So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, "Is this Naomi?"Ruth 1:19(NASB)
Ruth is a story that turns from tragedy and disaster to triumph and delight. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, chose to leave their homeland, which was ravaged by famine, and settle in foreign parts. They set out on their journey at a time in Israel's history when everyone did what was right in their own eyes, with little consideration for the will of God, and less desire to carry out His plans and purposes.
As the story unfolds, we find our little family had settled in the land of Moab. Ignoring God's command, which prohibited Israelites from marrying Canaanites, both Naomi's sons took pagan wives - Orpha and Ruth. Following the deaths of both her husband and her two sons, Naomi found herself in a distressing situation - a widow in a foreign land with no means of support, separated from kith and kin, and without hope in the world.
News reached Naomi that the famine in Israel was over and God was once again blessing His people. In bitter distress she decided to return to her roots... and Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law, chose to return with her.
Unbeknown to both women, God had planned to use their desperate situation to demonstrate His grace towards them and to forward His perfect plan of redemption and as the story unfolds, we are increasingly aware of God's providential work in their lives.
Although Naomi had tried to dissuade the girl from leaving her Moabite roots, Ruth begged to be allowed to go with her mother-in-law and declared, "wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God." And so we read, "they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, 'Can this be Naomi?'"
It was no doubt an arduous journey for these penniless widows and the shocking circumstances in which she found herself caused Naomi to become resentful of her poverty-stricken state and very bitter towards God.
Although many years had passed since she and Elimelech had set out in search of a better life, she was still recognised by the women in Bethlehem, who appeared to be shocked at her changed appearance and asked with incredulity, "Can this be Naomi?"
'Naomi' means sweetness and pleasantness, but in response to the shocked excitement that greeted her, the first thing Naomi said to the people of Bethlehem was, "Do not call me Naomi. Call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me."
'Mara' is a name that means bitterness and reminds us of the Bitter Waters that caused the Israelites in the wilderness to grumble against Moses. The Israelites had journeyed three days into the wilderness without water, and when they came to the watering hole at Marah, they found that the water was bitter... which is why the place was named Marah, and the whole company complained, "What are we going to drink?"
When she left her home in Bethlehem many years before, Naomi remembered that she went out full. She was younger and trim, with a husband and sons, but she returned dry and empty and in deep distress. Naomi returned to Bethlehem as an old, penniless, childless widow.
The decisions Naomi and her family made in their earlier days were against God's will for their lives. They walked away from the land of promise and were unable to live and worship as the Law commanded. They went against God's will for His people by living in a pagan land and even allowed their sons to marry Canaanite women - but how like some of God's people today, who flirt with the world and allow themselves to live in carnality and sin - and instead of trusting in His sufficient strength, they live a defeated, Christian life.
Naomi wandered far from the Lord, and even blamed God for her problems and loss which identified her as a bitter old woman on her return. And yet, in His grace, God had planned something special for this sweet daughter of Israel who returned home. Not only did Naomi find security and safety in her old age, but her daughter-in-law found a godly husband and gave birth to a precious baby who would be in the line of Israel's Messiah - which turned Naomi's deep sorrow into radiant joy.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for all that You have taught me from this simple story in the book of Ruth. Forgive me for the times I have acted like Naomi and stepped outside of Your will for my life and found myself in deep distress and defeated. Thank You that You are the good Shepherd Who searches for Your sheep, whenever we wander far away ,and thank You that You are our Kinsman-Redeemer. I praise and thank You for the incredible privilege we are afforded as Your people and the radiant joy that is ours when we abide in Christ and He in us. Thank You that all Your ways are pleasant and all Your paths are peace. In Jesus' name I pray, AMEN.