“Is it really Joy?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Joy,” she responded. “Instead, call me Bitter, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me.”
These are the words spoken by Naomi in Ruth 1:20. Naomi, whose name in Hebrew literally means “my joy,” asks the women of Bethlehem to give her a new name: Mara, which means “bitter.”
Why would Naomi insist on taking such a terrible new name? It seems like an odd choice. And it would be odd if it wasn’t the fact that by this point Naomi’s life had become an endless series of hardships and tragedies. Being called “Joy” was practically an insult after all she’d been through.
After being forced from her home by a severe famine, she and her husband had moved their family to a neighboring country as economic refugees. Perhaps they would find a hopeful fresh beginning in this new land? Far from it. While attempting to put down roots in this new place, her husband died, followed by her two sons. This once stable Israelite woman was now a widow with no children to carry on the family name. She returned home to Bethlehem defeated, grieving, and, yes, quite bitter with God.
This is how the book of Ruth begins, with a woman who has plenty of reasons to doubt the goodness of God. How could Yahweh allow such hardship to come to her? Why did he leave her destitute and childless?
“Call me Bitter,” indeed.
Can you relate at all with Naomi’s plight? Are you grieving? Depressed? Crushed by the brokenness of this world? Maybe your name, too, should be “Bitter” because of all the things you’ve gone through.
If so, I am very hopeful that this new sermon series will be a breath of fresh air for you. Over the four weeks of our October series, we will be exploring the short Old Testament book of Ruth to answer a very important question: what are you supposed to do when it seems like God has abandoned you?
There is no way to answer why tragedies and hardships so often wreck our lives, but I am hopeful we can all get a glimpse at how God is working in the midst of them.
I’ll give you a bit of a sneak peek at some of what we’ll be exploring together.
As we’ll see, God was not truly absent in Naomi’s life as she grieved her shattered family. He never stopped working to bring her healing and joy. The thing she couldn’t see at first, though, was that God was not working in the ways she might expect. He wasn’t moving through grand miracles and split-open seas, but through the ordinary, everyday faithfulness of his people.
You see, Naomi did not come back to Bethlehem alone. In fact, her steadfastly faithful daughter-in-law, Ruth, was with her every step of the way. Spoiler alert, but Ruth goes on to play a significant role not only in the healing of Naomi’s heart, but in the transformation and healing of this entire world (Ruth became the great grandmother of King David and thus an ancestor of Jesus Christ himself!).
Even through Naomi’s tragedy, God was working to bring healing and life. My prayer through this series is that we may grow in our faith that he still does.