Naomi had experienced famine before; it had been a few years since the great famine in the land of Bethlehem had forced her family from their homeland to the country of Moab. When her husband unexpectedly passed away, leaving her a widow in a foreign land, the heartbreak had been great. Thankfully, she still had her two sons to provide support for her, and their wives. That changed ten years later when death took not one, but both of her boys from her. Naomi found herself isolated—more than she’d ever been. She was now a widow—lonely, abandoned and helpless—without her sons in a foreign land with no inheritance rights.
Famine is a significant force; it creates extreme scarcity or shortage, and produces panic and desperation. This time, Naomi discovered a new type of famine had been thrust upon her when she lost her sons: an emotional famine. The same fear, hunger and desperation famine had created in the natural had also been generated within the emotional. So, when rumor had it that her homeland had become fruitful again, Naomi and her daughters-in-law, packed what they could and began the journey leading them back to Bethlehem. At the insistence of Naomi, Orpah would decide to stay in Moab. Ruth, however, would dig her heels in and remain by Naomi’s side.
It’s not hard for me to imagine what the journey back to Naomi’s hometown may have been like for two women full of grief and sorrow. Some say the trip from Moab to Bethlehem would have taken between 7-10 days, require they cross the river Jordan, as well as climb 2000 plus feet in elevation. I envision a great deal of emotion was present as these two women walked. To make the emotional journey a bit more intense, they weren’t just grieving the loss of the men in their lives. Naomi also believed her suffering was because the Lord’s hand has gone against her. Can you imagine the famine her heart carried?
The once pleasant, lovely, and delightful Naomi had endured too much to remain the same. She simply could not keep the identity her name’s definition brought to her. The suffering she had endured took her to a place she’d never been, and she became someone she’d never known. She couldn’t recognize who she was anymore, so it wasn’t a surprise when they entered the town to hear, “Is that Naomi?” and she replied, “Do not call me Naomi (sweetness); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has caused me great grief and bitterness. I left full [with a husband and two sons], but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted me” (Ruth 1:20-21, AMP)?
Ladies and gentlemen may I introduce you to Mara. The woman you once knew as delightful Naomi has become Mara—the bitter one. The woman who left full, and has now returned to you empty.
Empty of joy.
Empty of desire.
Empty of hope.
Naomi wasn’t the first woman to endure heartbreak. She won’t be the last to sense her identity has changed through the unbearable pain associated with grief. Occasionally, life feels unfair and unjust.
Why God Why?
When God When?
We won’t always find the answers to the why or the when. So, it will be here, in this place of darkness, when courageous faith will be what holds us tightly to God through the dark side of His providence.
When we suffer a loss, and our first form of defense is to blame and accuse God, we must remember we live in a fallen world. We are falling apart. We suffer because of sin. God is not afflicting anyone for amusement. We can choose to allow bitterness to take up residence in our heart when people don’t respond as we’d hoped. We can choose to resent life for turning out differently than we’d imagined. Or we can trust God even when we’re feeling our way through a dark season.
It will also take courageous faith to focus on others in spite of our own circumstances. Love shows itself active when we push hard against the weight of depression, and its desire to blind us from the needs of others. Galatians 5:6 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love”(NET). Naomi allowed her faith to work through love when—in the midst of her own suffering—she began to seek what was best for Ruth. When the two widows arrived back in Bethlehem, it was during the beginning of the barley harvest. We are given a glimpse of God’s providential care when we read… “ She happened to stop at the plot of land belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech”(Ruth 2:3, emphasis mine).
I don’t believe in “just happens.” God is always working behind the scenes to fulfill His plan to bring good out of every situation. As a member of Naomi’s deceased husband’s family, Boaz would have the opportunity to be a kinsmen-redeemer to Ruth and Naomi. According to the Law of Moses, a kinsman-redeemer was someone who stepped in, on behalf of a deceased relative, and accepted responsibility for his family. Jesus is an example of our Kinsman-Redeemer, as He redeemed us and rescued us from our adversary.
After a day of gleaning in the fields and returning home with a boatload of grain Naomi asked Ruth, “‘Where did you gather all this grain today? Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!’ So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, ‘The man I worked with today is named Boaz’” (Ruth 2:19, NLT). I imagine this was a light bulb moment for Naomi when she continued, “‘May the Lord bless him! He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband. That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers’” (vs.20).
Naomi proceeded to coach Ruth on the ways of her people, and the role of a kinsman-redeemer, and this set the course for Ruth to become the wife of Boaz, and the mother of Obed. After all her suffering, Naomi became a grandmother to a little boy whom she loved as her own son. And Obed would be the grandfather of King David, and in the lineage of Jesus (Ruth 4). Naomi was delightful once again.
Things might have been different for each of these women if Naomi had refused to see beyond her own bitterness. Sometimes it’s hard to look past our own pain, disappointment, and heartbreak. But God doesn’t want us to sit on the sidelines forever. He still has a plan to use us even though we feel too broken for others to see. This is another opportunity for courageous faith to step in and help us choose to rejoice in the Lord, and what He is doing in the midst of our pain. Even though we’d rather hide forever behind the identity of who we think we’ve become. Even though moments are surrender moments.
Even “though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive fails and the fields produce no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls, yet I will [choose to] rejoice in the Lord; I will [choose to] shout in exultation in the [victorious] God of my salvation!
The Lord God is my strength [my source of courage, my invincible army]; He has made my feet [steady and sure] like hinds’ feet and makes me walk [forward with spiritual confidence] on my high places [of challenge and responsibility]” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, AMP).
Perhaps you find yourself, like Naomi, stuck in a season of grief. You have lost too much and you don’t believe you will ever find healing. We’d ask you to turn your attention to the needs of others, even though you don’t feel like it. Help someone even though it hurts. You might be a Ruth and able to help a Naomi in your life. Stick close to her. She may try to make you leave her alone, but don’t. Be an encourager to her and help her find her way through this dark season. Whichever woman you relate to, remember this, God is with you. He is faithfully by your side as you #Activ8Her heroic faith.