And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. {Naomi: that is, Pleasant} {Mara: that is, Bitter} Ruth 1:20 (KJS)

Naomi means “my delight” and it also means pleasantness. In the days when names characterized the person, Naomi wanted to change her name – she no longer felt it applied to her. Do you also feel as it your life has changed in this manner? Is there something deep inside that has changed since you were saved – and has it hurt your relationship with God? Have things occurred as the years have passed which are very difficult for you to accept – things you would never have imagined could happen? Are these things so unpleasant that you cannot understand how God has allowed them? Have you become angry and bitter with God, and are you alienating others because of your attitude? Or is your disappointment and unhappiness with life something you are quiet about – something that is causing a slow burn within, but you camouflage it with smiles and feigned joy?

Naomi had many reasons for believing that God had dealt very bitterly with her, and she was not subtle about her feelings, but was rather forthcoming about them. In the natural realm it would be difficult to disagree with Naomi’s assessment of her life. First there was a great famine in Israel, and she and her husband traveled to Moab, not because they were seeking a better job opportunity, but simply to get enough food to survive. Possibly the thought came into Naomi’s mind that it was a shame for a Jew to have to leave Israel to find food to eat. Can we not imagine her crying out to God, questioning why He was not providing in the land that He had given her people? Why must they make a humiliating trip into a pagan country for survival? These were difficult times for the Jews, and the troubles that beset them would challenge the faith of many. Naomi appears to have been a solid believer – but even solid believers tend to get run down when they are subjected to test after test.

Marrying Gentiles

Naomi also had to deal with the marriage of her two sons to Moabite women. Even though the Bible does not specifically state this was a difficult issue for her, we may assume it was since marrying out of the Jewish race or religion was anathema to most Jews. When I was growing up, most of my best friends were Jewish, but none of them appeared to be deeply interested in God. They went to Hebrew school after public school, but they were only mildly observant. Nevertheless, one thing was pounded into them by their parents – they were supposed to marry Jewish girls. If they did not, there was a good chance that their families would disown them.  In fact, my best friend brought a girl home from college to meet the family, and his mother was so overtly rude to her, that the girl was in tears and wanted to leave as soon as possible. Confounded, he finally talked to his mother privately, and asked her why she was acting in this manner. His mother told him that no shiksa (disparaging term for a non-Jewish girl) was welcome in the house. You see, the girl had light brown hair and was did not look very Jewish. She had a Jewish last name, but my friend’s mother was so angry when she laid eyes on her, she never heard it. After she found out the girl was Jewish, she could not have been nicer, and my friend ended up marrying her. In Naomi’s time, the pressure was not simply familial; the Scripture forbade inter-marriage with Gentiles, unless the Gentile converted to Judaism.

Interestingly, God has used Jewish marriages to Gentiles often in the Scriptures. For instance, Esther married a Gentile king and Joseph married an Egyptian Gentile. This all foreshadowed the great redemptive plan for the Gentiles, in which they would become the majority of the bride of Jesus Christ. However, Naomi would not be aware of these spiritual shadows, and after the family had moved to Moab, her husband died. This was a serious matter for a woman of that time period, because it would be difficult for her to find work, and what she would find would normally be menial and pay very little. But there was a saving grace – she had two sons. The son’s could work and support their mother – which was their duty.

The famine, the move to Moab, and her husband’s death would have been enough to discourage anyone, but then both of Naomi’s sons died. Not just one, but both of them. We do not know what the cause was, but it may have been sickness of some type, since they were both affected. In any event, added to the emotional loss would be the stark financial circumstances. Naomi was in dire straits, and things just seemed to be getting worse. It seems unlikely that Naomi had any believing friends that might have helped her, unless there were other refugee Jews that she knew in Moab. Nevertheless, what would they have said, if they were around? It is so easy for others to say that you should be happy in spite of what you are going through. They can quote all the Scriptures about how much joy you should have when you are miserable, or how the testing God is putting you through is so valuable. However, often the best consolation is commiseration – simply mercy. Job’s friend sat with him for seven days without saying a word, and it proved far more beneficial than their later comments. Others may tell you that if you only had enough faith you would never go through such a trial, mimicking some popular TV preachers who have reduced the Christian faith to a joy ride which includes no trials or difficulties. After hearing such things, most believers feel even worse, blaming themselves and feeling condemned because of a lack of faith. This can certainly add to a believer’s shift from feeling “pleasant” to feeling “bitter.”  

Perhaps Naomi’s daughters-in-law comforted her, because there appears to be much mutual concern between her and them. Yes, even though they were not Jewish, Naomi appears to have had an excellent relationship with them. Perhaps Naomi was close enough to God to value people as His creation, instead of discounting them due to their race or beliefs. In any event, her relationship with Ruth must have been good, for not only did Ruth promise not to leave her, Ruth had pledged her life to the God of Israel. This conversion to Judaism probably did not occur without the influence and the godly example of Naomi’s life.  

Turning the Corner

Just when everything seems to be falling apart in her life, Naomi hears some good news – there is bread in Judah. So she goes back, with Ruth, her converted daughter in law, and we read that in Bethlehem there is excitement over her return. But Naomi is stuck in a rut. When they call her by her name, she answers them pessimistically:

And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. {Naomi: that is, Pleasant} {Mara: that is, Bitter} I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? Ruth 1:20-21 (KJS)

Naomi remembers how it was in the past – she states she was full. The Hebrew word for full here is male, (pronounced maw-lay) which also means accomplished and consecrated. But now, she says, she is empty or reyqam in Hebrew, which also means without a cause, in vain, or having no effect. Let us understand that much of the joy that we have is based on us realizing our usefulness as people. This is one reason why charity and handouts often ruin the work ethic, and consequently the joy, of people who do not actually need them. The flesh thinks it would be nice to have everything given to us with no work, but the truth is that those who have experienced this often feel worthless and unhappy.

Naomi feels this way. She feels that she is making no difference in the world, and instead of accomplishing things, as one set apart for God (consecrated), she is convinced that her life has no value. Moreover, she truly believes that God has dealt very bitterly with her. She also believes that God has “testified” against her, and has afflicted her.

The word for testified here is anah, and it means to respond to someone. Afflicted is rawah, and it means “to be injurious, be evil (ethically)” (Reference BDB Thayers). The essence of the word is “to be bad, be evil.” This is a very serious charge against God. For Naomi is saying that although she is a woman of God she believes that God is injuring her, even to the extent that He is acting in an evil manner. Naomi uses the term “Almighty” which is Shaddai in Hebrew, which shows she understands that He is all-powerful and should therefore prevent these bad things. This is a serious and solemn charge against God, and fortunately for Naomi, and also for us, God understands our frailty in assigning blame to Him.

We are taught and may know that God is holy and perfect and He loves us, and would never inflict evil on us, but we have a problem with reconciling that statement with His omnipotence. We may think that if that is the case, God should make things easier for us. Job thought this way, and also said very serious things against God, as his testing wore on. He perceived that God had allowed the difficult trials that came to him, and he insisted that because of his personal righteousness these things should not occur. Job thought he was too good for such testing, but Jesus said, in Mark 10:18 “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Here Jesus was pushing the one asking the question to acknowledge that He, Jesus, was God. Nevertheless, the statement He makes explains to us that none of us are good, and that our depravity runs far deeper than we may realize.

In any event, we also read in Hebrews 2:10, that Jesus, Himself, was made “perfect through sufferings.” This perfecting refers to His human side, not His deity. Nevertheless, even Jesus, who as a man never sinned, was tested through sufferings. Now if this was the case for Him, why should we presume that we do not need such testing? Some teachers would say that if our faith was strong enough, we would not have trouble on earth. But if that was the case – if it was God’s will that we have no trouble on earth, what would He use to refine our lives and prepare us for the perfect kingdom we will soon inherit? 

Not What You Know, but Who You Know

Ruth 4:14 (NKJV) Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! 15 “And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age…

We have the close relative  – He is the One who sticks closer than a brother, and His name is famous in Israel. He is also the restorer of life for each of us, and He will see to it that we will not be tested beyond what we can endure.

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” 1Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV)

Oh, how quickly He can turn things around. The supernatural relationship we have with Him means that there is nothing we cannot get through. We need not shout in our prayers – He knows when we are afflicted. Rather, let us believe the promise that His mercies are new every morning, for even in the great trial we will see them. And whatever we are going through, we should celebrate the fact that we know Him! Our famous, almighty relative is our only source of hope, and He will help us and deliver us if we believe in Him, for He has told us, “as to your faith be it unto you.” However, it will occur in His timing, when He has accomplished what He intends to in us, and not at our demand.

The Child of Suffering

Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “There is a son born to Naomi.” And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth 4:17 (NKJV)

There is a child of your heartache. It will live on, even as the line of David did, which produced the Messiah. It did not come through Naomi’s physical line, but through the spiritual line, for Ruth was not her daughter, but her daughter-in-law. It will not be the way you thought it would be, even as no one would have guessed that God would use Ruth to be part of the Messiah’s physical lineage. Nevertheless, if we endure as Naomi did, we will experience unexpected blessings that are eternal. This is the fruit of the mighty trials through which some Christians must stand. The Messiah was born partly through Naomi’s perseverance to serve God, and this occurred in spite of her complaints. Thank God for His mercy in using broken vessels to heal a broken world. Thank God that we are part of something bigger than ourselves – something so grand that we do not even conceive of it – even the reconciling of souls for everlasting life. 

Accept the Testing

Saint, God has the right to test you in anyway He sees fit. You may feel now as if you are dying inside. You may burst out crying at times during the day because of the pain. Everything may look grim. You may have to fight to maintain, to even work. You may be tempted to give up, and quit on God, and you may complain and be angry at Him. 

Or, such deep trials may never happen to you. However, you will know someone who is suffering through them. It may be someone with Parkinson’s Disease, someone with a Downs Syndrome baby, someone with a retarded child, someone with a drug addict or an alcoholic family member threatening to ruin their lives, someone with an adulterous spouse, someone with cancer, someone with a mentally ill family member, someone who lost a father or mother early in life, or someone who was severely abused as a child by his or her parents or other relatives. Do not tell them that you know what it is like, for you do not know what it is like. You do not understand, because you have not experienced it – just be there for them. God has put you in contact with such as these to be a support, to commiserate with them, to comfort them, and the pray for them.

New Covenant Trials

Some teach that under the New Covenant we will not experience the problems that Naomi and Job experienced. However, if that is the case, why do we read a reference to Job in the New Testament? If there is nothing that we should endure, why would James speak of endurance? For we read:

“Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord–that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.” James 5:11 (NKJV)

If this is your lot, you have been chosen for one of the deeper lessons in life. You are being perfected through sufferings. You will emerge as pure gold in your faithfulness. If you endure these trials will produce everlasting spiritual diamonds. It must be so and cannot be otherwise.  In any event, you have no choice – you cannot make the trial go away – this is God’s work. God and God alone will change the circumstances, or change you in the circumstances, but man cannot do it. So pray for deliverance, but embrace the trial, take up the cross and determine to stay the course of the narrow way. For storm clouds may gather, but they must dissipate.  He has prescribed the antidote and promised you:

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” Psalm 50:15 (NKJV)

He is building an eternal kingdom from the likes of those who are overcomers in the world. And those who endure the hardest trials, like the soldiers who are the most heroic, will also see the greatest rewards when the temporary afflictions have ceased. Naomi wanted to change her name, and yet, God has a name change coming for all of us who overcome, and it is not bitter!

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ‘ Revelation 2:17 (NKJV)

Written by John Lifflander

October 16, 2005