Have you ever wondered what was behind the smile of the Mona Lisa? A lot of mystery surrounds this famous painting – from her identity to her facial expression. In fact, the woman in this masterful portrait was made famous largely to the ambiguity of smile. What was she thinking at the time of the painting? What was she feeling? Joy? Contentment? Amusement? Bitterness? Sarcasm? We don’t know. The painter, Leonardo DaVinci masterfully captured an enigma in the portrait of this woman.
Well, in Scene 2 of Ruth, we are going to look at the portrait of two more women – Naomi and Ruth. And although Scene 1 only provided us with the facts surrounding these women’s lives (events and circumstances), we are going to discover that the artist reveals many more details concerning these women in Scene 2. The master artist of Ruth adds color, texture, and shading to fill in his portrait of these two women. And these details reveal the true nature of their hearts.
- The portrait of Naomi reveals a bitter woman beaten down by life’s adversities.
- The portrait of Ruth reveals a virtuous woman gracefully enduring life’s adversities.
And in this portrait in Scene 2 (Ruth 1:6-22), we see that the artist has cleverly contrasted these two women by narrating:
- their response to life’s adversities and
- their beliefs concerning life’s adversities
Scripture tells us our behavior (responses), words, and emotions originate out of the wellspring of our hearts, they reveal what we REALLY believe. Not just what we SAY we believe. Often our true beliefs about God, life, and ourselves are deeply buried in the most secretive recesses of our hearts. And it is only when adversities come our way that they well up out of hearts like a tsunami.
Ladies, the story of Ruth is a story regarding the loyalty of the heart. In fact, throughout the story, the biblical artists will repeatedly use the same word – ‘return’ or ‘turn back’ – to convey the importance of a return of the heart. Read through Scene 2 and count the number of times, the author uses these terms (although it is the same term in the Hebrew). And just as we will be given a portrait of the loyalty of the hearts of Ruth and Orpah, the biblical author is begging you to consider the state of your own heart – is it a heart turned toward God, “clinging” to His Word? God’s heart is to demonstrate His hesed – his lovingkindess – toward his people.
Definition of Hesed: Often translated “lovingkindness” or “faithfulness,” hesed is best understood through the totality of God’s attributes including His: love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, benevolence, loyalty, and faithfulness.
Scene 2 of Ruth (1:6-22) is framed by the hesed of God demonstrated toward these women by moving them from barrenness to joy and infertility to fertility. In the top layer (Ruth 1:6-7), Yahweh is asked to repay or match the hesed that Ruth and Orpah have demonstrated toward Naomi and her family. In the bottom layer of the scene (Ruth 1:22), Yahweh’s hesed “hand” guides the women to return to Bethlehem at a very providential time – the beginning of the barley harvest. His provision for His people cannot be missed, because throughout the book of Ruth the author has repeatedly set the reader up to anticipation the resolution of the lack of food and the lack of a son.
In the next two inner layers of Scene 2, the biblical artist provides us with the details of loyalty of Naomi’s heart. And the words and actions of Naomi reveal what she truly believes about God and God’s providence over her circumstances. In 1:8-13, Naomi lists several practical reasons why her two daughters-in-law should ‘return’ to the land of Moab instead of remaining with her. But the most telling reason for bidding these women to return to their homeland is an accusation Naomi levels against God in verse 13b. Naomi says: “No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!” Naomi is accusing Yahweh of attacking her unjustly; Naomi is interpreting God’s providence in her life as unmerited punishment.
Notice what underlying beliefs Naomi is revealing in her words:
- God controls her circumstances: TRUE.
- God is not good: FALSE.
- God does not have her best interests at heart: FALSE.
Naomi’s incorrect assessment of her circumstances reveals the true nature of her heart – a heart turned from its rightful direction (toward Yahweh) to a wrong direction (toward self). And as the scene progresses, we see that Naomi’s narcissism intensifies as she changes her name from Naomi (my delight) to Mara (bitterness) in 1:19-21. This bitter old woman believes she deserves something better from the good, loving God.
Yet, in the greatest of ironies, the book of Ruth makes a case for the love of God demonstrated toward His people. We will discover that it is God’s goodness that compels Him to have our good at the center of His heart. And it is by God’s hesed “hand” that He orchestrates the events of these women’s life to bring them the greatest good and the greatest glory to Himself.
In contrast to Naomi, the biblical artist also provides us with a portrait of another heart – the loyal heart of Ruth. And the two central layers of Scene 2 record an extraordinary demonstration of hesed – love and grace by this virtuous woman.
Ruth’s decision to “return” with Naomi to Bethlehem is no small decision. She is giving up any real chance of rest in Moab (1:7) for a life of restlessness in Bethlehem. In 1:14-18, the biblical artist provides us with three details concerning the loyalty of Ruth’s heart.
- Ruth does the unexpected (1:16a): Ruth sacrificially honors her marital commitment to the family of Elimelech even though her husband has died! The narrator is building up Ruth to be a woman who repeatedly goes above and beyond obligation. She does the unexpected – not because it is surprising – but because no one is expected to show such a high measure of hesed.
- Ruth does the unreasonable (1:16b): Ruth sacrificially commits to the kind of lifestyle Naomi will endure as a widow in the ancient near east. This verse conveys more than just travel plans and accommodations once they reach their final destinations. Ruth promises to bear life’s burdens alongside her mother-in-law. As a widow, some of these would include homelessness, hunger, fear, and poverty. It would be more reasonable for Ruth to seek out a life of rest and security in her homeland, but instead, Ruth unreasonably sacrifices hope for rest for restless in Bethlehem.
- Ruth does the unthinkable (1:16c-17): Ruth sacrificially commits herself to Naomi’s identity. She claims herself as an Israelite, and by default, and a follower of the Israelite God. This is truly unthinkable. History reveals a thick hatred between these two countries. Yet, here we see the intensification of Ruth’s commitment – so much so that she would do the unthinkable. Although the biblical author doesn’t provide us with a complete commentary on the level of Ruth’s faith, her actions and words reveal much of her heart’s content. And because faith often calls us to act when we think it shouldn’t be expected of us, when we think it isn’t very rational, or even when it seems a little unreasonable, we see some measure of faith demonstrated in Ruth’s words and actions. Her heart is turning toward the covenant God of Israel.
In demonstrating sacrificial hesedtoward her mother-in-law, Ruth becomes a woman after God’s own heart. We’ll see this sacrificial pattern emerge from Ruth over and over again. The writer is clearly laying a foundation to break the stereotypical image of a Moabite by Ruth’s gracious lovingkindness. She is a woman who goes above and beyond. She lives a lifestyle according to the ‘spirit of the law’ rather than by the ‘letter of the law.’ What a worthy ancestress of our Lord!
After reading Scene 2, one cannot help but evaluate his/her own heart. What does your heart look like? What do your words, actions, and thoughts reveal about the REAL you? What do you they reveal about your REAL beliefs about God and his providence in your life? Not just what you SAY you believe. But what you truly believe in the innermost recesses of your heart?
- Do you have a Naomi heart? A POISONOUS HEART – Do you refuse God’s grace in suffering? Do you believe God is unfairly punishing you? Do you believe you deserve better from God? Do you refuse to believe any good can come of your current life situation?
- Do you have a Ruth heart? A HESED HEART – Do you trust God’s providence in the midst of suffering? Do you seek God’s refuge and grace during life difficulties? Do you try to demonstrate hesed toward others in the same measure that has been demonstrated to you?
Think about the loyalty of your hearts this week – it is turned toward God or turned toward self? The next time we meet (Feb. 7), we will come face to face with God’s loyalty (his hesed) toward these two women in the portrait. We are going to see that, contra Naomi, our good God has good things in store for these two weary, hungry travelers. And Feb. 7, we’ll begin to unravel some of those good things!