So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem…
Ruth 1:19. Never seemed there a sadder contrast. Naomi left Bethlehem in the full bloom of womanhood, with a husband and two sons. Elimelech, her husband, died, we read, "and she was left and her two sons." They took them wives, and, as mothers do, she lived in the hopes and honors of their new homes; but, after dwelling in Moab about ten years, we read Mahlon and Chillon died also, both of them, and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband, A strange land is not so strange when we carry home with us; but it is strange when all that made home, is gone. We need not wonder, therefore, that not alone for the bread of harvest, but for the bread of love, she and her daughters-in-law "went on the way to return to the land of Judah." But, with a fine instinct, Naomi felt that what would be home again for her would be an alien land to them; and the tender narrative tells us how she suggested they should remain, and find rest, each of them, in the place of their people. We well know the sequel to the words of Naomi, "Turn again my daughters;" for Ruth has become with us all a beautiful picture of truehearted womanhood, and a very household name. But it is with the question, "Is this Naomi?" that we now have to deal. She went out full. Not wealthy, perhaps, - though love is always wealthy, for it alone gives that which worlds want wealth to buy. She is coming home "empty," as many have done since Naomi did, in all the generations. Bent, and sad, and gray, her worn dress tells of her poverty, her garb bespeaks the widow. All in a few years; all crowded into these few opening verses. The pathway of the past is an avenue now, along which she looks to the opening days, when the light flooded her steps, and she walked in the warm glow of companionship and love. Is this Naomi? And have not we had this to say again and again concerning those whose early days we knew? There we heard the merry shout of children, and there we saw manhood in its strength and prime. Naomi it cannot be: that the face we knew as a bride and as a mother! Never! Yet so it is. They went out full and came home empty. Yet not empty, if, like Naomi, they keep their fellowship with God.
I. NAOMI IS A RETURNING PILGRIM. Home has been but a tent life, and the curtains have been rent by sorrow and death. She tells us the old, old story. Here have we no continuing city. Beautiful was the land to which she returned, and in that dear land of promise there never was a fairer time than barley-harvest. Many and many a harvest-time had come and gone since Naomi went forth, and many a reaper's song was silent evermore. As she passed the vines and the oleanders fringing the broad fields, bronzed and bright-eyed faces were directed towards her; and here, in the distance, was Bethlehem, its little white houses dotting the green slopes, its well by the wayside. Bethlehem - home! Oh! that strange longing to live through the closing years in the country places where we were born l It is a common instinct. The Chinese have it, and will be buried nowhere else. It is a beautiful instinct too - to look with the reverent eyes of age on the tombstones we used to spell out in the village, to hear the old rush of the river, the old murmur of the sea. Strange thoughts fill this woman's mind, as the old picture is there with a new peopling of forms and faces. Yet not all new. The workers turn to the passing figure, and a gleam of recognition, doubtful at first, lights up their eyes. And then the word passes from one to the other, Is this Naomi? It is the same world in which we live today. There is also something to remind us that we are pilgrims and strangers, that unresting time will not wait one hour for us. The unseen angels hurry us on through love and grief and death. Happy for us if we say plainly that we seek a country, for the only escape from the ennui of life is the satisfaction of the immortal thirst within us by the gospel revelation of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. NAOMI IS A GODLY PILGRIM. Travel-worn and weary, with sandaled feet, she is coming to a city sanctified by the faith of her fathers. She had lived in a heathen country so devoutly, that Ruth could say, "Thy God shall be my God" - a beautiful testimony to Naomi's fidelity, to her victory over idolatrous usages, to her own personal influence over others. Thy God l How serious the eye, how sober the mien, of this woman as she comes into the city. She has had a battle of life to fight, and she has fought it well. How brave and noble and faithful a woman she is! Is this Naomi? If there is not so much of what the world calls beauty in her face, there is character there, experience there. The young Christian starting on his pilgrimage is cheerful enough. His armor is bright and new, his enthusiasm is fresh and keen. He goes forth full of enterprise and hope. Do not be surprised if in the after years you ask, Is this Naomi? How careful, how anxious, how dependent on God alone! What bright visions once filled his soul, how ready he was to criticize Christian character, how determined and unflinching he looked! Well, it was a noble promise, and where would the world be without the enthusiasm of youth? Be not surprised now if he looks worn and weary. He has had battles to fight that the world knows not of. He has made strange discoveries in the continent of his own heart; he has been well-nigh overcome, and casting himself entirely on his Lord, he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Look at that weary heart. Is that Luther? Look at that faithless spirit. Is that Peter? Look at that worn soldier. Is that Paul? But the Lord is with them I Empty, indeed, in a human sense was Naomi. Call me not Naomi, she said; it has lost its meaning. Life is no longer pleasant. Call me Mara, for life is bitter. True-hearted soul I She knew that it was bitter, indeed, though it was God's will; "for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me." Very bitterly! And are we to cover over that? Can we sing - "Thy will is sweetest to me when It triumphs at my cost?" We may sing it; but it is hard to live it. It is glorious to believe in God at such times at all, and to bow with the pain all through our hearts, and to say, "My God." - W.M.S.
Parallel VersesKJV: So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?