Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com. This week I take a look at a covenant between a family. The lesson comes from Ruth 1:6-11 and 14-18. In this lesson we see women who are ethnically different. They worship different gods, they have different customs, and they have different cultures. Yet something binds these women together more powerfully than their differences could separate. In this lesson Ruth leaves everything she knows, all of her traditions, practices, and all of her people to go with Naomi. What this highlights for me is the powerful way in which Naomi must have impacted Ruth. This mother-in-law must have had a profound, deep, intense, and life changing impact on her daughter-in-law for her to leave everyone and everything she was accustomed to. Ruth knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites. But still, she clings to her mother-in-law. She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry. She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home. These two women have a bond of love. It is this love that becomes a mother daughter covenant; a covenant that we all should strive to emulate in our own relationships. Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms:
This week’s lesson is the first of two lessons from the book of Ruth. Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that its author is unknown although some scholars credit it to the prophet Samuel. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “Christian Bibles place Ruth in between Judges and Samuel. This leads the reader directly from the era when “there was no king in Israel” (Judg. 21:25) to the time of David, the exemplary King noted in Ruth 4:17-22”. The Hebrew Bible, instead, places Ruth among the writings.
Townsend commentary notes that Ruth begins during the closing days of Judges. “Judges was a four-hundred year timeline of anarchy and oppression during which the Israelites were not ruled by kings but rather had judges who were deliverers whom God periodically raised up to deliver Israel”. Judges Closes with “There was no King in Israel”. Ruth takes us from the anarchy of no king to the time of the great King David.
Perhaps the strongest theological point in Ruth is the idea of the redeemer. Although this book is named Ruth, it tells the story of Naomi. “Naomi lived in Bethlehem in the time of the Judges. A famine drives Naomi and her family to seek refuge in Moab, where her two sons marry (abduct) Moabite women as wives. When Naomi’s husband and sons die, she returns to Bethlehem, destitute, bitter and “empty” but accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible). Again, this book is named Ruth, but it is really the story of Naomi.
It is Naomi who “needs redemption and ultimatly she receives it. It is Naomi’s life that is renewed (4:15); her feelings of bitterness, emptiness, and hopelessness are turned around. Like Naomi, we are the recipients of unmerited love, and our redemption is due to someone else’s faithfulness, not our own” (NISB).
It is also important to note the full context in which Ruth pledges her love to Naomi. Dr. Wil Gafney writes in The Africana Bible – Reading Israel’s Scriptures From Africa and The African Diaspora that “Ruth’s embrace of Naomi is particularly striking remembering that they were from different ethnic communities, practiced different religions, and Naomi was there – and presumably did not object – when Ruth and Orpah were abducted into marriage. So Ruth really leaves everything she knows, all of her traditions, practices, and people to go with Naomi. What this highlights for me is the powerful way in which Naomi must have impacted Ruth. This mother-in-law must have had a profound, deep, intense, and life changing impact on her daughter-in-law for her to leave everyone and everything she was accustomed to.
Our text this week is focused on a covenant between a family. A family that is ethnically different but bound in love nonetheless. Ruth is marginalized as a Moabite and as a widowed or unmarried woman. She knows she will likely be unwelcome in Bethlehem. The Israelites did not like, nor did they get along with the Moabites. Yet, her love for her mother-in-law compels her to go anyway. Some important words to consider from this text include:
Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week was the first in a series of lessons that deal with covenants between people. As we saw in last week and will see again in this week’s lesson, love is a significant theme that drives these covenants. Last week’s lesson was taken from 1 Samuel chapters eighteen and nineteen. The love that secured the covenant between Jonathan and his friend David was the central theme. Chapter eighteen began with a continuation of the David and Goliath story. In verse one David had already killed Goliath and presented Goliath’s head to Saul. David was seen as a hero and of course this bothered King Saul. David had single handedly won the war and defeated the Philistine enemy of Israel. Verse one told us that the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David. Townsend Commentary noted that “the traditional, mainstream view of the relationship between David and Jonathan is that it was platonic, brotherly love”.
Verse two helped us understand that Saul was pleased with David because Saul “took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house”.
Verses three and four helped us understand that Jonathan and David had a mutual agreement; they made a covenant. Verse three told us that Jonathan loved David as his own soul. The terms of their covenant are not mentioned but based on the actions of Jonathan in verse four we can consider Jonathan’s loyalty to David surpassed his own claim to the throne.
Verse five helped us understand David’s obedience and wisdom. David conducted himself wisely. He was successful in all that Saul put before him. He was so successful that “all the people, even the servants of Saul approved”. The fact that even the servants approved really says something about the fame, celebrity, and prominence of David. That same fame and prominence is what would make King Saul jealous.
At this point the lesson text skipped chapter 19. I noted that between verses 6 and the beginning of Chapter nineteen a lot transpires. Townsend Commentary noted “the events of 1 Samuel 18-20 occurred between 1018 and 1013 BC, and David would have been between fifteen and twenty-two. He spent approximately seven years living with King Saul before Saul began trying to kill him”. Additionally, “There is a twenty-five year age gap between David and Jonathan”.
Verse one of chapter 19 tells us that Saul speaks to Jonathan and to all his servants that they should kill David. Saul is jealous of David. This jealousy is the basis of his hatred for David without cause.
Verse two of chapter nineteen told us of Jonathan’s treason against his father Saul. Jonathan’s love for David and his covenant with David means more to him than carrying out the wishes of his father the King. Jonathan warns David and advises him to hide in a secret place until morning.
Verses three, four, and five detailed the plan Jonathan came up with to save his friend and how with courage and commitment Jonathan spoke truth to power. If warning David wasn’t treason, reporting his private conversation with the King surly was. Verse four shows Jonathan speaking up for and on behalf of David his friend. In verse five Jonathan reminds his father the King how David risked his own life to kill the Philistine. He reminds the King that David is innocent. In this way, Jonathan showed his true loyalty. He risked his own life for the safety of his friend. He spoke truth to power. He was courageous and committed to the covenant he made with David.
Verses six and seven reveal the results of Jonathan’s plea to his father. Saul listened to his son and he swore “as the Lord lives, he shall not be slain”. Jonathan took the risk for his friend and in this occasion it was worth it. It was a tremendous risk for Jonathan. He had to choose between loyalty to his father and loyalty to his friend. As Jonathan noted, David was innocent. Jonathan choose to stand up for what was right. His loyalty was to his friend, but his loyalty was also to what was right.
That should be our goal. To stand up for what’s right; to be loyal to our friends but more so, to truth and righteousness.
This week’s lesson deals with another covenant based in love. David and Jonathan’s love is through friendship. Naomi and Ruth’s love is based in family. Although the family circle has been broken with the death of the husbands of Naomi, Orpha, and Ruth the love Ruth demonstrates to her mother-in-law is just as powerful as any other. Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary title the lesson A Mother-Daughter Covenant. The scripture text comes from Ruth 1:6-11, and 14-18.
What Takes Place in This Passage:
Leading up to verse six we learn the timeframe of this story is when the Judges ruled. There was a famine in Judah and Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons left their home country and crossed into Moab. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “Bethlehem means “House of Bread / Food”. Yet at this time there is no food due to the famine. Elimelech means “My God is King” in ironic contrast to the end of Judges which states that there was no king in Israel. Mahlon and Chilion sound like the Hebrew words for “Diseased” and “perishing” suggesting that the sons are likely to die young. And Naomi means “Sweet” or “pleasant” in ironic contrast to the bitterness she will face in life”. After living in Moab some time Elimelech dies. After living there about ten years the two sons also die. When verse six picks up Dr Wil Gafney writes in the Africana Bible “Naomi is a postmenopausal widow bereft of her childless sons. Naomi has no (male) family left. But she has a home. She returned to her people, the land of her ancestors”.
Verses six and seven tell us that Naomi with her daughters-in-law start the return home because she has heard that the Lord has given Judah food.
Verses eight and nine tell us that Naomi told her daughters-in-law to go back to your mother’s house. The NISB notes that using the term “mother’s house” is an indication that Naomi is urging them to look for new husbands”. And it’s here that we get the first glimpse of the kind of woman Naomi is. She tells them “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me”. Regardless of Naomi’s motivation for sending them back she wishes them well and acknowledges how they have treated her dead sons, and how they have treated her as their mother-in-law. In verse nine she wished that they will find security in the homes of their new husbands. The NISB notes that “In their world, marriage was assumed to be the only respectable way for a woman to achieve social and economic security”. In a male dominated, patriarchal society, these husbandless women and this sonless mother would have a hard time just to survive. After she kisses them, they all wept aloud. But surely, this isn’t the first time they have wept aloud together. These women have experienced great trials and tribulations. They have experienced the death of their husbands and Naomi’s sons. And they have likely faced the struggles of providing for themselves without their husbands.
Verses ten and eleven tell us again that Naomi wants them to look for other husbands. Naomi tells them “do I still have sons in my womb that that they may become your husbands”? Naomi knows how hard it is to survive without a husband and she believes it would be best for them to find other husbands. And this is really Naomi looking out for their best interest. This is Naomi showing them love. She knows she can do little to nothing to make life better for her daughters-in-law.
The lesson text skips to verse fourteen where again they wept aloud. Naomi is heartbroken, distressed, and probably destitute and by her own words bitter. She has set her mind to return to her home and she knows that she has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. Orpah is convinced of her mother-in-law’s argument. It’s logical, it makes sense, and she knows Naomi is speaking from a place of love. Orpah departs from Naomi and returns to her people, to her culture, and to her gods. But Ruth clings to Naomi. She knows Naomi is speaking the truth. She knows she has nothing really to look forward to. She knows that she is a Moabite and Israelites look down on and almost always have nothing to do with Moabites. But still, she clings to her mother-in-law. She clings because there is something more powerful than the pain of living among people who don’t like you because of your ancestry. She clings because there is something more powerful than suffering because there is no man in your home. She clings because there is something more powerful than the sorrow she has already faced and the hardships she is likely to face. She clings because she loves this woman. She loves her mother-in-law more than the comfort of living with her own people. She clings because she loves this woman more than the familiarity of her own customs and her own gods. She clings because Naomi is a woman who has no doubt shown Ruth the kind of love that transcends customs. Naomi has shown her a love that transcends culture. And for Ruth, Naomi’s love transcends familiarity.
In verses sixteen and seventeen Ruth speaks the words that are so often repeated in marriage ceremonies. These words are Ruth’s unequivocal love for her mother-in-law. Ruth is going to cling to Naomi regardless of what may come. Where ever she goes, where ever she lives, whatever God she serves, and where ever she dies, Ruth declares that the same will be to her.
These are certainly beautiful words and I remember them repeated in my own wedding years ago. While the sentiment is certainly appreciated, respected, and esteemed we should be mindful of the context. The NISB notes that “these words spoken by one woman to another woman must be taken out of context in order to be used as a pledge of love between a man and a woman”. Yet it is this sentiment and the deep meaning of this kind of love that we all ought to strive for in our marriage relationships. This is Ruth’s covenant with Naomi.
Verse eighteen closes our lesson with Naomi resigned to Ruth’s commitment. Naomi realizes that Ruth is determined and committed; not just to go with her but to demonstrate her love toward her.
That should be our goal. To demonstrate our love for one another in ways that leaves no doubt about our care and concern.
Do you have a friend or family member that will do anything they can for you? Do you have someone who will “walk the last mile” with you? Do you have someone who will stand by you and support you through “thick or thin”? Do you have a “ride or die”? Do you have someone that loves you unconditionally? Do you have someone who gives you unmerited love? All of this and more is what Ruth is to Naomi. This book bears the name of Ruth; but Naomi is the real MVP. Ruth gets credit for demonstrating her undying love for her mother-in-law but it is Naomi who impacted her daughter-in-law in ways to warrant that kind of love. I can think of no strength, no power, and no purpose stronger than love. Love can cause you to sacrifice yourself for the ones you love. Love is the greatest power in the universe.
That is what this mother-daughter covenant is. It is a covenant based in love. As followers of Jesus Christ our love should be so strong, so unmistakable, so committed and devoted that our loved ones will know we are their “ride or die”.
Key Characters in the text:
Naomi – The mother-in-law of Ruth and wife of Elimelech. Her name means “sweet” or “pleasant” but she becomes bitter toward God after the death of her husband and two sons. She is later redeemed and the sweetness of her life restored.
Ruth – A Moabite woman who becomes the grandmother of King David and in the bloodline of Jesus Christ. Ruth demonstrates her undying love for her mother-in-law Naomi and through her she becomes Naomi’s redemption.
Redeemer – God as the rescuer and recoverer of Israel. A designation for Jesus Christ, who brings salvation and the redemptive relationship God, intends to have with those who believe.
Widows – Women who remained unmarried after the death of their husbands were of special concern in ancient Israel as powerless persons (Ex 22:22). They were recipients of Christian care by churches in Acts 6:1-3 and 1 Tim 5:3-16.
Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:
1. Who are you riding for?
2. Don’t sleep on Naomi.
1. Ruth was a Moabite who was likely abducted into marriage. She knew Israelites frowned upon and did not like Moabites. Does Ruth rely on faith that things will work out, or does she simply love her mother-in-law regardless of how things will work out?
2. Ruth a Moabite woman becomes the ancestress of King David and thereby Jesus. What does this say about racial purity?
Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Ruth’s love for Naomi is a demonstration of what love can do. It can cause a person to willingly sacrifice their own comfort and convenience for the sake of someone else. This is the kind of love God demonstrated for us through Jesus Christ. God sacrificed God’s only begotten son for our salvation and redemption.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we continue our study in the book of Ruth. As we continue to learn about covenants between people we explore how virtuous Ruth charms Boaz and becomes the grandmother of King David. Next week the text comes from Ruth 3:1-6, 8-12, and 16-18.