ABC Extra – One Barley Harvest From Redemption

May 10, 2010 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Depression is epidemic in our world.  According to the latest statistics available, major depression affects approximately 15 million American adults, or about eight percent of the U.S. population.  And these statistics pertain only to people 18 years of age and older.  This does not take into account the severe depression that plagues four percent of adolescents.  Interestingly, the fastest growing demographic for anti-depressants is toddlers.  Experts estimate that at least four percent of toddlers – over one million tikes – are clinically depressed.  Yes, depression is a major problem in our world.

In Adult Bible Class this weekend, we tackled the problem of depression and looked at the story of Naomi.  There can be hardly a doubt that Naomi was a depressed woman.  In the first five verses of the book of Ruth, Naomi has to move from her hometown of Bethlehem to the foreign and pagan land of Moab where she loses her husband as well as her two sons.  If I lost my home and family, I would be depressed as well!

Naomi’s depression manifests itself first in the way in which she treats her two widowed daughters-in-law.  She, as a worshiper of the true God of Israel, actually encourages her daughters-in-law to return to their former paganism (cf. Ruth 1:15), a suggestion that would have shocked and revolted any ancient Israelite.  Moreover, Naomi blames God for her tragic plight.  She declares, “The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:21).  In the Latin Vulgate, the Hebrew word for “Almighty” is Omnipotens, from whence we get our English word “omnipotence,” a word which references the all-powerful nature of God.  Thus, Naomi is accusing God of using His omnipotence not for her welfare, but for her harm.  Indeed, the Hebrew word for “misfortune” is ra’a, meaning “evil.”  Naomi, then, goes so far as to accuse God of being the author of evil in her life.

As I mentioned in Adult Bible Class, Naomi’s response to hardship is not exactly the pinnacle of piety.  Her response to trouble differs vastly from Job’s more famed response to his trials:  “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised” (Job 1:21).  Job’s response, in the opinion of most people, seems to be the more dignified and pious response to affliction.  And yet, our responses to suffering more often mirror Naomi’s than they do Job’s.  I know that mine do.

Still, there is hope.  For just as God restores the fortunes of Job, He also restores the fortunes of Naomi.  He does this not on the basis of her faithfulness to Him – for she acts faithlessly – but according to His grace and care for her.  Indeed, even as Naomi is accusing God of bringing evil on her, the biblical text clues us into the fact that God is working behind the scenes to care for this desolate and despondent widow:  “So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning” (Ruth 1:22).  It is at this barley harvest that Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth meets a man named Boaz who is exceptionally kind to both her and her mother-in-law, providing them with food, and eventually marrying Ruth and providing an heir to carry on Naomi’s family name.  While Naomi is complaining about God, God is all the while working through something as inauspicious as a barley harvest to redeem Naomi’s tragic circumstances.  Naomi was only one barley harvest away from being redeemed by God – and she didn’t even know it.

Interestingly, the barley harvest in ancient Israel was also known as the Feast of Firstfruits.  The Feast of Firstfruits was an opportunity for the Israelites to bring the first and best of their harvest before God in thankfulness to Him (Numbers 15:17-21).  Notably, this was also the day on which Jesus rose from death, for He too is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20).  The Feast of Firstfruits, then, was a time to celebrate the redemption of God and, finally, how that redemption is expressed fully and finally in Christ, even as Paul writes:  “Christ was delivered to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).  For on the Feast of Firstfruits, Christ, risen from the dead, redeemed us from sin, death, and the devil.

In Ruth 1:22, the barley harvest is beginning.  And though Naomi cannot yet see it, she will soon be celebrating the redemption of God, just as she should be at the Feast of Firstfruits.  She is only one barley harvest away from having her tragedy redeemed by her Lord.

In your times of trial, do you believe that God can redeem you out of tragedy?  You should. Scripture exhorts us to “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).  There is a Day coming when our Lord will appear and redeem us out of all our trouble, heartache, and pain, for the older order of this sinful world will pass away.  This day is the Last Day of Christ’s return, sometimes pictured as a harvest (cf. Matthew 3:12).  Thus, like Naomi, no matter what we face today or tomorrow, and no matter how much depression it might bring us, Scripture promises that we are only one harvest away from redemption.  I hope you hold fast to this precious promise.

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