Friendships in the Bible I
For years I thought that God was inefficient. It just didn’t seem to make sense that the Bible is so big and so full of complicated stories. Surely if God really wanted us to know what he was like and how to live, he could have done it in less space and with the use of a few well-placed bullet points.
Thankfully, as I have gotten older, I have come to appreciate efficiency less and relationships more. Now that I understand that God operates in relational ways, it makes sense that his story is told with in the rough-and-tumble of relationships in history.
The Bible is full of friendships – between God and people and between people themselves. We can learn a lot about ourselves and our own relationships by looking at theirs.
The beginning of the book of Ruth tells the story of a woman who had lost everything.
Naomi and her family had left Israel because of famine and had tried to make a life in Moab. But things did not run smoothly. First and probably disappointingly, her two boys grew up and married women who were not Israelites. Next and tragically, Naomi’s husband died. The final horror came with the death of both her sons; the sting in the tail was that both of them had failed to have any children.
Naomi was left with no means of support and no hopes for a family to continue into the future. She had nothing in the present and nothing to look forward to. She returned to Israel low, bitter and more than likely depressed.
But for all her losses, she did have something and that something was a friend. Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth came back to Israel with her.
I’ve sometimes wondered if Ruth stuck with Naomi only out of loyalty to the in-law relationship they both had. I wondered if she felt she was doing a duty by the older woman. I think this may have been the case at the beginning, when both daughters-in-law began to start home with Naomi. However, Naomi released them of whatever duty they had when she tried to send them home.
“I can’t give you anything,” she said. “Go back to your homes and families.”
Having been freed of her responsibility, Ruth was then free to choose to go with Naomi. She stuck with her mother-in-law by choice. And a beautiful friendship grew from that free choice.
Ruth was very good for her older friend. Her presence meant that Naomi was not alone in the shame of returning home in failure and tragedy. Ruth was the one who went out to work and provided for them both. Their lives were tied up together.
Ruth was different from Naomi – in language, age, culture and understanding. She was probably not the ideal friend that Naomi would have envisaged for herself if she had thought about it. Naomi would probably have chosen someone who was of the same background, or who spoke the same language fluently. She probably would have wanted someone closer in age to herself, or who had experienced famine and the same things she had gone through. Yet Ruth loved both God and Naomi and she had chosen to be there. That was enough for the relationship to go ahead on.
As Ruth looked after Naomi and supported her, Naomi started to feel a little better. Better enough anyway, to start to have Ruth’s own interests at heart. You know you’re really depressed when all you can think about are your own problems. You know you’re starting to come out of it when you can take a real interest in other people’s issues.
Naomi saw that Ruth who had been so good to her really could do with a bit of a life. She saw an opportunity to provide for her and she took steps and solved one of their biggest problems by getting Boaz to marry Ruth.
It’s almost as if Naomi went from saying “I’m completely empty and God is completely against me” to being able to recognize the things God had given her in Ruth and the opportunities God was providing in Boaz.
By the end of the story, Naomi was no longer empty, bitter and tragic. She was a different woman, and it was because of what God gave her in her friend Ruth.
God gives us people who are good for us, even if they aren’t the people we would choose. He often shows his love for us and his blessings through the love of other people, and he can turn around tragic situations through the friendship and support of our friends.