Centuries after the trumpet sound had finished echoing off the stones which used to be the walls of Jericho and centuries before King David would take the throne, we have a period of “time where each man did what seemed right to him.” This was the time of the Judges—the period where we read stories depicting a dagger plunged into a king’s belly by left-handed man and tent pegs nailed into the skull of a Canaanite general by a Bedouin woman. (Never let anyone tell you that the Bible is boring!)
During this time of darkness and chaos, when people were both yearning to hear God’s voice call out from a fiery pillar and also relieved that they didn’t hear it so they could try (unsuccessfully) to be their own gods, we read that there is a famine in the land of Judah. Husband and wife—Elimelech and Naomi—leave Bethlehem and head for the land of Moab. They had heard that there was food there, and their two sons—Mahlon and Chilion—were growing boys in need of good food to eat.
While they were in this foreign land of Moab, Elimelech died. No doubt Naomi was sad, but she found relief in the fact that she still had her sons—grown men with wives of their own. But soon after, Mahlon and Chilion died, too. Devastated, Naomi and her two daughters-in-law—Ruth and Orpah—began traveling back to Bethlehem because they had heard that the famine was over, and Naomi was desperate to return home again.
On the road, Naomi looked at her Moabite daughters-in-law and said, “Go back to your own mothers. I’m old and won’t be having any more sons for you to marry. Even if I had a son today, would you want to wait until he grew up to marry him?” The women sobbed and argued with Naomi, and eventually Orpah returned home to Moab. Then Naomi turned to look at Ruth, standing in the middle of the dusty road—scared and already worn out but resolute in her loyalty to her mother-in-law. “Do like Orpah, daughter,” Naomi pleaded. “My life is too bitter for you to share with me. You could find a sweeter life somewhere else.”
Then Ruth said her most famous lines: “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.”
Naomi saw that Ruth wouldn’t be deterred (and secretly she was so relieved to have a companion with her), so they set out together. When they got to Bethlehem, all of Naomi’s old neighbors came out and said, “Look! It’s Naomi! She’s back!” Naomi corrected them and tried to tame the sharpness in her voice before continuing, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because it means bitter and that seems to be my lot in life. I went away full and I’m coming back empty-handed.”
If you aren’t currently at a crossroads right now, you’ve probably stood before some pretty big ones and may still have weighty decisions waiting for you in the future. It’s inevitable.
When you get to that intersection, here’s what may happen: You’ll sit at a stop sign…your engine idling. You’ll be tempted to look in the rearview mirror—feel shame and regret from past decisions—but even though it’s important to learn from the past, you’ll know you have to look ahead. You’ll also want to look out your sideview mirrors and see what everyone else is doing, but this is mostly a waste of time and gas money.
Instead imagine Ruth and Naomi, looking out at that dusty road that leads to Lord-knows-what. Unsure and feeling desperate, unseen, abandoned. Then do what Jeremiah 16:6 says:
1. Stand at the crossroads and look around.
2. Ask for the old, godly path.
3. Walk in it.
4. Then you will find rest.