Bonus Episode: Naomi – The Real Hero of the Story, with Jeanne Hendricks

As you heard in the recent episode of our Cover to Cover series, it’s my opinion that Boaz is the primary character in the book of Ruth.

But my dear friend Jeanne Hendricks holds a different view. Join us as she generously gives us her take on the purpose of this book and who she believes to be the real hero of the story: Naomi.

Thanks so much to Jeanne for joining us for this episode!

Transcript:

Dr. Easley
It is my delight, thrill, excitement, and joy to have my friend Jeanne Hendricks back on the podcast. How are you doing Jeanne?

Jeanne
I am doing very well. The Lord is good to me far beyond what I deserve. But I’m so honored to be with you. Dr. Easley Well, and as you tell me one on one, it’s that stubborn German constitution of yours, right? Jeanne Well, I guess so. It’s a combination. And having lived all those years with Howard Hendricks, what else do you do?

Dr. Easley
Well, there is that.

We just met with our financial planners, Cindy and I, we have our annual you know, review where you sit down and hear the good news and bad news, right? And I said, Hey, just by the way, how many of your clients did the husband outlive the wife? And they looked at each other and said, “I don’t even know if we could come up with one.”

Jeanne
That’s right. We women do hard things to our men and they have to go off to heaven.

Dr. Easley
The way I figure it is, Cindy, all this money is yours when I’m gone.

Jeanne
I have to remember that. Every dollar I’m spending, he earned it.

Dr. Easley
Well it’s not just that – it’s, Hey, you know, have some fun, for goodness sakes, yeah, buy a convertible, would ya? You know, anyway. Well, listen, you have taught the book of Ruth probably countless times and what we’re doing at our little Bible Church, Stonebridge Bible Church, is I have been teaching through each book of the Bible in one Sunday. So it’s been sort of the Ray Stedman approach, you know, going through the Bible, and I’ve learned so much. And I know you’re a learner. And I know you’ve taught this book a lot of times, and I think the kinsman redeemer is the hero and I think Ruth is the compliant, you know, faithful follower, but you’ve got a different take on the book.

Jeanne
Well, it’s vert contemporary, you know. It’s interesting, this book was written, you know, more than 3000 years ago, and it is so up to date. I mean, the people in it are going through exactly the same things that we see today, especially with women, it’s very relevant. And the dependency is so often on men, but then we lose the men and we’re left alone. And this this whole thing is just full of raw emotion. And it just gets to you when you read it every time.

Dr. Easley
Let me set a little bit of our context because the book of Judges, which covers about 350 to 410 years, that book covers the darkest chapters of Israel’s life. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. There’s no king in Israel. And then Ruth is this story. Now it came about in the days when literally, it’s when the judges were judging. So we get this little two page story in our Bible, that somewhere falls into that 350+ year dark chapter of Israel’s history, with three key players: Ruth, Naomi and kinsman redeemer, Boaz. So it’s a dark, dark chapter. But there’s a bright story.

Jeanne
Well, it is, it’s very bright, but it really does start out very, very dark. And it teaches it, the force of it is that it teaches you what to do when the world falls apart. It’s the secret of renewal, revival. It’s a power story. I think as it is, as kind of a password into the power source, how do you get beyond when everything falls apart? It sort of falls to me and in four different scenes, if you will. That I use my husband’s alliteration, so that I can remember it: despair, desperation, decision, deliverance. And, and you got to walk through those first ones. And it just seems impossible that it could be as bad as it was.

Dr. Easley
Let’s start with despair. Fill us in?

Jeanne
They’re in this little family. And of course, remember this is a Hebrew family. They’re living in this little town of Bethlehem, which later will become very famous as the birthplace of Jesus, but it’s an agrarian society. So you depended upon your crops and when you have a famine, you have a drought, you don’t eat. And this Hebrew family and all the names have meanings, like Elimelech like means God is king. His wife, Naomi means pleasant. And they have these two young sons Mahlon and Chillion, and their names mean weak and Pining.

Dr. Easley
It’s kind of comical, isn’t it? You wonder what they were like as infants, right?

Jeanne
That’s right. It was a sad situation. And Elimelech, we don’t know what his attitude was, but he was, he was absolutely despairing of how he’s going to feed the family, what he’s going to do, and he figures out, you know, it’s kind of like the Okies in the 20s. In the United States. When we had a drought and the sand storms and all the rest, and they all went out to California because they, they just couldn’t make it in Oklahoma. But remember, because the Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how it all happened.

And the historians are not quite sure which direction they went. But may have to remember that Bethlehem was located on this road called the Grand Trunk road. Now they had two options. They could go north around the north end of the Dead Sea, because he wanted to go to Moab. He heard that in the highlands it was very healthy living. Kind of like my friend who had health problems and she goes out to the desert where the air was dryer.

Dr. Easley
Well, and this is true in biblical history, too because you know, from Abraham’s time onward famines hit, you had to go where rain and crops were right so they’re going to Moab.

Jeanne
They have to go to Moab, and between Bethlehem and Moab there’s this thing called the Dead Sea. And and the historians are quite sure they could go north, go around the north end where there was a they have to ford the Jordan River. Or they could go south, around the south end, and up into the hills of Moab. But either way they went It was a very long, plus more than 50-60 miles, a very treacherous journey. And so they piled everything together and probably had an ox cart and maybe a donkey or two. And off they went.

But it was, it was a hard trip and the father dies. We do not know how he died. I wonder in my own mind whether they had such a tough trip that it took his health or whatever happened. At any rate, they lost Elimelech. And Naomi is left with two sons. Now they grow and both of them marry local gals out of this alien culture, their names were Orpah and Ruth.

Now, we have to look at it from their standpoint, because they moved into a home that was totally different from where they had grown up. There was no polygamy. There was a there was a husband and wife, love and devotion to each other. They follow the Mosaic Law, no doubt

Dr. Easley
But, they marry moabites.

Jeanne
Yes. Now, it was not against the law to marry a moabite, according to Deuteronomy they were allowed to marry. But it was a very strange situation, right?

Dr. Easley
Right. I mean, the pure intent was to marry within the tribes and not the inter-marry outside. So we’re gonna make the jump ahead and based on Ruth comments, we would say the language “she came to Christ.” But it seems as though she had faith in Yahweh Elohim

Jeanne
Or she developed that, and that’s the big question. How did they change? How did she change? Well, we know that, well, although we don’t have the details, both of the sons eventually died. And here is this situation with Naomi and these two daughters-in-law. And this is the raw emotion of this thing. You can picture them clinging together and dear Naomi has got to Make a critical, critical decision. And that’s, that’s the turning point, really of the whole story.

Dr. Easley
You know, I think, and you talk about Oklahoma and the Dust Bowl, I think of when we see refugees, we see Rwandan refugees that have lost, maybe, uh, maybe both parents, and they’re huddled together with a grandma, and two or three children and they’ve gotten nothing. Right. And that’s where we are, right?

Jeanne
They’re absolutely desperate. They have nothing. Everything’s gone. And it’s time that Naomi has to make a decision. And this is the turning point. And she’s she’s a woman of, I think, common sense. She says, “Go back live with your families. You can have you young you can re-marry, you have children, but I have to leave. ”

Dr. Easley
Let me interrupt for just a second. Let’s, just for my own benefit. We’re talking about desperate situation and the book of Judges and you start out number 1. D-despair, and that’s the despair of having to you know, go out and travel to Moab through the Dead Sea that complication there. now the desperation we’ve lost a limb lack we’ve lost Mahlon and Chillion. We have an older woman with two daughters-in-law who are widows. And now we got a decision to make.

Jeanne
It’s a very, very critical decision. And by now, you know, Naomi is worn down to a nub, I’m sure. And so she just would be what I think of is the next best thing to do: tell the girls to go home. I’ve got to go back.

Someone has said she was like a wounded animal that makes its way to the birth place in the woods. There was nothing else to do but to go home. So she makes this decision and tells the girls to go back. They, of course, they like her, they they depend upon her. She’s a light in their life.

But Orpah decides, yeah, I gotta do that, I gotta go back. So she does. But then we’re surprised by this amazing statement that Ruth makes, which is essentially saying, “Don’t ask me to leave you. Because I’m going to go wherever you go. I’m going to live with you wherever you live, Your God,” and this is the key right here.

She has seen something beyond anything she ever knew: There’s a God in the life of these people.

“This Jehovah God, your God is going to be – He’s my God.”

She has come to a place of belief. She says, “wherever you die, I’m going to die there and and I’m going to be buried wherever you buried. I am one of you. One of your family.” It’s a beautiful statement, of course, which is gone down through the ages and repeated over and over. This wonderful sense of belonging to this family. We do not know what Naomi taught. But I’m reminded of the verse in Deuteronomy 33, the eternal God is thy refuge, underneath are everlasting arms.

And so that’s the basis on which they return: these two women going back to Bethlehem. So the decision is made and then we begin the deliverance, which so beautiful, because when they get there, of course, according to the the culture, the women are looking at Naomi, and they’re saying “is this Naomi?” She must have aged – amazing. And, we’re thinking probably Elimelech leased his property. And she’s coming back to her hometown of Bethlehem. It’s barley season, it would be April and then it was followed by the wheat season in May.

And so it’s a situation where Ruth can have a way to earn a living, because in the old verse a custom, the reapers were told as they took the barley out of the field that they were to leave some along the sides for the poor people. And so, Ruth is there as a very humble person. And she shows extreme humility and virtue, because it was customary for those poor people often to flirt with the Reapers, but she’s a woman of great virtue, and she follows along and picks up the grain, and tells her mother in law what she’s doing. And Naomi gives her, of course, the advice that she needs that she should stay in this field.

When she tells her mother in law, I have been reaping. I have been gleaning, as they would call it, in the field of this man named Boaz, the light goes on. Apparently, in Naomi’s mind, and she says, “oh, he, Boaz, is a relative.” Now what we know from the end when he goes to the city council to make a statement, he is probably not a brother of Elimelech, but maybe like a cousin. And she says, stay there with that man, because he is reliable.

Dr. Easley
Can I inject and get your opinion on something? The plan which is hatched, so to speak, it’s very risky. What what Naomi’s up to. But what we find in chapter two is, I love this the sentence, Ruth the Moabite has said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean,” and what insight that gives us into the character – you mentioned this but I wanted to just elaborate a bit – What a remarkable woman she is to leave her home country, to go to a place she’s never been with her mother in law. Because of the rumor of this Yahweh Elohim who has provided bread, and now she’s got the moxie, if you will, to say, let me go do what I what I can do.

Jeanne
Her humility really shows, as well as her decency and, and her love for her mother in law. Her character comes through at this point. And of course, Boaz notices this and he takes a liking to her. And then her mother-in-law explains to her the customs that would make him notice her more, and gives her directions as to how to attract his attention. Remember, Naomi is an older woman, and she is looking for a husband for this woman that she brought. And suddenly it seems to me, the light goes on, this is a possibility here.

Dr. Easley
And He’s an eligible bachelor!

Jeanne
He’s wealthy as well.

So it looks good. And of course he works out, and Boaz then is faced with a problem, because according to the law they live by, he had to go and make an announcement to the city council, a public announcement, that he wished to purchase this property – and of course, the law was that he could purchase that, a man could purchase the property as a relative, and any eligible bride would come with it. Because, the thing was that they had to have children – the family had to go on.

Dr. Easley
Well, the Levitical law, if your brother died and left his wife without children, had a provision that you were to bring her in and father children so that the name of the brother was not forgotten. Right? So that’s a little backdrop. And then again, this transaction, which is really quite interesting, the land owner or closer relative is not named. Which, isn’t that interesting that God doesn’t want us to– It’s not about what he failed to do, But about what Ruth and Boaz and Naomi did by faith, I think that’s a remarkable part of the story.

Jeanne
It is, it is. But Ruth of course, is so aware of her position where she even says she fell on her face. It tells us in chapter two, she says, “Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should take notice of me? I am a foreigner.” She was an alien person. And she didn’t feel worthy of this, which I think is a tremendous picture of us spiritually as we come to the Lord. I’m not worthy of what you did for me, you died for me, but I’m not worthy of this. But of course, his love is is over shadowing the whole thing. And when the closer relative, could have been, could have been a brother, but he did not have the desire or the ability to take over this situation.

And so Boaz, who was possibly a cousin or someone, stepped in and bought the property, and the bride came with it. It is such an amazing picture, a parable, if you will, of what the Lord does for us. We were aliens, we have no right to have any part in what God provides. But he says, I have loved you, and I bought you, and I’ve paid for you. So you are mine now. This ignominious beginning comes to this wonderful restitution and rest.

But the lesson that I personally glean from this amazing story, which has such a spiritual background and and import to it is:

In this world in the 21st century, I’m a woman. Am I a woman that will inspire others to trust the God that I trust in?

Naomi, of course, is just trying to live a life, but she had in her a light that was shining and she didn’t even know it, wasn’t even aware of how much it was affecting other people. That’s the incredible story, the lesson that drops into everybody’s mind as they think about this in today’s world.

Dr. Easley
Now, just to review, you’ve talked about these four D’s: the despair, the desperation, the decision and the deliverance. And one thing you have written that there’s no Ruth, without a Naomi.

Jeanne
That’s right. And that’s why that question is so central in my own mind, because although we all love Ruth, and she is certainly a wonderful role model. I feel there could not have been a Ruth if there had not been this mother-in-law, this Naomi person, who in her own way, just worshipped the Lord and and let the light shine when she didn’t even realize it. It’s a wonderful example for every woman, every Christian woman today.

Dr. Easley
I also love that toward the end, of course, You know, we know the story too well sometimes, but Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap.

Jeanne
That’s right. That’s the beautiful finish to the story. That not only did Boaz fall in love and marry Ruth, but they had this son named Obed. And it for Naomi, it was a closure. It was that ability, as you say, to hold this little baby, and there’s nothing nothing quite like holding a little grandchild.

Dr. Easley
And then the neighbor women say, and again, these are tribal neighbors where word spread like fire: A son has been born to Naomi. This was a big deal. And you can see this woman with a giant smile holding her little baby grandson in her lap rocking. And by the way, she’s called Naomi – not Mara.

Jeanne
That’s right. We’ve we skipped over the way Naomi responded when she came back because she was at the bottom. And she said, Don’t even call me by my name Naomi, because that means pleasant. And God has dealt bitterly with me. She, she experienced what so many women today experience, she’s just been had. She’s at the bottom, she has nothing left.

I read about these dear women, these refugee women whose husbands and families have been taken away from them, and they’ve been persecuted and they have nothing at all. And this is where Naomi was. She says, God has just dealt bitterly with me, but God, as you say it – He is the kinsman redeemer, and he makes all things new.

Dr. Easley
So again, you started this way, but just to refresh all of our minds. We’re in a culture today where women’s roles are pushed and pulled and strong opinions about feminism, and stay at home and don’t work, and you must have a career, and there’s so many things boiling for young women today. And it can be hard, it can be overwhelming to navigate. So talk to some of those women, as you think through this story, and Jean Hendricks’ story of, you know, how things have changed, but God hasn’t changed. And we’re going to have times of trouble and despair and desperation, and we’re gonna have to make decisions.

Jeanne
Well, one of the things that happens to you as you get older, I could now speak about that is that you’ve experienced a lot of loss in your life. You can’t live in this world without experiencing loss. And I could go down and, and enumerate my own personal losses of many family members whom I loved as well as dreams that never came true, and now we’re older, and we like to say wiser, but not always.

And, and many women come to the end of life and they’ve lost everything. They’ve lost their health, they’ve lost their family, they’ve all means of support. And we can become very, very bitter. And God is, this is His message to us: I’m still here, look at Me, I have done something for you. I loved you, no matter where you have been, what has happened to you, I still love you. And I have paid for you. And I want you to come and be in My family.

That belonging is so important. I’ve been very blessed in my life. Because my earliest memory was my father saying to me, you’re my little girl. And when he would say that, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I know now. He’s saying: You belong to me. We all have to belong to someone who is bigger and wiser and more capable than we are. And God is saying that message to us through this story of Ruth.

The book of Ruth is not just dropped there in the Bible because it’s an interesting story. The love story is far more than that. It is the story of what God does.

We call Him the kinsman redeemer because he made us, he owns us, and He loves us and he paid for us. And we can trust him and trust our lives to Him, not only for this world, but for the next. Just yesterday, I heard a woman being interviewed, she was 100 years old, and they asked her what has kept you going so long? And she said, “Well, when you fall down, you just have to get up again.” And I thought to myself, that sounds so wonderful.

But – What happens when you can’t get up again? What else is there to look for? What is it here to hold on to? It is something unseen. It is the unseen love of the Heavenly Father, who is the final answer to all of our problems. And that’s why the Bible has been written.

That’s why this story is here, so that we can know what kind of a God we have. And He’s always there for us. The world we live in is so harsh. And women often bear the brunt of that harshness. And God is saying: I’m there for you no matter what.

Dr. Easley
Okay, let me ask you a final kind of wrap up on this. You are sitting, having coffee with a young wife it le Madeline’s somewhere in the Dallas area, and she has gone through a horrible divorce. She’s in trouble financially. Maybe she’s a single mom now, she’s got a couple of kids. And she’s poured her heart out to you. And so Jeanne, What do I do? Where do you start with her? What do you tell her?

Jeanne
Well, first of all, I hear her story. I want to know all about her. I want to hear that heart ache that she is describing. And then I want to tell her that there is a God in heaven who loves her. She’s not forsaken. I want to give her some encouragement from the scriptures. Because there are all these promises that God gives us:

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

But we have to place our trust in this Lord who offers His life to us. But that’s, that’s on the unseen level.

Now on the day to day level, she needs to make some contacts. I could offer her the opportunity to go to my church where they have groups that meet to discuss problems just like hers. And there are people there who will love her and will help her, and to make these human kind of contacts that she needs. But make it very clear to her that it’s not just the human contacts, it is the contact with the Lord in heaven, and what He has done to save her, and that she may have come to this day for such a time as this, so that He has given her the word of His love.

I will possibly and very often would give her something to read, something to do, some person to see so that she’s not left alone. You don’t just toss her off and say, Well, good luck. Because that would not be not only the proper thing to do, but that’s not what the love of God says to us, that we are to love each other. We are to love our enemies, we are to treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves.

Dr. Easley
Jeanne, it’s always, always a delight to talk to you. I look forward to our phone calls and when we’re in Dallas to come by and hug your neck,

Jeanne
Come to Dallas again!

Dr. Easley
Cindy I love you so much and your imprint is on our marriage, on our lives. Hopefully we transfer some of it to our kiddos and now we got grandkids to try to love and the Prof or our in our Hall of Faith and we love you and thank you for your time, and we’ll get you back on the broadcast soon!

Jeanne
Well, I am the most blessed woman in the world and so honored to just chat with you today. Thanks so much.

Michael Easley

About Michael Easley

Michael is husband to one, dad to four, and host of Michael Easley inContext.



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