I’ve been reading the book of Ruth a lot this year, combined with studying it with Durham small group leaders last term, and hearing it taught at two conferences (staff conference in early January with Jerram Barr, and at New Word Alive last week with Jonathan Lamb).
I really love the book. And I love Ruth. And I love Boaz. But I was never a huge fan of Naomi. She isn’t often painted in a very good light, and I’ve tended to get swept away by that sort of comment on the story, however, recently I’ve had my opinions changed, and for this week’s FF I thought I’d share a little bit of that with you.
Jonathan Lamb’s teaching at New Word Alive was great, and if you weren’t there to hear it yourself then I’d really recommend getting hold of the talks (available to buy here). I really loved the emphasis that he gave to Naomi in his talks: especially her concern for Ruth and desire to find a home, or ‘rest’ for her; and the emphasis on the way Naomi saw her role as a participant in God’s plans: committing herself to prayer and then stepping out to act as well. Lamb talked a great deal about the way that the way that God uses humans in bringing about his purposes, whether that is Naomi planning in order to have her own prayers answered, or whether it’s the way that he uses Boaz and Ruth to have her prayers answered, and I loved this quote that came as part of his talk on chapter 2:
“More often than not when we dust for God’s fingerprints, we come up with prints of one of his image bearers.”
The quote is from a book called ‘The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules‘ by Carolyn Custis James, and after hearing the talk I went straight to the bookstall to buy it (probably the first time I’ve ever actually bought a recommended book at a conference – and I have been to a lot of conferences) and so far I’m really enjoying it.
You can expect to hear about it again here soon, but one early comment that had me thinking (and underlining), was, once again, about Naomi.
In the introduction, James looks at how history has treated the book of Ruth and its different characters, and begins with Naomi. Apparently I’m not the only one who didn’t have a very high opinion of the mother-in-law, as traditionally she has been seen as just a grumpy, complaining old woman, and yet recent work on Ruth is casting new light on her:
Once widely dismissed by Christians as out-of-sorts, Naomi has been upgraded from a self-absorbed malcontent to the full stature of a female Job. Parallels between the two sufferers are striking. The extent of their losses, their agonized bewilderment and wrestlings with God, even their bitter laments are mirror images of each other. Yet historically we have wept with Job and criticized Naomi. … Now we will weep with Naomi too.”
I am so glad about this, and really loving getting to know Naomi (and Ruth and Boaz) again, and letting their story help me to know and love Yahweh more.
It’s some pretty beautiful stuff.
In summary: meeting Naomi.