Welcome to Day 6 of 20 Women in Scripture You Need to Know! I am excited about this series and hope it is an encouragement to both women and men to spend time studying the women in the Bible. We can learn much from them about how to live for the glory of God.
Naomi: Bitter to Blessed
Naomi. Her story is a hard one. But she is definitely someone we can all relate to. She experienced great loss and had a bumpy road back to seeing the goodness of God.
I don’t know about you, but that’s someone I can understand. Often when we consider Naomi we see her as a secondary character in the love story of Ruth and Boaz. But what if there is more to her part in Scripture? What if she has a powerful lesson to teach us about recovering when our faith is shattered?
When Life Hurts
Naomi’s story begins with her family leaving their home in Bethlehem because of a famine. They moved to Moab, planning to be there for just a little bit (Ruth 1:1). Her two sons married women from Moab and the whole family settled there. (Ruth 1:2). And then tragedy strikes.
Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.Ruth 1:3-5 CSB
Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.
Stop for a moment and try to imagine her situation. She has lost the men in her life, the ones who would have protected and provided for her into her old age. I can’t begin to fathom that sort of loss. Most of us can’t.
When Bitterness Sets In
Naomi did the only thing she could think of — she headed home to Bethlehem. She tried to send her daughters-in-law home to their mothers. Orpah agreed. But Ruth stubbornly refused and even went so far as to declare her lifelong allegiance not just to Naomi but to the God of Naomi.
And Naomi was grateful and celebrated God’s kindness by giving her such a faithful daughter-in-law. Except, the opposite of that.
When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped talking to her.Ruth 1:18 CSB
As they entered Bethlehem, the women saw Naomi and welcomed her home. But the seven to ten-day journey from Moab to Bethlehem had not helped Naomi get perspective about her situation. In fact, it seems the days spent in silence with Ruth by her side only made her more hostile.
The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
Ruth 1:19-21 CSB
“Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
“I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” Bitterness leads us to blame. This was God’s fault in Naomi’s view. Three times in her answer to the women she asserts that God is to blame for her situation.
Moving from Bitter to Blessed
In chapter four of Ruth, we see a whole new Naomi.
The women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”Ruth 4:14-15 CSB
So how did she get to that point? What happened that moved her from being so hurt and hateful to her townspeople to having them celebrate with her about the goodness of God in her life?
Let’s look at 3 specific steps we see Naomi took on her heart journey when she returned to Bethlehem.
Naomi allowed Ruth to meet her physical needs.
Often when we are most frustrated with our lives, we fail to take care of ourselves physically. We eat too much or too little. We sleep too much or too little. We exercise too much or too little. You get the idea. Our physical health can take on too large a focus or too little when we are in a difficult season of life.
Ruth the Moabitess asked Naomi, “Will you let me go into the fields and gather fallen grain behind someone with whom I find favor?”Ruth 2:2-3 CSB
Naomi answered her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So Ruth left and entered the field to gather grain behind the harvesters …”
Ruth made sure Naomi had enough to eat. She worked hard and brought home what they needed for sustenance. Often, when we are broken-hearted, we fail to allow others to help us take care of ourselves physically. But we should.
Naomi shifted her focus from herself to others.
The next step on Naomi’s journey to healing is an important one. But it can be very difficult to take.
When we are in dark seasons, it’s hard to see past ourselves. But as we move from the heartache into the light of hope, our focus moves beyond the sorrow and sadness, the hurt and heartbreak, and enables us to begin seeing the needs of others.
Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find rest for you, so that you will be taken care of?”Ruth 3:1 CSB
As we begin to recognize the needs of those around us it is a clear sign we are moving in a healthy direction.
Naomi opened herself to loving others again.
As we see the needs of others and allow ourselves to be part of helping them (see Ruth 3:1-18), we find ourselves in a place we never thought we’d be again — caring for others.
Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and became his nanny.Ruth 4:16 CSB
Naomi had lost her husband and her sons. Her heart was shattered. She was bitter, broken, and deeply hurt. But here we see her holding a baby, the baby born to her daughter-in-law (you know, the one she didn’t speak to for ten days because she wanted to come with her) and her husband (the husband she had helped her daughter-in-law marry).
This healing, this ability to care about others, to recognize God’s blessing in her life, didn’t happen overnight. But it did come. And it required Naomi to open herself up to potential hurt and loss.
But she did it and that baby she held would one day be the grandfather of King David …. and the great x40 grandfather of Jesus. Blessing, indeed.
A Lesson for Us
We will all experience the hard seasons of life. We will know great heartache and face profound loss. We can’t avoid it. In fact, Jesus said it would come — “In the world you will have tribulation.” John 16:33
But Naomi’s story shows us another truth, there is always hope. Even in the most bitter situations of our life, we can trust that God is there and look forward to His blessing on us. Jesus didn’t stop with the reminder that life would be hard, He gave us this great promise at the end of John 16:33 — But take heart; I have overcome the world.”Naomi's story reminds us of this truth, there is always hope. Even in the most bitter situations of our life, we can trust that God is there and look forward to His blessing on us. Click To Tweet
A Prayer for Us
Lord, life can be dark and bleak. Some days we feel like we will go under the waves and storms. Sometimes the bitterness grips our hearts and we wonder if we can ever fight our way out of its hold. Help us, in those difficult days, to remember Naomi’s story and to seek Your presence and blessing we have as Your children. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This post is part of the 20 Women in Scripture You Need to Know series. You can find every post indexed here.