Last week it was Job. Today, it’s Naomi’s turn. We’ve heard of the suffering of Job, but we don’t hear so much about Naomi’s suffering. It’s high time that changed.
Perhaps it doesn’t help Naomi’s case that her book isn’t named after her. We have the Book of Job, and the Book of…Ruth. Of course, Ruth deserves to have her name on a book, but…it really is the story of Naomi. Let’s not forget Naomi.
Who was Naomi? She was was the wife of Elimelech, and the mother of two sons. Unlike Job, she wasn’t fabulously wealthy. In fact, when a famine came this little family found itself unable to feed itself. (For those who love irony, they were from Bethlehem—which means ‘house of bread’.)
I feel ‘famished’ sometimes. That’s when I go to the fridge and see what I can find. I really haven’t got a clue what a famine is. Naomi and Elimelech couldn’t feed their sons. They couldn’t bear to see them starve to death. So they left their home, left everything and everyone familiar, and went to live in Moab as foreigners. Moab was an old enemy of Israel. You’d really have to be desperate to go to Moab—but they could eat there, and survive.
Naomi and Elimelech give me a renewed appreciation of ‘boat people’—I can ‘get’ why parents would put their children on a leaky boat and brave the dangerous miles to the Australian coast. You’d do anything to give your kids a life.
Elimelech and Naomi would do anything. They’d even take their two sons Mahlon and Chilion to Moab.
Things don’t go well down in Moab. The very first thing we read is that Elimelech dies. Mahlon and Chilion marry Moabite girls, Orpah and Ruth. These two girls would not have been among the most desirable that Moab had to offer. Think about it: Mahlon and Chilion were foreigners. If Ruth and Orpah were good catches for marriage, their families would have promised them to good Moabite men, not to these incomers, these Jewish foreigners.
The story also hints that Naomi’s sons weren’t a good catch either. Names mean something in this story: Bethlehem is ‘House of Bread’; Naomi means ‘Pleasant’; Ruth means ‘Friend’ or ‘Companion’. Elimelech means ‘God is King’, so we see that he was a faithful man. But Mahlon means ‘Puny’, and Chilion ‘Weak’.
The girls whose families couldn’t find Moabite husbands for them were teamed up with poor examples of Israelite manhood.