In the last year I’ve gone back to the book of Ruth many times. Like many of us, I’ve experienced what feels like a myriad of losses this year that has put a bitter taste in my mouth towards life and God. I keep coming back to this book because of the richness of the story and mainly to look at the life of Naomi because I identify with her feelings. The story starts out with what I assume looks like an ideal family, but a famine hits the land. Naomi, her husband, and their two sons leave their home because of the famine and take up residence for ten years in the foreign country of Moab.

They come for food, but the unexpected happens to Naomi in Moab. Her husband dies. Her two sons marry, and then her sons die. Ruth 1:5 says that “the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” You can feel the emotional heaviness of this situation. I guarantee you Naomi didn’t leave Bethlehem thinking, in a very short period of time, the three most important people in her life would be dead, not to mention that this is her entire family and her primary source of provision. She had to have been caught off guard.

We all want a fairytale life, but it rarely happens. No one daydreams about their life turning out this way. As I look back over my own life and where I am currently, I often think this is not how I expected things would turn out. Not even close. A lot of things are not as they should be, just like they were for Naomi. It should not have been this way for her! She is old(er), barren, bitter, and broke. She has no children, grandchildren, nor any other family we know about. She is a bitter old woman, and in my opinion she has every right to be. Life has not been fair to her. 

She does have one thing going for her, and that is a daughter-in-law that for some reason stubbornly won’t let go of her (and a piece of land back home). Naomi doesn’t know it, but Ruth is her ticket. Ruth is God’s sovereign intervention in the life of Naomi and a soon-to-be vehicle of grace towards her. Of course, Jesse will come, and David and Jesus, but this is a personal God who is just as much concerned with Naomi as he is with you.

Naomi begins the journey back to Bethlehem with Ruth, and in Ruth 1:20-22 we get a window into her feelings:

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Loss and emptiness found Naomi in a terrible way that is unfortunately customary and likely a prerequisite to grasping where our ultimate sufficiently lies. Naomi can’t see it yet, and you likely can’t either, depending on where you are in your story. However, we can’t really see beyond the veil of how God is working in our lives. Ruth is in her life for a big reason. What Naomi gets right is this confession. This is a painfully honest and uncomfortable confession of bitterness; she places the blame squarely on God. Her confession is true and her feelings are surely validated.  

Your pastor, spouse, family, and community might not be able to connect or handle this type of confession, and will likely give you a ladder to climb out of it, but that is not what God does. We have no record of Naomi praying about her situation, offering a sacrifice, building an altar, or doing anything religious. She thinks God has cursed her, but God moves in our passivity even when we are extremely bitter towards him and our life circumstances. This isn’t positive thinking.

For the sake of time I’d like for you to go ahead to chapter 4 with me, but a brief summary first. Naomi’s dead husband has a relative named Boaz that happens to be loaded with money. Ruth goes to pick up grain in Boaz’s field. Boaz sees her and is extremely attracted to her. He has heard about how Ruth has treated her mother-in-law and begins to provide for them in extravagantly graceful ways (2:14-15).

Back to Naomi. She’s still bitter and not happy with God, but he has not forgotten Naomi. Let’s take a look at what happens in 4:13-17:

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

There is a lot there in those verses, but the women testify and prophecy to her that God has not left her, but has in fact resurrected her through the birth of this child. The name Mara is gone.

But I see some humor in this. The women in the neighborhood named the boy “a son has been born to Naomi.” They called him that! Naomi’s not really kin to this baby. The Message translation captures the Hebrew better than most by saying, “The neighborhood women started calling him ‘Naomi’s baby boy!’” This was her baby, and that was his nickname. Not Mara’s baby boy, not Ruth’s baby boy, but Naomi’s baby boy. Could you imagine growing up being called Obed but every now and then running into one of the neighborhood women who remembered your nickname? No mention of Mara.  

God was faithful, graceful, and restored Naomi’s life. When you are bitter towards God and feel empty, God can do the unexpected. He can restore life and nourish you through something you have not labored for.