“She answered them, “Don’t call me Naomi [Sweet]. Call me Mara [Bitter] because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi when the Lord has tormented me and the Almighty has done evil to me?”” Ruth 1:20-21 (GW)
A Lesson From the Garden
“I’ll be there in just a minute,” I reassured Terry. It was suppertime, and I was out in the garden. I was finishing a little project and since I was dirty, I wanted to finish it before cleaning up to fix supper. I completed staking and tying up some flopped over plants. As I moved those plants, a new area of the garden was exposed—it needed weeding. I started weeding that little section. Then I realized that spot was perfect for a bush that needed replanting. I got out the shovel and started digging.
I heard the call from the kitchen window, “Are you coming in?” My few minutes had turned into an hour. My hungry hubby was distressed. My well-intentioned “few minutes” quickly turned into many minutes and resulted in a neglected husband. I’m happy to say, we all survived.
Have you had some well-intentioned moments that resulted in unintended circumstances?
Sojourn in Moab
It’s not obvious in most translations but the very first verse of this chapter in Ruth sets in motion the “Then…” events I wrote about yesterday. Elimelech took his family to sojourn in the land of Moab. A sojourn is a brief visit, not a permanent move, not a 10-year stay. A sojourn is a let’s go see if we can find some food, not a let’s move to Moab and not come back.
So what happened?
You can unpack all the blame you can find. If you read commentaries about Ruth, you’ll find all kinds of writing about “back-sliding.” While it’s possible that Elimelech and his family left Bethlehem to go to Moab in an act of faithless defiance to God, I don’t see anything sinister in this family’s action. They were hungry. They needed food. They thought they could fix their problem—the solution was straightforward—go to where the food is.
There it is. It’s not sinister—it’s subtle. I can take care of myself. I know what is best for me. Maybe God has forgotten me. How bad could this one little sin be? Is being hungry and wanting to provide for his family a sin? No, Elimelech undoubtedly thought he was making a good decision. Unfortunately, Elimelech’s decision was directly contrary to God’s command.
It’s after that first subtle action you find the “Then…”; Elimelech died, his sons died, Naomi and her daughters were hopeless widows.
Trusting in God, Not Yourself
You don’t begin hopeless. You begin full of self-assurance, self-reliance; full of confidence that your plan will succeed in spite of God commands and warnings. Then the “Thens” begin. Each subsequent event seems to pull you farther away from your intended goal and usually, farther away from a loving God. Sometimes, like Naomi, you find yourself in the wake of consequences caused by the decisions of others and not necessarily your own decisions.
It’s there bitterness has its beginning. It’s at that point God gets the blame for your actions.
Have you found yourself empty after trying things your own way? I have! I have learned very few lessons the easy way. I have concocted elaborate plans without a wisp of consideration of God’s commands or His desires for my life. I have lived in the land of “Then…” I have shaken a bitter fist at God for not snatching me out of my predicament.
I can relate to Naomi.
Do you need some good news? Let me share with you the other thing I’ve experienced.
God is bigger than my ability to mess up. God has thick skin. He is able to withstand the prideful accusations that point the finger of blame at Him instead of me. That’s how much God loves me. God waited patiently for me to execute all my plans and ideas, my schemes and imaginations, and arrive at the place of emptiness. Then in love, He refilled the void.
God loves you as much as He loves me.
Fortunately, for all of humanity, for the creatures compelled to sojourn to a place God never intended them to go, the final words of Ruth chapter 1 are not God has done evil and mistreated me.
The final words are; Naomi and Ruth got back to Bethlehem just in time for the harvest.