“ON EAGLES’ WINGS MINISTRIES”
“Did God establish a man’s world?” Part 11—September, 2010.
“Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.” Ruth 1:1.
In part seven of this series, we studied the story of Ruth and we began at the headlined verse. On this second visit, we want to examine other vital lessons on faith, unbelief, being unequally yoked together with unbelievers and such the like. We want to see what vital lessons are on the table for us to learn from, because this is the way life unfolds. We are always able to learn from the failures and successes of others, if we don’t let those real life lessons go to waste. Quite often while larger than life lessons stare us in the face, we glance and walk away treating them as trivial, and not important enough for more careful scrutiny. In the previous study much of the focus was on Ruth, but this time we want to turn the spotlight on Naomi, but we will first call to the forefront the husband and Dad, Elimelech.
Because of a severe famine in their native country of Bethlehem-judah, perhaps upon the insistence of the head of the household, Elimelech, they went into the land of Moab to escape the famine. First issue on the table for scrutiny and analysis is the difference of national heritage, religious allegiance, and what each country and people stood for. Although Moab was only about thirty miles from Bethlehem, in those days under primitive conditions, it could have been a hundred miles and it would not make a great deal of difference. In recent years more importance is being placed upon the meaning of a person’s name, the numeric value of each name, and the meaning of trees, rivers, hilltops, villages and towns.
We are not given any background facts about the genealogy of Naomi and Elimelech, except that they were prominent members of the Hebrew race. Elimelech, who married Naomi, is thought to have belonged to one of the outstanding families in Israel, being a brother of Salmon, prince of Judah, who married Rahab, whose son was Boaz, who in turned married Ruth and begat Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David. Thus this woman from Moab, a country where idol worship marked their tradition, figured directly in the lineage of the Messiah. A change of country in this saga portends trouble in the making for this family. As Hebrews they worshipped the one true God of Israel, while in Moab they sacrificed to idols. A fair conclusion is that God brought this famine upon Israel for sins they had committed. Under such dire conditions, Elimelech decided to transplant to another country where there was food. Suppose the famine was indeed a punishment from God for the sins of the people, would pulling up stakes and relocating to a foreign country be the answer?
Hypothetically, suppose God began to chastise America for many acts that God deems to be abominable, just how many Christians would have the urge, and the wherewithal to relocate in a foreign country? Furthermore, if all God fearing people pulled up stakes and headed out of town by the crack of dawn, how would this country correct itself? So our very first thought is that perhaps Elimelech should have sought out the synagogue, or form prayer groups in homes, to see if a call to repentance would appease God’s wrath and he would send food again in his mercy. The name Elimelech means “My God is King.” But with such a noble and meaningful name, he is on his way to a land where his God is not known or worshipped. Had he believed in what his name stood for, he could have stood his ground and put his trust in his God who is able to prepare a table in the wilderness; who is able to make the desert blossom as a rose; who is able to make the parch ground become pools of water; and cause the lame man to leap as a hart. But this man took the wrong turn in the road and took his family with him, because they were leaving the safety of the Rock of Ages, for a future that would be built on shifting sands. The narrative of scripture has catalogued real life stories of good men and women, also of bad women and men. We read of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Esau and Jacob, of Rahab, of Gedeon, of Barak, of Samson, of Jephthae, of David, of Samuel and a long list of others too many to mention. What is the question that we ask ourselves? Why were their life stories chronicled in the scriptures that we have sitting on our mantle piece or neatly tucked away in our attaché case in readiness for the next trip to church? Let us agree on this one thing; “nothing was written in the scriptures simply to fill space.” “Holy men of God spake as they were moved (inspired) by the Holy Ghost.” And they are “profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect (fully grown—matured) thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” 2nd Peter 1:21;2nd Timothy 3:16,17.
Paul takes us a bit closer in his first letter to the saints at Corinth. “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our ensamples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand. Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” 1st Corinthians 10:5-11.
This takes us back to our featured guests chosen for this study. In our lesson we notice from the very first act by this family of four that they were headed for trouble. Sometimes we are persuaded to make changes in our lives, say, in our job situation. A new job could offer more money, better medical insurance, and other fringe benefits. But here is one key known to us, that possibly Elimelech did not know therefore making decisions were not as clear cut as it can be for us. The key is: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” Romans 8:14. But in spite of this tool designed for us to remain in our Father’s will and committed to his purpose, it is still possible for us to veer off the correct path. We sometimes set up our own obstacles, such as our impulsiveness, our urges, and most subtle is when we subconsciously or even consciously make our choices before we pray for direction from the Holy Spirit. It is only when we remain neutral and uncommitted on an issue that we can better discern the perfect will of God.
A better job, and in the case of this family, plenty of food and drink are not necessarily an integral part of God’s will. Let’s face it, there are some jobs we would not accept, no matter what the salary is, not when God’s peace is nowhere to be found, and the total environment is not conducive to spiritual growth. Have you ever been in a situation where your soul becomes troubled much the same way Lot lived with a troubled soul? I am not sure how this family of four adjusted to life among the Moabites, but we could speculate that when the two sons married Moabite women something had to give by someone. That was Solomon’s down fall! If he was able to turn the hearts of his strange women toward Jehovah, I suppose he would somehow come out ahead, but it was the reverse with him; the strange women turned his heart from following closely in the steps of his father.
One bright side to this saga emerged even while the family was still in Moab. Apparently, Naomi got along very well with her daughters in law, and the death of their husbands seemingly drove the three women ever so closer together. I suppose they piled all their grief into one and banded together to muster strength to overcome in the long run. Let us offer a brief overview of the woman Naomi! We know that her name means “my joy” “my bliss” or “pleasantness of Jehovah.” These names are suggestive of all that is charming, agreeable, attractive, until circumstances and ten years of sojourn in a strange country eroded and vanquished the pleasantness that Naomi was known for. Perhaps her radiant smiles had faded from her furrowed brow, that left the feature of a woman that seems to be beaten down, and perhaps a little bitter inside. Ten years ago, she left her native Bethlehem “the house of bread” for a land with a name that meant “waste” or “nothingness.” By this time in her life, Moab was certainly living up to the true meaning of its name. All the men in her life were gone forever, and the future with her two daughters in laws was uncertain at best. But we have to believe that she lived with hope in her heart for good news that would kindle the flame that burned dimly within her.
One day hope paid off for Naomi, because she got word that God had visited her people with bread. The famine was over and she did not need much prodding to make plans to return to her own country. Ten years could seem like a long time, or it could be like yesterday depending on the circumstances. It is said that as soon as the baby is born, the mother forgets the pain and is filled with joy over her new born babe. It could be hoped for Naomi’s sake that her trip back home would quickly erase the ravages of ten years in a strangle land. Naomi on her way back home sounded like a broken old woman as she tried to convince her daughters in law to return to their own country. Her reasoning was simple and made sense! In a realistic set of facts she entreated them by saying; “Why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also tonight, and should have sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.” Ruth 1:11-13.
What I love most about this passage appears at the end! Naomi said that the hand of the Lord was gone out against her. Perhaps some will criticize her assessment, but in it she gives no glory or credit to the devil. In whatever situation or circumstance she found herself in, she recognized the God of Israel as always been at the helm. Some could accuse her for blaming God for the mistakes she and the rest of her family made in the first place. But the truth is that it shows growth and understanding in recognizing God even in what seems to be wrong decisions. We are told; "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:6. Let us not overlook what the verse said; it said that we should acknowledge God in ALL our ways, and it did not emphatically refer to only our good ways. If we do this, God gets all the glory even when we slip, slide, and bump our heads. This concept may be hard for some religious folk, but there is no better or correct way to put it.
Job had that same mindset when he said; “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him: but I will maintain mine own way before him.” Job 13:15. Although Naomi spoke of God’s hand working against her, I think that deep inside her soul, she knew that her God would never leave her or forsake her. She recognized his hand in her daily affairs and that burned as a light inside of her like a candle in the night. That little light kept her soul alive and implanted hope that gave her strength; enough strength for herself and for her two daughters in law. Her love for them that actually knitted their souls together as one was not simply human admiration and the right to love others. Hers was not based on a mother-in-law—daughters—in-law mutual relationship. Theirs was not merely a plutonic relationship. It was not based solely on what is called phileo love which means a fondness or admiration for others.
In spite of her losses, her grief, and the stress that began to build as they pulled up stakes and headed out of town ten years earlier, there was a part of this noble woman that never wilted or failed to radiate. Perhaps it was this inward pearl and what it emitted that kept her daughters in law so closely drawn to her. Some of us can tell from life experiences that the inward glow that burns as a part of God’s eternal flame can be contagious in its effect upon others. We never have to shout aloud in the dark that we have a light; we simply let the light shine and even elderly people who turned in to bed early, will draw their curtains and wonder aloud, “who is that going down the road so late in the night?” The message is contained in the light!
Please take this in the humble spirit with which I share it, and I do this only to validate the point I just raised. I think it was in the year 1980 that I first visited El Paso, Texas, and shared some meetings with Sister Ruth Carter, Brother Mario Parra and many others from Las Cruces, New Mexico. I stayed with Brother Carl Dean and his family in their trailer home in Chaparral, New Mexico, going in the direction of Alamogordo. On my way back from California, I stopped in El Paso again for more meetings. It was then that Brother Dean testified that when I came to stay in their home, the presence of the Lord came also in a very strong way, and for days after I left the presence of the Lord lingered in their home. Back in the 1960s I visited a home in the east of London, in a town called Bow, and during my visit the lady of the house said; “Evangelist, thank you for visiting today, because you brought the presence of the Lord with you.” Could it be that Naomi had that kind of effect upon others? We may never know the extent of her love for God, and how well his presence hovered about her, but her daughters in law clung to her, and perhaps many Moabites were deeply affected by her.
After only ten years away, Naomi, who left a vibrant, radiant middle aged woman, was now approaching her native village, seemingly aged beyond her years. All the loveliness that her name represented was now a distant memory. As they approached the edge of town, the city came out to meet them; for whatever reason (we may never know) they asked, “Is this Naomi?” Was it because she had changed so much? Was it because in her features she appeared as a grumpy, bitter old lady? Or could it be that after all these years, they could not believe how well she seemed to be? Again, we may never know! But here response to their welcome spoke volumes! “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” Ruth 1:20,21.
We can deem this to be a complaint against God uttered in bitterness and anger, or we can see this as Naomi’s recognition of how God dealt with her (for good) although admitting the pain she had to endure through these lessons God taught her. Another view of this issue could be framed in a picture of Naomi clearing God for his actions, because it was her fault for leaving her people and the worship of her God in the “house of bread” for life among a heathen tribe in what is deemed as a “waste or a place of nothingness.” Therefore her statement in this sense was not an accusation against God, but rather justifying God for his action in her affairs.
We are told in scripture that God’s judgments are righteous and just, and are designed to be corrective. Many times we hear folks blame God for taking just actions to correct their mistakes, rather than honoring him for his judicious acts of correction. It seems to me that more punishment is usually meted out to wrong doers that blame others for their own misdeeds. It is hard for many to declare that God is always right and just and in fact admit that he does not deal with us according to our deeds or misdeeds, as the case may be. “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Psalm 103:10,14.
Naomi came back to her home and to her people, perhaps with a severe feeling of defeat, or feeling that she had learned a lesson that was good not only for herself, but from which others could learn and avoid similar pitfalls. Sometimes we are chosen to be the “guinea pig,” the ones who go through what looks like experiments for the good of others. Vessels fitted for destruction are specially designed to exhibit the wrath of God, and vessels fitted for mercy are designed to exhibit the mercies of God; but the whole process, both ways, is exactly how God has engineered it. In the end no blame can be assigned either way because the players cannot lay blame against the person who wrote the script, selects the cast, and directs the play.
Let us involve Job for a moment! “Then said his wife unto him. Dost thou still retain thine integrity” curse God and die. But he said unto her, Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of the God, and shall we not receive evil? In all this did not Job sin with his lips.” Job 2:9,10. Good and bad are contrasts thrown in life’s cycles as a learning process in which we learn to exercise the power of choice, were there only good in the garden, it would have been useless for man to be given the power to “choose between” for a choice cannot be made between “one” so God planted two trees with different fruit bearing different characteristics and producing different results. When man did use his power of choice, God said, He is now become as one of us knowing good and evil. Genesis 3:22.
Like learning to swim or to ride a bike, or even to drive a car, mistakes are made. During my time learning to swim, I swallowed a lot of water and got dunked a few times, but I was not a failure and I did not die. It is all within the learning process that comes with a basket full of dos and don’ts, ups and downs, hits and misses. In fact, life is like a continuous classroom, and throughout our days, we will continue to learn, not because we are so backward, hard headed, and as some say “dumb,” but because life and its values is an expanding landscape. A friend of mine in the Silver Spring district of Maryland once asked God to have him come into his mind. The Lord finally responded one day and said” “Come on in, but there is no end to my mind.” The science of medicine is ongoing, so are all the other sciences upon which the perpetuation of life, and world’s communities’ well being depend. Research never ends and one discovery never satisfies the appetite of a scientist; it only spurs the desire to engage into more extensive research to a point where cost is not an issue.
We can sing the praises of Naomi and the fatal decisions that led her away from the safety zone into which she lived and learned to worship the God of Israel. We can admire her faith that grew over the years that eventually became the bulwark for her faith and life in a strange country. We cannot but admire her strength and her faith, that in the absence of her husband and her grown sons in the midst of an idolatrous nation, her relationship with God remained strong enough to impact the life choices of her two daughters in law. Both of them saw enough to love and desire to share, and enough for them to decide to return to Bethlehem with their mother in law.
There is a story of an eaglet and a chicken being held in the same coop. The little eaglet stood on its perch fixing its eyes on the sky outside the door of its cage. In the meantime, the little chicken was quite at home scratching through the mud for any bits of food it could find. One day a break came when the door of the cage was left unlocked, and the eaglet made its break and soared above the hills to the rock where its home was. I see Naomi as the little eaglet, living as it were, cooped up in an undesirable country and lifestyle. She had to live the best way she could for ten long years, but all the time, she kept her ears opened for news from back home. It is important for us to learn to keep the line of communication open for we never know when good news will break.
Finally the news she had been waiting for came through loud and clear! “Then she arose with her daughters in law that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread. Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.” Ruth 1:6,7. They were not far gone when Naomi persuaded Orpah to return to her country and to her people. But Naomi’s life and love so greatly impacted the life of Ruth that this young Moabite decided to convert and serve the God of the Hebrews. In her pleadings with Naomi she clinched her conversion by saying; “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” In other words, thy God will become my God! I am now relinquishing my idols, my culture and my nation, to embrace all that you hold dear to yourself. If this isn’t true conversion, I don’t what else is!
I think we can safely say that when Ruth arrived in town her heart was already in the right place and she came with the right frame of mind. She was now open and ready to follow where ever her new found God will lead, and embrace whatever he sends her way. It was not long before she ended up in the field of Boaz, who became her husband, who in turn brought this Moabite directly into the lineage of Jesus. This is quite a fete for the young lady who grew up as a heathen and idol worshipper in a land where the God of heaven was not known or worshipped.
As we read the lessons painted on the canvas of time by men and women who left foot prints in the sands of time, there are always little nuggets of truth popping up from time to time. Each time we take a trip through their stories, we seem to learn more truths, and seem to get a hold of tools that we can add to our journeyman’s kit. It is like discovering something that was not there before, and that is why the bible never grows old. It seems to be continually renewing itself as truth upon truth seem to edge their way to the forefront, little by little and line upon line. We cannot exhaust God’s word, especially the word that we have taken off the written page and has engrafted it upon the tables of our heart.
We should never treat these lessons lightly that have come to us through pain and sufferings of others, who were not seeking to change the world by their noble deeds, but were simply people meeting the daily struggles of life. They had no religious training as we have today, with exposure to television, radio, DVDs, books galore, live seminars, weekend meetings in homes and in hotels, and finger snapping—feet stomping camp meetings. Yet, God in his goodness has preserved for our learning the humble lives of these people who can be viewed as heroes and heroines, trailblazers and trend setters. They were trailblazers in their own rights, even though they lived and struggled much the same way we do today. These descriptions they would reject in a jiffy, but to us, that is what their story has become. I like how Hebrews noted this: “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39,40. Let us bring up the rear and close the book.
Royce O. Kennedy