Returning is life changing. In Ruth, Loved Redefined, author Paul Miller points out that the biblical author of Ruth uses the word shuwb, translated return, turn back, go back, and brought back twelve times in his opening scenes. (Its uses are easy to spot via blueletterbible.org.)
When judges ruled Israel a Hebrew man and woman and their two sons left Bethlehem to go to Moab. The two sons married Moabite women. Tragedy struck: all three men died, leaving all three women widows.
Naomi, the mother-in-law, hears that the LORD has visited His people by giving them bread and decides to return home. Her two Moabite daughters-in-law begin the return with her. Along the way Naomi urges them to go back to their mother’s houses. Ruth and Orpah refuse, determined to return with Naomi to her people. Naomi entreats them twice more to go back to find husbands. Orpah does turn back to her people and her gods and Naomi urges Ruth to follow her. Instead, Ruth vows to bind herself to Naomi. When they arrive in Bethlehem, and the village women wonder at the sight of her, Naomi declares that she had gone out full and the LORD had brought her back empty. She no longer wants to be called “Pleasant” but “Bitter.” The scene closes with a double underscore of Naomi and Ruth’s return together. They had arrived, just as the barley was ready for harvest.
After Ruth has married Boaz, an honorable man of Bethlehem, and they have borne a son, the village women announce to Naomi that this child would be the restorer of her life. The Hebrew word for “life” is nephesh, also meaning “soul.” The word for “restorer” is again shuwb. Obed would return Naomi’s life. He would turn her life back to God. He would restore her soul.
The language reverberates decades later. Obed’s grandson David writes that the LORD, his shepherd, “restores my soul,” good reason to “return to house of the LORD forever” (Psalm 23:3,6).
Returning change writers’ lives, too. We might do well to question ourselves today.
Do I need to return?
What has captured my attention and trust? Projects, contracts, sales, connections, talent? Blogs even?
Is it worthy to be trusted?
If I turned from it, what would I return to?
Is returning appropriate for me now?
Turning back may prove painful as emptying. The women of Bethlehem marveled at the negative change in Naomi. But as Naomi remained in Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” her soul was restored. The nearness of God was her good. And His nearness is the writer’s good, too.