Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Turns and Returns

In October, we begin a sermon series on the book of Ruth. I have found the research fascinating. In the second sermon, we cover the latter part of chapter one. Naomi urges Ruth and Orpah to return to their families. However, Ruth is persistent and confident that she will remain with Naomi. One scholar points to a key word in this text; it is the Hebrew word shuv. A common word (used 985 times in the OT), it is often translated as turn or return or back. It is sometimes translated as repent. This word is used 14 times in the book of Ruth (11 times in this first chapter). I find this word particularly relevant to the topic of discernment.

As we study the story, we find Naomi returning to her homeland. She has suffered great tragedies in Moab. In ancient cultures, gods are inextricably linked to land/nations/territory. So Naomi’s returning to her homeland could also be understood as a returning to God. While it may be a stretch to assume Naomi’s disconnection with God while in Moab, we know that Ruth commits not only to join Naomi’s people but to also identify with her god.

(Ruth 1:16 NIV) Your people will be my people and your God my God.

In this chapter, both Naomi and Ruth are turning toward God. The chapter is filled with discerning. While all three of them (Naomi, Ruth, Orpah) are heading to Judah in verse 7, Naomi has a change of heart in verse 8.

(Ruth 1:8 NIV) Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home.

You have to wonder how long this had been nagging at Naomi. Yet somewhere on the road to Judah, she decides that it would be better for her daughter-in-laws to return to their families. At first, both women refuse Naomi’s appeal. But after discussion, Orpah decides to return to Moab. Ruth clings to Naomi and discerns that she must remain. Again, Naomi pleads with her to reconsider, but finally gives in to her plea.

(Ruth 1:18 NIV) When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

Lots of decisions. Lots of choices. Lots of shuvs. As I think about this word, the story, I am reminded that life is full of turns and returning.

This morning, I was reading in Psalm 119. The word shuv is used twice in this psalm. The psalmist longs to understand the statues/laws of God. He prays for clarity and direction. In verse 59, he proclaims,

(Psalms 119:59 NIV) I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes.

May we learn to seek you on the roads of our life. May we have the courage, as Ruth, to follow you into the unknown. May you bring clarity to our steps as we constantly turn and return to you.