"In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion." Ruth 1:1,2 (ESV)
The Book of Ruth is relevant for us today. There are three personalities in this short book that are either like us or people we know. They struggled with much the same issues as we still do to this very day; loss, depression, life’s choices, and friendships.
The multi-layered messages written in it’s pages are applicable to our relationships, and /or life’s problems in general. Of course, this is true for the rest of the Bible, as well. Its teachings are timeless.
When I started this blog, I just wanted to focus in on Naomi. She points the way for many of us on how to overcome depression. This subject is the primary focus of my blog.
However, within a few verses I begin to see the other two dominate personalities emerge from the pages. They were Naomi’s daughters-in-law, Orpah, and Ruth. These two women were Moabites who lived in a country where cult rituals were practiced.
The Book of Ruth is only four chapters long from beginning to end. I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. Especially, since I’m only going to skim over it and hit the highlights. It’s found in The Old Testament of the Bible.
The first people we’re introduced to are Elimelech and his wife Naomi. She plays a pivotal role throughout this eloquent story.
Naomi was healed of depression near the end of this story. But, in the middle of the story her two daughters-in-law come into focus. Ruth, of course, plays a more dominate role through the rest of this book. This is why I’ve included a brief look into each of their lives.
Let’s find out how Naomi received her mental-health healing. And how she influenced these two younger foreign women.
The name, Naomi means happiness, and patience. And it sounds like her life, at first, reflected these qualities. But much later she wanted to change her name to Mara, which means bitterness (1:20).
What happened that would want Naomi to change her name from happiness to bitterness? Then, back to her being happy and contented. When I realized that she had experienced a mental health healing I knew I had to study and share my insights about her.
The time frame of this story is early 1000 B.C. Naomi and her husband Elimelech had moved to the country of Moab with their two sons from the Jewish town of Bethlehem.
Bethlehem at that time was located in the present day country of Israel. For most of Israel’s history to this present day the Jewish people worship the one true God they commonly call Yahweh or Jehovah. And they observe all the laws that were written by Moses.
The Jews that practice their faith have other holy names for God, depending on the situation. They also have an exact diet that’s based on Leviticus. They were the first to receive the ten commandments to live by.
Now, Moab was completely opposite. Their culture was saturated with practicing meaningless rituals to their pagan idols. They practiced a licentious lifestyle that knew no bounds. They, also sacrificed their infants to the god Molech. Maybe that’s why they no longer exist.
But, for a century or so this country did exist and is mentioned multiple times in the Bible. It was west of Israel and across the Dead Sea. Today this country is called Jordan.
When Naomi and her family left Bethlehem they had to travel about 100 miles to farm in Moab. To get there they either had to cross the Dead Sea or travel up and around it. Neither route was an easy one to take.
This young family did have high hopes that they would prosper in Moab. After all, Bethlehem was experiencing a drought. And, Moab was lush, green, and known as a place of many oasis.
Even with the better farming conditions it’s still odd that an orthodox Jewish couple that practiced a monogamous marriage would choose Moab to raise their two sons in. Why didn’t they just move to another part of Israel? Well, I can’t answer that question, but it is puzzling.
I’m sure they experienced culture shock when they arrived at their new country. I, being a military wife have also experienced culture shock at least once in a severe way. When my husband Jeff was assigned to Turkey for three years in the mid 1980’s, our three young daughters and I went with him to live there. Turkey is almost the opposite of everything I’ve always been use to.
Fortunately, we lived on an American military base so our culture shock was minimized. But, back then we had to be careful about eating off base because some of their cultural farming and cooking habits would give Americans Hepatitis A. I’ve been told that things have changed for the better there now.
We did get off base many times, though during our three years there. But, I went from driving anywhere I needed to go in Germany to barely driving at all during our three years there. Still, we tried to live as normal of a routine as was possible.
Well, we don’t know why this Jewish family moved to a completely opposite culture, and religion. But not long after moving there Naomi’s husband Elimelech passes away.
She and her sons decided to stay on in Moab. By this time both boys had become men. And they took wives from the Moabites. Then the five of them lived there for about ten more years. No children are mentioned being born to either couple. Then, the sons pass away. All these events take place within the first chapter.
"These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband." Ruth 1:4,5
Naturally, she felt waves deep depression moving over her from losing all her immediate family members. Plus, there could’ve been other problems she had to face being the matriarch of the family, which made her also in charge of the farm.
Her grief was compounded by not having any extended family around to emotionally support her during this time. She felt isolated from her Jewish roots as well. She longed to go back to live among her people and she was ready to take the risks of traveling to get there.
Once her mind was made up she saw no need putting off taking this long difficult trip. When she could get back to Bethlehem she would have help and emotional support from her relatives there.
But, before she did anything, I believe that Naomi made sure that she was in God’s will over moving back. When she was certain that it was, then she was ready to put His plan into action. Now at first, the two women wanted to go with her. However, she wanted to go alone. So she passed a blessing on to them.
“Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you,...Then she kissed them," 1:8,9.
This is similar to Isaac seeking to pass a blessing on to his oldest son Esau.
"..my soul may bless you before I die.” Genesis 27: 4b
I believe, also that Naomi missed her worship services in Bethlehem. There she was able to worship God with other Jewish believers. The men and women gathered in their respective places either in the Synagogue or wherever they gathered in their villages to hear the Torah read aloud on their Shabbat. Doing this would’ve helped restore and heal her emotions.
"I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!'” Psalm 122:1
One thing that I’ve done on a regular basis for decades now is to read a chapter or two in my Bible as a daily habit. Bible study whether it’s in a group or on my own is a part of my mental-wellness plan. The insight I’ve gain strengthens my mental well-being.
As a matter of fact I’m going to interject some of my own recovery habits I practice that have helped me in overcoming depression. Hopefully I won’t chase too many rabbit trails in doing this. I simply want to direct you to sources that I believe will help you achieve mental-wellness.
Just like Naomi, millions of other people down through the ages including me have and will continue to experience depression. Don’t leave depression untreated. There are some effective cures that are being used to treat this form of mental illness.
I see Naomi as a realist, and a pragmatist. She saw life as it is, not how she wished it to be. Once she made a plan to do something then she became resolute in carrying it out. And that was because it was the most practical plan. That way of her solving both hers and the family problems had always worked out in the past, so she saw no need to change things.
Before the women left Moab each woman would’ve had some fresh water in a gourd or dried animal organ, also some roasted grain, and dried fruit for stamina and quick energy. That’s what they called “travel food.”
After gathering up their small bundles the three women start out on this arduous journey together. But they hadn’t gone far when Naomi takes the leadership role and says:
"But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me." 1:8
Naomi was a woman with a strong will. Very much like my own mother who faced many difficult challenges in her life, but yet always did her best to keep our family of seven intact, well fed with her home cooked meals, and still always worked outside our home. We three girls pitched in and helped her with laundry and meal prep. But, Mom was the glue that held our family together.
Naomi had been the glue that held her family together and she made sure that all Jewish holy days had been observed while they lived in Moab. How do I know that? At the time of their departure Ruth told Naomi that she wanted to follow her God.
Ruth could’ve said her deceased husband’s god, but instead she said “your God” to Naomi. This tells me that Naomi had taken time to disciple her two daughters-in-law about the one true God.
Now when Naomi said her goodbys to these two younger women something significant took place at that dusty crossroads. Let’s find out exactly what happened.
A Brief Look At Orpah
As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. Matthew 13: 20-22
It didn’t take long for Orpah to change her mind and return to a hedonistic lifestyle. But why would she go back to a pagan culture where her firstborn would be sacrificed to the angry god Molech? She knew that the Jewish people were forbidden to incorporate the god Molech into their worship.
"to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination," Jeremiah 32:35
It did seem logical for her to go back to her family. But, she could’ve just visited them before leaving. Don’t expect God’s will to be found by doing things logically.
Orpah looked too closely at the problem instead of looking at the solution that would’ve solved her life’s problems. Because of this she bought more problems on herself than had she gone with Naomi.
Both she and Ruth were childless and nearing or already in their thirties. During that era people aged more rapidly than we do today. Most were only one drought away from dying, in other words.
It looks like she was someone that liked “pushing the easy button” to solve her problems. Maybe she was a narcissus and just wanted to look out for “number one” when life got stressful. Whichever it was it’s clear that Orpah had a shallow relationship with Jehovah.
For the rest of her life she engaged in ritualistic practices of a meaningless religion. Perhaps she had been dabbling in the occult all along. We don’t know that for certain. But the Apostle Paul saw this situation often and wrote these words:
"They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works..." Titus 1:16
Orpah needed to let go of her past. And seek a spirit-filled relationship with the living God. When we come to Jesus we must leave the old life we once lived behind. It’s in the past. The Apostle Paul wrote these words to Christians in about 56 A.D.:
"We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin." Romans 6:6
A Brief Look At Ruth
Ruth, however, would not be swayed from leaving Naomi’s side. Instead of leaving she spoke these immortal words to Naomi:
"But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried." 1: 16,17
It sounds better in the King James Version, but I’ll let you read it in your favorite translation. I am trying to get to my main point, but a brief look at these two young women is well worth it in me pursuing my main idea of mental health wellness.
We have a lot to learn about Naomi by taking a look at Ruth. Why would this young woman even want to consider taking this dangerous journey? They could’ve died of thirst and/ or starvation. And how long would it take the two of them to walk or caravan approximately a hundred miles?
Naomi and Ruth had such a strong loyal bond between them that even the perils of this journey did not sway either of them from taking it. Neither of them sought to take the easy way out, in other words.
Ruth was not a shallow person. She had already became a Jewish convert in her heart. At the start of their journey she made a public profession of faith to Naomi.
"So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven," Mt 10:32
All of Naomi’s mentoring and teaching had taken root in Ruth’s heart, mind, and soul. Ruth knew that she could never again engage in or even want to be around pagan worship. She was a hundred percent in on her relationship with Jehovah.
"And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’" Mark 12:30
I, also see Ruth looking out for the older woman’s safety. She didn’t seem to be concerned about her own personal safety. She was someone who willingly “poured herself” out for the other person’s good. We see this later when she goes to the field in Bethlehem to gather barley that was left to the side for the poor people. They only had what Ruth gathered in the fields, to make their daily bread.
"And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, "'Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.'” Ruth 2:2
Notice that Naomi didn’t go out into the fields to work. I think Ruth told her to rest in their little home and she would go out in the hot sun and gather barley. So Naomi instructed her on where to go to gather because it was customary to only go to a relative’s field for the leftover grain.
Well, this worked out well for several reasons. The owner of the field was a man named Boaz. He took notice of how this young foreigner took care of the older Jewish woman that lived with her. And that impressed him.
But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me," Ruth 2:11
Sometimes we bring on stress and disappointment in our lives because of our short-sighted vision and actions. Or we get blind-sighted by events we didn’t expect. It seems like both situations took place here, but God turned their bad situation around to where it became something beautiful.
This can happen in your life as well if you seek God’s will for your life. As you do don’t expect everything to work out as you’ve planned it. God’s plans are higher than ours.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11
(To be continued)