12), and Moab's opposition to Israel in the final year of the Exodus (Num 22-25).


Sure enough, Naomi experiences a serious trial when she loses both her husband and her two sons. In the Ancient Near East, a woman without a family, and with no male protectors, was in a precarious situation. With no husband and no heirs, what meaning did her life have?


Overcome with grief, Naomi acknowledges the sovereignty of God but feels abandoned by him (vv. 13, 21). She urges her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, and Orpah agrees. Ruth, however, pledges her loyalty to Naomi and her God (v. 16). Dr. Master observed that the book of Ruth appears in the division of the Hebrew Scriptures called the Writings, along with Proverbs and Song of Songs. There is reason, then, to think of Ruth as a Proverbs 31 woman of excellence or a future bride in a royal family.


At the end of the chapter Ruth "returns" with Naomi to a place she has never been before (v. 22). Ruth does not know how her story will come out, but she chooses to live in loyalty to those whom God has placed in her life. For her, home is where faithfulness to God takes her.


Dr. Master closed his sermon by asking members of the congregation to reflect upon their own lives. We are part of God's story too. We know we will face trials and challenges in the short term, looking ahead to an uncertain future. However, we also know that God is faithful, and he asks us to follow Ruth's example and be faithful as well.


Issue 35




File translated from TEX by TTH, version 3.66.
On 09 Mar 2020, 09:53.