[Part 5: House of Bread: Defining Hesed ]
What do you say to someone who verbally expresses their love and commitment to you at a time when you desperately need such confirmation? I’ll never forget my pastor walking into the ICU after the doctor told me I should take my mother off life support. At the very moment I was sinking into the abyss, God brought my pastor to the room. We live in a different city now, but every time I see him, I thank him again.
Ruth spoke from her heart and her gracious words reverberate down to this day, being repeated in countless wedding ceremonies where two people commit themselves to each other for life. So what memorable words did Naomi speak to Ruth in response? Did she give her a hug and thank her profusely for such a self-sacrificial act? Was she grateful for the company on the long trip home?
“When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. (Ruth 1:18). The Hebrew literally reads like this: She stopped talking to her. I find it stunning that Naomi could remain silent—until I put myself in Naomi’s shoes. She had lost her husband, her two sons, and was now destitute. Although she was returning to Bethlehem, she did so as an empty and broken woman. A few verses earlier she expressed the bitterness of her life to Orpah and Ruth, positing the blame on “the hand of the LORD” who she viewed as against her. Naomi was lamenting her life from a standpoint of God’s sovereignty. She knew Yahweh was in control of all things, which made her anguish all the more painful.
Lamenting with Faith
We can’t read the Psalms without running into lament after lament after lament. They make us squirm a little as we read them because we like our theology neat and tidy.
Why O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)
O God, why do you cast us off forever? (Psalm 74:1)
O Lord, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:14)
When people are struggling or grieving and say odd things—what Job calls words to the wind—we want to fix their theology rather than give them a shoulder to cry on. It’s certainly easier to do that than weep with those who weep. How many times have you told a suffering friend you have a book they ought to read or a URL they ought to check out because it deals with their “problem.” Not that there’s anything wrong with books or articles online, but often that’s not what a person needs when they’re hurting. I am the worst of sinners here.
Naomi had become her pain so she said nothing. She was the prodigal daughter returning home from a far country—in silence.
Back in Bethlehem
Emotions must have run high as Naomi approached Bethlehem— memories of her marriage, the birth of her sons, her family’s status, life once so full and now so empty. She probably dreaded walking through the gate of the city and being flocked by old friends and acquaintances. So many questions; so many painful answers.
“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me? (Ruth 1:19-21) Naomi appears to have crossed the line from lamenting to bitterness on the long journey home. Playing the victim resulted in the shrinking of her soul.
And there stood Ruth—invisible. Naomi remained silent in response to Ruth’s outpouring of love and devotion at the beginning of their journey, and now she claims to have returned home empty, making no mention of her companion. Who is this young woman traveling with Naomi? What is her name?
No one bothered to ask.
How do you feel when you’e ignored or slighted by someone you care about? In a similar incident, Jesus entered the home of a Pharisee named Simon. A woman came into the room and washed his feet with her tears. Jesus turned to His host, who could only judge the woman as a sinner, and commented, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:40-47)
Simon viewed Jesus as below him, so he ignored the common courtesies of the day. Judging Jesus as an imposter and the woman as a notorious sinner, Simon basked in his self-righteousness, keen insight, and reputation, barring any thought of hesed in his home or heart.
Have you ever noticed how it’s those small moments in time that reveal true character?
Ruth, a Moabitess in Israel, felt the sting of prejudice trumping good manners. As she was slighted by Naomi and the women of Bethlehem, she simply walked along in the shadow of her mother-in-law because hesed doesn’t assert itself and make demands. Hesed accepts the low place because God is with the humble in spirit.
[Part 7: House of Bread: Baked in Self-Pity ]