Isolated. Alone. Vulnerable. Empty. Naomi was growing accustomed to the raw pain of loss.
First, she lost her husband, and then both sons join him in death. Naomi is a stranger in foreign territory and she’s lost her family. She’s lost all male protection. She’s lost her dreams for little ones at her feet, for future generations to carry on their family line; they’ve all disintegrated with her last son’s final breath.
She feels so alone, so lost, so hopeless. How had it all come to this?
Does God turn a blind eye to our suffering?
Naomi’s story occurs “in the time of the Judges.” This was the darkest period in Israel’s history. This is the third woman we’ve met from what is called the “time of the Judges” (Deborah and Jael lived during this period). It was a spiritually oppressed time because, as the closing line of the book tells us: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
The spiritual famine in Israel was followed by a physical famine.
Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, believed he was doing what was best for his family. The famine in Israel would take their lives if they remained, so he gathered his wife and two sons and they left Bethlehem. As we will see later in the story, Elimelech was actually living out God’s providential plan for redemption by taking his family to Moab.
I imagine they were hopeful, setting out for a big adventure, carving out a future in new territory. In my mind, they were a happy young family, the boys probably young adolescents, and if the mom lived up to her name’s meaning (pleasantness), there was probably a close bond between the four.
We never know what a day holds, or what lies around the next bend. But none of our losses catch God off guard. In fact, He is orchestrating His plan through our loss.
Naomi endured multiple losses in a short span of time. Alone. And yet, not totally alone. The boys had grown into young men and each had married women from Moab. But that only added to Naomi’s sense of grief. Now she felt responsible for two young widows. How could three women care for themselves with no male covering, with no protection or way to provide for themselves?
But Naomi doesn’t yet realize the power of redemption. She doesn’t know that this isn’t the end of the story. She doesn’t yet see the grand plan of redemption and little does she know what an integral role she will play in its fruition.
Naomi spends her days seeking out leftover stalks of grain; pecking for food in foreigner’s fields.
Her nights are spent reliving happier days, wandering in fields of leftover memories. Naomi relives her losses each morning as the fog of sleep begins to clear, and the reality of life alone brings fresh pain.
What was happening in Naomi’s heart as she adjusted to her losses? How was she processing the harsh reality of broken dreams? Where was her heart?
Suffering is meant to be the pathway to the heart of God.
But Naomi seems to be struggling with understanding God’s character right now. She believes He’s turned His hand against her and the blow has been bitter.
Naomi heads home when she hears that food is growing again in Bethlehem, Bethlehem: “the house of bread,” with her beloved Ruth at her side. It is the beginning of barley harvest and time to return home. Time to return to what is old, familiar, and welcoming.
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, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.
[box]Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:19–21)[/box]
In the thick of pain it can be hard to remember that God is good, that His ways are best, that His purposes are glorious. Her lament: “I left full and have returned empty” reveals that all Naomi sees is the loss. She’s forgotten the faithful character of the Almighty One she speaks of.
Naomi forgot that God’s faithfulness never ceases.
What Naomi didn’t know was that she was to serve as a conduit for the courtship that would produce a royal heir; the line which the Messiah would flow from.
What she didn’t know was that the sojourn in Moab was not about the famine of food, but was about bringing home one who would be a mother of kings.
What Naomi needed to be reminded of is the same thing I must preach to myself.
If I knew all that God was doing, if I could see His ending from my beginning, there would be nothing in His plan that I would change.
It was time for Naomi to return home and time to step into the next chapter of God’s great redemptive plan! And tomorrow, we’ll watch as His plans for Naomi include beauty coming from ashes.
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