[ 3 minutes to read ]Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book. In the fourth sermon, I finished Chapter 1, which is the opening of Scene 2. Here is where I picked up all of verse 19 and covered through verse 22 of Chapter 1. Scene 2 begins the middle section of this story. The middle consists of Scenes 2-4 covering the barley and wheat harvest in Judah. The inciting incident for the scene and the middle section is Naomi’s returning to Bethlehem empty. Their emptiness is contrasted against the beginning of the harvest in Bethlehem, so there is food everywhere and Bethlehem is full but they are empty. The story progresses through the middle until Ruth goes to the threshing floor at night to request redemption from Boaz. The middle resolves with Boaz’ agreement and his going off to settle the matter.
I wanted to review Scene 1 and point out some ways it sets up the whole story and introduces the controlling, unifying theme as well as key themes for the entire story. I tried to draw attention to how this was accomplished by pacing and the characters’ choices and responses to the events. I also wanted to introduce Scene 2 and the opening image of the scene we were looking at in this sermon. Naomi is presented as a wisdom character, an archetypal sufferer wrestling with her situation. Further, she is depicted as a suffering widow of Israel, hinting at the Messianic and eschatological overtones of the book.
Verses 19-22 Naomi’s Return to Bethlehem
The opening image of Scene 2 has Naomi returning to Bethlehem with Ruth. The author notes how her return created a stir among the townspeople. The whole city gathered around them, which is a bit of hyperbole since we know Boaz wasn’t there. When he comes into the story, his knowledge of Naomi and Ruth is only what he has heard. We would naturally expect Naomi to be peppered with questions in a situation like that. Her explanation of her situation takes up most of this section.
In verses 20-21 Naomi speaks of her experiences and attributes the events in her life to God’s providence. Here Naomi sounds most like Job in his complaints. We can certainly see similarity in their circumstances, but there is an important intertextual connection as Naomi uses the name Almighty, El Shaddai, for God. The book of Job uses this title more than any other book, and especially in a similar attribution to God’s providence (Job 27:2). Naomi speaks explicitly to the unifying theme as she declares her own emptiness. I took the title for the sermon, “Desperate Words of Wind,” from Job 6:26.
Verse 22 closes the chapter and the opening image of Scene 2. The reader is reminded that Naomi had Ruth, so her emptiness was not quite as complete as it might seem. This short verse contributes to the theme of Ruth as a stranger, or foreigner. Her status in some ways contrasts with the wise woman in Proverbs 31, but also contrasts with the adulterous woman in Proverbs. The last phrase mentions the providential timing of their return, which is so crucial for the events to unfold as they do throughout the book and bring Naomi and Ruth to rest.
We need to be careful of hasty conclusions concerning Naomi. It’s early in the story and her character arc is by no means complete. Reading Naomi as Job-like sufferer also gives us pause before engaging in hasty condemnations. The author does not give any judgments about Naomi’s words, but the obvious connections with Job are certainly key to how we should think about her. The characters are dealing with great hardships in life and the story gives us direction on responding to those who are suffering and thinking about our own sufferings.
You can listen to the fourth sermon in the series here.
Next, I will look at the fifth sermon in the series.
This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.