Thursday, April 20, 2017

Women in Scripture: Ruth and Naomi (Titus 2 in Reverse)

Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said (to Naomi), “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."
Like most women, I've always had a particular affinity toward the portrait of redemption handed down in the story of Ruth. The sweeping tale of Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, restoring the line of Elimelech by taking Naomi's daughter-in-law, Ruth, as his beloved wife upstages Disney by a mile. That such a noble man as Boaz would be willing to risk his own inheritance so that the inheritance of a deceased family member would be left intact defies conventional wisdom and truly boggles the rational mind. This is a man who understands love and covenant. Learning that the son of this Gentile widow and her kinsman-redeemer would not only become the grandfather of King David, but eventually would even be named in the bloodline genealogy of the Messiah, ought to inspire us all, especially those of us who were not born into the covenant and raised in the church.

An equally inspiring relational dynamic in this redemption story tends to be overlooked.  Ruth's relationship with her mother-in-law, Naomi, models something of a role reversal between the younger and older women. Both women suffered devastating losses, as told in first chapter of the narrative. During a time of great famine in the land of Moab, both Ruth and Naomi lost their husbands. Naomi suffered greatly in a land far from her original, because she not only lost her husband, but also both of her sons as well. Several times in the first chapter of Ruth, Naomi stated that she believed the Lord's hand had gone out against her. She even told Ruth and the other women to no longer call her Naomi, changing her name to "Mara" instead, which meant bitter. Naomi had grown bitter in Moab and believed the Lord had dealt bitterly with her by bringing great calamity upon her family.

After Naomi's pleas for Ruth to stay with her own family and with her Moabite god, Ruth, the younger woman, responded in a surprising way. Ruth, in faith, chose to bind herself to her mother-in-law Naomi, to Naomi's people, and to Naomi's God - the only One, true God. Ruth's dedication and commitment was no small sacrifice. Ruth chose to forsake her family, her ethnic culture, her past, and her previous belief system to follow Naomi into a completely different community and way of life.

Meanwhile, Naomi seemed have forgotten her true identity as child of the God. She lost her Biblical and covenantal perspective. Naomi's example is far from the Titus 2 ideal of the older woman of the covenant community. Yet, because of Ruth's covenant commitment to Naomi and her people, God not only restores Naomi to the covenant community, but He also provides a kinsman redeemer who blessed them both -- and eventually redeemed the rest of us, too

This was no ordinary friendship. The younger woman, Ruth, demonstrated real covenant commitment through active faith, love, and encouragement to the older woman, Naomi, to Naomi's people, and most especially to the Lord. Because of Ruth, the Lord redeemed the devastation that Naomi and Ruth experienced in Moab, while Elimelech and Naomi were separated from their covenant community. Because of Ruth, we see the Lord's providential provision to transform Naomi's life from an untimely tale of loss and discouragement to a phenomenal epic of life-giving rescue.  In this regard, the text and the older women in Naomi's life speak for themselves

Ruth 4:14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
We could use a new generation of younger women like Ruth who make the active decision to commit to their local covenant community and to the older women in their midst, like Naomi. During seasons of trial and suffering, whether dealing with the loss of a loved one, ill health, or just lagging faith, most older women could really use the energy and enthusiasm that younger women often bring to their interactions. As a middle woman, I feel the tug to be both a more committed younger woman, as well as a more gracious older woman. 

May I be willing to open up my life and share it with those who are newer in the faith -- and to sit, listen, and learn from the older and wiser women around me.

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