So you had to go home

naomiI heard a good talk today about going home. It really spoke to me, since I had to do that recently. It was about Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, taken from the book of Ruth in the Bible. But it made me think about myself, about other former missionaries like myself who’ve had to go home, and about what is actually “home” anyway.

It doesn’t start out a happy story. Naomi, an Israelite, left Israel with her husband, Elimilech, and their two sons when there was a famine in their part of the country. They went to Moab, what is now the area of Jordan directly east of the Dead Sea. We’re told that Naomi’s husband died there and that her two sons married women from Moab. Then over the space of ten years her two sons died. Naomi had heard that the famine was over in her homeland and she decided to return. One of her daughters-in-law decided to stay on in Moab, her home country. But the other daughter-in-law, Ruth, made a stirring plea to Naomi to allow her to come with her, saying she wanted to stay with her always, and that “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” [1]

Returning home to Bethlehem was a sad time. Naomi’s former friends who recognized her were told by her, “Do not call me Naomi [which meant ‘pleasant’ or ‘delightful’]; call me Mara [which meant ‘bitter’].” [2] She was home, but it was a sad homecoming. She was old, she had nothing but her daughter-in-law with her, and her life had seemingly almost been cursed—nothing to show for her life and her family.

Honestly, I know a pretty good number of friends right now who just might feel similar; people who left home to go abroad when they were younger. They spent their lives in service to God and didn’t use their “best earning years” to lay up treasures on earth [3] but rather to preach the Gospel in all the world [4] and to do whatever they could to reach the ends of the earth with the good news of Jesus and God’s kingdom to come. Now they’ve come back to North America or Western Europe from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, or South America, approaching retirement age with little to show in the physical in the way of wealth or material things. They are like Naomi: now “home” but not “at home.”

If you look at the broader picture from the Bible, there are a surprising number of people who left home for one reason or the other. Abraham was commanded by God to leave home [5] and there’s no record he ever went back. Moses fled from his country when he was 40 and stayed away till he was an old man. Then one day God told him it was time to go home. And it turned out the main thing God had been preparing Moses for all his life didn’t start till he was up into his 80s and had to go home.[6]

Or Jacob. Jacob fled from home because of his treachery and deceit and never saw his beloved mother Rebecca again. But after decades abroad, the word of God came to him one day, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.” [7] In Jacob’s case he left home with nothing but came back with a huge family and some wealth as well. The only thing was that his hulking paramilitary twin brother had every reason to finally really get even with Jacob for all the despair that he had brought on him and their family before he fled abroad. So Jacob had quite a lot to reasonably fear in any return home.

How about Jesus? It doesn’t seem like He really had a home during His ministry years, or at least we can read where one time He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” [8] Someone said to Him one time, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” [9] To which He replied, “‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.’” [10] Seems like His relation to what we call “home” was not what we nowadays would call traditional.

And what about the apostle Paul? He told some people one time about himself and his traveling companions, “To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless.” [11] He seems like another famous great from the Bible who didn’t have what is usually considered a comfortable, normal worldly home.

ruth and boazBut what about Naomi? As so often happens, God gets some of His greatest victories out of seeming defeat. And it takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle. It’s all in that short book, Ruth, only four chapters.

It turns out that Naomi had a relative named Boaz. Making a short story shorter, Boaz and Ruth met up and, in modern terminology, took a liking to each other. Fulfilling Jewish customs and law, Boaz went through the process of those times to take responsibility for the inheritance Naomi’s husband had left, which would include the responsibility of marriage to Ruth. Boaz-Ruth-Naomi-Obed_1035-64This all worked out, and it ended up that Boaz and Ruth had a son together, Obed. And as the Bible says, “Obed begot Jesse and Jesse begot David.” [12] That was King David, the one who was Israel’s greatest king. And Jesus, some 900 years later, was called in His day, “the son of David,” [13] as it had been prophesied that the Messiah to come would be of the house and lineage of David.

So Naomi and Ruth didn’t wither and die in despair when they returned to Naomi’s homeland. God had something planned and prepared, something greater than either of them could ever imagine. Even if Naomi for a while “believed not,” yet God abided faithful.

So if you are “home alone,” remember Naomi. “Do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of patience, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” [14] The best may yet be ahead, as it has been for so many people of faith down through the ages. In Isaiah 46:4 the Lord said, “Even to your old age, I am He, and even to gray hairs I will carry you!”

[1] Ruth 1:16.

[2] Ruth 1:20.

[3] Matthew 6:19.

[4] Mark 16:15.

[5] Genesis 12:1, Hebrews 11:8.

[6] See Exodus chapters 2–4:18.

[7] Genesis 31:3.

[8] Matthew 8:20, Luke 9:58.

[9] Matthew 12:47.

[10] Matthew 12:48–50.

[11] 1 Corinthians 4:11.

[12] Ruth 4:22.

[13] Matthew 1:1.

[14] Hebrews 10:36.

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