1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. 3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
Monday 16th January
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
This week, we begin reading the story of Ruth. Her story begins with the information that the country is being ruled by judges. That is to say, there was no centralised government, no rule of law, and the nation was fragmented and chaotic. As if that isn’t bad enough, a famine breaks out. The situation is so dire that people are moving to other countries in order to be able to find food for their families. We are introduced to a family of four, who migrate to Moab, because they are hungry.
That the family migrates is reported without comment. But think about the reality. What should they take with them? Where will they live when they get there? Moab and Israel are not exactly friends – what kind of reception will they receive when they get there? Have you ever been in such a position? According to the World Food Programme, 2022, was a year of unprecedented hunger throughout the world and that as many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. Pray for politicians and agencies who have power over food distribution throughout the world. They list war and climate change, cost of living crisis, and the aftermath of covid as causative factors. Pray too for the staff at GCM as they work with people who arrive in this country and are destitute.
Tuesday 17th January
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
If it is not bad enough to be in a place you don’t want to be, the situation is made much worse by the death of Elimelek. Naomi is now a widow. In these days women were entirely dependent on men – so she will be effectively destitute. However, she has two sons who would presumably look after her.
Think back to a time when you were bereaved. What was the best kind of help that you received? We all react differently to bereavement – some withdraw, others want to be with other people. Naomi, at this stage had her sons to care for her. How do we care for people who are bereaved? In cultures like Naomi’s it could have meant destitution but in ours it could also mean acute loneliness, isolation and confusion. Living without the life partner can be a dreadful experience. Pray for someone you now who has lost someone very close to them.
We are told that the two sons marry local women – women of Moab who, simply because the are Moabites, will be objects of suspicion in the wider family. Naomi’s family increases but also becomes more complicated. After about ten years the two sons also die. Naomi has lost all her immediate family now and there are only her daughters-in-law. After bereavement is is not uncommon for families to split up. It is not uncommon for arguments to break out and old resentments to be uttered. It can be a tense time for families as relationships have to be redefined. Please pray for any family you know which is fragile after a bereavement.
Wednesday 18th January
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
It has been a long time since Naomi left her own country. Now she hears that things are better in her home country, and she decides to return. She had left her home with a family, and now she prepares to return with two women who could desert her at any time. Why might she want to return? Have you ever been far away from home and longing to return, even after many years? Pray for those you know who are homesick and longing to return to the culture and people that they know.
Over the Christmas period I watched a short film on TV called The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. The story centred round a boy who was looking for home. It was a highly simplistic children’s tale, beautifully animated and voiced by actors. The little boy, whose name was not given, was desperately seeking “home”. It was unclear throughout where that home was and we heard nothing about who might be there. Towards the end of the film the child looks over a small village full of welcome looking homes, bright and warm in the midst of the snow. But he does not seem to know anyone there and in the end it is decided by the group that home is not a place, but those who love you. For the boy that was the horse, the mole and the fox. Home, the message is, is people – not a place. What do you think of this idea? If home is not a place but people, where is home for believers in this world. Who or what is it that provides us with “home”? What difference does this make to how you see yourself in this world?
Thursday 19th January
7 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.
We might say that Naomi is displaced and homeless, and she has lost all her family. She is now highly vulnerable and alone. She is widowed and both of her sons have died – she is alone as a woman in a culture which does not recognise women as equal to men. She now decides to return to her country after ten years – this will be difficult for her, and there is no real guarantee that she will be welcomed back home, having lived in a culture which was considered to be undesirable for so many years. People who have been away from their homeland for many years often find it very difficult to settle back into their own culture. They have changed over the years and may no longer fit in at home. People back home have got used to life without them and it can be difficult for them to slot back into the old life. Many overseas mission personnel experience this, as do people who live abroad for many years. Do you know anyone who has recently returned to their own culture after many years away? Pray for them today as they learn to settle in once more.
Friday 19th January
8 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. 9 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 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
The fact that Naomi’s two daughters-in-law go with her is remarkable. It suggests that they were very close, and that the two women felt safe with their mother in law. But Naomi is a remarkable woman. You might think that in her very vulnerable situation she would have her own interests at the top of her mind. She might want company, she might be safer travelling with two other women than travelling on her own. But her concern is for the two women. She seems to know that she will not be able to provide for her two daughters in law. Women in that culture relied on men to provide for them – a woman would find fulfilment and security only with a husband. Naomi is a widow – she cannot provide for the women. So she urges them to return to their mothers’ homes and find another husband. They are more likely to find another husband in their own land than in Israel.
How do you react to Naomi’s attitude toward her daughters-in-law? Have you ever seen or experienced selfless behaviour like this? Have you ever seen someone put the needs of others before themselves in such a way? How did it help the situation? Or did it cause problems? Naomi’s behaviour reminds me of Jesus’ words to his disciples “to love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus’ whole life was characterised by selfless love for others. How well do you think the church demonstrates this kind of love today? Pray that God will enable us to be loving in the way that he wants us to be.
Saturday 20th January
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Sunday 21st January
14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.