Tragedy followed this poor woman. And she blamed it all on God. She and her husband and two sons left their hometown and went to a foreign country to escape famine. Instead of a temporary exile, they remained there for ten years. The first tragedy struck when her husband died. After that, both sons married local women, but then tragedy struck again when the first son died and yet again when the other son died. She was left alone, bereft, and bitter. She wailed, “It is exceedingly bitter to me…that the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.” You probably recognize her; this is the story of Naomi. We meet her in the little book of Ruth in the Old Testament.
At this point in the story Naomi returned to her hometown of Bethlehem. When she arrived, the ladies of the town who had known her before she left, could hardly recognize her. They whispered among themselves, “Is this Naomi?” We can imagine them gasping at her appearance and shaking their heads in disbelief.
Naomi growled at these ladies and in the gravelly voice of a woman who has had a hard life, declared in Ruth 1:19–22, “Do not call me ‘Naomi’ (which means pleasant). Call me ‘Mara’ (which means bitter) for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” Whew! Welcome home Naomi!
Although Naomi was mad at God and let it be known, His provision for her was right there by her side. Her son Mahlon’s young widow, Ruth, accompanied her to Bethlehem. Naomi had tried to convince her to remain with her people in Moab and possibly remarry, but Ruth refused. In a touching, and poetic way, Ruth intreated her:
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you, for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus, may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”Ruth 1:16–17
Did you catch that phrase, “your God shall be my God”? Can you believe it? Ruth wanted the God of “Bitter.” She wanted the God who had let His people in Bethlehem suffer famine. She wanted the God who had taken not only Naomi’s husband, but both sons. She wanted protection from the God who seemed to have failed Naomi miserably. Seriously, you want that God?
And the answer is, “Yes!” Why would Ruth want the God of this bitter woman? Because God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the living God, the altogether lovely One, even in the worst of times is far superior to the gods of Moab (or any other “gods”). He is the One to be desired above all else. Surely there had been good times during the ten years this family resided in Moab and Ruth had experienced blessings from this God.
Naomi projected what today we might call a bad testimony. She was not a shining model of faith in the midst of tragedy. Blotting out any memories of God’s past provision for her, she blamed Him for her losses. And yet, Ruth wanted to follow this God anyway!
How many of us have tried to share our faith with someone only to do or say something careless that cancelled out any benefit that might come from our words? Or maybe when we shared our testimony with someone who has known us for years, they just laughed and said, “You are going to tell me what I should believe? Hah! That’s a good one!” And maybe they were right. We might conclude our testimony would be such a hindrance to anyone hearing the gospel, we should just keep quiet.
Even though we have all blown it at some point, the good news is that God is bigger and better than all of us. He is good and compassionate and gracious – even when we are not. Of course, we should all be mindful of our testimony and strive to honor the Lord in our words and lives, but the reality is we all blow it. God uses us anyway.
The rest of Naomi’s story provides evidence of God’s wonderful kindness and grace. Because of her bad attitude, she hardly seemed like a candidate for God’s blessings, but He did bless her. Ruth eventually met and married a man by the name of Boaz. They had a son, Obed, who became the great-grandfather of King David! Naomi was the vehicle God used to bring a Moabitess into the lineage of David and eventually the Messiah, Jesus (Matthew 1:5).
In the last scene in the book of Ruth, Naomi is pictured holding little Obed on her lap. She who was once bitter is now blessed. And the women who had witnessed her return to Bethlehem exclaimed:
“Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may His name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”Ruth 4:14–15
Wow! What a turnaround!
We all want to give our best to God, but He is so great He can use us to accomplish His purposes, even in spite of our mistakes. Let this story be an encouragement to not give up but continue to reach out. God is great, even when we are not. Now that is good news!