I can’t say that the last four verses of Chapter One in Ruth are very encouraging. Sometimes the Bible is like that. Just like in real life things can look quite bad before they start getting better.
19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
The first thing we see is that when Naomi returns to her hometown nobody recognizes her. We know she’s been away for a minimum of ten years, but could she have changed that much? She’s returning home without her husband and sons because they have died. She’s been through great sorrow. No doubt it has changed her looks considerably.
The first words Naomi says to her former neighbours is that she doesn’t want to be called “Naomi” anymore. Naomi means pleasant. Mara means bitter. I think it’s safe to say that at this point in the story Naomi is a very unhappy lady. We could even call her bitter. Over and over in these verses she blames the Lord for her problems.
How often do we do the same thing? “If only God had…” “Why did God let…” It can be so difficult in the midst of hard times to trust that God is working behind the scenes for our good. That’s why one of my favourite poems is “The Divine Weaver“. It reminds me to trust that God has a plan for good. God truly does want to see us rejoicing and living happy, full lives. Sometimes though, in order to reach that point, we have to go through difficult times.
We find it easy to talk about trusting God and how good He is when life is going our way. The true test of our faith though comes when we can testify to God’s goodness in the dark times. Job lost all he owned and his precious children, and yet he was able to say, “…Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” Job 1:21.
This doesn’t mean we go around with a big goofy grin on our face when our loved one is in the hospital or there are more bills than pay or we just broke our arm or our best friend just turned on us. It does mean that God gives peace and comfort. We don’t have to give way to despair.
And neither did Naomi. The last verse gives us a glimmer of hope. “…they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.” Naomi’s family had left Bethlehem because of famine, but the famine is over. There is a harvest ready to be gathered. She’s home and surrounded by friends and loved ones. She’s not living in a foreign country anymore. So these are sad verses but not without hope, and that’s what God has for us. Even in the sad, hard times there is always hope to be found somewhere.
Do you need encouragement today? Let me know, and I’ll pray for you. Or do you know someone facing a trial. Be their encouragement – pray for them, call them, send them a card, take them some cookies (preferably chocolate ☺). Be God’s blessing in their life.