In auditions for the parts of Ruth and Naomi, Naomi’s line would be shorter. Kristi revealed what it meant to live “in the days when the judges ruled,” helping us understand why well loved Naomi, whose name meant “pleasant,” became embittered and empty. She is the only one in the story who experienced both journeys, to Moab and back to Bethlehem.
She had no idea of the high price they would pay for “flagrant disregard to the standards of the God who redeemed them.” It couldn’t have been easy for Naomi’s family to decide to flee the famine by going to pagan Moab. They were from the Ephrathite clan in the city of Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah. Overwhelmed by physical needs, they abandoned spiritual faith and decided to get around God’s plan for blessing. First they “sojourned,” then “remained,” and finally “lived there.” Rejecting the land where God settled them and embracing life in Moab, Naomi watched as her husband and two sons died in the span of ten years. Faced with the pain, her mother’s heart suffered deeply. Stepping outside of God’s will left her alone, with two foreign daughters-in-law and no security. Like many women, Naomi became disillusioned and confused by her circumstances. But then she heard news from home; God had met the needs of His people (1:6). It was time to return.
It’s not easy for a well know lady like Naomi to humbly return to the place she never should’ve left. Once “pleasant,” she wanted to be called “bitter.” Upon her return as “Mara,” she declared, “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty” (1:21). When she came home, “the whole town was stirred.”
When we see the defeated, worn out, bitter and embarrassed Naomi, we might be relieved she’s not our roommate, but Ruth’s responses to her mother-in-law prove otherwise.
Naomi was struggling in the fallout of rebellious choices, but even when she made up her mind to return to Bethlehem, she declared her hope for the Lord to deal kindly with Ruth and Orpah. She hadn’t stopped believing He was God; she just lost confidence in His love for her.
Naomi was a strong influencer, but her wanderings from God distorted her perspective, and she urged her daughters-in-law to return to their pagan gods. Ruth knew better. Through the Moab years, Ruth saw Naomi’s faith and trust in Yahweh shine through the darkness of despair. Even in a foreign land, the older woman’s life pointed to the true God in the midst of their shared circumstances and pain.
Once Naomi was back where she belonged, her perspective changed. She became a wise voice of counsel to her daughter-in-law Ruth. As she watched God provide blessing for obedience, she couldn’t help declare about Boaz, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (2:20) Naomi remembered the kindness of her God.
We may become discouraged by circumstances and losses of life, but when we remember the kindness of the one true God, bitterness dissolves.
Are you living life as Mara or Naomi? Are you in the place where God can bless you? If you’re empty, maybe it’s time to journey back.