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Monday, November 5, 2018
Today’s Scripture Reading | Ruth 1:1–18
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
Although the Book of Ruth is easily overlooked amidst the longer histories of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings, its themes of loyalty, faithfulness, and the creation of new family are universal and useful. The story starts with tragedy: Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah’s husbands all die within the first five verses, leaving Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah widows. Ruth and Orpah are Moabites, meaning that they were not Jewish by birth, and as such Naomi encourages them to return to their lands and families to start anew.
Orpah ultimately acquiesces, but Ruth “clings” to Naomi, promising that Naomi’s people are now her people and Naomi’s God is now hers as well. This idea of religious conversion was a radical concept at the time—and is still surprisingly rare even today—but Ruth’s choice eventually leads to her marrying Boaz and becoming the great-grandmother of King David.
The author of Ruth certainly had this Davidic lineage in mind when writing this story, but later readers and interpreters have chosen instead to reflect on the Hebrew concept of hesed—a word meaning “loving-kindness”—that is present in this story. The main characters all go above and beyond the basic commitments that they have made to one another, highlighted by Ruth’s famous speech in verses 16–17.
All of us carry commitments to others in our lives, but this story encourages us to truly practice hesed in our daily living—going beyond obligation to truly caring for the welfare of those around us.
Compassionate and loving God, may you guide and inspire me today to show your loving-kindness—your hesed—with all those whom you have placed in my life. Amen.
Written by Matt Helms, Associate for Children and Family Ministry
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