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Excitement in Bethlehem – Reflections on Ruth

Excitement in Bethlehem

Reflections on Ruth, Part 3

“Now the two of them (Naomi and Ruth) went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’” Ruth 1:19

“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has born him… also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi. And they called his name Obed (servant). He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.”  Ruth 4:14-15

Naomi is returning home after a ten-year absence. She is widowed and impoverished, and is bringing her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, with her, who is also without a husband or means. What could they possibly offer to the people of Bethlehem? How could they be anything more than a drain on the community? And what about this foreign daughter-in-law? What kind of influence would she bring? And yet we read that there was excitement in Bethlehem to see them. We are told that the women greeted them, “Is it really Naomi?”

Naomi’s response tells us that she was not in the most positive frame of mind. “Do not call me Naomi but Mara (bitter) for the Almighty had dealt with me bitterly.” (1:20) Not only was she poor and needy but she may also have been a bit unpleasant. Yet the city was excited, and the women greeted her.

Women in the Book of Ruth

Today, I want to look specifically at the role of the women in the Book of Ruth. Not only are women noted in the greeting of Ruth and Naomi, but they are also specifically noted in the last chapter of the book where we are told that women rejoice over the good favor of Naomi and Ruth, pronounce a blessing on them, and are awarded the privilege of naming the baby that is born to Ruth. Let us look more closely at the women’s words.

  • “Blessed be the Lord who has not left you this day without a close relative.” They praised the Lord for His goodness to Naomi and Ruth.
  • “And may his (Obed’s) name be great in Israel.” They freely blessed Naomi. There is no hint of jealousy here. No small thinking. There is plenty for all of us. We can ask God to make your grandson great without any fear of our situations being short-changed. We want you to prosper.
  • “And may he (Obed) be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age.” They had insight. They understood exactly what Naomi needed and would, as a woman in her stage of life, deeply desire. They took the time to pray a specific prayer that was deeply meaningful.
  • “For your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has born him.” They brought Naomi up higher (from looking through the knothole to being able to see over the top of the fence). Naomi, God has blessed you! Your daughter-in-law loves you. She is better than seven sons! They gave her the insight that can often only come from those outside looking in at our situations.
  • “There is a son born to Naomi.” They included and acknowledged Naomi (who previously saw herself only as Mara) as being a part of the joyous event. They looked for ways to extend the blessing, to notice all those who had contributed so that they could be affirmed.
  • And they called his name Obed (servant).” They spoke a blessing, essentially prophesied a blessing, by choosing a good name. It seems unusual that the “neighbor women” were allowed the privilege of naming the child. Surely it was because of their deep involvement in the lives of Ruth and Naomi all along. The desire of Ruth and Naomi to have a family had perhaps become a community desire, at least among the neighbor women, who rejoiced as if it had happened to them. Ruth had clearly served Naomi so perhaps it was obvious to all that a child born to her would be destined for the same type of selflessness. Calling the child “servant” was, in a sense, a way of affirming all that had gone on. Ruth to Naomi and then, Boaz to Ruth. The name selection reflects a desire to affirm and bless and an ability to see the thread of redemption and blessing running through each person’s life.

A Prayer for Welcoming Hearts

Lord, I pray that the church will become like Bethlehem in the day of the return of Naomi and Ruth. I pray that we would be excited about the arrival of the foreigner and the widow. I pray that we will welcome and accept those who are poor and emotionally broken and take them in as our neighbors. Lord, help women to rise up as the women of Bethlehem and to see the things they did as our mandate. Help us to pronounce affirmation and blessing with our mouths to many.

We do not want to miss the blessings You will surely bring as we follow in the footsteps of the people of Bethlehem. For indeed, we see that royal lineage sprang forth from their generosity and kindness. “He (Obed) is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (4:17) Lord, cause our hearts and our lives to open to others as theirs did so that we might have the privilege of seeing many sons and daughters of kingdom greatness born to us.

Inspired by CF’s Sermon Series: The Gospel According to Ruth

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