Fully Accepting the Challenge of Jehovah’s Service
“‘I concealed my face from you for but a moment, but with loving-kindness to time indefinite I will have mercy upon you,’ your Repurchaser, Jehovah, has said.”—Isa. 54:8.
1, 2. What events in ancient Bethlehem were leading up to a challenge that would have far-reaching effects?
DAWN was breaking over Bethlehem. Already some movement could be faintly distinguished in the streets as the dim light of the new day revealed a few shadowy figures hurrying about some early morning chore. The graceful figure of a young woman approaches the city and glides quickly across the open space at the entrance of the gate. There is a look of joy on her face and a spring in her step despite the bundle she carries wrapped in her cloak. She turns aside and enters a modest home where she is greeted briefly by a much older woman, then both sit down, expectantly waiting, the younger woman with a prospective hope for the future, the older woman with the hope of fulfillment of a lifelong desire.
2 The minds of both women turn toward the city gate and the events that begin to occur as the first rays of the rising sun light upon the little city perched on the hilly eminence. More people are moving through the streets. The sun mounts higher. Though it is hardly yet summer, the six-month dry spell is well advanced and even at this early hour of the day the sun is beginning to make its heat felt. Now people are everywhere and the open space before the city gate is the scene of considerable activity. But sitting alone at the entrance of the gate is an older man, his bearing and dress denoting him as a man of means and of some prominence in the community. His demeanor this morning is serious as his eyes search out each new face that appears in the square. Obviously, he is looking for someone. Suddenly he calls out: “Do turn aside, do sit down here, So-and-so.” Another man of mature years stops, turns and seats himself alongside the first. With this greeting and this response, events were to begin that would change, not only the lives of the two women waiting patiently in the little home in Bethlehem, but also the lives of many in generations to come. A challenge was to be made to “So-and-so” that would have far-reaching effects, even down into our day.
3. Who were the principal characters in the drama of Naomi and Ruth, and what questions must be settled as to their relationships?
3 The name of the young woman who entered the city on this significant day was Ruth and the older woman who greeted her on entering the home was her mother-in-law, Naomi, widow of Elimelech. Ruth was not a natural-born Jewess though Naomi was. Ruth was a Moabitess. But how did she come to be the daughter-in-law of Naomi, living in Bethlehem so far away from her own land and people? What was her relationship to Boaz, the older man who was so intent on discussing a matter with So-and-so? And what was this matter of such import that its challenge could affect our lives today, over thirty centuries later?
4. Who or what do the principal characters picture?
4 The drama that was beginning to unfold in ancient Israel, as recorded in the book of Ruth, was prophetic of events in modern times that are just as challenging and far reaching in their effects as were those then. (1 Cor. 10:11; Rom. 15:4) And each of the characters involved in the ancient drama is pictorial as well. Elimelech’s name means “God is king.” Thus he pictures the Lord Jesus Christ. So does Boaz, a close relative of Naomi, his name possibly meaning “in strength.” It would be expected, then, that Naomi, whose name means “my pleasantness,” would picture those espoused to Jesus, those who are his bride, particularly those on earth in this “time of the end” when the drama is having its remarkable fulfillment. Ruth, her name perhaps meaning “friendship,” became the daughter-in-law of Naomi and was thus in line to produce offspring for Naomi. Thus she, too, would represent those of the bride of Christ, from a slightly different viewpoint and under different circumstances. Whom, then, does the one called “So-and-so,” who was also a close relative of Naomi, picture? We shall allow the unfolding of events in the modern day to make this identification clear.
A WOMAN FORSAKEN
5. (a) What occurred in Bethlehem in Naomi’s day, and what did her husband Elimelech do as a result? (b) What does this picture in the modern fulfillment?
5 We return now to the time when the happy family of Elimelech was still intact, his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, residing in the territory of Judah, in Bethlehem or Ephrathah. Bethlehem means “house of bread,” whereas Ephrathah means “fruitfulness” or “fertility.” Both names have to do with abundance, absence of starvation or famine, but in this thirteenth century before our common era, famine, lack of bread, does befall Bethlehem and the whole territory of the tribe of Judah, picturing the scarcity in a spiritual way that came upon Jehovah’s organization during World War I. Whether any other residents of Bethlehem left the city or not, Elimelech moves out with his family. He crosses over the Jordan River and settles down in the land or field of Moab to reside there temporarily as an alien resident, just as Jehovah’s servants today are temporary residents in Satan’s system of things. (John 17:16; 1 John 5:19) In doing this, Elimelech leaves behind in the land a hereditary possession.—Ruth 1:1, 2.
6. What events occurred in Moab with Naomi’s relatives?
6 In the course of time the aged Elimelech dies and leaves Naomi as a widow. Naomi then sees good to marry off her two sons there in the land of Moab, and Mahlon, apparently the older, marries the Moabitess Ruth, while Chilion marries Orpah, also a Moabitess. Eventually, however, Mahlon and Chilion also die and leave behind a widowed mother, Naomi, and widowed wives, Ruth and Orpah. (Ruth 1:3-5) They are childless widows, bearing no offspring to Naomi. Being too old to bear children herself, Naomi must bear the brunt of the reproach. The death of Mahlon (meaning “sickly, invalid”) and Chilion (meaning “frailty”) pictures the spiritual death of some associated with God’s organization during this trying period. It was a time of great sorrow for Jehovah’s people.
7. How did Naomi view her condition, and what condition did Isaiah prophesy centuries later?
7 Naomi saw herself as a woman forsaken, one without seed or the reproductive power to produce seed. She was like “a wife left entirely and hurt in spirit, and as a wife of the time of youth who was then rejected.” In the days when fruitage of the womb could be viewed as a blessing from Jehovah and barrenness as a curse, Naomi felt justified in saying: “It is Jehovah that has humiliated me.” (Ruth 1:21) Centuries later the prophet Isaiah was inspired to write of a similar humiliation, in this instance as a direct result of Jehovah’s displeasure. To appreciate fully the challenge that faced Naomi, we must understand Isaiah’s prophecy and its application to events that have taken place in modern times in fulfillment. “‘For Jehovah called you as if you were a wife left entirely and hurt in spirit, and as a wife of the time of youth who was then rejected,’ your God has said: ‘For a little moment I left you entirely, but with great mercies I shall collect you together. With a flood of indignation I concealed my face from you for but a moment, but with loving-kindness to time indefinite I will have mercy upon you,’ your Repurchaser, Jehovah, has said.”—Isa. 54:6-8.
JEHOVAH, A HUSBANDLY OWNER
8, 9. (a) To whom are the words of Isaiah 54:6-8 addressed, and how is this shown in the context of the prophecy? (b) What group is taken thereinto that is also pictured by Naomi?
8 This prophecy would suggest that Jehovah, the God of all creation, has a wife. Is this possible? Yes, symbolically speaking. To her it is said in Isaiah 54:5: “For your Grand Maker is your husbandly owner, Jehovah of armies being his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Repurchaser.” These words are addressed, not to Naomi, who had been dead for five centuries by Isaiah’s day, nor to any literal woman but to an organization, the heavenly Zion, God’s universal organization of spiritual sons in heaven. For the past nineteen hundred years these spiritual sons of God’s universal organization have not been confined to the invisible spiritual angels of heaven who are still holy and loyal to Jehovah God. This universal organization of Jehovah has taken in spirit-begotten sons of God on earth who finally total up to the number of 144,000. (Rev. 14:1) All of these are footstep followers of the chief one in God’s universal organization, namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.
9 These 144,000 footstep followers of Jesus Christ are engaged to marry him in heaven and consequently they are the prospective bride of Christ, as Revelation 21:9 calls them, “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” The members of this bridal class have been in course of selection during the past nineteen hundred years. For this reason there could at most be only a remnant of them on earth today. Those who survived World War I, being dedicated to God and baptized before the year 1919 of our twentieth century, are pictured in the drama by Naomi. How, then, did they come to be in the condition of Naomi in the land of Moab, childless and forsaken?
10. What interrelationship exists between the remnant and God’s universal organization, and during what period did the Greater Elimelech “die” toward the Naomi class?
10 In order to understand this feature of the drama of Naomi and Ruth it is necessary to understand another feature of the relationship of the remnant on earth to the other members of God’s universal organization, those in heaven. Those of the remnant being members of the universal organization of God, whatever affects the remnant of the bride, still in the flesh though spiritual sons of God, likewise affects God’s woman, the heavenly Zion or the universal organization. This becomes quite clear when we consider the prophecy of Isaiah 54:6-8 in the light of events that surrounded the activity of the Naomi class during World War I. For it was in this period, from 1918 into 1919, that the Greater Elimelech “died” toward the Naomi class, who became forsaken, as though without a husbandly owner. It was an experience of humiliation when Jehovah, the husband of that universal organization, rejected his woman, as represented by the spirit-begotten members here on the earth, to fulfill Isaiah 54:6-8.
JEHOVAH IS DISPLEASED WITH HIS WOMAN
11. When and for what reason did Jehovah find displeasure in the remnant, and how was this manifested, affecting the entire universal organization?
11 Notice how Jehovah describes his woman in Isaiah’s prophecy as being abandoned, hurt in spirit with his face concealed from her. That indicates a period of displeasure in her. That is why, in the Isa 54 eleventh verse, he addresses her: “O woman afflicted, tempest-tossed, uncomforted.” The Naomi remnant came into a condition like that, particularly in the year 1918, when they were, in a sense, exiled from Jehovah God’s favor. In that year Jehovah God came to his temple suddenly, accompanied by the messenger of the covenant, the Lord Jesus Christ. He examined the remnant here upon earth; he was displeased with them. (Mal. 3:1, 2) For a time they were not fully accepting the challenge of Jehovah’s Kingdom service that had opened up to them. They were holding back, through fear of man and were not properly keeping themselves “unspotted from the world.” (Jas. 1:27, Authorized Version) Therefore Jehovah let them go into bondage to Babylon the Great and her political associates. During this time much persecution and abuse were heaped upon them culminating in the arrest and imprisonment of the Society’s headquarters representatives in 1918, on the false charge of espionage.a This meant that all of the universal organization of God, God’s woman, would be affected by his displeasure, and the prophecy foretells that the entire organization would be as “a wife left entirely.”
12. How does Jehovah’s concealing his face from his woman fit in with the death of Elimelech if Elimelech represents the Lord Jesus Christ?
12 But how does Jehovah’s concealing his face from his woman fit in with the death of Elimelech if Elimelech represents the Lord Jesus Christ? How does the heavenly Jesus Christ, in effect, die toward the Naomi class on earth? During his earthly ministry Jesus clearly demonstrated the rule of action: ‘What I see my Father do, I do.’ If, then, during the remnant’s period of divine disfavor, Jehovah abandoned his woman, concealed his face from her, then the Son must do the same thing, particularly to that portion of God’s universal organization, the spiritual remnant here on earth, who are members of his bride. Thus Jesus Christ, in effect, “died” to those whom Jehovah abandoned.
A SERIOUS CHALLENGE RAISED
13. What does Naomi now determine to do, and how does this present a challenge to Ruth and Orpah?
13 By this time, in the ancient drama, ten years have passed and now Naomi hears that a change has taken place in Bethlehem. Jehovah has again directed his attention to his people by giving them bread. Naomi determines to return. But there is an even more pressing reason. Back there in Bethlehem of Judah Naomi had a hereditary possession and she needs to go back there to take it over. This raises a serious challenge to Ruth and Orpah, her two “daughters.” What will they do? Apparently without question they set out with Naomi on the road back to Bethlehem. (Ruth 1:6, 7) Then, somewhere along the road, Naomi attempts to dissuade them. “‘Go, return, each one to the house of her mother. . . . May Jehovah make a gift to you, and do you find a resting-place each one in the house of her husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they began to raise their voices and weep. And they kept saying to her: ‘No, but with you we shall return to your people.’ But Naomi said: ‘Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Do I still have sons in my inward parts, and will they have to become your husbands? Return, my daughters, go, for I have grown too old to get to belong to a husband. . . . No, my daughters, for it is very bitter to me because of you, that the hand of Jehovah has gone out against me.”’—Ruth 1:8-13.
14. What decision does Orpah make, and what similar course is followed today by those whom she pictures?
14 “At that they raised their voices and wept some more, after which Orpah kissed her mother-in-law. As for Ruth, she stuck with her. So she said: ‘Look! Your widowed sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods. Return with your widowed sister-in-law.”’ (Ruth 1:14, 15) Orpah pictures some who come into contact with the faithful Naomi class and who manifest some interest and zeal for a time but who shrink back while still in their Christian youth. Self-interest and personal desires stand in the way of their accepting Jehovah’s challenge to ‘test him out’ whether he would “not open to you people the floodgates of the heavens and actually empty out upon you a blessing until there is no more want.”—Mal. 3:10; Heb. 10:38, 39; 2 Pet. 2:22.
15, 16. How did Ruth respond to the challenge?
15 The Ruth class, on the other hand, sacrifice all personal advantages to share with the Naomi class in fulfilling Jehovah’s purpose for them. “And Ruth proceeded to say: ‘Do not plead with me to abandon you, to turn back from accompanying you; for where you go I shall go, and where you spend the night I shall spend the night. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I shall die, and there is where I shall be buried. May Jehovah do so to me and add to it if anything but death should make a separation between me and you.”’—Ruth 1:16, 17.
16 With these words, “May Jehovah do so to me and add to it,” Ruth was swearing, taking an oath to Jehovah that she would do these things. She was fully accepting this challenge to serve the God of Naomi, accompanying Naomi in his service even to death. Orpah’s failure to respond did not weaken Ruth’s determination or dampen her zeal. The influence of Naomi had worked to Ruth’s conversion, and the deep-rooted desire of Naomi’s heart was now to be worked out so that there would be faithful response on the part of Ruth to the further challenge both women were to face back in Bethlehem.
A FURTHER CHALLENGE PRESENTED
17. What did Naomi reply to the greeting of her neighbors upon her return to Bethlehem?
17 The bitterness and disillusionment Naomi had expressed to Ruth and Orpah as to their prospects in Bethlehem are not alleviated by Naomi’s homecoming. Back in her home, her sense of loss is only sharpened, and the keen realization of her impotence only heightens her bitterness and grief. All the city become stirred up over their return, especially so the womenfolk, and they cannot believe their eyes. Why, where is Elimelech? Where are Mahlon and Chilion? And who is this Moabite girl? “And the women kept saying: ‘Is this Naomi?’ and she would say to the women: ‘Do not call me Naomi [meaning “my pleasantness”]. Call me Mara [meaning “bitter”], for the Almighty has made it very bitter for me. I was full when I went, and it is empty-handed that Jehovah has made me return. Why should you call me Naomi, when it is Jehovah that has humiliated me and the Almighty that has caused me calamity?’”—Ruth 1:18-22.
18. Why did God’s woman, as represented by the Naomi remnant on earth, need to be redeemed?
18 Truly the Naomi class could say during this time of affliction: “Call me Mara, the bitter one.” Isaiah 12:1 also makes reference to this severe discipline when it says, the prophet speaking to Jehovah God: “Although you got incensed at me, your anger gradually turned back.” Then Isaiah 52:3 says: “For this is what Jehovah has said: ‘It was for nothing that you people were sold, and it will be without money that you will be repurchased.”’ In other words, the people who took captive God’s dedicated servants here on earth did not pay for them, they got them for nothing. Isa 52 Verses five and six add: “‘And now, what interest do I have here?’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘For my people were taken for nothing. . . . For that reason my people will know my name, even for that reason in that day, because I am the One that is speaking.”’ So God let his people go for nothing; he let the enemy take possession of them without purchasing them. Therefore, God’s woman, as represented by the Naomi remnant here on earth, needed to be redeemed, repurchased, from Babylon the Great.
19. What promise of Jacob to Judah would Naomi be particularly aware of in her forsaken condition?
19 This was the challenge that faced Naomi of Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah, childless and a widow as though forsaken, chastened by Jehovah. Still there burned deep in her heart the desire to share in Jehovah’s purpose for the women of Israel, particularly a favored few of the tribe of Judah, for those in this tribe were in line for the promise of Jacob, the father of Judah. Just before he died in Egypt in the year 1711 B.C.E., Jacob blessed Judah with these words: “The scepter will not turn aside from Judah, neither the commander’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to him the obedience of the peoples will belong.” (Gen. 49:10) This Shiloh, whose name means “He Whose It Is” or “He to Whom It Belongs,” must be the Commander who wields the staff. He must be the One who grasps the royal scepter. He must be the Messiah, the true Seed of Abraham, through whom all families of the earth would bless themselves. (Gen. 22:17, 18) Whose son would he prove to be in line of descent from Judah, the great-grandson of Abraham? What mother in Judah would be signally honored to carry him at her breast? Not Naomi, she might well reason in her own heart, childless and beyond the age of childbearing. No wonder that Naomi, in her desolate condition, cried out: “Call me Mara.”
JEHOVAH OPENS A WAY
20. What promise of Jehovah was made centuries later through Isaiah?
20 But Jehovah was not to forsake this faithful woman whose cry had reached his ears. Well might the prophet have said to her as he did, speaking for Jehovah centuries later to the woman she pictured: “‘I concealed my face from you for but a moment, but with loving-kindness to time indefinite I will have mercy upon you,’ your Repurchaser, Jehovah, has said.” (Isa. 54:8) How was this to be accomplished with Naomi? If she were to die without a natural descendant, she would have no heir to whom to leave that estate of her dead husband. Besides, if Jehovah’s purpose to bring forth Shiloh from the tribe of Judah were to be accomplished through her, she would need a male heir. What was she to do?
21. What provision was made in the law of Israel for a widow in Naomi’s plight, and how did this present a challenge to Ruth?
21 Again the law of Israel made provision for someone in Naomi’s plight. It was according to Jehovah’s own promise that no faithful woman of ancient Israel be left barren. He said: “Because you keep listening to the voice of Jehovah your God: . . . Blessed will be the fruit of your belly.” (Deut. 28:2-4) Neither was a man to be left without one to carry forward his name. The law in Israel stated: “In case brothers dwell together and one of them has died without his having a son, the wife of the dead one should not become a strange man’s outside. Her brother-in-law should go to her, and he must take her as his wife and perform brother-in-law marriage with her. And it must occur that the firstborn whom she will bear should succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be wiped out of Israel.” (Deut. 25:5, 6) This law, along with the law of repurchase, was Naomi’s only hope. If a brother or near relative could be found, then Naomi might rely on this provision of the law to seek a way out. But Naomi herself could not produce a child even if the relative were to be found. Her only chance then depended on Ruth her daughter-in-law, who could take her place in this arrangement and provide a seed to Elimelech. How would Ruth view this opportunity? Would she be willing to set aside any hope she might have of her own to find a young man who could give her something for herself? Or would she recognize in this challenge an opportunity to seek out Jehovah’s purpose and make that her way of life?
22. Who else in the prophetic drama would be affected by this challenge, and how should its outcome affect us today?
22 And what of Boaz and So-and-so? How would they face this challenge to provide an heir to Naomi for the name of her dead husband Elimelech? Would they recognize it as an opportunity to share more fully in Jehovah’s service? And how does this challenge and its outcome affect us today? The way Naomi was to be restored in spirit, the way her lifelong dream was to be realized, and the parts that Ruth, Boaz and So-and-so were to play in facing this challenge, all are a part of this inspiring drama that moves us even today to make Jehovah’s purpose our way of life. The article that follows will reveal the outcome.
a See the book Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose, pp. 79-83.
[Picture on page 77]
“Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out, for the man will have no rest unless he has brought the matter to an end today”
[Picture on page 81]
Ruth accepted the challenge to serve Jehovah, declaring to Naomi: “Your people will be my people, and your God my God”