Sometimes Good People Get It Wrong
It all started when I was a child. My father was in the military and that meant our family was re-stationed about every three years. (Those of you from military families know exactly what I mean.) I was born in Tacoma, Washington. Shortly afterwards, we moved to Athens, Greece. From there we returned stateside and lived in Omaha, Nebraska. That season was followed by a 4-year stay in Kincheloe, Michigan. When that AFB was closed in 1977 we moved one last time to Warner Robins, Georgia, whereupon my father decided he was finished moving, promptly bought his first home, and retired.
Unfortunately, although my parents would never again move, the family “affliction” had already been passed on to me. Over the past 20+ years I have lived in Georgia, Argentina, Minnesota, and Florida. About 5 years ago my family and I returned once more to Georgia. Since that time we have lived with the daily expectancy that this is probably not the last stop on our spiritual journey. In our hearts we sense that His will may very well find us on the move once again.
Personally, I understand what it means to move, to leave a place you have called “home.” I understand the consideration and planning that accompany such a major transition. You pray. You wait upon God. You seek the counsel of others. You pray some more. And in the end, you move out in faith believing that God is indeed leading you and that He will faithfully provide for you and your family. To be honest, moving is never easy. There is a certain measure of risk that always accompanies the decision. Family seldom understands. Friends question your sanity. And even in the quiet recesses of your own mind you wonder and worry.
I guess all of that is the reason why I feel for Elimelech in the opening verses of Ruth (1:1-2). The story starts off innocently enough. In fact, if we were to read the first two passages independent of the rest of the chapter I doubt we would give it a second thought. The premise is simple enough. A man decides to move his family to another country. A famine comes to Israel. Faced with starvation, Elimelech packs up his family and heads to Moab in search of food and a more certain future. Sounds good. Or does it?
On closer examination, we find a number of troubling considerations, some life lessons that we would all do well to notice and heed:
- The absence of God. The opening verses are completely void of any references to the Divine. There is absolutely no mention of prayer or waiting upon God on the part of Elimelech. His move almost seems impulsive, reactionary. Yes, his situation was dire. Famine was sweeping the land. But even in the worst of times we need to soak all our decisions in prayer, looking to God for guidance and direction.
- The absence of friends. In these opening verses the only principles actors appear to be Elimelech and his family. Surely, the man had friends? But if he did, they don’t appear either here or later on in the story when Naomi returns home. God designed us for fellowship both with Him and other people. People who live in isolation often finds themselves making dramatic and traumatic decisions. As the Word declares, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.” How differently the story might have turned out for Elimelech if he had only taken the time to consult a few trusted friends before making such a major life choice.
- The absence of faith. The irony of this opening vignette is that the word Bethlehem in Hebrew is literally translated as “house of bread.” When difficulties arose Elimelech abandoned the “house of bread” in favor of worldly provision. He turned his back on God’s promises and chased after earthly recompense. When life is at its worst that is when our faith needs to be at its best. Yes, famine was threatening the land. But God would have provided had Elimelech exercised the faith to stand rather than flee.
In the end, Elimelech’s decision proved very costly. He would die in the land of Moab. His two sons also died there. Tragic, isn’t it? They moved seeking life and in the end their own human wisdom resulted in death.
Now, don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. Elimelech was not an evil man. He was not an idolater. If anything, he didn’t seem all that different from any of us. He was a man who loved his family and did what he thought was best for them. But in the end he made the wrong choice. Never forget that even good people can sometimes get it wrong. Faith is not an exemption from poor choices. Hence, the need to learn from Elimelech’s mistakes. By looking to God, seeking the counsel of trusted friends, and walking in faith we can all safeguard our families from such similar tragedies. When life gets hard turn to God. Don’t react. Don’t be impulsive. Look to Him and let Him establish your steps and show you the path.