When we think of women in the Bible, we are often tempted to believe that all of them are somehow faith inspiring. The truth is that these women are as real as you and I. I truly believe that God wrote their stories so that we could one day “look in the mirror.” The book of Ruth is inspiring, but it also challenges me to look into the parts of myself that I most dread. Not the Ruth part, but the Naomi piece. As much as I want to be like Ruth, I must admit that Naomi dominates most of how I react in hard circumstances.
Ruth 1:1 “In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah wen to sojourn (left) in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.”
Naomi was in good company here. Her husband proves to be an assertive decision maker with strong leadership. We can assume that he had strong leadership because his two sons and their spouses went with him. Yes, in those times families stayed together. Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for families to break apart when decisions did not appeal to other members of the families. This is proven when we see Lot, Abraham’s nephew, decide to go to Sodom. Naomi’s sons could have made the same decision; yet they followed the leadership of their father. Naomi had a family that she could rely on; a husband that was not afraid to faithfully step outside of the comfort zone, two young sons that were capable, and two daughters-in-law that shared the work with her.
Nevertheless, Naomi ends up losing her husband and sons. She is left with her two daughters-in-law and decides to encourage them to go back to their homes in Moab. Orpah, one of the ladies, goes home. Nevertheless, Ruth does not go back. Naomi makes every attempt to discourage Ruth; nevertheless, she cannot dissuade the girl from leaving her. While Naomi is bitter, we can see that she has been teaching Ruth about the One True God. While we know that Naomi blames God for the tragedy that has taken place in her family, we also see that she still hands on to her faith even though she is very present in her circumstances. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, and people begin to recognize her. There is bitterness in her voice; we see this when she answers.
Ruth 1:19-21 “So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them And the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara (means bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi (means pleasant), when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Naomi is a reminder of our identity struggle. If you are like me, and frankly most of us, you may have questioned your purpose here and why you have endured the struggles in your life. You may feel as if there is no end to your challenges, suffering, and sorrow. This is a very fallen world. It would be easy for me to slap a spiritual band-aid on this struggle and tell you: “God has you, have faith, you will get through this.” Nevertheless, we are to explore the core of our struggles in a Biblical way. I know that I sound a bit like a theologian now (I wish!). The truth is that to encounter true healing and freedom, we need to get in the dirtiness of our mess, and start cleaning up the muck and grime from years of piling up harsh feelings.
How do we get to the other side? How do we thrive in a fallen world? How do we amount to much?
A tip that I learned from Naomi: look at the famine, but focus on the harvest. Naomi is going through a hardship that I cannot even comprehend. I don’t want to comprehend it because it would take for me to lose my family. No, Lord…not interested. Nevertheless, I am interested in Naomi’s struggle and how it relates to me. You see? Naomi leaves “full” from Bethlehem when there was a famine. She was “full” of people: a family. Yet, the land of Bethlehem was empty in the sense that there was a famine. Naomi returns to Bethlehem “empty.” So, no family….yet we see there is now abundance in Bethlehem.
Ruth 1:6 “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.” (this is speaking of Bethlehem in Judah).
I want you to think of the famines in your life. Are you struggling financially? Are you at odds with a family member? Did you have a disagreement with a friend? Are you carrying church pain that is not allowing you to be in communion with other Christ followers? Have you been passed up for a promotion? Did you get a bad grade in a test that you studied so hard for? Did your spouse leave you? Have you lost a child?
How do you recover?
Here is something that I think we need to remember: we live in a fallen world. God’s creation was good, but then we see what happened in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 2). We have an enemy in common that is not of this world; he wants to destroy every bit of us. Because he hates us, he has been using the same old trick for years: a question that creates doubt. We see how Satan says over and over “did He really say that?” “Are you truly the Son of God?” With a question goes our confidence. DO NOT BE DECEIVED.
Focus on the abundance. Our actions will follow how we think. Our spiritual and emotional state will serve as a stirring wheel. For our sake, we have to get a hold of what is right and what is pure. Naomi’s weakness brought her closer to God, but she had to be a broken woman first. In her brokenness, she found God’s plan. As we progress through the book of Ruth, we see how God never left Naomi. She used a woman that was not brought up in Naomi’s faith (Ruth), to show Naomi that God would provide.
As we follow the book of Ruth, we see that Boaz marries Ruth and they have a child. This means that Ruth has truly become Naomi’s daughter. The son of Ruth and Boaz is a blessing in Naomi’s life. The women of Bethlehem remind Naomi that God never left her. What an awesome encouragement to know that Naomi, in spite of her bitterness, sought out community OR she had a Godly community that did not leave her.
Ruth 4:14 “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!’
Ruth will give birth to Obed, who is the father of Jesse. Jesse will have a son by the name of David. And our Savior Jesus Christ eventually comes to this Earth through the line of David.
Naomi is a great reminder of the struggle that we have with our mind, spirit, and body. Rest assured of this: Naomi had no escape. She did not trust God in her struggle, but she had a speck of faith. Brothers and sisters, this is all we need. We seen Naomi’s faith when she returns home with Ruth. God remembered his daughters. He knew they were struggling, but He had a plan. Our fallen nature does not allow us to have a vision of the kingdom of God. Bitterness sets in, and we fail to ‘see.’ We may flirt with the idea that God’s timing should be when WE SAY. That God does not hear our voice. That God has better and more important things to tend to. Yet, this would be stating that there is not enough God. This is simply not true. God knows you, loves you, and will never forsake you.
Focus on the abundance. Praying for you.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.