Call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. (Ruth 1:20, NLT)
First, a famine sent her small family into exile in a foreign land. Then her husband died. Then her two sons married unbelieving women. Then her two sons died. Naomi knew something about profound loss. And she wasn’t so sure recovery was possible.
In her bottomless grief, Naomi turned sour. When she and her daughter-in-law returned to Bethlehem, her appearance was so darkened by disaster that the women of the town asked, “Is it really Naomi?” (Ruth 1:19 NLT). The Hebrew makes a play on words: Naomi’s name means pleasant—we can imagine the women gesturing toward Naomi, asking, “Is this ‘pleasant’?”
Indeed, Naomi was the antithesis of pleasant at this moment, and she wasn’t shy about saying so: “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”” (Ruth 1:20-21). “Mara” means bitter. Naomi says flatly, “Call me bitter.”
Naomi’s bitterness was caused by temporary faith amnesia: she had forgotten the Israelites’ story of wilderness redemption; she had forgotten God’s transformation of the bitter waters at Marah (Exodus 15:23-26). Naomi’s bitterness was also caused by temporary hope amnesia; she had forgotten to look for redemption in the midst of loss. Bitterness can lead to blindness, causing us to miss God’s provision in our painful circumstances.
The good news of the gospel is that the Lord does not condemn us for our gospel amnesia. The Lord never forgets to be faithful; the Lord never forgets to restore our hope; the Lord always remembers to love us. The Lord redeems and restores even when we are at our worst. Naomi’s hope was gradually awakened, first by Boaz’s kindness to Ruth in the field (Ruth 2:20) and then by the blessing of a grandchild (Ruth 4:13). By the end of the story, the same women who couldn’t reconcile Naomi’s appearance with the name “pleasant” were celebrating the reason for her renewed hope: “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for you and your family! May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age” (Ruth 4:14-15 NLT). Indeed, Naomi’s grandchild, Obed, was the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of King Jesus, the ultimate restorer of youth.
Dear friends, when the darkness closes in and your heart turns sour, look back, look up, look around. The Lord has redeemed and will redeem again. Never make the mistake of thinking the story is over until it’s over. You’ll know when it’s over, because final restoration will be so very sweet.
Ruth: Courage for Crisis
Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. (Ruth 1:16, NLT)
Ruth had no good reason to follow Naomi. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem from Moab, she released her two daughters-in-law, telling them she had no hope to offer them. Orpah departed. Ruth remained. Why?
Ruth’s profound proclamation of commitment to Naomi gives us a clue, “your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16 NLT). Ruth was raised in Moab, where people worshiped many pagan gods. But there was something irresistible about her deceased husband’s God, about Naomi’s God. She might not have known it yet, but she would know it soon: God, by his grace, had planted a seed of faith in Ruth that would grow into redemption for many people.
Ruth’s willingness to risk traveling into unfamiliar territory reminds us of the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11. Faith bolsters courage to venture into the unknown, even, or especially, in seasons of crisis. By God’s grace, through faith, Ruth courageously moved into many unknown places:
- She traveled to Bethlehem, a land she didn’t know, with a hope that wasn’t assured (Ruth 2:16).
- She stooped to glean in the field of a stranger, making herself vulnerable to assault, trusting that God would provide sustenance for her and Naomi (Ruth 2:2-18).
- She lay on the threshing floor of Boaz, going along with her mother-in-law’s strange plot to procure a husband. (Ruth 3:1-5).
- She reached far beyond Naomi’s plan to actually propose marriage to Boaz (Ruth 3:8-9).
Make no mistake, Ruth’s actions were risky, extremely unconventional, in her culture. Her courage came from her simple but sound faith; her faith likely came from her remembrance of redemption stories Naomi’s family had told. She trusted this redeeming God, believing he would redeem again. And he did.
Ruth’s courage compels us to ask, “How will we face crisis and loss?” Will it be with the courage of faith? Will we keep taking steps into unknown, unfamiliar territory, trusting that the Lord Almighty is at work, orchestrating redemption and renewal? We have far more reason than Ruth to risk action. Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer was a man; our Kinsman-Redeemer is Jesus. Boaz paid a price, a sum of money, to redeem Ruth. Jesus paid a higher price, the sum of his life—death, to redeem us. Yes, we have reason to risk, the courage of faith to move into crisis with humility and hope, with love and loyalty. God, by his grace, has grown this seed of faith in us. Let us bear the fruit.
Excerpted from the upcoming devotional, From Recovery to Restoration: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in Crisis. The author has also written The Waiting Room: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in a Health Crisis.