Beginning at the Ending
Sometime later Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, so she and her two sons were left alone. So her sons married Moabite women. (One was named Orpah and the other Ruth.) And they continued to live there about ten years. Then Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, also died. So the woman was left all alone—bereaved of her two children as well as her husband!
A friend asked me, “If you could write a novel on any subject, what would it be?” I told her I would someday love to know enough about the ancient Near East to write a fictionalized account of the life of Ruth of Moab. I’d start with her childhood in Chemosh-worshipping* territory, cover her interracial and interfaith marriage, her ten years of infertility, the loss of her husband and his relatives, her conversion, her struggles with an initially ungrateful mother-in-law, her marriage to old-guy Boaz, relations with her new ex-hooker mother-in-law (Rahab), the coronation of her great grandson, David, and her relationship with his wife, Bathsheba. But, I told my friend I’m afraid it might not have enough drama.
You don’t actually have to be an expert in ancient Near Eastern history and customs to get a handle on Ruth’s story. In Ebony Moon, Dallas Seminary professor Dr. Reg Grant reset the story in modern West Texas. When I picked up Reg’s book, I didn’t know he was telling Ruth’s story. So I read away about this family of couples, and just about the time I grew to care for all the characters, Reg killed off the father-in-law and both of his sons. I thought perhaps Reg needed some help learning to craft a novel. Nobody starts a book by having half the main characters die! What if Little Women started with Beth and Meg croaking? If Star Wars began with the deaths of Princess Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi? Not a chance.
Yet about the time the sister-in-law caught a Greyhound out of town in Reg’s tale, I slapped my forehead. He’s recast the story of Ruth! I realized I’d shoved Reg into a novel-writers’ box. Sometimes good stories—the best stories—start with authors breaking the rules.
The story recorded in the Book of Ruth starts with loss upon loss. Consider what we find in the first few verses of chapter one:
- There was a famine in the land of Judah. This couple leaves “the house of bread” (Beth-lehem) to find bread elsewhere. The irony! Imagine walking into the grocery story and finding every aisle empty. It’s hard for most in the West to imagine the fear and pain of going hungry with no prospect of a full stomach.
- A man from Bethlehem in Judah went to live as a resident foreigner. How desperate would we have to be to move to another land to quell our hunger?
- His two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. We may find it difficult to see the loss here until we know “Mahlon” means unhealthy or sickly and “Chilion” means puny or weakly.
- Sometime later Naomi’s husband Elimelech died. Easy to see the loss there.
- Her sons married Moabite women. Naomi’s sons married outside of the faith. How would you feel if that happened to you?
- They continued to live there about ten years. Though Naomi waited a decade, her sickly sons never announced “You’re going to be a grandma!”
- Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, also died. Losing spouse and children, plunging you into abject poverty? Does it get any worse than that?
T. S. Eliot, the Nobel-Prize-winning poet wrote, “The end is where we start from.” Naomi’s life looks like it has ended, for all intents and purposes. What does she have to live for? Yet if you’ve read the story you know that her ending is only her beginning. Certainly, these “ends” at the beginning of the story paint a backdrop against which to view Ruth and Naomi getting a new start. And by chapter four we have a happy ending.
What difficulties are you or your loved ones facing? What heartbreak haunts you? It may look as if all hope is lost, as though God has abandoned you, like the Almighty One has plotted to ruin you. Yet with God such hopeless-looking circumstances can mark the start of beginnings that are far beyond what we can imagine.
Can you trust that what looks to you like an ending may be the beginning of something great?
*Chemosh: god of the Moabites.
Excerpted from Premium Roast with Ruth, by Sandra Glahn. Used by permission of AMG Publishers, © June 2007. All rights to this material are reserved.