In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.
Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband. Ruth 1:3-5 (NLT)
A Rock-Bottom Situation
“Well, don’t worry, things can’t get much worse.” An acquaintance from church was trying to console me. Wide-eyed I looked at her and calmly said, “Things can always get worse.”
I’m sure she was unable to imagine herself in a more gut wrenching situation. That inability, fostered by genuine concern, spawned that silly remark. My first husband was in ICU, on a ventilator; he had not breathed on his own for a week. I was two months into a new job but camped at the hospital an hour away from friends and home. Ron and I were poor. I had just finished with graduate school and Ron was too sick to work, so there was no padding in our budget. I had no idea how this situation would resolve itself.
All I knew was—this was not as bad as it could be.
Feelings of Empathy
I don’t know who Naomi had to “comfort” her. I’m sure there were some well meaning folks in her life as well. Too many times, we gloss over some of the events recorded in scripture. When I read these verses, my heart aches for Naomi. As if a wild-west-with-no-sheriff-culture wasn’t enough, there was a famine. It was a famine so severe it changed people’s lives. Elimelech and Naomi moved to a foreign land where food was available. Maybe this new land would offer a different path for this couple. I’m sure they thought, things couldn’t get much worse…
The Point Past Rock-Bottom
Then Naomi’s husband died and left her with 2 sons. I have faced the loss of a spouse. As painful as that loss was, I knew I would still be ok, that my life would go on—changed significantly but not totally. That was not true for Naomi. In her culture, women held no position other than daughter, sister, mother or wife. If a woman had no male relatives, she had no source of income, no inheritance, no means, and no security. The death of Elimelech was not only the loss of a companion but it was the loss of Naomi’s life, as she knew it.
Naomi was in a foreign land, with no spouse. It’s not all bad news; she did have two sons. Her sons would care for her. Those sons married Moabite women. A new family began. I’m sure there were some happy days as Naomi taught the young brides how to fix their husband’s favorite meals, how to sew and how to be a good wives to her two sons.
Ten years after her husband died, Naomi’s sons died. Now she is alone, destitute, far from home in a foreign country, a widow with two widowed daughters-in-law and no men to care for them. There were no grandchildren for Naomi—and now there would never be. She was too old to re-marry. That means she was little more than a beggar.
Living in the World of “Then…”
Have you ever found yourself following a “Then…”?
Usually “Then…” precedes an uncomfortable place. It’s a place where blame lives. How did you get in this predicament? What were you thinking when you made that decision? What are you going to do now?
The Bible doesn’t give many details about the events that led to Naomi’s predicament, perhaps on purpose. With too many of the details, you’d be tempted to think this was only Naomi’s problem—that your “Then…” is somehow different. Many people have tried to draw conclusions about what caused the events of this short passage—simply take the passage as it is.
When you find yourself living the life that follows a “Then…” you will undoubtedly have many questions racing through your mind. “Then…” can stir up emotions—fear, regret, hopelessness, doubt. “Then…” moments seem to bring out the best in others who have counsel or comfort, like the person who “comforted” me.
Naomi, and to some extent her daughters-in-law spent more than a few days stuck between a past that was over and a future that was uncertain. That is hopelessness.
Let me leave you with this thought today, are “Then…” moments about the past or the future?
Father, thank You for the examples of people who lived real lives. Teach me the lessons these examples offer. Thank You for Your love and provision.