Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pleasant to Bitter

What's in a name? In our fellowship group, we're studying the Book Ruth, and began with chapter 1 last Wednesday night. There, we find the unfolding story of a woman called Naomi. Tragedy strikes the family, leaving her with just one daughter-in-law, with both of them being widows.

Having been away from Bethlehem for about 10 years, she returns to her home town. And when she gets there, she requests a name change - from Naomi to Mara. Now to us, reading our English translations, we miss the significance of the change of name. Thankfully, the footnotes are useful in helping us out.

Naomi means 'pleasant', whereas Mara means 'bitter'.

Such a transformation, although perhaps with good reason. Naomi and her husband Elimelech (which means 'God is my King') and their two sons left Bethlehem in the midst of a famine, and they moved to the land of Moab. Sadly, Elimelech and her two sons both died (after they had met and married Moabite women). Then Orpah, the other daughter-in-law obeyed Naomi and returned home.

Naomi had a bitter experience, and she knew where the blame lay: 'it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me' (Ruth 1:13). Further, 'the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty' (Ruth 1:20-21).

While many known to us may not want to change their names, yet they feel this way towards God. Bitterness invades every thought, and they feel crushed under the hand of the Lord. Pray for those you know who struggle with the Lord tonight.

Yet even in the midst of her perceived bitterness, the Lord was being gracious towards Naomi. Often we can't see it at the time either, but later things will be seen in a new light.

Naomi and her husband were part of the people of God, yet they left their inheritance, they left the land of promise to go and dwell in a foreign land. Famine was one of the curses found in Deuteronomy if the people of Israel departed from loving God. With famine, the people should have been repenting, not packing up.

Yet consider God's graciousness. He brings them to the place where Ruth is introduced to the family. He visits His people and gives them food (1:6). He moves Ruth to remain faithful to Naomi and return with her to Bethlehem. He brings Naomi back to the promised land. And He draws Ruth, a Moabite, into a living relationship with himself.

Grace in the midst of bitterness.

'The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.' (Deuteronomy 33:27)

1 comment :

  1. I'm back again, this time via Ruth 1:13.

    Like with Naomi, our past experiences affect how we view life as a whole and can sometimes keeps us bound. This reminds me of what Jacob said when Reuben tells him that he must let Benjamin return with them to Egypt:

    And he said, My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he is left alone: if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. - Genesis 42:38

    Just like Naomi, Jacob was bound from what had happened in the past. However, in the end, God worked it out.

    Excellent post! Keep up the good work.