Chapter Two: “Coming or Going?”
Your heartfelt comments on this blog and on Facebook have been hugely encouraging, dear sisters. Thanks to your enthusiasm, our weekly Bible Study is working! If you’re just joining us this week, welcome. You’ll find the Introduction and Chapter One of The Girl’s Still Got it covered in Week 1 of my blog. Catch up with us as time permits. We’ll be here for you!
This week we start walking with Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah, though they certainly don’t get very far. If you’ve ever had to tell someone news they didn’t want to hear, you can probably empathize with Naomi, who waited until she saw Moab in her rearview mirror before she finally told her daughters-in-law, “Turn back.”
Meanwhile, it’s time for us to turn to the Study Guide questions and see what we can mine from Chapter Two:
1. a. In the much-loved parable recorded in Luke 15:11–20, find three or four ways in which the prodigal son’s story parallels Naomi’s experience of moving to a distant country.
If you’ve never thought of Naomi as a prodigal daughter of Israel, I hope this exercise helped you get a clearer picture of both her rebellion and her repentance. Here are the parallels I found:
Running Away from Home
Just as Luke 15:13 tells us the younger son “set off for a distant country,” so Ruth 1:1 reveals that Naomi and her family “went to live for a while in the country of Moab.” Both places were not only far away geographically, but also far from God.
Suffering Loss and Despair
Living in those distant lands soon proved disastrous. For the prodigal son, Luke 15:14 states, “there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.” As for our prodigal daughter in Ruth 1:5, “Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” Both our OT and NT prodigals were left with nothing. However humbling, going back was their only option.
Turning Toward Home
In Luke 15:18 the prodigal son decides, “I will set out and go back to my father,” even as in Ruth 1:6 we learn, “Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home.”
Receiving the Father’s Love
Though the moving description of the prodigal son’s homecoming isn’t paralleled in the book of Ruth, the father we see in Luke 15:20—“his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him”—is the same Heavenly Father who wooed Naomi home to Bethlehem: God never lost sight of her in Moab, never stopped loving her, made certain she arrived home safely, had a welcoming party for her at the town gate, and provided for her through Ruth’s loyalty and Boaz’s generosity.
Oh, Father, your love astounds us! Even when we run away, you draw us back into your warm embrace.
1. b. When you read my challenge “You and I need to leave the Moab of our own making,” what situation in your life came to mind?
Groan. I know exactly what my Moab is. Year after year my weight keeps creeping up, one careless bite at a time. I also know the steps I need to take (WeightWatchers.com is a click away). My head is ready; it’s the rest of me that’s stubbornly refusing to get on board. Yet, as 1 Samuel 2:3 reminds us, “the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.” Pounds too. Sigh.
My husband stands ready to help me. Dare I take the first step—actually more like the 115th first step—today? Pray for me, beloved. It’s time. And if you choose to confess here the Moab of your own making, you can be sure I’ll pray for you too.
1. c. How would you define God’s grace?
Now this is a question I am happy to answer. Grace is the gift of forgiveness for our sins, provided through the atoning sacrifice of God’s Son. Grace, in a single word, is love.
John 1:16–17 declares that grace and truth walk hand in hand; Romans 3:22–24 makes it clear we’re all sinners, we all need grace, and faith in Christ is how we receive it; 2 Corinthians 9:8 show us how God pours out his grace in abundance; and Ephesians 2:8–9, one of my absolute favorites, reminds us that God’s grace is a gift, not something we earn.
1. d. How does the gift of grace empower us to “follow…revere…obey…serve…and hold fast,” as Deuteronomy 13:4 commands?
We can’t follow unless he leads, we can’t revere without a holy one to worship, we can only obey if he gives us the strength to do so, we serve because his love compels us to, and he holds fast to us, even more than we hold fast to him. In other words, it’s ALL GOD. And it’s ALL GRACE.
2. a. Write down the various ways this Hebrew word shubh is translated (I’m using the NIV 1984):
To Bethlehem or Moab? To the true God or false gods?
Ruth 1:6 “return” To Bethlehem To the true God
Ruth 1:7 “back” To Bethlehem To the true God
Ruth 1:8 “go back” To Moab To false gods
Ruth 1:10 “go back” To Bethlehem To the true God
Ruth 1:11 “return home” To Moab To false gods
Ruth 1:12 “return home” To Moab To false gods
Ruth 1:15 “going back” To Moab To false gods
Ruth 1:15 “go back” To Moab To false gods
Ruth 1:16 (don’t) “turn back” To Moab To false gods
Ruth 1:21 “brought back” To Bethlehem To the true God
Ruth 1:22 “returned” To Bethlehem To the true God
Ruth 1:22 “accompanied” * To Bethlehem To the true God
“ The KJV makes this double usage in Ruth 1:22 more apparent: “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab.”
2. b. What is God saying to you with this repeated call to “return”?
More than once I’ve stood at a crossroads in my life, wondering which way the Lord might be leading me. The above exercise makes it abundantly clear. If I am walking toward the true God, I am going in the right direction. If I’m pursing anything other than him—avarice, applause, approval—I’m definitely heading the wrong way.
3. a. Since the scholars have yet to pinpoint the meaning of Orpah’s name, why do you think she’s traditionally known as “the Stiff-Necked One”?
I understand this one all too well (see 1.b. above!). Orpah chose the familiar, the comfortable, the known. Change does not come easily to stiff-necked people because we are forced to look in a new direction. We have to be flexible and try new ways of doing things. Most of all, we must lower our heads in humility. Hard to do when our necks are stiff!
3. b. What does Deuteronomy 10:16 tell us about being stiff-necked?
“Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” Good grief. Could the Lord make this any clearer? It’s our hearts that need changing. Our outward actions will fall in line once our inward selves are made new. I’m listening, Lord.
3. c. What have you gleaned from Orpah’s small but significant role in this narrative?
Until this moment, I didn’t realize how much like stiff-necked Orpah I can be. Not a pretty sight. She went back to Moab, back to her false gods. Lord, that is the very last place I want to go. Help me turn in the right direction and not look back.
Now. I hope you’ll share a point or two that really spoke to you this week from Chapter Two of The Girl’s Still Got It and/or from Ruth 1:6–14.
Your next assignment? Read Chapter Three, “A Wow of a Vow,” answer the three Study Guide questions, then join us here next Wednesday and we’ll compare notes.
Hope you don’t mind that I respond to each comment. I just want you to know how dear you are to me. Please feel free to encourage each other as well. That’s one of the benefits of opening God’s Word together: we can also open our hearts.
Your sister, Liz