The door opener for a home
The Book of Ruth speaks of the exodus from home as well as the return. In order for the widow Ruth to make her home in Israel, she needed a redeemer. Boaz took over this function. This gave her a livelihood and eternal hope. Jesus is our redeemer; he too enables us to have a home in the house of God.
Today’s blessing of Noemi G. is reason enough to look at the Noomi of the Bible in the Book of Ruth. It is a story of coming home. For the time being, however, it was off to a foreign land.
Hard Bread Abroad
Naomi lived with her husband Elimelech and her two sons Machlon and Kiljon in Bethlehem, which means bread house. But then a famine arose in the land. The bread in Brothausen became scarce. Therefore, the whole family of Naomi and Elimelech moved to Moab, an area south of Israel. At first glance we say: «That is understandable!«But we have to look closely at what kind of family is setting out for Moab. This is striking because one does not actually go to Moab, certainly not to seek one’s bread there. There is no bread and no water for strangers in Moab, that is Israel’s experience from its time wandering in the desert.
Who will get bread and water in Moab, where one voluntarily gets neither? Probably the one who has to give something in return. Noomi’s family brings something that gives her access to bread and water: Money. She herself says: «Rich and prosperous I emigrated and empty-handed the Lord lets me return home»(Ruth 1:21). This money not only opens up access to food for them, but also to society. Only rich people could marry into the land of Moab. Her two boys marry Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. Why do rich people have to flee to Moab when bread is scarce? The assumption is that they want to preserve their wealth. They do not flee from the hunger that wants to enter their house, but from the beggar who wants to come to their table. They refuse solidarity.
But Moab becomes a dead end. They eat «hard bread» there. As Noomi’s husband and two sons die, she is left alone. She becomes a lonely and bitter womanAs she herself will later express on her return to Bethlehem: «Call me no more Noomi, call me Mara (= bitterness), for the Almighty has made life bitter for me» (1,20). Widows at that time were outlaws, in a state of complete lawlessness and defencelessness. Only if they found a new home and gave birth to children would they be able to escape the poverty trap.
Israel is the people of God. Figuratively speaking, the family moved from the God of Israel to a land where selfishness was enthroned and where the inhabitants even sacrificed their children to idols. Moab means «from the father» and testifies to its origin. It was at the time when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed (Genesis 19). Lot, the nephew of Abraham, lived with his two daughters in a cave up in the mountains. In this seclusion, far from possible husbands, the two women hatched a plan to have children. They got Lot drunk and slept with him. This affair resulted in the incest child Moab. From then on, this atrocity lay like a shadow over the Moabites – an open wound. Something burdensome lay on these people.
It was to this land that Elimelech moved with his family to bring his wealth to safety. His motive was the love of money, which, as we all know, is the root of all evil. (1Timothy 6:10). And somehow the bread did not nourish them in the same way as in Bethlehem. In the parable of the prodigal sons, the younger son also left home to buy a fulfilled life. His attempt failed miserably and ended up starving with the pigs. Jesus explains this principle: «For he who tries to preserve his life will lose it»(Mark 8:35). The family of Elimelech and Naomi experienced exactly this. They went their own ways and moved away from the «House of Bread» because they believed that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. Many people think like that. They think that a life with God brings disadvantages and is not nourishing enough. In search of a fulfilled life, they look elsewhere. Unfortunately, however, deceptive wealth ultimately leaves us hungry. Our hunger for meaning, security, love and belonging is only satisfied with God.
It is also typical that Naomi blames God in the crisis: «Call me Noomi no more. Call me Mara, for the Almighty has made my life bitter. Rich and prosperous I have emigrated, and empty-handed the Lord sends me home. Why should you call me Naomi when the Lord has put me through so much suffering and the Almighty has brought such misfortune upon me?» (1,20f). At a distance from God, we are all empty-handed. Don’t we often pursue our own paths to happiness and when we are in crisis, we blame God? This is called egocentric deism: I shape my life. I decide what is right and wrong for me and God helps me. God is my personal saviour and will never disappoint me. What a mistake!
And so Naomi sets off back to Bethlehem, to those she abandoned – back when she was still rich. She wants to get rid of her daughters-in-law first and sends them back to their families. Bitterness seeks loneliness. Those who are bitter know about their own intolerability. Noomi says: «No, my daughters, turn back, for I am too old to marry again. And even if I were to say: «I still have hope», yes, even if I were to join myself to a man this very night and have sons, what good would that do? Would you wait till they grew up? Would you lock yourselves up for so long and forgo any other marriage? No, do not go with me, my daughters! My bitter sorrow is even heavier for me than for you, for the Lord himself has brought it upon me» (1,12f).
Noomi addresses the issue of marriage in law. If a married man dies and leaves no children, the next of kin is obliged to take the widow as his wife. The first son she gives birth to is then considered a descendant of the deceased brother, so that his name is preserved in Israel. The only problem was that such a brother was not yet born and Naomi had no husband. The only hope for the future for her daughters-in-law was that they would look for a Moabite husband.
Orpa, which means «back of the head», jumps off. Noomi only sees her from behind. But Ruth simply refuses to leave Noomi. «But Ruth answered: «Do not ask me to leave you and turn back. Where you go, I will go, and where you live, I will live. Your people are my people and your God is my God. Where thou diest, there will I die also, and be buried. The Lord shall punish me if I allow anything but death to separate us!» » (Ruth 1:16f).
The fierceness with which the Hebrew text is spoken is palpable. The sentences are short and concise: «Your people – my people, your God – my God!«Ruth translated means the friend, companion. And Ruth becomes what is in her name: the companion for Naomi. At the same time, Ruth’s concise sentences contain a clear commitment to the one God of Israel.
Belonging to home
Well – Naomi moves to Brothausen with her daughter-in-law Ruth, and sensibly at the time of the barley harvest. The bread shortage is over. Ruth must now support herself. In ancient Israel, socially disadvantaged people, such as widows, had the right to go after the reapers at harvest time to pick up the remaining ears of corn. Ruth did this in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. Boaz was very kind to her, provided for her safety, snacks and made sure that the harvesters left more ears of corn.
«Where did you gather all that grain today?» cried Naomi. […] Ruth told her mother-in-law who she had worked for. And she said, «The man in whose field I was today is called Boaz.» «The Lord, who has not withdrawn his mercy from the living or the dead, bless him,» said Naomi to her daughter-in-law. «This man is one of our closest relatives (Hebrew qarob), one of the solvers (Hebrew goel) of our family.» (2,19f).
The first thing that stands out is that Naomi regains her faith. «The Lord has not withdrawn His grace.«In addition, Naomi needs two expressions that will have a lasting effect on what happens next. She says that Boaz is a qarob (kinsman) and also a goel (solver). The solver is the next of kin who has to buy up the properties of impoverished men or men who have died without children. In the latter case, the redeemer must try to procure an heir for the property on behalf of the deceased by marrying the widow. The situation was that it was Boaz who was the second redeemer. There was another closer relative who had the «right of first redemption». This one would have liked to redeem the land of Elimelech, but did not want to marry the Moabite widow Ruth (4:1ff).
«Then Boaz said to the elders and to all the people present: «You are witnesses that today I bought all the property of Elimelech, Kiljon and Machlon from Naomi. Along with the land I have also purchased Ruth, the Moabite widow of Machlon. She is to be my wife so that the deceased will have an heir to carry on his name. In this way, his name will not be lost among his relatives and among the citizens of the city. You are all witnesses to this today.» » (4,9f).
Boaz became the solver of Naomi. The outlaw widow from the nation created by incest found a new home. The door opener for their new home among the people of God was Boaz the Solver. It is not by chance that the term «redeemer» bears this great resemblance to the word «deliverer». God pictures Moses as the one who will redeem Israel from the hand of the Egyptians (Exodus 6:6). Isaiah 41:14 also has this word goel in Hebrew: «[…] Fear not, I will help you; you have my word. Your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.» Ultimately, God redeems us all through Jesus Christ. He is the door opener to the one God, the heavenly Father. Through Jesus we gain access to the house of God. This supreme and prophetic meaning of this little word goel is already expressed in the Old Testament: «But for Zion and those from Jacob who turn from their sin, he comes as a redeemer. Upon this the Lord gives his word»(Isaiah 59:20).
Jesus is our Saviour. Through him as our door opener, we receive a home in the house of God. Through this being at home, we are no longer outlawed, but receive security, quality of life and an eternal future. Our name will never perish. Moreover, we are freed from dark shadows – whether the cause is incest or anything else. The house of God is also the house of bread (Bethlehem). There is always a barley harvest there and consequently enough bread. Jesus, a descendant of Ruth, says of himself: «I am the bread of life»(John 6:48). He has come to give us «To give life in all its fullness»(John 10:10).
Possible questions for the small groups
Read the Bible text: Ruth 1 and 4:1–12
- What does Bethlehem stand for and what does Moab stand for in the story? Why could the Elimelech/Noomi family not be happy in Moab?
- How did the institution of the solver function in ancient Israel? To what extent was it a door opener for a new homeland?
- What are the parallels with Jesus?
- How did the redemption of Boaz change Ruth’s situation?