Ruth and the Gazelle

"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Proverbs 17:17

Hey girlfriends!

I wanted to talk about friendship today. Our friendships. I recently filled out a survey of over fifty questions that asked random questions in order to give a little insight into who I was as a person. The questions ranged from the silly to the serious. I passed my filled-out survey on to my girlfriends with the hope that they would send their filled-out surveys back to me (some of you did, some of you didn't--you know who you are! :) ) so I could find out random information about them. One question asked on the survey that has stayed with me over the days since I filled it out is this one:

"Do you make friends easily?"

To which I replied: "Acquaintances--yes; true friends are harder to find and soul sisters are rare."

I promise you that any subject we could possibly think of is discussed in God's Word. He has a lot to say about friendship. My Bible study group, which meets at church, starts tomorrow. I cannot wait, especially because I am not leading the study this time. My friend, Holly, is. The study is on the book of Ruth.

In case you are not familiar with the Old Testament book of Ruth, I would recommend you grab a Bible and sit down and read it. The entire book is only four chapters long. It is a wonderful story of how God brought His redemption out of a story of unbelievable tragedy and loss. Its power speaks to me every time of how our God is in the business of taking the choices we make, good or bad, and using them for His own purposes and glory. It is a story of many things, but hope is what I think of the most to describe the book.

Today I wanted to ask a question: what kind of a friend am I? I sure know what kind of a friend I desire someone to be to me. I want one that is going to be loyal, loving, and will pray with me. I want a friend that is trustworthy, helpful, and tells me the truth in love whether I want to hear it or not. I want a friend who will keep my secrets in confidence, no matter how many opportunities present themselves for her to "spill the beans" on me. I want someone who hears the voice of God in her own life so that she can lend her godly counsel when I am confused. I want someone who will cry with me. I want someone who will not be easily disappointed with my shortcomings. I want my friend to love Jesus with all of her heart and actively be pursuing Him as passionately as she knows how. That's quite a list! I want that in a friend, but am I a friend like that?

I am fascinated by word studies. Today, as I was reading through the book of Ruth, I decided to find out what insight the original Hebrew language would give on the names of the two daughters-in-law of Naomi in the first chapter. This is what I found:

Orpah: gazelle

Now wait a minute. That sounds pretty good. Gazelles are beautiful, graceful animals. When I read that word, pleasant images came into my mind. But then my Strong's concordance revealed that the derivative word for gazelle was "neck." Huh? None of the following adjectives were complimentary that were associated with that word:

"stiff-necked, obstinate, apostacy [falling away from the faith]"

Whenever God uses the word "stiff-necked" to describe someone, it is never a compliment. Orpah and Ruth were Moabites. Naomi and her family had moved to Moab to escape the famine in Israel, where Naomi's two sons had fallen in love and made Orpah and Ruth their wives. But then, tragically, both men died. Naomi's husband had died also. Three women had become widows and were faced with a decision. It was decided that they would return to Israel, Naomi's homeland, and the two daughters-in-law would leave Moab. All three set out on the road to Israel, but Orpah turned back to return to Moab, her people, and her gods.

Ruth: friendship

Frankly, I expected Ruth's name to be a little more exciting than that. If Orpah got a gazelle, Ruth should get an even more beautiful animal than that associated with her name. These are the adjectives Strong's said about the Hebrew word friendship: "female companion, mate, neighbor woman." I liked the sound of gazelle, minus its hidden meaning, better.

But then I started thinking. Maybe you have had this experience, too. I have had gazelles in my life. Gazelles are beautiful to look at. They are graceful and lovely. They are also flighty, timid, and back away when there is even a hint of impending danger. They do not stay around long. I have had people in my life who have been interested in the relationship only if there is something in it for them. If the relationship is stroking their ego, is one where they are constantly on the receiving end, they don't have to work at it, and get to keep it as shallow as it suits them, they are interested. Once those things are removed, however, they are off to flit on to greener pastures. And if there is a possible smear of their reputation because of an association with me, they are out of there quicker than I can blink. Yeah, gazelles do not make for lasting friendships. When push came to shove, Orpah left her ten-year relationship with Naomi with a just little persuasion.

Ruth, on the other hand, gave one of the truest definitions of friendship ever spoken:

But Ruth replied:

Do not persuade me to leave you

or go back and not follow you.

For wherever you go, I will go,

and wherever you live, I will live;

your people will be my people,

and your God will be my God.

Where you die, I will die,

and there I will be buried.

May the LORD do this to me,

and even more,

if anything but death separates you and me.
Ruth 1:16-17 (HCSB)

Wow. Suddenly those definitions of female companion, mate, or neighbor look pretty good. I want a Ruth for a friend, not a gazelle. But here's the tricky part. Am I a Ruth or am a gazelle? Are my motives for friendship pure, unselfish, and full of integrity? The humiliating and convicting truth is that I have been a gazelle before. I have not defended where I should have. I have said more than was prudent. I have fled when I should have stayed.

I want to ask the question again: what kind of friend am I?

Lord Jesus, forgive me, and make me a Ruth, strong and steady and faithful to the end. You are my model. You never run, You love unconditionally, and You never tell any of my secrets. Help me to love like You do. I am powerless to do this without the help of the Holy Spirit in me. Like Ruth, make my name synonymous with the word that depicts true friendship to my girlfriends.