19 The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” 22 So Naomi came back from the territory of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
As a Christian, have you ever had the feeling that God has forsaken you? Have you ever been so overwhelmed by situations that you felt as though you could not go on? Have you depended on the “Rock of Ages,” only to experience depression and doubt, to the point of feeling the Rock had broken? In today’s world, and especially during the days of the pandemic, many people have developed a sense of not belonging. They have felt out of place, as if they were not fitting in or were unimportant.
Today’s passage is a microcosm for many of us in this second decade of the 21st century. Naomi, a faithful Jewish wife and devoted mother of two sons, had left her home and traveled to a foreign land. They were sojourners, not natives, and life was not good. In time Naomi, whose name means “pleasant,” lost her husband and her two sons to death. After ten long and difficult years in Moab, she decided to return to her home in Bethlehem. One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, refused to remain in Moab and instead accompanied Naomi to Bethlehem.
After ten years in a foreign land—with the pressures of living in a foreign culture and the loss of her husband and sons—Naomi no longer reflected the beauty she once possessed. When she returned to Bethlehem, the women of the city were abuzz. They hardly recognized the woman who had once graced the streets of Bethlehem. Now haggard and worn, wrinkled and tired, Naomi had changed so much that the women whispered, “Can this be Naomi?”
Naomi was not unaware of the effects of time and circumstances on her body and her psyche. This otherwise likable, congenial and faithful Jewish woman now felt God had afflicted her. With the heavy sense of God’s judgment weighing upon her, she told the women to call her Mara, which means “bitterness.” She was bent beneath a load of sorrows she did not believe she deserved. So she asked, “Why, Lord, why?”
But fortunately, this is not the end of the story. Later devotional writings will complete the story of Naomi and Ruth—and what a story it is!
The moral to this story is clear: do not become so weighed down by the circumstances of life, or the “cards” you feel you have been dealt, that you give up. Conditions, events and contexts are only temporary in the scheme of divine history. Whatever you face, whatever knocks you down, whatever makes you feel less than what God intended for you to be are always simply passing trials when you remain faithful to God’s calling on your life.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Have you ever felt God has abandoned you?
- Have you experienced circumstances that caused you to feel less of a person than God intended?
- In these cases, what has been your response?
- Let me encourage you to “turn your eyes upon Jesus” when times of doubt or judgment overwhelm you. Do not allow the temporary nature of circumstances to change who you are as a child of God. Be all God wants you to be by remaining faithful to Him.
Pray that our mission journey teams would be marked by unity and humility to serve in whatever way is needed by the global worker or partner on location. Pray that our agendas would always take a back seat to the Lord’s leading and the purpose of the gospel.