But Naomi replied, “Turn back, my daughters! Why should you go with me? Have I more sons in my body who might be husbands for you?” Ruth 1:11
Turn back – Once again we encounter the verb shuv in this story. One commentator points out that shuv in Jeremiah has seventeen different nuances. We should not be surprised to discover several in this story. Naomi has implored her daughters-in-law to return to their mothers’ homes. Now she uses a stronger metaphor. Since she is unable to have more sons, if the women accompany her they will be relegated to the life of a childless widow. It seems like a very good reason not to go to Bethlehem.
But Naomi isn’t telling the whole truth. In fact, one of the undercurrents in this story is how much information Naomi does not reveal to Ruth. The question is why she leaves out certain crucial pieces. For example, at this very point Naomi leaves out the fact that there is a kinsman-redeemer in Bethlehem. She leaves out the fact that her late husband has property in Bethlehem. She conveniently forgets to mention the levirate obligation. Later she “forgets” to mention who Boaz is or the fact that Ruth may be in danger in the fields. As we shall see, at crucial junctures Naomi reveals only part of the future. There are invisible forces working in Ruth’s life, at least they are invisible to Ruth. This makes Ruth’s demonstration of hesed all the more powerful. She acts with compassionate benevolence even when she doesn’t know all the facts.
Now we need to try to answer the question, “Why would Naomi leave this out?” The answer, although only speculation, implies something about human behavior even among the most spiritual of us. Is it possible that Naomi, who truly loves her daughters-in-law, is really trying to protect her reputation and status in the community of Bethlehem? At this point, no one from her Israelite village knows that her sons married Moabite women. No one knows that the commandment of Deuteronomy 23:4-9 has been violated. If Naomi returns alone, she can simply report that her husband and sons died in Moab. No scandal needs to come to the surface. But if she comes back with Moabites who claim to be relatives, even by marriage, Naomi’s status in the community will diminish. Her husband’s name will suffer. She will have to explain things.
How many times have we “returned” without providing the full explanation of our “away from home” events? How many times have we conveniently left out a bit of crucial information that might encourage someone else to make a different decision, one not necessarily favorable to us? How many times have we “blessed” someone else but really hoped that he or she would just go away? Maybe we know Naomi far better than we thought.
When God asks us to return to Him, do you suppose He leaves out a bit of information crucial for the decision? Do you suppose He welcomes us back but really doesn’t want to hear the whole story? Oh, but God isn’t like a man, is He?
Topical Index: shuv, return, Naomi, Ruth 1:11