Image by Jackson David

Belonging

Autumn Conference 2020

The Book of Ruth, through Asian Women’s Glasses My personal story – of belonging, and not belonging – involves being born in India, then being raised in Zambia, going to college in India, returning to Zambia, training and then settling in the UK and finally, now, living in India again. So, do I belong? Do I feel like I belong? Or do I not belong at all? I struggled with this word because I realised that I don’t physically belong in Zambia or the UK because I live in India. Do I belong in India? For now, I do; and my passport puts me down in writing as Indian. Do I belong in one particular place? Not really. I am here because it is where God wants me to be. Do I belong to a particular group of people? Yes, I guess so: Indian; my family; my extended family; my church family. They love me, support me and correct me. Think for a moment:​ Where do you belong? Who do you belong to? How do you feel about this sense of belonging? Today’s story, of Ruth, Naomi and her family, is one such story of ‘belonging’ and ‘not belonging.’ Let’s take a walk through the story. Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Kilion leave Bethlehem in Judah for Moab, because there was a famine in the land of Judah. Belonging: Bethlehem; wider family; community; the land that God had led the people of Israel to. Not belonging: Moab: historical enemies – as a nation, the city and the people. In time, they settle. Mahlon and Kilion marry Moabite women – Ruth and Orpah: Belonging. RUTH: in MOAB

  • - wife to Mahlon

  • - widow

  • - daughter-in-law to Naomi

  • - daughter to her parents

  • - co-sister to Orpah (wife of Kilion)

 

belonging not belonging belonging belonging belonging Transition from belonging to not belonging, for Ruth and Naomi. Bible verse: ​But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.”​ (Ruth 1:16) RUTH: in BETHLEHEM in Judah

  • - widow

  • - daughter-in-law to Naomi/Mara

  • - then wife to Boaz

  • - mother to Obed (father of Jesse, father of David) belonging

 

not belonging belonging belonging 1

Naomi decides to move back to where she used to belong – back to Bethlehem. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to return to where they belong – back to their parents, their people, their gods. Orpah goes. Ruth does not. Ruth 1:16 is the pivotal point in the story: Bible verse: ​But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.”​ (Ruth 1:16) She chooses to go with Naomi. Her sense of belonging and commitment is now to:

  • - Naomi

  • - Naomi’s place, Bethlehem

  • - Naomi’s people

  • - most importantly, Naomi’s God

  • - even in death, wherever Naomi dies...

 

Pause and reflect:​ Have you ever had to do this? When Ruth arrives in Bethlehem, she is an alien, a stranger in a foreign land, a Moabitess, a widow, a childless widow. Pause and reflect​: Does that resonate? It must have been incredibly hard for both women. Listen to Naomi in Ruth 1:20-21: “Don’t call me Naomi [​ ‘pleasant’]​,” she told them. “Call me Mara [​ ‘bitter’]​, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”​ (Ruth 1:20-21) What is Ruth’s response? She takes the initiative to provide for Naomi and, through that process, Boaz – the kinsman-redeemer – enters their life. It wasn’t easy. Ruth, through her actions, her commitment to Naomi, takes responsibility for her mother-in-law and is seen as “a woman of noble character” by Boaz’s fellow townsmen (3:11). Transition from not belonging to belonging brings blessing from the Lord:

  • - widow to wife

  • - childless to having a child

  • - part of the genealogy of Jesus – her story lives on! Application

  • - What does it mean for us? Where do we belong or not belong?

  • - Where is God in all of this? He doesn’t speak: does that mean He’s absent?

2

Before I became a follower of Jesus and I was travelling between countries, continents and people, was God absent from my life? No, He wasn’t. He watched over me, protected me and guided me. God is present and active and, however we feel about belonging or not belonging, as confusing and unsettling as this might be, the one thing that is certain is we do belong to God. We always have and I pray we always will. Look at the language in the four chapters: For further reflection:

  1. Ch1 1:6 1:8b-9 1:16 1:20-21

  2. Ch2 2:4 2:12

  3. Ch3 3:10, 13

  4. Ch4 4:11-12 4:13 4:14

 

Naomi Naomi to Orpah and Ruth Ruth to Naomi – “your God ... my God” – the pivotal moment Naomi, as she arrives in Bethlehem Boaz to his worker Boaz to Ruth Boaz to Ruth at the threshing floor elders and all those at the gate, to Boaz (a blessing; a prophecy) the Lord enabled Ruth to conceive the women to Naomi