This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary, Year 2 (Most recently: Oct 18. 2015)
Summary: This moving passage about love and grief needs no Hebrew to be understood. However, the Hebrew helps us see that Naomi has a very deep faith. A deep faith that lets her weep, that lets her "let go" and finally that lets her embrace.
רעו ("rahav", meaning "famine", vs 1) For most Americans, the idea of famine is nonsense. Grocery stores are always full, in years of drought and years of floods. Yet in the Bible, famines are quite common. Often they move the plot along (famine forces Abram to move to Egypt; famine forces prodigal son to near starvation).
בית לחם ("Bethlehem", meaning "house of bread" vs 1) This little verse suggests to the person familiar with the Hebrew Bible (or whole Bible!) that something special is going on here. Bethlehem is a small town...from which both David and Jesus come! Great and beautiful irony that Jesus and David come from town called "house of bread."
פקד ("peqad", meaning "visit" vs 6) This verb, when used in conjunction with the Lord, is quite significant. In this case it means something like, "God turned full attention toward..." While is not necessarily good, it is used in a few cases of something wonderful happening in the Bible:
- Birth of Isaac (Gen 21.1)
- God deciding to free Israelite people from slavery (Exodus 4.31)
- Birth of Samuel (2 Sam 2:21)
- Cyrus rebuilding temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1.2)
In short, its inclusion here is quite a bold statement by Naomi
אמה ("am", meaning "mother" vs 8; see note on "h") I was struck by the fact that Naomi instructs them to go to the house of their mothers. Is this because this is a gathering of women? Or that their fathers are dead? Perhaps they know grief too?!
note: the ה"h" on the end signifies "direction" as in "go in the direction of your mother"
חסד ("kesed" meaning "steadfast love", vs 8) This is a crucial word in the Old Testament. What I want to point out is that Naomi's words are deeply theological. She is able to discuss both the Lord visiting her people; the Lord's steadfast love; the Lord's arm against her in death. This is a complex and mature faith, one that should not be overlooked.
ותבכינה (a conjugated version of (בכה), meaning "weep", vs 9) A feminine plural is not a common verb conjugation in Hebrew (alas!) But notice how although Naomi kisses, they all weep. The word weep is akin to wail. It is a deep expression of grief (Psalm 137:1, Genesis 21:16). I wonder how often, in America, we do not let people weep as they should.