God’s word has so many fascinating and inspiring layers of meaning doesn’t it?
I am rereading the Book of Ruth and each time I read it I am rewarded with a fresh insight. That’s the wonderful thing about the Bible, we can come back to it again and again and each time God will find something to touch our hearts with!
This time I realized just how powerfully the Book of Ruth commands us to pray for Israel, and pray with certain key concerns in mind. Right now I believe it is critical that Christian women keep this in mind while they pray.
So let me dive in and share with you what God laid on my heart.
How Ruth Teaches Us to Love the Jewish People
Let’s look at what, to me, is the single most powerful verse in all of scripture.
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16
If Ruth stays among her people the Moabites she will have her family there to support her, a new husband would be found for her, and she would live in comfort and familiar idols. But if she continues to Bethlehem her future is uncertain, she would have no family, no husband, and those around her would curse her as a Moabite.
Ruth’s sister in law, Orpah, did the safe thing, and turned back. And who could blame her, by earthly standards that was the sane thing to do, Naomi pleaded with them both to turn away. Orpah did the “good and proper thing.”
But not Ruth.
Ruth came to know the God of Israel, His righteousness and singularity.
She came to know His compassion, and how it was beyond race or nation. How He commanded mercy to widows like Naomi, and how He was a protector. If the God of the Jews saw Moses and his people out of Egypt, Ruth must have thought, surely He can see them both to the Promised Land.
Even though she knew the road would be hard, she stuck by Naomi.
Now what does this have to do with us today?
The Moabites were the enemies of the Jewish people and sadly many so called Christians have been the enemies of the Jews as well. From the Crusades to Nazi Germany a great deal of evil has been done in the name of Christianity. But right now what is God doing?
He is bringing Christians and Jews closer together!
Who is a greater ally of Israel than Christians? Who is a greater voice against Antisemitism?
If Ruth continues on with Naomi she is entering a foreign land, one which has long been at war with her people the Moabites. If she continues unto Bethlehem all she can expect to find is destitution. In a land where she has no father, husband or son, no means of support and no one to care for her. All she has to do is turn back to the rich green fields of Moab, to her family and to the comfort of her pagan religion.
But in that moment, that one perfect moment of faith, she clings to Naomi and to the God of Israel and braves the journey to the Land of Israel. What loyalty and love she must have had for Naomi! What Faith in the God of the Jews!
Not only does Ruth follow Naomi, but she takes up God’s commandment to care for her.
Don't we as Christians make a similar leap?
When we are born again we are leaping from a life of materialism, fear and selfishness and into a life of holiness. When we are new Christians we do not know what sort of future is ahead of us but we now of a spiritual strength and commitment which guides us further.
I believe there is a second meaning here as well for our own time. Much as Christians and Jews have had a history of conflict and Christians for centuries disobeyed God by committing antisemitic actions, we are now alive at a time when God is drawing us together with the Jewish people.
We follow in Ruth’s footsteps here don’t we? We are being called by God to be there for the Jewish people, they came before us, we are grafted into their covenants, and it is our duty to stand in solidarity with them.
Whether it be by combating antisemetism around us, by working to support Israel or learning about the Jewish roots of our faith by studying the life of Jesus, this is our calling as Christians and a powerful sign of our faith.
Lets remember our role as Christians in this story.
Just as Naomi did not make her way to Israel alone but was accompanied by a gentile Believer, so to were the Jews brought to the Promised Land by the help of Bible Believing Christians.
People like General Orde Wingate trained the first Jewish soldiers in Palestine in the 1940s, helping the desperate Jewish population fight off the might of the Arab armies. Or Reverend William Hechler who helped abused Russian Jews flee to Palestine in the 1880s.
We follow in the footsteps of Ruth and of generations of contempory Christians who were there for Israel and the Jewish people.
Understand the tragic meaning of "Mara" for modern Israeli women
“Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” Ruth 1:20-21
When Naomi finally reaches the Promised Land her reaction is to curse God.
To us that is shocking and obscene, indeed it is a terrible thing to think. But in our own life our misfortune can cause us to lash out at God, even our Savior asked “Why have You forsaken Me?”
We need to remember what life would have been like for her at the time, have you ever wondered why the Bible constantly links the widow and the orphan?
It seems strange doesn’t it? After all an old woman has lived her whole life and surely has resources wheras the orphan has no family to care for them. But Naomi’s situation, a woman without a father, husband or son was the same as an orphan.
Alone. With no one to care for her. In a society which hated the idea of a financially independent and self sufficient woman.
Her fate like Ruth’s would surely be one of distitution hence her taking the name Mara meaning “bitter”.
But what does that have to do with Jewish women in Israel today?
Well just as we Christians can think of ourselves like Ruth, a depressingly high number of older Jewish women in Israel are like Naomi.
As Naomi was in exile and suffered grief while in the land of Moab, Jews lived and suffered in Europe, like Naomi they made a perilous journey to Israel where they found again grief and heartache.
Pray for their safety and their living conditions
“Elderly live in fear that any kind of rain could flood their homes,” says Uriel Lederberg who heads the ICLG (an Israeli Public Trust). “And, any wind gust could lower the already low temperatures they are living in.” (YNetNews)
“That means they scrimp on heating, food and health care – they don’t visit the doctor when necessary and don’t take medications. According to the poverty report, the percentage of the elderly living below the poverty line has increased to 22 percent – double their percentage of the population.” (Haaretz)
“Among those who do make ends meet (76 percent), only a minority does so without any difficulty. This figure is deceptive in itself, since in Israel there is a high percentage (about 20 percent) of “senior citizens” who continue to work even after retirement age (62 for women, 67 for men). If we look only at those up to the age of 70, the percentage is much higher – 43 percent. In the OECD countries as a whole, the grouping of the world’s developed countries, including Israel, the rate is in the single digits.” (Haaretz)
“This new situation puts [the elderly] in a difficult reality as their daily routines have evaporated — they no longer go out to meet friends, to community centers, to supermarkets or other activities,” Yossi Heyman, executive director of the American Joint Distribution Committee’s association Eshel, told JNS. “Social distancing is also taking a toll because the elderly face more loneliness than the rest of the population. In fact, we are hearing from many home bound seniors that they’re more afraid of loneliness than the virus. (The Jewish Star, “Home bound seniors in Israel: Isolated and lonely”).
Understand "Leket" the little known commandment Ruth followed to save Naomi's Life
It might seem strange, but we need to talk about iron age farming regulations in the Bible to understand how Christians are helping elderly women in Israel today.
I think a lot of us get the mistaken impression that Boaz showed particular compassion to Ruth, after all, Ruth 1:15 reads,
“And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her.”
But this is not correct, see God made sure that even the most destitute in Israel would be taken care of!
When Ruth entered the field of Boaz to pick up what food she could she was not alone. Across Israel the poor and homeless walked behind the farmers to pick up the food God had set aside for them.
In Leviticus God ordained these three commandments,
Leket: When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:20)
Pe’ah: And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corner of thy field (Leviticus 19:9)
Shiknha: need to find the right spelling and a definition
When Ruth walked through the fields of Boaz she was taking advantage of this Biblical commandment to help the poor!
Today these ancient commandments are followed in a modern way by Leket Israel, the National Food Bank.
Our founder Joseph Gitler witnessed the food waste across Israel, almost half of all healthy nutritious food made in Israel finds its way into a garbage rather than in the bellies of those in need.
He started with just a few boxes of food in a little car and do you know what?
God blessed his efforts.
Leket Israel now feeds over 175,000 Israelis in need each week.
But during COVID we need your prayers – as do the more than 200 non profit organizations that rely on us for food.