Mara

Ok . . . so I’m not gonna lie . . . I’m glad to get out of the book of Judges. Those last chapters are really kind of “out there.” Accounts of the vilest sin . . . acts of unimaginable horror . . . slaughter of tens of thousands . . . a weird approach to “match making” on a mass scale . . . all culminating in this one sentence conclusion, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 19:1 – 21:25). I know that all Scripture is “God-breathed” and profitable for training in righteousness, but I’m glad to be moving beyond the lessons there. I actually woke up this morning and was excited about starting in on Ruth . . . aah! . . . an oasis . . . can’t wait to drink of the sweet water . . . a story with a happy ending just waiting for me . . . a God is working story . . . let’s do it!

But as I read the first chapter of Ruth this morning, it occurred to me that sweet water sometimes comes from a bitter source. Naomi, literally “Pleasant” or “Delight”, returns to Bethlehem having buried her husband and her two sons in a foreign land. Not unusual that a woman buries her husband, but that a parent should have to bury their child, much less all their children, is a grief that bows the back of even the mightiest. And so she returns to her homeland and says, “Do not call me Naomi [Pleasant]; call me Mara [Bitter], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). And you read the lament of Mara repeatedly in this first chapter: ” . . . the hand of the Lord has gone out against me! (1:13) . . . the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me (1:20) . . . the Lord has brought me home again empty (1:21) . . . the Lord has testified against me (1:21) . . . the Almighty has afflicted me (1:21).”

Mara . . . bitter of soul . . . yet I don’t sense bitter or angry toward God. Just an honest assessment of her situation . . . not blaming God but kind of the logical conclusions if one believes that God is Sovereign and in control of all things. He allowed the famine . . . He had led them to move to Moab . . . He had allowed her husband to die before the boys grew up to marrying age . . . He had provided wives for her sons . . . after 10 years, no grandkids, but they were doing ok as a family . . but then both the boys died — perhaps at the same time — God had allowed that too . . . and so “the woman survived her two sons and her husband” (1:5) and was left with two widowed daughters-in-law, a heavy heart, and a bitterness in her soul. Not mad at God necessarily, but disillusioned with “His plan” for her life. In fact, she shows an abiding faith in God as she encourages her daughters-in-law to remain in their homeland and asks God’s blessing upon them: “The Lord deal kindly with you . . . the Lord grant that you may find rest” (1:8-9). Not mad at God . . . but bitter of soul . . . Mara.

The sole (and the soul’s) “ray of sunshine” in her life at this time? Ruth. Ruth, a Moabitess. A young widow. A woman in love with her mother-in-law. A woman devoted to supporting her mother-in-law . . . a woman ready to take on a new citizenship . . . a woman prepared to embrace the God of Mara (1:16). How amazing is that?!?

I’ll be honest, knowing how the story turns out, helps a lot in dealing with the sadness of this opening chapter. Knowing that a love story of epic proportions is soon to follow helps deal with the cloud that hangs over Mara as she returns to Bethlehem. Knowing that Ruth is destined to become the great-grandmother of David, future King of Israel establishing the royal line of the Savior . . . that overshadows the story of Mara with a triumphant sense of hope. But if your Mara . . . if your living the bitterness . . . it’s hard to understand how this too will “work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Hard to understand but essential to believe. And so, Mara went on . . . she didn’t turn her back on God . . . she returned to the place He said He’d be . . . . and took her daughter-in-law with her. She didn’t give up on life and live in the bitterness of the past. Though not denying the heartbreak she bore, she focused on Ruth . . . and the future . . . how to support her . . . how to be used of God so that she might find favor.

And so, while the “happy music” isn’t playing yet in Ruth . . . and though God has allowed tragedy upon tragedy to fill a season of her life . . . there’s a sense, that for those whose God will be their God, a hope exists . . . a better day is anticipated . . . that Mara will give away again to Naomi . . . by God’s grace . . . according to God’s plan . . . all for God’s glory. Amen?

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1 Response to Mara

  1. CH says:

    Amen! Reminds me of the following poem:
    Would we know that the major chords were sweet,
    If there were no minor key?
    Would the painter’s work be fair to our eyes,
    Without shade on land or sea?
    Would we know the meaning of happiness,
    Would we feel that the day was bright,
    If we’d never known what it was to grieve,
    Nor gazed on the dark of night?

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