Naomi and Job must have felt their worlds were ending.
In five short verses, Ruth Chapter 1 paints a picture of a family in exile due to famine, the death of Naomi’s husband followed by a brief moment of snatched happiness when Naomi’s sons find happiness with Moabite women, only to be succeeded by the death of both the sons, leaving all three women bereft. Imagine: not only your husband / father-in-law but also your son / husband dying. Calamity piled on calamity.
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
The book of Job, if anything, paints an even bleaker picture. From verses 13-19 of Chapter 1, Job is told by four separate messengers of the loss of his herds; his servants; and finally of all of his children, with every messenger repeating the refrain: ” … and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!” (verses 15, 16, 17 and 19.)
As ever, I am in total awe of Job’s response. Instead of railing at God for this manifest injustice, he simply acknowledges that everything he has is a gift from God anyway:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
I’m not sure I’d have been anything like as sanguine! Does it mean he didn’t care? Hardly. His response was to tear his clothes and shave his head – traditional signs of mourning in that culture at the time. And even though I’m not an owner of vast herds of sheep, cattle, camels and the like; nor the employer of masses of servants; speaking as a parent, I could not even begin to imagine the heart-wrenching pain of my children being wiped off the face of this planet, at one stroke, just like that.
My point? Nothing as catastrophic as happened to Job, or Naomi has ever happened to me (thank God!) But sometimes we stand at crossroads, where something has ended or it feels like something has died within us. And we don’t know why – or where we go from here. I’m not going to be flippant. Sometimes it is scary. Oftentimes it is painful. But I believe there are times and seasons in everyone’s life. And while there is, necessarily, mourning for one thing gone out of our life, I have to hold on to the belief that God is standing there with us at those crossroads, whatever they are (end of relationship, moving to new area / job / house etc) and is guiding us / preparing the road ahead of us before we are even aware.
And I have to hold on too to the fact that God doesn’t take something away without there being something more promised to us. On Mother’s Day, I remember my mum passing away a few years ago and the loss of that – but I would not wish her back in that frail, human body, when she is probably up there on a cloud somewhere having a healthy argument – sorry I mean debate (!) with a few angels and the like!
For Naomi and Job too, what seemed to have been taken away was repaid many times over. In Job Chapter 42 we are told that:
12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters.
Similarly, for Naomi, her daughter-in-law Ruth’s re-marriage to a distant relative and the subsequent birth of her first grandchild, paved the way for blessings of which she had only the remotest inkling (as the conclusion of the book of Ruth lists the family tree leading to David, and we know that this genealogy ultimately led to Jesus Himself.)
14 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! 15 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.”
If you stand at a crossroads today, remember what is past but take heart from the fact that God is the Alpha and the Omega. He knows where you started, where you’re going and will be with you every step of the way.
Pic 3: http://galleryhip.com/god-holding-the-world.html