The first five verses of Ruth detail a family tragedy that few have ever experienced. It begins with a famine in the land that results in the family of Elimelech and Naomi uprooting and moving to Moab. For several reasons, this was a sinful decision on the part of Elimelech but one he hardly could have imagined would end in such tragedy.
After some time, Elimelech dies, his sons marry outside the covenant, and they too die. Naomi is left with no husband, no sons, no grandchildren and little prospect of anything other than destitution. Naomi aptly describes her condition in verse 21, “I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” God certainly had brought this family to the point of emptiness, but Naomi could never have known the blessings that would soon be hers.
This passage makes me consider how I may have counseled Naomi if I had been her pastor. Naomi (or others like her) would have been experiencing grief and despair far deeper than most will ever know. Early in my ministry I found it frustrating when I didn’t seem to have answers for people in difficult situations like Naomi’s. People often want to know “why?” in these situations and the truth is that I simply don’t know. However, understanding the message of Ruth gives us permission to respond with an, “I don’t know, but God is good and brings blessing out of tragedy in the lives of His people.”
There is no way that Naomi nor Ruth could have known their place in the line of Israel’s greatest king, David. Even those who would have first heard the story of Ruth could not have known that she would be in the line of the Messiah. The story of Naomi’s tragedy is an Old Testament example of the truth of Romans 8:28 and a reminder that even though people expect we pastors to have something to say when no one else knows what to say; sometimes we just need to be there to weep with those who weep and trust the goodness of God to bring redemption out of ruin.