Thursday, May 23, 2013

Hidden Blessings

The sweetest blessings are the ones far beyond our reach – the ones that seem unattainable, the ones for which we must wait the longest. The Book of Ruth is a book of delayed and completely unexpected blessing.

Because of a severe draught, Naomi and her husband left Israel to settle in a foreign land – Moab. Her husband died shortly after this. Her two sons married women of the land. However, before they conceived, both of her sons died and Naomi was left with two seemingly barren Moabitess daughters-in-law – Orpah and Ruth – and without hope of grandchildren.

It seemed as if her life was over. She had lost everything. It even seemed that “the hand of the Lord had gone against” her. She therefore ordered her daughters-in-law to return to their families where they would have better prospects of finding a real life.

Meanwhile, Naomi had heard that the draught in Israel had lifted, and she was determined to return. Orpah returned to her people. However, Ruth wouldn’t, and she memorably pleaded:

  • “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Nevertheless, Naomi had despaired of her faith in the wake of such misfortune. Upon her return to Bethlehem, when she was greeted by her old friends, she responded with gloom:

  •  “Don’t call me Naomi [pleasant],” she told them. “Call me Mara [bitter], because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1:20-21)
Back in Israel, the young Ruth proved her virtue. Instead of receiving the attentions of young suitors, she offered herself to Boaz, Naomi’s relative – the one man by whom Ruth could bare grandchildren for Naomi (Ruth 3:10)!

By the inscrutable grace of God, she conceived immediately and bore a child named Obed. This turned out to be such a wonderful and unexpected blessing that:

  • The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!  He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:14-15)
Grandchildren were considered a great blessing, far more than they are today. There is no doubt that the women had any idea that their invocation regarding a “guardian protector” was prophetic. However, Naomi’s grandson Obed had been fated to beget Jesse, and Jesse, David the King of Israel.

We cannot contain such honor unless we have been prepared for it through periods of tears and loss. The more the cistern is carved and scraped out, the more water it will hold. The more disappointments and hardships, the greater capacity to contain blessing! Otherwise, the weeds of pride and arrogance, which abound in fertile soil, would choke out whatever good might be growing alongside.

Instead, we require a regular pruning to keep us healthy, as Jesus explained:

  • “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1-2)
Some trees will kill themselves by their own growth if not pruned. However, the Lord is close to those He has cut back, the broken-hearted (Isa. 57:15; 66:1-2). Through David would come the promised King Messiah, and in His lineage, we can find many of the broken-hearted. The foreigner Ruth, a Moabitess, is accompanied by the prostitute Rahab, and a woman who had lost a number of husbands – a woman who had to seduce her father-in-law, Judah, in order to have children.

Naomi had no idea of the glory that would proceed from her. She had thought herself a victim of God, but He was preparing for something glorious through her – for the Savior of the world.

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