I started writing this some time last week, but got distracted with the needs of my children, and I'm just now getting back to it. I know I've kind of strayed from my posts on Proverbs 31. The morning I started this, I opened my Bible to read the next verse in P31 so I could post about it (which I also already started when I was in the hospital after having CJ and was interrupted by nurses!!!), but instead, I felt drawn to the book of Ruth. I didn't get why at the time, but I can clearly see it now. What God showed me through Ruth directly coincides with the last post I wrote (see here). I love it when God does that!!! So, here we go . . .
In the book of Ruth, the young Ruth is the main character. She is the one the book is named after. She is the one we focus on when we read this story. Without her this story would never have taken place. Without her our Bible would go straight from Judges to 1 Samuel. Without her the verses our wedding vows stem from would not exist. She teaches us many lessons. She is a vital person. She must not be forgotten.
However, as important as she is, there are other characters in this story. Without some of these other people, her story would not be possible. Without some of these other people, her story would not be near as beautiful. Without some of these other people, her life would not have played out exactly the way it did. Each person in this story is a key player or God would not have included them in her story. She needed them in order to experience each detail of her life in the way she did.
One of these characters is the well-known Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law. First, she moved many, many, many miles from everyone and everything she knew. She moved to a foreign land. I wonder if her heart held some bitterness over having to leave behind everything familiar to her. Then, she lost her husband when her sons were still young. The Bible doesn't say if they were kids, teenagers, or young men but it does make clear that they were not married. So she had some rough years. Can you imagine losing your husband and then not knowing how you're going to take care of your children? Can you imagine not knowing where the next meal will come from? Not only that, but she was in a foreign land. Granted, they had lived there quite a while so I'm sure she had friends, but her family was not around to give her support. She went through that alone. Bitterness slowly and quietly crept in. Then things began to look up!!
Her sons found wonderful women, fell in love, and got married! Love and life and laughter began to fill the dark places that once consumed her life. She didn't deal with the bitterness that had taken root in her heart. She simply put it out of her mind and went on celebrating with everyone over the wonderful things beginning to happen. Then, tragedy struck.
Not one, but BOTH of her sons died. The Bible doesn't specify whether this was one event or two separate occasions, but it doesn't matter. Unless we've been there, we cannot come close to imagining the gut-wrenching pain and the deep grief she experienced. That is a pain I hope to never know. She was truly all alone in the world. Darkness, once again, filled her mind, her day, her life. She had no husband to lean on for emotional support. She had no family to go to when she couldn't hold herself up under the grief. I can imagine her lying in her bed, overwhelmed with grief, blankets pulled up over her head, tears streaming down her face, sobs wracking her body. The bitterness that had come so long ago, once again, reared its ugly head and filled her heart. It began to consume her. She had suffered so much heartache in her years.
I imagine, as the days passed, she began to think of the grandchildren she would never have. I wonder if she pictured herself playing with grandchildren and dressing them and cuddling them, only to awaken from her daydreams to find tears on her face over those babies that would never exist. I wonder if she ever wanted to "curse God and die" (Job 2:9) as she pictured the years ahead of her with no family by her side. Did she ever wish her own life would just end? Maybe she even held some bitterness over the fact that God had not taken her life as well.
Finally, good news came! Her homeland was past the famine that had driven her to this foreign land and she could return home. I'm not sure what family or house she had plans to return to (the Bible doesn't clarify what "home" meant except that she went back to Judah), but she packed up her bags and said good-bye to this place that had been her home through many rough times. Her daughters-in-law packed up as well, determined to help their mothers-in-law through this season of her life. At some point during their journey, Naomi encouraged the girls to return to Moab and their families and move on with their lives. One of her daughters-in-law took her up on the offer. Even though she had encouraged it, I wonder if Naomi was slightly disappointed in Orpah for not standing by her side. I wonder if she nursed her wounds and some bitterness as well. I wonder if she watched in anger as Orpah took that trail back to Moab, knowing that she would never again see this precious daughter-in-law that her son had loved. I wonder if she felt like part of her heart was walking away from her. I wonder if she cried herself to sleep that night knowing that one more person had been taken away from her. I wonder if she completely turned herself away from God, scared to trust Him for fear of what He would allow to be taken next.
Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, decided to stay with her. I wonder if it was difficult for Ruth to stay, knowing that Naomi was becoming a bitter old woman. I wonder if Naomi let Ruth know how much it meant to her that she stayed or if she was so consumed with her heartache that she was a miserable companion for Ruth.
To me, the saddest part in the book of Ruth is chapter 1, verses 20-21 in which Naomi, upon returning to Judah, tells her friends "Don't call me Naomi . . . 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?"
As I read this first chapter of the book of Ruth and thought about all of Naomi's rough times, I was reminded of a man in the Bible who, on facing dire situations himself, responded quite differently than Naomi. Job's story takes place several books after Naomi's story in the Bible. However, in real life, it took place many years before. I wonder if Naomi, through her situations, recalled the stories she had been told of the man named Job and how he responded through his circumstances. I wonder if she felt guilty that she was so consumed with bitterness that she could not respond the same way he did.
Job lost everything he had. In one day he lost all 500 teams of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and all but one of his farmhands. Later that day, he lost all 7,000 sheep and all but one shepherd. That same day, he lost all 3,000 camels and all but one of his servants. Finally, again in the same day, he was told he lost all 7 sons and all 3 daughters and all but one person who was in the house with them. His words, upon hearing of all his loss, are recorded in Job 1:21 "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord.!" His response was quite different than that of Naomi. I'm sure he cried his share of tears. I'm sure he experienced the same gut-wrenching agony that Naomi and any other parent who's lost a child has experienced. However, he did not "grieve like people who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13b). He knew that even though life had suddenly become very difficult, God was still in control and "In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God." (Job 1:22)
In the second chapter of Job we read that God allowed Job's health to be taken from him - he was struck "with terrible boils from head to foot". Job 2:8 says, "Job scraped his skin with a piece of broken pottery as he sat among the ashes." To say his circumstances had become bleak would be quite an understatement! His wife could see this plainly. She too had lost everything, including all 10 children she had given birth to and her husband, her sole provider, was sitting in ashes, covered in boils. She had become bitter, quite like Naomi. Instead of being an encouragement to her husband, instead of being his helpmeet (as she was created to do), she told Job, "Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die." (Job 2:9) Job's response was one we would all do well to remember.
Job 2:10 says, "But Job replied, "You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?" So in all this, Job said nothing wrong."
In the end, both Job and his wife and Naomi received blessing from the hand of God. Naomi saw her daughter-in-law married to the wonderful Boaz and they gave birth to a son, Obed, who was the grandfather of the famous King David. Job and his wife were blessed with 7 more sons and 3 more daughters along with 14, 000 sheep, 6, 000 camels, 1,000 teams of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys - twice as many animals as he had before!
Naomi and "Mrs. Job" responded quite differently that Job did. Their hearts were full of bitterness and anger towards God. Job's heart was filled with praise and honor and glory for the God who sees all, knows all, is in control of all. So, if they were all blessed in the end, what's it matter how they responded at the time of their bad circumstances?
Job 42:17 sums it up pretty well, "Then he died, an old man who had lived a long, full life."
Will we have lived a long, full life full of praise for the God who has every detail of life planned to perfection, or will our story end the way Naomi's did? There is no mention of her giving praise to God. In her story, "the women of the town said to Naomi, "Praise the Lord . . ."
Will our life end with praise to God or will it end with someone praising God for us????
Don't let bitterness take even a step into your heart. It's not worth it. I know. I've been there. I'm learning to be like Job. I used to be like Naomi (see link above). I want to be the one praising God. I want others praising Him with me, not for me!!!!! What about you?