Change. Sometimes its good like vacations, graduations and weddings. Other times it can be negative, unwanted even devastating. Death of someone close to you would have to be the worst-case scenario.
Loss, no matter when it occurs, changes us forever. As much as we’d like to, we can’t go back to the way things were. Instead we have to figure out how we are going to deal with the change and move forward.
I recently gave a message to some folks in an assisted living center. The message titled, “Call me Mara, because the Lord has made my life very bitter,” was based on the story of Naomi found in the Old Testament book of Ruth. Its a good lesson in continuing to trust in God even though we may feel abandoned by Him.
In her younger years Naomi experienced the joy of married life and motherhood in a little town called Bethlehem. At this time judges governed the land, because Israel had no king. As the book of Ruth opens, famine had come to the land. Naomi’s husband, Elimelek decides to relocate his family to Moab. Moab was a foreign land, a pagan country where its people worshipped fertility idols. During their stay there Naomi and her family stayed true to God.
Without warning Naomi’s life begins to unravel. Ruth 1:3 says, “Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband died and she was left with two sons.” Her family made the best they could of the situation. Naomi’s sons took Moabite wives and gave them the Hebrew names, Orpah and Ruth. For Naomi, things turned from bad to worse. Picking up in verse 4, “After they had lived there ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion died [these were Naomi’s only sons]. Naomi was left with no grandchildren and no children to care for her in her old age
Ruth 1:6 says, “When Naomi heard the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them [back in Israel], she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home [to Bethlehem].”
It was a difficult journey, returning to Bethlehem. The three widows had to climb steep rocky paths carved into the mountains. Their journey took them around the Dead Sea and through the barren wilderness separating Moab from Israel. As they traveled, Naomi’s heart seemed to fill with despair, imaging herself to be worthless. What kind of life could she offer her daughter-in-laws when she returned home?
Ruth 1:11, “Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?” [verse 13] “No, my daughters, it is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” Naomi was keeping it real. Life for her at this moment was not sunshine, smiley faces or roses.
Naomi insisted her two daughter-in-laws return home to Moab. They were young enough to start new lives, to remarry and have children. Naomi steeled figuring she would journey on alone but her daughter-in-law Ruth would not leave her. Ruth was committed to remain. [Verse 16] “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” So the two women journeyed on together, while Orpah returned home to Moab.
When Naomi and Ruth reached Bethlehem, it wasn’t the homecoming Naomi expected. The women of the town gathered around her. [Verse 19] “the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” Naomi replied, “Don’t call me Naomi…Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” (Mara means bitter) “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” It is certainly understandable that Naomi felt this way having lost so much.
In those days the widows and the destitute were permitted to go into their neighbor’s fields during the harvest season and pick stalks of grain left behind by the harvesters. It’s a practice called “gleaning.” So Naomi sent Ruth out to glean in the fields so they would have something to eat.
In chapter 2, Ruth, “just so happens” to be gleaning in a field owned by a man named Boaz, who “just so happens” to be Naomi’s husband’s relative. The expression “it just so happens” is viewed by Jews as God working behind the scenes in the lives of his people.
Ruth returned home after a hard day’s work. Some Bible scholars say she returned home with more than a weeks worth of gleaning after just one day. When Naomi learns of this she says in Ruth 2:20, “The Lord bless him!” … He has not stopped showing kindness.” She adds, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our family guardians.” The note in my Bible says the word “guardian” is a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty. Naomi (and Ruth) indeed, were in serious difficulty.
Ruth continued to glean in the fields of Boaz for the rest of the harvest, which stretched from March through July. It is during this time Naomi finds a new purpose for the remaining years of her life. She believes she can play the role of matchmaker intent on joining Boaz (her family guardian), to her beautiful daughter-in-law, Ruth. She sits Ruth down and schools her on the Hebrew customs involved with properly presenting oneself to a guardian and convey a desire to be redeemed.
The plan called for Ruth to go to Boaz while he slept on the threshing floor, the place where he had just finished separating grain from chaff. As instructed, Ruth lay at Boaz feet. When he awoke, her presence there startled him. One Bible commentator pointed out that it was common practice for prostitutes to show up on the thrashing floors where men worked. In Ruth 3:9 “Who are you?” Boaz asks. “I am your servant Ruth,” she replies. Ruth continues, “Spread your garment over me, since you are my family guardian.” She is asking Boaz to redeem her as well as declaring her feelings towards him. In Verse 11 Boaz says, “I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Boaz is a man of his word and in the end redeems not only Ruth but restores the life of Naomi as well. In this case, redemption meant buying back all the lands owned by Naomi’s deceased husband, which would have been handed down to her sons. It also included Boaz agreeing to marry Ruth. Boaz and Ruth have a child, which they name Obed.
Ruth 4:14 says, “The women [of the town] said to Naomi, “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a family guardian…He [the family guardian] will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.”
There are many lessons we can learn from the story of Naomi. I’ve chosen two in the interest of time.
First, we need to remind each other God is always with us. I think you would agree with me that life is indeed a journey. It’s full of ups and downs, peaks and valleys. Traveling through life can be difficult, and at times it may seem impossible to continue. Like Naomi, it might seem like God has abandoned you, or His hand has turned against you.
Did you catch what Ruth 4:14 said? I’ll read it again, “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a family guardian…He [the family guardian] will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.”
You and I have a family guardian we can rely on. He is none other than Jesus Christ. Not only has He redeemed you, He is able to renew your life and sustain you in your old age.
Secondly, God has a plan for your life from the moment you were born to life’s very end. Yogi Berra, the great catcher for the NY Yankees once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” While we remain, there is always something we can do to help others.
My mother struggled to find meaning and purpose for her life after Dad passed away. She asked me many times why God took Dad and left her behind to journey on alone. After thinking a great deal about her question, one day I asked her could it be God still has things he wants you to do for him?
Because Mom remained with us she was able to witness to one of her dear friends as she lay in a hospital bed. Mom led her friend Jane to Christ. In her last days Mom was also a friend to many others in the nursing home where she stayed. She boldly witnessed to many caregivers and friends.
Could it be God still has things he wants you to do for him? Are there any caregivers, friends or family members you can minister to? If so, tell them God never leaves or forsakes the ones He loves.
May the peace of God fall on you this Lord’s Day.