Then those two – Mahlon and Chilion – also died; so the woman was left without her two sons and without her husband. Ruth 1:5 JPS
Without – What Naomi lost completely overshadows what Naomi gained. In her mind, the loss of husband and sons means the loss of everything important to her. In fact, a careful reading reveals the even greater depth of her perceived loss. Did you notice that the text places the sons before the husband? It is bad enough to lose a husband, but the real tipping point in Naomi’s life comes when she loses her two sons. She even refers to the two “sons” with the Hebrew yeladeha which means “children,” not grown men. This is the point where she feels as if life no longer has purpose. This is the place where the future is entirely dark.
You might well empathize with Naomi. The loss of children is one of life’s most excruciating blows. But step back for just a moment, not diminishing her tragedy, and notice that she gives no value at all to her two daughters-in-law. In the midst of this tragedy, she has gained two other relationships, one which becomes the healing relationship of generations. But in Naomi’s mind, her daughters by marriage don’t qualify as her children. In fact, they don’t qualify as anything but a burden – a burden which she is ready to relinquish. Naomi is fixated on her loss, not on what God might bring out of this tragedy. Naomi sees nothing but the grave. She is blind to the deepest commitment she will eventually experience – the hesed of Ruth. Naomi is trapped in the moment.
The Hebrew text doesn’t actually read, “without her sons.” Its unusual actual reading is “she was left from her sons.” There is an intentional contrast with verse 3. She left Bethlehem with her sons. Now she leaves Moab from her sons. The preposition (from) shifts the focus of our attention. The spotlight is not on the sons but rather on Naomi. “From” tells us where this journey starts, not where it ends. Naomi believes that this is the end of her life, but the truth is rather the opposite. This is the beginning point of her life, the point where God intervenes to bring about His purposes. She must leave from her dead sons in order to create the circumstances that will bring King David into the world. Once again we see that Naomi’s horizon is far too limited. Like Hagar, she sees only her pain, not the purposes of El Roi (the God who sees). By the way, the allusion to the story of Hagar is not so hidden. How many years was Naomi in Moab before she started her journey into God’s purposes? How many years was Hagar in the camp of Abraham before she obeyed the direction of El Roi?
Life is often “without.” But when it is, it is up to us to convert the “without” to “from.” “From this point forward” is the direction of the God who sees.
Topical Index: Ruth 1:5, without, from, Hagar, Genesis 16:13