So Naomi and Ruth traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole city was stirred because of them, and the women of the city exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?"
1. Surprise. She is living! We see her again! Yet how is she changed!
2. Interest. How varied has been her experience whilst absent! And she loves Bethlehem so that she returns to it in her sorrow!
3. Compassion. "All the city was moved about them." How could those who remembered her fail to be affected by the calamities she had passed through? Consider the sentiments expressed by Naomi upon her return.
I. HER GRIEF WAS NATURAL AND BLAMELESS. "I went out full," i.e. in health, in youth, with some earthly property; above all, with husband and sons. "The Lord hath brought me home again empty," i.e. aged, broken down in health and spirits, poor, without kindred or supporters. "Call me not Naomi," i.e. pleasant; "call me Mara," i.e. bitter. Her lot was sad. Religion does not question the fact of human trouble and sorrow. And she was not wrong in feeling, in the circumstances, the peculiar pressure of grief and distress. We remember that "Jesus wept."
II. HER RECOGNITION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS RIGHT; WAS A SIGN OF PIETY. She attributes all to the Almighty, to the Lord. Observe that in two verses this acknowledgment is made four times. In a world over which God rules we should acknowledge his presence and reign in all human experience. If trouble comes to us by means of natural laws, those laws are ordered by his wisdom. If by human agency, that agency is the result of the constitution with which he has endowed man. If as the result of our own action, he connects actions with their consequences. Therefore, let us reverently recognize his hand in all that happens to us!
III. HER INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS MISTAKEN. "The Lord," said Naomi, "hath testified against me." Men frequently imagine that if God could prevent afflictions, and yet permits them, he cannot regard the afflicted in a favorable and friendly light. But this is not so. "Whom he loveth he chasteneth." The Book of Job warns us against misunderstanding the meaning of calamity. Christ has also warned us against supposing that Divine anger is the explanation of human griefs and sufferings. "All things work together for good unto those who love God." How often is it true, as the poet Cowper knew and sang -
"Behind a frowning providence
1. Such is the faithfulness of our heavenly Father to all His children, that He never fails nor forsakes them; but when one comfort faileth them, He findeth out another for them. The loss of one relation is made up out of God's fulness by raising up another.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem.I. THAT THEY ARE TO BE ADMITTED INTO OUR FELLOWSHIP WHOM WE FIND TO BE CONSTANT IN A GOOD COURSE, AND TRUE LOVERS OF GOODNESS, WHATSOEVER THEY WERE BEFORE. Naomi thus admits of Ruth, no doubt, with great comfort. Thus Paul alloweth of Mark (2 Timothy 4:11), though before he had refused him (Acts 15:38), and willeth others to entertain him (Colossians 4:10, 11).
II. THAT GOD LEAVETH NOT HIS IN DISTRESS, OR ALTOGETHER COMFORTLESS. Naomi went out with husband and children, and lost them; she returneth not alone, but God sent her one to accompany her and to comfort her.
III. THAT A TRUE RESOLUTION WILL SHOW ITSELF IN A FULL EXECUTION. She resolved to go with Naomi, and so she did, till she came to Bethlehem. By this may we learn to know the difference between solid resolutions and sudden flashes, raw and undigested purposes, between true resolutions and such as be made in show, but in substance prove nothing so, never seen in the effects.
IV. IN THIS THEIR TRAVEL TO CANAAN, AND THEREIN TO BETHLEHEM, NOTE THREE THINGS: THEIR UNITY, FERVENCY, AND CONSTANCY. They went together lovingly, they ceased not to go on, they did not linger, they took no by-paths, neither forgat they whither they were going, till they came unto Bethlehem in Canaan. As these thus went to Canaan, so should we unto the spiritual Canaan and heavenly Bethlehem; we must go in unity (1 Corinthians 1:10), and be of one heart (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:1, 46, and Acts 4:24), in a godly fervency (Romans 12:11; Titus 2:14; Ezekiel 3:14), as Elijah, Nehemiah, the angel of Ephesus (Revelation 2:1, 2), and as our Saviour, whom the zeal of God's house had eaten up. And we must go in a constant spirit, and not be weary of well-doing, for "he that continueth to the end shall be saved."
2. There be but few friends that are true friends. Here be but two together.
3. Such are fast and faithful friends indeed that accompany each other to the worship of God — to Bethlehem. Many there be that do accompany each other to Bethaven, or house of wickedness, to play-houses, and places of revelling, etc. This is rather a betraying than a befriending one another. A carnal friend is but a spiritual enemy, who advised the ruin of his soul for the recovery of his body (2 Samuel 13:3). The truest friendship is to save and deliver a friend from the greatest evil, which is sin; but to tempt any to it, and to tolerate them in it, is not the part of a true friend, but of a real enemy.
4. 'Tis matter of astonishing admiration to hear of, and be eye-witnesses of, the great afflictions that do befall some persons, both great and good.
5. God works wonderful changes in persons, families, cities, countries and kingdoms.
(S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
All the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
(Wm. Braden.)I. HERE 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. Bethlehem — home! Oh! that strange longing to live through the closing years in the country places where we were born! It is a common instinct.
II. HERE IS A GODLY PILGRIM. Travel-worn and weary, with sandled feet, she is coming to a city sanctified by the faith of her fathers. "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. He goes forth full of enterprise and hope. Do not be surprised if in after-years you ask, "Is this Naomi?" How careful, how anxious, how dependent on God alone!
III. HERE IS AN ANCESTRAL PILGRIM. Ancestor of whom? Turn to Matthew 1:5, and you will find in the genealogy of our Lord the name of Ruth. Do you see in the blue distance One coming from the judgment hall? Do you hear the wild cry of the mob, "Away with Him! away with Him! Crucify Him! crucify Him"? Come near and gaze. Behold the Man! As the reapers asked, "Is this Naomi?" so we ask, "Is this Jesus?" Is this He whose sweet face lay in the manger? Is this He who passed the angels at heaven's high gate, and came to earth, saying "Lo! I come to do Thy will, O God"? Yes I Bowed, bruised, broken for us. The same Saviour, who now endures the Cross, despising the shame. Well may we wonder and adore!
IV. HERE IS A PROVIDED-FOR PILGRIM. Back to Bethlehem, but how to live? how to find the roof-tree that should shelter again? She knew the Eternal's name, "Jehovah-jireh," the Lord will provide. So it ever is. Trust in the Lord and you shall never want any good thing. Believe still in your Saviour, and provided for you will be all weapons of fence, all means of consolation, all prosperity that shall not harm your soul. As the snows hide flowers even in the Alps, so beneath all our separations and sorrows there are still plants of the Lord, peace and hope, and joy and rest, in Him. Blessed indeed shall we be if we can rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.
(W. M. Statham.)
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