Naomi – her name means “pleasant”
Her story is found in the Book of Ruth in the Bible
This morning my pastor said the book of Ruth is like a flower growing on a heap of manure. The book of Judges – the manure – actually starts well. God’s people are obeying His command and setting out to possess the Promised Land. But they don’t complete the job. The book ends abruptly with the horrific story of The Levite’s Concubine and the war that ensues. In between we see a cycle of sin (see picture below) repeated over and over again. Each time the people sink a little lower, a little farther from God, as they all “do what was right in their own eyes” instead of obeying God.
The little Book of Ruth gives us a much needed shot of hope after such a dark tale. As I read Naomi’s story, however, I couldn’t help but notice it, too, doesn’t start very well. In fact, Naomi’s life seems to follow the same sin cycle found in the book of Judges. The difference is…there’s a better ending!
Serving the Lord
Naomi and her husband, Elimilech, were God’s people living in Bethlehem. It is not known who wrote down their story but we can speculate from the genealogy at the end that it was penned by someone in King David’s court to show the king’s lineage. Scholars think that Naomi and Elimilech lived some time between the judges Jephthah and Samson – some very dark times.
Falling in to Sin
- Sin #1 – Elimilech decides to move his family out of the Promised Land to the land of Moab because of the severe famine in the land.
Herbert Lockyer says – “If the famine was a judgment upon the nation, Elimelech should have repented, tried to have helped his fellow countrymen back to God and prayed for the removal of the scourge.”
Elimilech’s name meant “My God is King” but he was like everyone else in the time of the judges – he did what was right in his own eyes. To him it was best to move where there was no famine instead of trusting God in the midst of the famine. If God had truly been his king, he would’ve stayed put in Bethlehem – the House of Bread. Moabites were distant relatives of the Israelites who did not greet or help them when they entered the Promised Land. They were not friends.
- Sin #2 – Israelites were not supposed to intermarry with foreign women who would lead them away from their faith in God. Naomi’s sons Mahlon and Chilion both break God’s law and take foreign wives. Naomi and her family should’ve known better but Mosaic laws were ignored during the times of the judges.
Just let the magnitude of what happens to Naomi sink in for a moment as you read these verses:
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 10 years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.
I believe God wants to bless us. I also believe that when we disobey Him, it ties His Hands. He’s holy. He can’t bless us if we’re deliberately sinning against Him. We might succeed for a time – Naomi spent 10 years in Moab – but ultimately we will fail when we are walking outside the will of God. God will do whatever it takes to turn us around and get our attention. Even if it means stripping us of everything that we love.
Many times, I have prayed with a woman like Naomi – a woman who is struggling with depression, anxiety, feeling like God is not answering her prayers. There’s usually a lot of tears. Almost every time after I lift her up in prayer, when we sit and talk, that’s when it comes out. She is deliberately sinning against God – breaking one of his commandments – usually to get her own way. It breaks my heart. I want to shake her and say, “Stop disobeying God! Your prayers won’t be answered until you get right with Him.”
Even though we currently live in the “age of grace,” I believe the principles found in Deuteronomy 11:26-28 still stand. God said in the Old Testament: If you believe and obey then I will bless you, if you don’t, then I will curse you. There’s corroboration in the New Testament – Jesus said: “If you love me, you will do what I command.” (A disclaimer here – I don’t think believing and obeying means you’ll have a “perfect” life and get everything you want. God knows what’s best for you and His blessings sometimes come in odd packages, like pain.)
“Repentance in Christianity means a sincere turning away, in both the mind and heart, from self to God. It involves a change of mind that leads to action–the turning away from a sinful course to God.”
In spite of all her pain, Naomi does not turn around, repent and go home until she hears that the famine is over in Bethlehem (a very pragmatic reason). You have to admire her, though. She’s still angry with God but steps out in faith anyway returning to her people and her God. The return costs her something. Change always costs you something. One daughter-in-law stays by her side but she loses yet another family member when Orpah turns back. The journey home was a trek of anywhere from 30-70 dusty miles – very dangerous for two women alone.
Her return to Bethlehem caused a sensation. She was back. Almost unrecognizable. She was marred. She was Mara – a bitter woman proclaiming, “I’m changing my name because God hates me.” Gien Karssen says,”Self pity usually blames someone else.” Naomi blames all her problems on God crying out, “The Lord’s hand has turned against me”even though she was the one who moved away from Him to an idol worshiping nation.
God Raises Up a Deliverer (or two)
I love how Naomi says “Call me Mara” but nobody ever does. The story continues and she is still called Naomi. Poor Naomi is in need of a rescuer…or two.
The foreigner, Ruth the Moabitess, seems to believe in God more than Naomi right now. She springs in to action to provide for the two of them taking advantage of the Mosaic law spelled out for widows, orphans and foreigners. She asks to glean. This is a person God can use. Someone who believes in Him and acts – even if the work ahead of her is back-breaking labor. This act of faith and obedience puts Ruth in a place her where God can pour out his blessings…and He does! He arranges for Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, to come and rescue the two destitute women.
Ruth’s work and Boaz kindness wake Naomi up. She jumps back in to action. This Jewish mother-in-law arranges things just right. Boaz and Ruth are married. Naomi gets a grandson. (He doesn’t carry a drop of her blood in his veins, but who cares!)
Then the women said to Naomi, “Praise 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.” Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him. The neighbor women said, “A son has been born to Naomi,” and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
How is Jesus Involved in the Story of Naomi?
The Book of Ruth shows we can break the cycle of sin in our family! We can obey, return to God and watch Him restore us above all we could ask or even think. The story restores hope that there is a redeemer – that a Savior will come. Naomi’s grandson is in the line of Christ. Matthew chapter 1 shows the same lineage (above) of King David but it keeps going and ends with the birth of the King of Kings. Verse 16 says “…and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah.”
Questions to Ponder
- Naomi thinks her suffering is a result of God punishing her. Have you ever felt like God was punishing you? Have you ever blamed God for what you were going through even though it was you who moved away from Him?
- Maybe Naomi was just a victim of her husband’s poor choices. Have you ever asked God for bread and felt like He gave you a stone? Asked God for a fish and felt like He gave you a snake? Have you ever doubted this verse in Matthew 7 which says: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”?
- What do you do when you see a Christian sister deliberately (or unknowingly) sinning against God? Do you approach her or do you run away from the problem hoping it will somehow work itself out?
Lord, circumstances – like a famine – are actually neutral. How I react to the circumstances You allow in my life is up to me. Will I walk in faith? Or will I choose fear or try to control things? Lord, help me not to immediately panic when something goes wrong. Do not let me go straight to planning (plannicking) my way out of the circumstance you have brought. Help me to immediately turn to You, pray, trust and wait patiently for You, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen.
The Bottom Line
Things I learned from Naomi: Don’t blame God for evil. He loves to give good gifts.