Character. This lesson is all about character. Ruth, Naomi, and Hannah are just quaint stories unless we can learn from the integrity of their characters. As the lesson states, these women are heroines, not just regular people. Yet none of them lived heroic lives. They all lived very normal lives, full of heartache and hardship. It is how they chose to deal with their individual situations that made each of them extraordinary.
Lessons from Naomi
Naomi had a husband and two sons. I love the couple’s names, Elimelech (My God is king) and Naomi (pleasant). If either of them lived up to any measure of their name, they would be the kind of people you would wish you could be related to or live next to. This good family left Bethlehem because of a famine and moved to Moab. While living in the country of Moab Elimelech and both of Naomi’s sons died, leaving her and her two daughters-in-law widows.
By now the famine was no longer an issue in Bethlehem. She was in a foreign country with no family to care for her as the Law of Moses made provision for, so she freed her two daughters-in-law to return to their families so they could remarry and return to the religion of their nativity. One of them did return, but one chose to follow Naomi back to Bethlehem.
Ruth 1:20 shows that Naomi was still feeling the sting of being left desolate of all her immediate family. Instead of being called Naomi (pleasant) she wanted people to call her Mara (bitter or very sad), for she truly felt the Lord had judged her and must have found her wanting in something because He had afflicted her in this way. In her culture family was everything. Without family you did not belong anywhere. Without children the odds of starving to death were much higher. Small wonder the women valued their children, especially the male children who would be able to look after their aging mothers.
Naomi may have had limited physical and financial means, but she was faithful to the Lord, and she taught her daughter-in-law, Ruth about the Law and the Prophets. She was well versed in the law and knew her rights and the obligations of others towards the widow. In Ruth 2:20 Naomi sees that Ruth has been blessed by God and praises the Lord for not forgetting either the living or the dead. She tells Ruth that Boaz is one of their next or close kinsmen or relative. In the footnote it is of interest that another word for kinsmen is redeemer. To redeem is to reclaim something, to bring worth back to something that has lost its worth.
The Law of Moses specifically provides for those who have lost a husband. The next nearest male relative is under obligation, if possible, to take care of that widow and give her children that she might have an inheritance and someone to give her posterity and care for her in her old age. Yes, children used to do that kind of thing. Naomi knew she was well past child bearing years, but her daughter-in-law was not. She sought to bless Ruth with a good husband by exercising her right to reach out to a near kinsmen and ask for protection. To do this she instructed Ruth on what to do and how to do it so that she would be both discrete and blameless in the way Ruth petitioned Boaz.
Naomi was a woman of great heart. She loved her family, and even in the pain of her losses she extended her love to Ruth, accepting her like a true daughter. She showed her by example how to be independent, courageous, virtuous, and kind. All virtues that require no money or social position to possess. She demonstrated obedience to God’s commandments to her convert of a daughter-in-law. When Ruth married Boaz and had a son, Naomi became the nursemaid to her grandson, (Ruth 4:14,15)
14 And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.
15 And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.
Lessons from Ruth
Ruth was a Moabite, having been raised in their idolatrous religion. When she married Mahlon, Naomi’s son, she lived by her new family’s religion. After her husband died she refused to return to her family and culture, but instead swore a promise to Naomi that she would stay with her for the rest of Naomi’s life. A promise, as far as we know, she kept. She also converted to the religion of the Israelites.
Ruth is famous for her demonstrated virtues of devotion, loyalty, selfless service, modesty, chastity, and propriety. She conducted herself with such honor that none could find fault with her behavior, and praised her as being a virtuous woman. Boaz learned of her reputation and was duly impressed with the devotion she showed to her mother-in-law. Mind you, her mother-in-law had nothing to offer her. She could not care for her, introduce her in the best of social circles, nothing. Her mother was destitute, poor. Yet Ruth had accepted, of her own free will to care for her and support her the best she could. No easy task in a culture where, without a man in your house you were likely to be left to begging.
Boaz was so impressed with the devotion and honor possessed by Ruth that he gave special instructions of his men to actually leave extra kernels of grain in the field for her to pick up behind them. This was a kindness to her because she got more food for the two of them, and was still able to maintain her dignity by laboring for her living. Even when Boaz fed her lunch, she saved part of her lunch to take home to feed to Naomi.
There is more to the story of Ruth, but this is the most important part. Ruth was a virtuous woman. Everyone knew it. Everyone praised her for her good behavior. She was admired because she lived beyond reproach. She lived a pauper’s life, yet was admired for her dignity, kind heartedness, love and devotion, and commitment to those she loved. And she had embraced her new religion in all its aspects. This was impressive to the people of Israel who did no missionary work outside their own people. Ruth was a woman of great integrity.
It is important to note that she became the great grandmother to King David, and the ancestor to Christ himself. This demonstrates that the Lord blesses us based on our obedience and behavior rather than by our bloodline. Ruth was born into an idolatrous culture, but embraced the Lord and all the commandments, living them faithfully. She was blessed accordingly, as though she had been born under the covenant.
Lessons from Hannah
Like Naomi and Ruth, there are many women who can identify with Hannah. She was happily married, but had no children. Her husband’s other wife had many children, and was ungracious enough to remind Hannah that she had received all the blessings from God, and Hannah had been deprived. She was not very nice about it either. Each year when the family went to the temple to offer sacrifices Hannah’s husband would give her a very respectable offering, but what Hannah really wanted was a child. Year after year she went without, and year after year her fellow wife rubbed Hannah’s nose in her own barrenness.
But one year the Lord’s priest heard her pleas and blessed her that her petition would be answered. In the bitterness of her soul she had promised the Lord that even having a child for just a short time would be enough to calm the pain in her soul. She promised the Lord that her child would be a Nazarite, consecrated to the Lord all the days of his life if God would just give her the blessing of being able to bear a child. This meant that she would have to give up her child as soon as he was weaned and would never be able to raise her only child. That was a price she was willing to pay.
She did conceive and bore a son named Samuel. As soon as he was weaned she faithfully took him to the temple and turned him over to Eli, the priest, to be raised in the temple and to serve there the rest of his days. Each year she would bring him a new coat to wear when she came to the temple to offer sacrifices.
Hannah had a sandwich of heartache. She was barren and was ridiculed for not being able to have a child, so in the bitterness of her soul she made a promise to God if He would but grant her one child. She finally gets to have her child, but then has to give him to the temple to be raised by someone else, only getting to visit with him once a year.
For many, this hardly looks like a blessing to have your child “taken” from you at such a young age. But remember who we are talking about. Hannah sang praises to the Lord. She did not enter into her covenant with God about her baby using idle words or feelings, she meant them with all her heart. She was a woman of great integrity. She was happy to be able to provide a consecrated child to the temple. This was a privilege for her. The whole first part of 1 Samuel chapter 2 is Hannah’s song of praise. She declares that arrogant words are worthless because God measures people by their actions. She glories in God’s ability to humble the mighty and raise up the lowly. She praises God’s strength and His mercy to the humble.
Hannah, by all accounts could have moaned and whined about a lot and most would have felt she would have been justified in her complaints. She was denied all the blessings that womanhood was most prized for. But Hannah never forgot how much her Lord loved her and those who serve Him in faithfulness. She was bitter. She was sad over not being able to have a child. But she never turned and blamed the Lord for it. When she was finally blessed with a child, it was an honor to her to be able to turn her child over to the priests of the temple to be raised in God’s service. There is no way that could have been easy for her to do. She had longed for this child for years. But she knew her child was going to be blessed above other children because of the life he would lead. This brought her comfort and soothed her soul.
You have heard my descriptions of these heroic women. What lessons did you learn from reading about their lives? How would you describe them or their sacrifices? What sacrifices have you had to make that tested your faith in the Lord?
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OT Week 20