Naomi was an Israelite woman whose family moved to Moab from Bethlehem during a famine. Her name means "pleasant" or "my delight," which seems to describe her character even after having moved to a new land. Naomi's husband was named Elimelech. Elimelech died in Moab. But Naomi still had their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, who married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. However, within ten years of the family being in Moab, Naomi's sons also died, without leaving her grandchildren or an inheritance.
Naomi and her daughter-in-laws were widows. A foreigner without family or property, Naomi knew she could not remain in Moab. She urged Ruth and Oprah to return to their families knowing they could remarry and have a chance at a happy life in Moab. Orpah returned home after much insistence, but Ruth was determined to stay with Naomi. She told her mother-in-law, "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. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you" (Ruth 1:16–17). Together they traveled to Bethlehem. When the women of Bethlehem saw Naomi, they recognized her. Naomi told them to no longer call her Naomi but "Mara," meaning "bitter." Yet despite her broken heartedness, Naomi taught Ruth how she could provide for them.
Ruth gathered food for them from the left-over products of harvest in the farmer's fields (Leviticus 23:22). As she was gathering food, a wealthy landowner named Boaz took notice of her and was told she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi. He admired her dedication to her mother-in-law and made sure she had enough to gather for them to eat. Naomi was pleased to learn Ruth was working in Boaz's fields. Boaz was a relative of Naomi's late husband, Elimelech. According to Jewish tradition, when a woman became a widow, her deceased husband's relative, usually a brother, would marry her in order to provide offspring for his brother and care for the widowed wife. Naomi believed Boaz would be an ideal kinsman redeemer for Ruth.
Naomi wisely instructed Ruth to clean herself up, dress nicely, and present herself to Boaz with a marriage proposal. Ruth heeded her mother-in-law's advice and Boaz desired to marry her. However, there was one relative in line before him, so Boaz had to ask him to relinquish his right to marry Ruth first. Once the relative agreed to step aside, Boaz took Ruth as his wife. Their first child was Obed, the grandfather of David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5–6).
After the birth of Obed, the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, "Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him" (Ruth 4:14–15). Naomi cared the child and apparently her joy was restored.
Naomi fully experienced the pain of loss and yet she continued in her faith, seemingly acknowledging God's sovereignty and willingly submitting to His will. Her trust in His provision bore fruit, and both Naomi and Ruth were well provided for. Naomi and Ruth are a wonderful testament to the beauty of a healthy mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship. Unlike so many families today both women acted out of love rather than jealousy. They demonstrate that love goes deeper than blood or nationality. It unifies across generations and cultures. Finally, it brings healing where there is brokenness. Naomi and Ruth's love for one another was inspiring and yet only a shadow of the love that was to come from Jesus.
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