Friendship. Who doesn’t love the fun of having a best friend? Someone to hang out with, share secrets and be silly with. All good stuff, but what happens when your friends life changes? When things at home go wrong. When your best friend’s father or brother dies and the money just isn’t there anymore. Your friend can’t buy the latest ‘must have’ and wears tacky, thrift shop clothes. Then she has to move out of her ‘good’ neighborhood. Is she still your best friend forever?
Friendship, someone who is with you when the sun is shining and also when it starts raining junk all over. There is a story in the Bible about a friendship such as this. About a really great girl named Ruth, who stuck it out with her best friend, who just happened to be her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Our story begins in the country of Israel, in a town called Bethlehem. Yes, that little town of Bethlehem we sing about at Christmas. The town where Jesus was born and placed in a manger that night the star shown in the east. But our particular story takes place much earlier than that. In fact thousands of years before.
It was a time before even there was a king in Israel. Before King David and King Solomon judges ruled over the land. Kind of like a God appointed Supreme Court of men and women who were often times great military leaders. It was a time when things were pretty messed up in Judah, another name for Israel. People didn’t do the right things by each other, and there was fighting all the time.
But in our little town of Bethlehem, things were different. The people there loved God and listened to Him. And there was peace in the land. Sheep roamed the hillsides. Barley and wheat grew in the fields. It was a beautiful life, except –
Except there was a famine in the land of Judah. A disastrous crop failure occurred. Who knows the reason? Perhaps it was a cloud of locusts that swept in like one of the plagues of Egypt and ate up all the grain. Or perhaps lack of rain caused the tender young plants to wither and die of thirst. At any rate, as there was no grain to harvest. There was nothing to be ground into flour. And no flour meant there was no warm bread to take from the oven. It’s funny that in Bethlehem, which means House of Bread, there were precious few loaves to eat.
Naomi, the mother-in-law in our story, was married into a rich, influential family. Her husband’s name was Elimelech. People back then had names that sound funny to us today. Elimelech was a wealthy land owner. He and Naomi had two sons, Mahlon, and Kilion.
Because of the really serious food shortage, Elimelech decided to take Naomi and the boys to the neighboring country of Moab to live. Judah and Moab were traditional enemies, but during the time of our story the two countries were dwelling in peace beside each other. The people of Moab were into idol worship, and strange practices that the Lord detested. He wants us to worship Him, and have no other gods before Him.
So Naomi’s family packed up all their belongings. You can imagine them with donkeys and camels piled high with baggage. Carts loaded with furniture, rugs and utensils filled to almost over flowing. Naomi was in her finest, seated grandly upon a donkey. A servant walked beside her with a gaily colored umbrella to shade her from the sun. Such a sight. As the long caravan started up neighbors and friends lined the roadway, bidding goodbye. Waving with tears in their eyes.
Elimelech most probably owned some land in Moab. But when the family reached their destination no dear friends were waiting there to greet them. No happy embraces. No warm dinner to cheer their hearts, or fresh made beds to rest their weary heads. They were strangers in a strange land with stranger customs.
Imagine being in a new country with different customs. You are not familiar with the language. Even the food is not ‘your’ food, not what you were used to back home. Where everyone dresses funny, and looks at you as if you were weird. How do you make friends? This must have been a difficult time for Naomi. To remember the happy days she left behind in Bethlehem. To start making a new life for her family in Moab.
(Uncovering the feet of Boaz)
Flesch Reading Ease 79.4
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 5.3