Chapter 16 - Naomi
We find the story of Naomi in the book of Ruth. Naomi and her husband left Israel to live in a foreign land among people of another religion. She raised her sons and they were allowed to marry non-believers. Then Naomi was widowed and both of her sons died. How devastating! She decided to go back to her homeland and told her daughters-in-laws to stay behind. One obeyed, but Ruth didn't want to leave Naomi. This was an incredible testament to Naomi. She must have been a wonderful example for Ruth to want to go back with her to a strange land with strange customs and a different religion. She must have seen something in Naomi that she wanted for herself. She clung to Naomi even at the cost of renouncing her people and her gods in favor of Naomi’s people, the Israelites, and Naomi’s God, Yahweh: "Your people will be my people and your God my God" (merely four words long in the Hebrew: ‘amekh ‘ami we’lohaikh ’elohai, which literally means "your people my people; your God my God").
Yet Ruth extended her commitment still further, beyond death itself: "Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried”. These words may sound anticlimactic compared to accepting Naomi’s people and her God. But to understand their significance, we must appreciate the cultural mind-set of the ancient Near Eastern peoples. All the death accounts of the patriarchs mention the burial, often at length. When a patriarch died, he was "gathered to his people." Jacob and Joseph died in Egypt, but their bones were laid to rest in the Promised Land. The location of burial was important. Ruth concluded her pledge by calling down God’s punishment on herself if "even death" parted her from Naomi. Even after the death of Naomi, Ruth would live, die and be buried in Bethlehem. In so doing, Ruth identified herself with Naomi’s community in the most absolute manner possible. This really tells us something special about Naomi, doesn't it?
Next Saturday – Rachel