Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From Bitterness to Betterment...

Do the trials in life make us bitter or better? It is a cliche of a question but a good one nevertheless.

I just finished reading through the OT book of Ruth and while fascinated (as always) at Ruth's story, I was struck this time by the story of her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi had left Bethlehem with her husband and two sons in order to live in Moab. There had been a famine in the land and her husband, Elimelech, had plans to sojourn in Moab for a couple of years and then return  when things were better in his homeland. Of the best laid plans of mice and men...

Elimelech died in Moab and left Naomi with her two sons. A temporary relocation turned into a few years and Naomi's sons took Moabite wives: Orpah and Ruth. After living in Moab for about 10 years, Naomi's two sons died and Naomi was left without her husband or her sons.

Naomi decides to return to Judah. The two daughters-in-law accompanied her but she urged them, since they were young and Moabites, to return to their parents' homes and find Moabite husbands. The one returns but Ruth stays with Naomi and we have that famous passage of commitment in Ruth 1:16-17. The majority of the rest of the book is Ruth's story.

However, I want to take an opportunity to talk about Naomi. She was blessed with a husband and sons. Her name meant "pleasant" and here life was pleasant until tragedy struck. By the time she returned to her homeland she had lost everything especially for a woman at that time. The neighbors were excited to see her return home but when they saw her and her downcast demeanor, they remarked, "Can this be Naomi ("pleasant")? To which Naomi replies, "Don't call me Naomi. Call me Mara ("bitter")...for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty..."

In my estimate, here is a person who had every right to become what she saw as her lot in life. She had gone from a happy wife/mother to a childless widow. She understood that even her very life was in the balance in that now there was no one to provide for her, to take up her cause or to perpetuate the family line. A truly bitter lot.

However, she did have a daughter-in-law who cherished her, who stood beside her in her bitterness. And while Naomi could have allowed her life to continue down a bitter path, she chose to try and stay positive and find a way to be redeemed. That is the story of her and Ruth, her daughter-in-law.

What I find interesting is that in all the bitterness, we find Naomi at the end of the story redeemed and giving praise to God. She is pictured with a grandson, Obed, sitting in her lap and her having the honor and privilege of caring for him in her remaining years. The neighbor women, who once said, 'Can this be Naomi?', exclaimed...

"Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him...A son has been born to Naomi..."

Naomi did not remain bitter. She remained faithful. And God rewarded that faithfulness through a precious daughter, Ruth, and an even more precious grandson, Obed. Obed went on to become the father of Jesse who became the father of a young shepherd turned king named David...

Bitter or better? What does your and my trials in life lead us to?

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