Started in on Ruth this morning. And, not too surprisingly, found myself entering into Naomi’s story a bit more personally than in the past. Not an easy road for that lady. Went through tough times and famine, but at least she did it with her man, Elimelech. They then make the call to relocate with their two boys to a foreign land in pursuit of a better life. But her husband dies way too soon. And though she sees her boys grow up and take wives, she never sees grandchildren from them as they both die prematurely, as well.
Or was it prematurely? My wife would have said no. That no one dies early. That God has numbered all of our days according to His plan. Sue acknowledged it confidently and without fear. Even hopefully, believing fully that the end of our days here is only the beginning of an eternity in His presence. Naomi also acknowledged that God was sovereign not only over all of life but over death as well. But her’s was a bitter theology.
Though her widowed daughter-in-laws wanted to return with her to the homeland, Naomi’s seeks to dissuade them:
“Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”
(Ruth 1:12-13 ESV)
“The hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” That was Naomi’s cut on her life circumstance. Can’t really blame her for feeling that way.
But one of the girls, Ruth, pledges her love and devotion to Naomi and determines she will faithfully remain with her mother-in-law until nothing but death parts them. But even that bit of sunshine in her cloud-filled world isn’t enough to re-direct Naomi’s perspective on God’s sovereignty. When she and Ruth return to Naomi’s home in Bethlehem, she insists she no longer be called Naomi, which means “My Delight”. Rather, she wants to be addressed by something more in line with her worldview, “Bitterness.”
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. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21 ESV)
The hand of the LORD against her. Her God deciding to swap out her fullness with emptiness. Having set Himself against her, the Almighty determining to bring calamity upon her. The Sovereign having sovereignly determined to fill her life with bitterness. What’s to delight in? Just call me Bitter. And I get it . . . to a degree.
But I know the end of the story. That a nobody Moabitess, Ruth, would be redeemed by a wealthy suitor, Boaz. That a baby would be born and a bitter grandma would be blessed. And that through that baby a royal line would be established, a forever throne promised, and a soul-saving King sent. That sin would be atoned for, death would be conquered, and joy never-ending made available.
And so, while I get the bitterness, I’m also reminded of the better-ness . . .
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
(Romans 8:18 ESV)
For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2Corinthians 4:17-18 ESV)
So don’t call me Mara . . . I’ll take Naomi.
Because of grace. For His glory.