Friend to Beloved: Ruth 1:18-21

Ruth enjoins the covenant, and the covenant curses, upon herself to entwine her life with Naomi’s. Rather than elation, we find an all too familiar reality: disappointment, despite the work of God.

After hooing and hawing to get Orpah and Ruth to leave her alone, Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined to stay with her. Despite her talkativeness before, Naomi is silent, despite seeing something extraordinary. Ruth’s faith, and her clinging to Naomi, is something the prophets would one day dream of.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities.  The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’  Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” – Zechariah 8:20b-23

But now, Naomi is silent. She finally returns to the House of Bread, only to remain silent. She hears the words of God, she is joined by a Gentile woman who is willing to become an Israelite, and she sees a microcosmic action that forms the basis of the prophetic eschatology, yet she is silent.

Her return causes a stir. “Is this Naomi?”, they ask. No – she answers – no, Naomi is gone, for I am bitter, Mara, now. Notice this: Naomi says that she went out full, yet returned empty. This is because her husband, the failed Elimelech, led her out of Israel in a false exodus. The story of Ruth is, so far, the story of failed husbands. Mara’s failed husband is shown in her vision of Yahweh as a failed husband. “The Almighty has dealt bitterly with me; Yahweh has brought me back empty; the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.”

Her chiastic complaint against God is a covenant curse:
A. Call me Bitter, for Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
-B. I went away full, and Yahweh has brought me back empty.
-B’. Why call me Naomi when Yahweh has testified against me,
A’. and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?

Mara’s complaint is aimed against the Almighty: he has dealt bitterly with me, and called calamity upon me. The underlying complaint seems to say, “If he’s so powerful, how could I possibly deal when he is against me?” The core of her complaint is a covenant testimony: Yahweh has ruled on the basis of his covenant against me, and he has cursed me with emptiness (cf.  Lev 26; Deut 28.) For some reason, Naomi senses herself in a legal battle with God. Torah has, so far, failed her, so it may be easy to see why that is the case. But Mara fails to note two things: one, Torah is powerless without a Redeemer, and that she brought these upon herself for covenant unfaithfulness.

Unfortunately, no Israelite rebukes her slander, nor speaks Torah to her to help her gain understanding. Ruth is silenced here, not introduced nor given a chance to speak. Mara, in her bitterness, will hear none of this.

Let our hearts not be made bitter, let our bitter hearts not be closed to the words of God.

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