19So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?"
20"Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."
22So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (NIV)
We turn to the second act in Ruth. Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem from Moab. In this, we see some parallel to the book of Job. Job lost everything. Naomi has lost everything. Job’s reaction to the calamity is seen in Job 2:9-10 where his wife encourages him to curse God and die. We read: 9His wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" 10He replied, "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (NIV)
Now the difference in Job’s case and Naomi’s case is that with Job, God was the instigator of Job’s trouble. He allowed Satan to harm Job as a test. In Naomi’s case, it was simply a string of bad things happening. And when bad things happen, we feel we must blame someone. Naomi blames God. There is no real concept of Satan at this time in Jewish theology. It was believed that God was responsible for all that happened, good and bad. So Naomi blames God.
And when she arrives in Bethlehem, she tells the people to call her Mara which means “bitter.” It is an interesting contrast as Naomi means “pleasant.”
But we see that Naomi is still trusting in God, even as she blames him. This is seen in many of the psalms. We read that the psalmist wonders why God has abandoned them or allowed bad things to happen, but always ends this psalm with hope in God. Naomi’s return to Bethlehem is a sign of her still trusting in God. She believes that God will bless the Israelites and so her best chance is to be with blessed people.
She still cannot see God at work in her life at this point. But she is trusting.
I know many people have gone through times where they wonder where is God. They too speak the words of the Psalmist in Psalm 22 which begins, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me.” Or in Psalm 13 where the Psalmist speaks these words: “1How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” (NIV)
What I love are these are natural thoughts. God can handle our complaints and our accusations like a parent bears the words of a small child when the child tells the parent they are mean. God can because he sees further down the road than we do. He sees the joy that is coming. I love that the psalmist always ends in trust. Naomi when life got its worse, returned to the people of the God she had trusted in before and still trusted in, even if that God was humbling her. “This is what the Hebrew literally means in verse 20 where Naomi says God has made her life “very bitter.”’
Are there times when you wanted to accuse God of all your troubles? And can you look back later and see where God was at work through your troubles? It is in remembering the faithfulness of God in the past that we can persevere through present troubles.
Blessings and Peace