2008-06-15 - Ruth: Well-Meaning but Bad Advice
Installment 10 ~ Chapter 1, Part 5
"But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." ~ Joshua 24:15
It never ceases to amaze me how Christians, with good intentions, can often give such bad advice. Sometimes it is because of a desire to avoid hurting someone's feelings. Frequently coupled with this is the fact the advice is based on emotions rather than wisdom. Sometimes it is founded on a poor understanding of scripture and/or God. But whatever the case, the advice is potentially destructive.
I remember one situation where an individual, who had been married a number of times, was once again divorced. A number of friends who were concerned for this person arranged for a meeting with another divorced person. They hoped the two would find each other attractive and possibly get married. The whole idea, under the circumstances, floored me. I couldn't believe anyone could give such poor advice. But it was obviously based on emotions and not any kind of biblical thinking.
It seems that Naomi's advice was based on how she was perceiving her circumstances, rather than an understanding of God. It was more about her than about what was best for Ruth or Orpah. And ...
Naomi's situation was very difficult. She was a stranger in a strange land. She had recently become a widow, and now both her sons were dead. There was no way to continue the family line. She had lost everything except her two loving daughters-in-law. While they were a comfort to her, they could not compensate for the loss of Naomi's family line
Verses 8-9a: The three women have traveled only a short way down the road back to Judah. Naomi was feeling hopeless. But in the midst of her hopelessness, she did love her daughters-in-law. She wanted what was best for them. But her understanding of what was best may have come out of her depression. She wanted them to return to their families. If they did, they might find husbands for themselves. But underlying this wish for them may have been her selfish desire to be left alone, a typical "need" of the depressed. Interestingly, the Midrash is even more negative about her motivations:
"She asked them to return home because she did not want to be embarrassed [i.e. by returning to Eretz Yisreal with Moabite daughters-in-law] (Midrash Zuta) ..." 1
On the other hand, Reed sees her statement as one of trust in God. He explains it this way:
"The word kindness is the Hebrew word hesed. It is an important word in the book of Ruth (cf. 2:20; 3:10) and throughout the Old Testament. It speaks of God's covenant loyalty to His people. It involves grace in that it was extended even when it was not deserved. Here divine will and human action went hand in hand. Both God and humans were doers of hesed. The basis of Naomi's blessing was the gracious actions of Ruth and Orpah to their husbands and to Naomi. Both young women were worthy in the eyes of their mother-in-law, so she wanted God to be good to them. Though they were foreigners, they had married Israelite men and thus were under God's covenant." 2 (sic)
This, of course, is the debate. If they went to live in Judah, they have to convert. This would mean completely giving up their identity as Moabites. Most likely they would never be completely accepted by the Hebrews. Circumstantially they would be better off in Moab where they would be accepted, but spiritually ...?
Clearly there is a problem with her advice. And what might that be? She wanted the women to find husbands among their own people. In these cultures a woman's security depended on being married. But, would being married to a Moabite really be a blessing? Remember the Moabites were not only idol worshippers, but they also sacrificed their own children. How could a godly woman recommend actions that would have encouraged these women to return to such a barbaric environment? Part of the problem may have been that, living with the Moabites for a minimum of ten years, Naomi had become callused to their lifestyle. But more likely her thinking was simply based on her emotions and her present situation.
Comments or Questions?