Naomi and Ruth:
Driven by Hunger

Hunger can take many forms.

The Scripture

Ruth 1:1-18
told by Deborah

In a long-ago time, there was a famine in Judah, and a man from Bethlehem went to live in Moab with his wife and two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife was Naomi, and his sons were called Mahlon and Chilion.

Elimelech died in Moab, and Naomi was left with her two sons, who married Moabite women.

After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Hearing that the Lord had ended the famine and restored food to His people, she set out with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to go back to the land of Judah.

But Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, both of you, to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you both find husbands and homes and security.” Then she kissed them, and they wept and wailed.

They said to her, “No, we will go back with you to your people.”

But Naomi said, “Go back, my daughters, what would be the point of leaving with me? I have no more sons to marry you. Go back, my daughters, find your own way, for I am too old to start over. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I were married and got pregnant tonight and gave birth to sons, would you wait until they were grown? Would you remain single forever? No, my daughters, it has been far worse for me than for you, because God has turned against me.”

Then they all cried together. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her faith; you should do the same.”

But Ruth said, “Don’t insist that I leave you or abandon you! Where you go, I will go; 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 do His worst to me, and even more if even death separates me from you!”

When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said nothing more to her.

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
November 5, 2018

In the Beginning: Hunger

Ruth is a story of broken dreams and restored hope; of want and need and love and desire, and the pursuit of those things. And the story is not always a pretty one.

It begins with famine. Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons are driven by hunger to leave their home in Bethlehem and go to live in a foreign land — the land of their historic enemies, the Moabites. These were desperate times.

But it would seem that there were earlier troubles. The two sons were called Mahlon (“weak and sickly”) and Chilion (“hopeless yearning” or “wasting away”) — not exactly the sort of names given by optimistic, enthusiastic parents. Was worry and woe already in the air, long before the famine began?

At some point after they arrived in Moab, Elimelech died; maybe right away, perhaps after several years, we do not know for certain. But Naomi and her sons remained and, despite the family’s displacement, their father’s death, and their own less-than-fortuitous names, the boys appear to have thrived. Both grew into adulthood, and each married a local woman. They were sufficiently successful and strong to be able to support their wives — and their mother.

Then disaster struck. Both young men died, leaving the three women on their own. In those times, in that culture, widows with no male protectors or providers were in peril of homelessness and starvation.

Hunger, Again

Naomi, Ruth, and OrpahOnce again driven by hunger, Naomi set forth to return to her native land, this time accompanied by her two daughters-in-law: two more mouths to feed. Before the trio get far, Naomi attempted to send the two younger women back to their own families, releasing them from any obligations, blessing them with a prayer for remarriage and security.

When both daughters-in-law initially refuse to leave, she insists that their journey would be pointless: a road leading nowhere; to join their lives with hers would be to link themselves to a soul abandoned by God.

At length, after tears and protestations, Orpah agreed to return to her family home, but Ruth refused to abandon Naomi.

She declares:

Where you go, I will go;
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.

Ruth’s ringing, passionate proclamation of love and loyalty continues to touch our hearts three thousand years after the words were composed. Not so, apparently, for Naomi, who responds to Ruth’s vow with a stony silence: “she said nothing more to her.”

Ruth and NaomiWas Naomi overwhelmed with emotion? Speechless in the face of such an earnest outpouring of affection and regard? Or silently resigned to another mouth to feed, another burden to carry, another sorrow to endure? Was she so entrenched in her own grief that she heard only another refusal — as God had refused her pleas for her husband, her sons, and herself — rather than an answer to her prayers?

Troubles can make us blind — so obsessed with our own fears and frustrations and sorrows that we cannot see the suffering of others. Wrapped up in our woes and worries, we may fail to recognize other options and opportunities and outright blessings standing right in front of us.

So it was, I believe, with Naomi. Focused on her own survival, desperately seeking security, convinced that God had turned against her, Naomi was oblivious to the blessing of Ruth’s love and loyalty; all that she “saw” as the passage tells us, was that “she was determined to go with her.”

And so the two women trudged on towards Bethlehem.

More Hunger

Ruth's declaration to NaomiLike Naomi, Ruth was driven from her home by hunger — but, unlike Naomi, what she hungered for was love and acceptance: Naomi’s love and acceptance.

But there was a famine in the land.

Embittered and despairing, Naomi saw the world only in terms of her own desperate, lonely struggle, blind to Ruth’s devotion. Heartbroken, Naomi was unfeeling and unyielding toward the young woman, heedless of the suffering that she, herself, was inflicting.

Despite Naomi’s neglect and even, perhaps, disdain, Ruth continued to give of herself: her affection, her care, her companionship, and her labor. Her love apparently knew no bounds.

Been There, Done That

There’s a lot to be said for the story of Ruth and Naomi, and a lot to be said about it, especially in the distinctly, even disturbingly, human behavior of the two women. We can find aspects of our own lives in their actions and decisions — both good and bad.

Ruth clings to NaomiThere are times that we have been like Naomi: our determination, and our commitment to the path we have chosen can be powerful, redemptive, even life-saving. A narrowed focus can prevent us from being distracted from the goals we have set.

Then, too, like Naomi, we may be embittered by our losses, obsessed by our fears, driven by our hungers, wrapped up in self-pity, scorning those who care for us. Marching forward, so certain of where we are headed (or of what we are escaping), we are blind to the beauty and the blessings that are right beside us.

There are times when we have walked in Ruth’s sandals, as well: providing unconditional love and acceptance to someone we care for, supporting them in whatever they do, whatever path they take; serving as loyal and faithful friends to the end.

Then, also like Ruth, we may be lonely and frightened; following someone we trust and admire regardless of where they are headed, perhaps putting ourselves in danger; driven by our hunger for acceptance, recognition, or love; sacrificing ourselves, giving our all — perhaps giving up all that we have — in anxious yearning for a crumb from our master’s table: a smile, a glance, a word of acknowledgment.

And we have all known times of famine, when what we hunger for cannot be had.

The Story Continues

We now take our leave of Naomi and Ruth as they journey on toward Bethlehem (“the House of Bread”). Theirs is a tale of courage and commitment, of desires and disappointments, of love and loss and yearning, and of efforts to fill the empty places in their lives: a tale unique, and yet universal.

And So, We Pray...

God of grace and tender compassion,
we call to Your heart all those who hunger:
for security, for love, for acceptance, for inclusion;
the abandoned, the abused, the elderly, the orphaned,
the excluded, the lonely and the lost.

We pray for those who give without hesitation,
and for those who take without thinking.

God of grace and tender compassion,
we call to Your heart all those who hunger:
for security, for love, for acceptance, for inclusion;
the abandoned, the abused, the elderly, the orphaned,
the excluded, the lonely and the lost.

We pray for the generous and the grasping,
for the hopeful and the despairing,
for the fierce and the frightened,
the hurting and the hurtful,
for the successful and the struggling,
for the fallen and the fumbling,
for those who have tried and failed
and tried and failed
and tried and failed again.

We pray for all the saints
and for all the sinners —
and especially, All Merciful,
we pray for ourselves,
that in Your Light we will see the Light,
and be guided in the Way to go,
and to be the people You have called us to be
throughout our life journeys.

Amen.

May the grace and peace of the Beloved encourage and sustain you, always,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Excercise

When have you been more like Naomi, and when have you been closer to Ruth?