From grief and bitterness to joy

The woman sat motionless in the dark room,  her body bowed in grief and despair. So  deep was her sorrow that she barely heard  the wails of the other women gathered there, much  less could comprehend the well-meaning words  addressed to her. _ is was darkness, an abyss into  which she was falling. _ is was the end. Today this  woman had buried the second of her two sons, and  nothing more was left to her.

_ ere is deep sadness in Ruth 1:5: “And Mahlon  and Chilion died also, both of them; and the woman  was left of her two sons and her husband.” _ e end  of family life, the end of prosperous living, even  the end of struggling to care for her sick family.  All gone! Where were their bright hopes now for  a comfortable future in Moab? Dashed to pieces  by the frailty of human life! Nay, more than this,  terminated by the hand of the Almighty Himself!  Many of us can only begin to imagine the desolation  of this poor woman who was later to call herself  “Mara (Bitter), for the Almighty hath dealt very  bitterly with me” (v20).

_ ankfully for Naomi, it was not the end. Her  story would be a remarkable tale of turning back, of  restoration and renewal. Naomi was to learn, and to  teach us all, the magnitude of God’s providence and  His mercy. _ is humble, devastated woman would  become an outstanding example of one who grew  in faith, who displayed resolute courage and godly  wisdom, and who at the last was given a reason for  great hope and joy for the future. Hers is the story  for all those who struggle to combat seeming defeat  and failure in this life, and who _ nd that “weeping  may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the  morning” (Psa 30:5).

A faithless response to trial

As a young woman Naomi had married Elimelech,  a man of Bethlehem-Judah. Her name signi_ es  “pleasant”, while his, “God is king” speaks of allegiance  and honour to the all-powerful Sovereign  of heaven. Such auspicious names should have  pointed to a happy future, but sadly Elimelech, at  least, did not live up to the high ideals of his name.  Nonetheless, life was good at _ rst for the young  couple. Elimelech was a landowner, and enjoyed  the comforts that the seasons’ bounty brought forth.  Naomi acknowledges this fortunate state when she  declares, “I went out full” (Ruth 1:21). _ eir union  was, in due time, blessed with two sons, and the  little family dwelt at Bethlehem-judah until famine  descended on the land. What should they do?

Elimelech, a man of action but not of faith,  determined to move to greener pastures on the  other side of the Jordan. Did he think at all about  Abraham’s disastrous move in the face of famine?  Evidently not. Divinely recorded lessons of history  meant little to this man who sought success on  this world’s terms. Nor do we _ nd any indication  that Naomi went unwillingly with her husband.  _ e story is silent as to any condemnation of her  husband by Naomi. In fact, she sees the subsequent  events as Yahweh’s retribution upon her. “Call me  not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath  dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and  Yahweh hath brought me home again empty: why  then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testi-  _ ed against me, and the Almighty hath a_ icted  me?” (Ruth 1:20–21).

What a sad state of a_ airs when people ignore  the lessons provided for their guidance in God’s  Word, and make choices based on worldly advantage.  _ e divine commentary is that “in those  days there was no king in Israel: every man did  that which was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25).  Let this not be our mistake. “_ ere is a way which  seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are  the ways of death.” (Prov 14:12) And well known  words describe what should be our course of action  when problems arise, and decisions need to be made.  “Trust in the L___ with all thine heart; and lean  not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways  acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”  (Prov 3:5–6)

From Bethlehem to Moab

Naomi declares, “I went out full,” which seems to  indicate that Elimelech and Naomi were not forced  by starvation to _ ee from Bethlehem. In fact, most  of Bethlehem’s population seems to have stayed  put, and endured the leanness of the times, perhaps  seeking God, and in course of time receiving again  the blessing of plentiful seasons. Naomi and her  husband may even have been a little disdainful of  their less adventurous neighbours as they departed  with their two sons for the country of Moab.

_ e family probably journeyed north so as to  round the northern tip of the Dead Sea and then  south to Moab. If so, they would have travelled  past Jebus, and down the steep decline to the  crossing place of the Jordan. _ ey would thus have  passed the ruins of Jericho, and forded the river at  approximately the same spot at which the nation  had miraculously crossed on their entry into the  Promised Land.

What a foolish and dangerous path they were  on, if only they knew. _ ey were going the wrong  way! Away from God’s people, and away from the  centre of worship, to the world. O deluded family,  to think that they could _ nd security and prosperity  amidst the pagans of Moab! _ ough God may allow  trials in our lives, He is always our wise and loving  Father, and is as near as prayer to all who seek Him  in their troubles. But what if we deliberately choose  to remove ourselves from His presence? Can the  world give us wise guidance in life, protection from  evil, hope for the future? _ e promise of the world  will prove in the end to be a fatal mirage.

And so it was to be for Elimelech and his  family. Perhaps they only intended to stay for a  while, but “sojourning” (v1) became “continuing”  (v2), and later “dwelling” (v4). _ ey did not _ nd  the hoped-for abundance, however, for tragedy  overtook them, and one death followed another  with grim _ nality.

Thoughtful and teachable

It was clear to Naomi that God was working in  her life, and her sore a_ ictions were at His hand.  Whatever her thoughts and feelings had been in  the ten years or so she had lived in Moab, she had  not forgotten her God. It is obvious that of the  family she alone was teachable, and that God was  giving her unforgettable lessons. With a humble  and painful acknowledgement of His chastening,  she resolved to return home to Bethlehem, for “she  had heard how the L___ had visited His people in  giving them bread.”

Here is an insight into her mind – the good  harvests of Bethlehem were not merely a ‘change  in the weather’, but the visitation of God. Here  is a challenge for us! How aware are we of God’s  hand in our lives? Do we see Him in the ups and  downs of daily life? Do we see Him in the events  around us that impact upon us? We need to be  conscious of the fact that if we are teachable, as  Naomi was, then God will be teaching us, and we  like her, must carefully learn the lessons He gives  us in His wisdom.

In our rushed and busy lives, we need to seriously  consider making time for re_ ection. Only by  reviewing the events of our daily lives, can we see  God’s hand as it personally relates to us. Naomi  must have spent much agonising time in selfexamination,  prayer and recalling the Word of God.

We pray that it does not require such dreadful  tragedies in our lives for us to see the divine lessons  God is giving us.