So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted] me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me. ”So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.
The arrival of Naomi and Ruth back in Bethlehem was, very quickly, the talk of the town. Perhaps they were expected but we are not told. But what we are told shows us the desperate state they were in. Her friends and family did not recognise her. “Can this be Naomi?’ they asked. Was she so worn down by the difficulties and loss of the ten years away that her appearance was so changed? Perhaps her coming among them was so totally unexpected and the appearance of an aging widow accompanied by a young Moabite threw them completely.
Certainly it was not a happy home coming as Naomi whose name might mean something like good, pleasant, lovely, or winsome, says “call me Mara because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”
Her words are significant. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. These very words express her bitterness. All the blame is laid on God.
Had her years away from the promised land in Moab caused her to forget the God of Israel? The God who had rescued his people from Egypt. Had she become disillusioned with God during the time of the Judges with its periods of persecution from other nations and an almost complete breakdown of social cohesion within the country? Or was it simply the tragedies she had been through. We don’t know but we can learn from this situation nonetheless.
When we are full and everything is going smoothly it is very easy to forget God as we rejoice in our blessings and self-sufficiency but, if we allow this to happen, when the hard times come we will find that we are running on empty which is Naomi’s sad testimony to her family and friends. But when we are empty and admit it, God is ready and wanting to fill us. The emptying did not happen all at once for Ruth had seen something of Naomi’s God in her life which is why she committed to leave her homeland and travel with Naomi to Bethlehem. Further it seems likely that Ruth as Naomi’s travelling companion was the human agent that kept Naomi on track in her darkest moments.
I wonder if you, the reader of these words today, are in or have been in a similar situation. God seeming to have abandoned you, emptied you. Then, if so, in the following chapters rejoice in God’s refilling which is hinted at in the last verse which tells us that they arrived in Bethlehem at the time of Barley Harvest. The time of God’s bounty!
Maybe also that among your friends and contacts there are those to whom you could be a Ruth today, if the suggestion that she helped to carry Naomi through her darkest hours is right.
If you are a man and read this today the challenges are just as relevant!
Lastly, whether you know the rest of the story or not, be encouraged that God does leave his people empty as it ends with an abundant filling beyond Naomi’s dreams. More tomorrow.