I attend a women’s Bible study at a church near my home. This fall, we’ll be looking at how God works in the process of transition in our lives. We’re using the book of Ruth, along with some of the psalms her grandson David wrote, as the foundation for the study. I’m looking forward to facilitating three of the sessions for this thoughtful, reflective group.
In a lovely little convergence, I was asked to write a short devotional (below) on the theme of transition for the most recent Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies newsletter. Who better to highlight the essence of transition – the courage of a step into an uncertain future – than the grieving wife and mother, Naomi?
At the height of a famine, Naomi left her Bethlehem home with her husband and two sons and headed to the nearby region of Moab, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. What may have been intended to be a temporary sojourn for the family stretched on for years. Moab became home for them.
While they lived there, Naomi’s husband passed away. Her sons married two local women named Orpah and Ruth. A decade passed, and the family continued to live their lives in Moab. But when both of her sons died, Naomi was forced to uproot from the place she’d learned to call home. There was no place in Moabite society for a childless widow from an Israelite tribe. Scripture tells us that Naomi heard through the grapevine that things had changed back in Bethlehem:
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. 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. –Ruth 1:6, 7
The book of Ruth details what happens in the wake of Naomi’s decision to return to Bethlehem. As we trace their journey in the book’s four chapters, it is easy to celebrate the faith and loving loyalty of the young widow Ruth to leave the comfort of her own people so she could accompany her grieving mother-in-law to a place she’d never been. We honor Naomi’s Bethlehem relative, Boaz, who cares for the pair of women, eventually becoming Ruth’s husband and the father of a child she probably thought she’d never bear after years of infertility in her first marriage. That child, Obed, would become King David’s grandfather, and is in the direct line of the family into which Jesus would be born a millennium later. I used to read the book of Ruth and see Naomi as a tragic figure in the story. White she rallies to coach her daughter-in-law towards a new beginning, three thousand years later, her overwhelming sorrow at the start of the short book is what stood used to stand out to me as I read the Biblical account.
Recently, I’ve been contemplating how God is at work in the transitions taking place in my own life. I now recognize how much courage it must have required of Naomi to take those first uncertain steps on the road back to Bethlehem. It had been years since she’d last lived there, and there was hope, but no certain guarantee, that she’d find sanctuary there. Her losses and circumstances propelled her from Moab toward her old home town. We can read the end of her story in Ruth 4 where we find her cradling her daughter-in-law’s miracle baby. Naomi’s redemption and ours would not have been possible if she had not taken those first steps toward Bethlehem.
Most of us do not choose change unless we are compelled by circumstances to do so. Naomi’s story reminds us all that God is at work in every transition we experience in our lives, even when – and perhaps, especially when – the circumstances that brought them on seem bitter, confusing or painful. May God give us the faith of Naomi in our own times of transition so that we’ll be able to take one step, then another, following God into the future.