Hard Choices. We all have to make them throughout our lives and we begin early.
- Which toy to play with and which one to share?
- Whose party to go to on Saturday.?
- Do I say yes to that drink, drug or questionable activity?
- Which college do I attend?
- Choose a major.
- Leave home or move away?
- Should I get married?
- Children: Yes or No?
- Is this job change the right decision?
- When should I retire?
You get my point. And those listed above are the obvious ones. Life is a series of choices: some life changing and others mundane.
Some of our hard choices are specific to being a mother, daughter or both and, as usual, I turn to women of the Bible for some wisdom.
HARD CHOICES OF RUTH AND NAOMI
My mom’s favorite woman of the Bible was Ruth, while I loved the story of Esther. After all, my heroine was not only beautiful, but brave too. So, I didn’t get why my mother admired Ruth. Her life lacked the glamour of Esther! (Ok, through adult eyes I now understand that Esther’s life was not really glamorous, but lonely and scary, but that is a post for another day.)
As I grew older, I understood Mom’s fascination with Ruth. While most of us will never live an Esther story, most of us live a Ruth life in some fashion. We fall in love, lose a loved one, make a difficult move, or deal with people who don’t like us! Additionally, Ruth’s attitude and trust in God is something we can emulate. As a child I didn’t recognize Ruth’s bravery, but she certainly was a woman of courage.
So, in honor of Mom, my Mother’s Day post is about the extraordinary relationship of Ruth and Naomi and the hard choices they made as mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
RUTH WAS A MOABITE AND PAGAN
Yes, you read that right. Ruth was a Moabite and the Israelites and Moabites did not like each other much, despite Moab being a son of Lot, who was a nephew of Abraham, the father of the Israelite people. God even banned Moabites from worship for ten generations.
Deuteronomy 23: 3—4 says: No Ammonite or Moabite may come into the meeting to worship the Lord, and none of their descendants for ten generations may come in. This is because the Ammonites and Moabites did not give you bread and water when you came out of Egypt. And they hired Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor in Northwest Mesopotamia, to put a curse on you. (NCV)
Additionally, Ruth probably worshipped a god named Chemosh , which means destroyer and required human sacrifice. Yet, she is only one of two women who have a book in the Bible named after her.
Well, you ask, how did that happen?
IT ALL BEGAN IN BETHLEHEM – YES, THE CITY THAT WOULD BE THE BIRTHPLACE OF JESUS.
I’m sure he was tired of struggling to feed his family. I imagine Elimelech approaching his wife with a declaration, “Naomi, “I’ve decided to move our family from Bethlehem to Moab. We must escape this famine and I hear that Moab has food.”
I envision Naomi protesting, “The Moabites hate the Israelites.”
Can you hear Elimelech’s retort? “Better to be hated than dead; and their culture and way of life is similar. Now, get Mahlon and Kilion ready for the journey. In Moab our two sons will eat.”
What’s a mother to do? Does she give in and leave family and friends for food, or stay in Israel where the one true God is worshiped?
Hard choices abound, and this was probably not the best choice. It seems that Naomi was making a mother’s decision without checking with the Father.
MOAB BECOMES HOME
I don’t know if the original plan was to live in Moab only a short time, but this family stayed there for years. The two boys became adults and married Moabite women. Mahlon married a young woman named Ruth.
Now we love Ruth, but let’s face it this was a poor choice. God expects us to marry within our faith. Where was Naomi? Did this mother encourage these marriages? We don’t know.
Unfortunately, Elimelech and both sons die in Moab, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law with no male protection. Hard choices haunt this duo. What to do next?
Eventually, a bitter and discouraged Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem.
This time it is Ruth who will leave all she ever knew behind.
Naomi was understandably bitter, but honestly, she was not the easiest person to be around. Naomi was even mad at the God she had taught Ruth to love.
Despite Naomi’s bitterness, she still offers Ruth a way out. She encourages her to stay in Moab and remarry, even though this would mean that neither son would have an heir and Naomi would make this long trip alone.
Ruth is determined to remain loyal to her new family and the God of Abraham. It is in the book of Ruth where we find the Scripture that is read at so many weddings.
Where you go, I will go. Where you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God (Ruth 1:16b NCV).
Surprisingly, these words were uttered by a young woman to her mother-in-law and had nothing to do with a romantic relationship.
THE RETURN TO BETHLEHEM
Finally, the two women arrived in Bethlehem. They were exhausted, dirty, and disheveled after the 120-mile trip. Although they likely traveled the Kings Highway, which was well traveled and safer than most routes, it was still a dangerous trek for two women to make alone. Certainly, there was no Motel 6 to leave the light on for them.
Because it had been many years, the people in Bethlehem asked one another, “Is this Naomi?”
At this juncture, Naomi takes no responsibility for some past choices and is ungrateful to God for providing a loyal and loving daughter-in-law in the midst of her great sorrow. Still bitter about her life and tired from a long trip, Naomi chastised her friends, “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very sad (Ruth 1:20b).
I wonder what Ruth thought about this declaration of a name change? Was she embarrassed, exasperated, or too tired to care? There’s nothing in the text to indicate that Ruth ever lost patience with Naomi. She seemed to truly care about this woman who, at some point in the past, had given her an example to follow in her newfound faith.
SO WHAT IS NEXT?
When I read about Ruth, I sense she was not only a woman of faith but a dreamer with a spirit of adventure. After all, it took courage an adventuresome spirit to embark on a move to a new country during Old Testament times.
Nonetheless, Ruth’s intrepid personality isn’t without practicality and there are more hard choices to make. The two women must eat and this young woman works gleaning in the fields, a menial and hard job that provides a small harvest.
However, it is her willingness to do this work and trust God for provision that brings a special man into her life.
GOD IS AT WORK EVEN WHEN THINGS SEEM HOPELESS
So where does she find work? In a field owned by a wealthy landowner named Boaz. No coincidence here, just divine intervention. You see, Boaz is a distant relative that was instantly attracted to Ruth.
The two seemed to be playing a flirtatious game and apparently Naomi didn’t think things were moving along fast enough; therefore, she decides to interfere with the best of intentions. You know kind of like Raymond’s mother on Everybody Loves Raymond!
Naomi encourages Ruth to sneak into Boaz’s threshing floor in her best clothes, with perfume to boot! Wait until the man is asleep, she told the young woman, then lie at his feet while he sleeps. Basically Ruth was proposing to Boaz. You know, sometimes you just got to take matters into your own hands.
There is a ton to unpack here about the: what, why, and how of this strategy. It was well known that during harvest time the men gathered at work during the day, and it was wine, women, and song at night. It would be likely that Boaz was at least tipsy, if not drunk.
So, how much did Ruth understand about what she was doing? Was she naïve or in agreement with Naomi? We really don’t know. What we do know is that she replied, “I will do everything you say.” This demonstrated trust – the kind of trust you have in a person because you know she always has your best interest at heart. You know, like your mother.
WE KNOW THAT IN EVERYTHING GOD WORKS FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.
Well, it all worked out. The two married and they had a son named Obed, who fathered a son named Jesse, who was the father of David. Yes, I am talking about David, the famous King of Israel.
Since Jesus was a descendant of David, Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus. She is even mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ.
So, where does this leave Naomi?
Boaz agreed tp wed Ruth as her kinsman redeemer. Under the laws of Israel this child was Naomi’s grandson, because her son died without an heir. He would be responsible as an adult to care for Naomi and would carry on his father’s name.
Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman redeemer, setting the stage for the next Redeemer born in Bethlehem!
HARD CHOICES BY MOTHER-IN-LAW NAOMI:
- To leave Bethlehem to feed her children.
- Accept hated Moabites as daughters-in-law.
- Looking out for the best interest of Ruth’s future, even if it meant traveling to Bethlehem alone.
- Helping Naomi navigate her relationship with Boaz, despite the change in their relationship if Ruth married.
HARD CHOICES MADE BY DAUGHTER-IN-LAW RUTH:
- Ruth was loyal to God even when things got tough.
- The Bible tells us to honor and care for our parents, and Ruth did.
- Ruth was generous to Naomi with her time and resources.
You don’t get many sermons on Mother’s Day on the book of Ruth, but you should. For this is an excellent example of a mother daughter relationship, despite the fact they are related through marriage. Here are two women who were committed to one another and put each other before self. This is true love, romantic or otherwise.
MOTHER’S DAY AND GOD’S GRACE
For many, Mother’s Day can be joyful. Breakfast in bed, gifts, a special dinner, and kids and husband waiting on you.
However, I know that Mother’s Day can be a sad time too. Our mothers have passed and we miss the things we loved and even the moments that made us crazy.
Surely Mother’s Day brings back hurtful memories for the children of mothers who were neglectful, abusive, or just didn’t care. Then there are the women who longed for a child, but it never happened for them. Happy Mother’s Day makes her feel left out of a club she longed to be part of for many years. How about mother’s who long to hear from their children who won’t call?
Of course, there are those who lost the child, or one of the children, who made her a mother in the first place. Happy Mothers’ Day can ring hollow for them.
Well, whatever our circumstances, be encouraged by the story of Ruth and Naomi. Despite the mistakes and devastation in the lives of these women, God’s grace abounds. He brings earthly joy to Naomi and Ruth through Boaz, a kinsman redeemer. More importantly, the world is one step closer to the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
If you enjoy romance, I encourage you to read this beautiful Old Testament story this Mother’s Day. Like schmaltzy movies, a couple falls in love, encounters an obstacle, and then there is the happily ever after ending. And it is all because of a loving and trusting mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship!
If you want to read more about Ruth and other women of the Bible, check out my book on Amazon: Fake News About Women: Embrace God’s Truth About His Final Creation.
For a more traditional Mother’s Day post, check out Oh Mom!
COMMENTS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME
Share your feelings about Mother’s Day or tell us about your worst or best Mother’s Day.
Do you have thoughts about my take on the Ruth and Naomi saga? Let us know.
HAVE A BLESSED MOTHER’S DAY!