Merry Christmas! What, too soon? Oh, well…
I’m going to tell you a story. It’s told in the Book of Ruth, but I really think it should be called the Book of Naomi. We don’t often think about her, but she is the one central to this story. She begins it, influences it all the way through, and ends it. So why is Naomi so important? We’ll get to that. Let’s begin.
There was a famine in Judah, so Elemelech and his wife Naomi, travel to Moab with their two sons – Mahlan and Chilion. The Bible doesn’t specify how long they were there, but at some point, Elemelech dies, their sons take wives, Ruth and Orpah (NOT Oprah!), then the sons die as well, without having children.
As it will, life got very tough on these three widows, and Naomi heard the famine was now over in Judah. She decided to return to Judah, but told her daughter-in-laws to stay, since their families were both from Moab. Orpah cried, and begged, and cried again, but eventually hugs and kisses were passed all around, and she went back to her parent’s home. Ruth, however would not leave Naomi’s side, telling her “Where you go, I’m going. Where you stay, I’ll stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” Pretty strong words. So the two travel back to their home. Bethlehem, in Judea.
Once there, Ruth decides to help her mother-in-law out by going to work and harvest in the fields. There was a Jewish law that land owners had to leave a portion of their fields available for immigrants, widows and orphans, so that they could fend for themselves. One of the fields Ruth worked in was owned by Boaz, who just happened to be a kinsman of Elemelech. When Boaz sees her, and find’s out she’s kin, he tells her don’t harvest anywhere else, just there. Go with his servant girls, and harvest with them.
This is where Naomi gets involved again. (Just like a mother-in-law, right?) Ruth comes back and tells Naomi what happened. Naomi, knowing Boaz is a kinsman, tells Ruth to listen to Boaz, and he’ll take care of her. In the meantime, Boas has told his men to leave her alone. Not only that, but to make sure and leave extra where it would be easy to gather.
Ruth comes home the next day with even more that the first day. She was even allowed to eat with Boaz and his workers, and bring home a doggie bag for Naomi. At this point, Naomi knows there’s an attraction between Boaz and Ruth. So she tells Ruth, “Ok, tomorrow night, after he’s eaten and made merry (read drunk), go to where he’s sleeping, uncover his feet, and lay down there. When he wakes up, you just do whatever he tells you to do.” She may have been thinking a little “Bow-chica-wow-wow” would occur, since Lot’s daughters did the same thing to him to have a child. (Genesis 19: 30-38) Ruth though wasn’t quite of the same thought. More like Beyoncé’ “Betta put a ring on it”!
Being the type of man her was, Boaz thought the same way, because of how honorable Ruth had acted. He proposed to her, and as kinsman would redeem her, and the line of Elemelech would be restored. Here’s where a wrinkle came in.
You see, in Jewish law, if a man died and left no offspring, it was up to the next of kin to step in for the deceased and forward the lineage, so to speak. (Deut. 25:5-6) The trouble was, Boaz was NOT the next of kin, so he didn’t have the right to propose. That belonged to another man in the village. So he arranged to meet the close kin the next day in the marketplace. (I love this next part!)
So, they meet up at Starbucks or someplace like the next day and Boaz says “Hey cuz! You remember Elemelech, right? Well, I found out about a parcel of land of his, but since you’re closer kin, I wanted to offer it to you first.” Well, the cuz says sure, I’ll take the land. The Boaz suddenly remembers “Oh, by the way, you also have to marry Ruth, his daughter-in-law, and have a child with her.” (Imagine dead silence here.) Well, cousin had kids of his own, and that would have interfered with their own inheritance, so he said “No thanks, cuz, all yours!” Now that’s the way to do a deal!
That’s pretty much it. Boaz marries Ruth, they have a son, Obed, Naomi gets a grandbaby, and all ends happily ever after.
So why is Naomi so important? Because of that baby boy. At the end of the story, Boaz and Ruth give Obed over to Naomi to nurse and raise. You know she loved that! It got to where the women of the village would say “Naomi has a son!” How many of you grandmothers have been accused of the same thing?? Come on, now.
Well, Obed stayed in Bethlehem and eventually had a son, Jessie. Jessie grew up and had several fine sons and daughters, including one shepherd boy, David. You begin to see the line here? David had sons, they had sons, and so on, and so on, until one upstanding son, Joseph, became the earthly father to Jesus.
Here’s where Naomi comes in. Remember that law of “kinship redeemer” in Deuteronomy? By that law, Obed became legally the offspring of Elemelech, as his own sons had died without issue. This established Obed as a citizen of Bethlehem, and a full member of the tribe of Judah. (Remember, Ruth was from Moab, and would not have had that distinction.)
So, when we say Christ was from Bethlehem - that was Naomi.
So when we say Christ was of the tribe of Judah - that was Naomi.
When the line is drawn from God to Adam to Abraham to David to Christ – that was Naomi. The lineage of the promise of God for the savior of mankind was secured by – Naomi. Not bad for the mother-in-law in the story.
So Naomi, I want to give you the recognition you deserve. You’re welcome.
Oh, and…Merry Christmas.