Ruth is the main character of the book that bears her name. But in many ways, the Book of Ruth is also Naomi’s story. It is a story of a woman who lost everything and found it again; a woman who journeyed from emptiness to fullness and bitterness to blessing.
Let’s look at Ruth from Naomi’s point of view.
It only takes four short verses to describe Naomi’s devastation. Naomi lived during the time of the judges, a spiritually dark time in Israel’s history. When famine struck her hometown of Bethlehem, Naomi’s husband moved his family to Moab. Elimelek died, leaving Naomi with her two sons. Her sons, Mahlon and Kilion, married Moabite women. But soon her sons also died. Naomi was bereft.
As a widow in a foreign land, Naomi had few options. She had no sons who could care for her, was too old to remarry, and was isolated from the extended family and community that she might have been able to rely on for support. Naomi decided to go home. She set off for Bethlehem, and her daughters-in-law began to accompany her. Naomi tried to turn them around, not wanting them to share her bleak future. Orpah went home to her people. But Ruth–faithful Ruth–vowed to stay with her, irrevocably casting her lot with Naomi, Naomi’s people, and Naomi’s God.
It was an ironic choice. At this point in the story, Naomi believed God had turned against her. As they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred as the women begin to recognize Naomi. But Naomi refused to claim that name.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, becasue the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me, the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1:21)
Naomi’s name meant “pleasant.” But life for Naomi was no longer pleasant. She had lost her husband. Lost her children. Lost her home. She stood empty, and she blamed God for it all. So Naomi said that from now on her name would be Mara, “bitter.” She was bitter and broken, believing God himself had turned against her.
But God hadn’t abandoned Naomi. God’s faithful covenant love was standing right next to her, though Naomi’s pain had blinded her to God’s provision. She didn’t come back to Bethlehem alone. Ruth was with her. Ruth was a Moabite, forbidden from entering the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). But she had turned away from her family and the gods of her people, irrevocably binding herself both to Naomi and to the One True God. Naomi believed God had abandoned her. Ruth was proof that he had not. Even as Naomi lost her faith, Ruth declared hers. She was a living expression of God’s faithful love.Ruth was proof God had not abandoned Naomi. She embodied God's faithful covenant love.Click To Tweet
Have you stood in Naomi’s shoes, blindsided and devastated by the tragedies of life? Like Naomi, sometimes life changes in an instant. We lose a child, a spouse, or a parent. We lose our health. We lose a job, a home, a friendship, or a dream. We lose. And we stand with empty hands, encompassed by our grief. We cry out in the depths of our pain, believing God has abandoned us. And if we’re not careful, our pain can blind us to the ways God has been there all along.Don't believe the lie that God has abandoned you. He has embraced you with his covenant love.Click To Tweet
God hadn’t abandoned Naomi. He had sent her Ruth. And God doesn’t abandon us, either. Even in the depths of our sorrow and pain, he is there. He has placed people around us who can encourage and lift us up. People who help us keep going when we want to quit. People who remind us not to stop in the middle of our journey–that joy waits on the other side of sorrow, that empty hands and arms are ready to be filled. In the midst of your pain, look around you. God is there, embracing you with his faithful covenant love.