“No, my daughters. My bitterness is much worse than yours because the Lord has sent me so much trouble.” Ruth 1:13 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]
I’ve called these devotional studies in the Book of Ruth, Stories of Redemption, because of the many turns in the larger story of Ruth.
The story of Ruth the Moabitess is a glimmer of light in the midst of the national darkness Israel went through in the periodic leadership of the Judges sent by God.
The theme of redemption runs throughout Ruth but looks ahead in a prophetic way to Jesus—the Redeemer of all humanity.
The bitter goodby
In this story, Naomi plans to return to her homeland with her two widowed daughter-in-laws, Orpah and Ruth. As they prepare to head to Judah, Naomi realizes how difficult the travel and transition back home will be for all three of them.
The two Moabite women would be outsiders back in Judah and Ruth expresses her own bitterness about her situation and blames God for it. Naomi urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their own people, land, and gods, then speaks a blessing over them.
As she kisses them goodby, Orpah and Ruth weep out loud and insist on going back with Naomi. But Naomi tries to reason with them—she doesn’t have anything to offer them and they’d be better off in their own familiar homeland.
There’s an obvious bond between these three women forged by time and shared hardships. Each of them is without husband or children. They’ve grieved together in their life together.
At this point, Naomi shares her heart in an honest and open way—
No, my daughters. My bitterness is much worse than yours because the Lord has sent me so much trouble.
Once again, they erupt with loud grieving with the realization a choice needs to be made and Naomi tries to clarify her self, her decision, and the inevitable separation.
Orpha kisses Naomi goodby but Ruth clings to her.
This is a redemptive turning point. It may not seem so at first glance but it is a significant event as the story unfolds. It’s a choice with future impact seen later in the larger story.
Grief, separation, and choice
Imagine the bond between these three women. They were family and they shared common memories and grief. The two Moabite women seem to have a sense of hope and shelter in Naomi’s God.
Saying goodby and moving far away brings the reality of separation into clear focus. It is often preceded and followed with grief. It was especially so in those days. Once they separated, there would be no going back to see one another either way.
Our freedom to travel from one place to another now was unknown even a century ago except for the very wealthy. Only those looking to find a new life in a new place would risk this kind of separation. Even so, it isn’t without its own often immeasurable costs.
The missionaries who set out for distant lands in years gone by knew the grief of goodbyes and separation from loved ones and their homeland. Many knew they would never return. They either didn’t have the resources or knew they were destined to die while on mission.
Even now, cross-cultural missionaries have a lot of goodbyes to say. Some are much harder than others. Every missionary experiences this not just when they leave but while on the field. You need to learn to say goodby often as people come and go in your life.
When we left our family and friends, our home culture, and home church to move to the Philippines, we also left our oldest son to finish school. That was the hardest goodby and the roughest year for us as a family on the field.
It was difficult when we said many final goodbyes as we brought our ministry to a close several years ago. But each goodby came because of a choice we made.
There are some goodbyes where other people leave and we remain. Some separations are not our choice but the result of circumstances beyond our control.
Where’s the redemption in all this?
Redemption can come when we make the choice to say goodby and move on because we see beyond the separation and grief of those goodbyes. Sometimes it’s a matter of faith to see beyond the situation. Other times God’s grace and comfort help us move forward in faith.
Naomi only saw her own situation from her point of view. She was bitter and blamed God. Orpah realized the logic of Naomi’s choice to go back to her homeland and people. So she chose to stay in her homeland with her people and her gods.
But Ruth saw beyond her situation by faith. She trusted in Naomi’s God and had hope. As the story continues, we’ll see how pivotal a figure Ruth becomes in these stories of redemption, even the redemption story for all humanity.
Times of separation and grief are also times of choice. We can choose to hang on to the bitterness they bring or let it go of it. We can choose to blame or trust God. We can see only loss or look forward by faith beyond the loss.
When you face a difficult goodby or separation, ask the Lord for grace to handle it well, comfort to endure it, and faith to see beyond it.
Devo Scripture Text
With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband.
Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them?
No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. (Ruth 1:7-14 NIV)