Naomi became the wet blanket at her homecoming. She returned their joyful welcome with a downer. This was not a “pleasant” scene. Yes, I can understand the emotions that were undoubtedly swelling in her heart when she walked into town. The memories of her exit with her husband and two sons would rush back. She had a full family and the prospect of a full, prosperous life in Moab. But now she was very empty, and it smacked her hard. Naomi was not a cardboard cut-out doll. She was a woman with deep feelings. And her misguided feelings ruled the hour!
What was Naomi up to? Let’s begin with this. Naomi overvalued her circumstances and undervalued God and a person, Ruth. Naomi misevaluated God’s actions, and underestimated the value of her daughter-in-law. We often misinterpret what God has placed in our lives. It is rather easy to brood about our troubles and to ignore people that God has given us. In addition, Naomi did not even sense that her true treasure was the Lord, but she focused on him as the one making her life bitter. Naomi looked at the Lord as a witness against her in a court of law (1:21), even as she returned to the Lord and his people.
Is this not how you and I act? We are flawed in every area, including our faith and repentance. God, the object of saving repentance and faith, justifies us by grace and not by the purity of our actions. Listen to the message of grace: Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:4-5).
Naomi suddenly decided to change her name. “I can’t stand to be called ‘Pleasant’ one more time! This is going to change right now! Yes, I’m back, but I’m not ‘Pleasant’; I’m ‘Bitter’!” Ouch, Naomi is like a woman that Anne of Green Gables described this way: “all prickles and stings”. Oh my friend, please let me ask you this. Do you sense a “Naomi attitude” in your heart? Is there a simmering pot of bitterness on the stove in your mind? Are you just waiting for the opportunity to give anyone who will listen to an earful of your bitterness?
Naomi told her story from her point of view. But she told a confused story, though a law covenant daughter of Abraham, returning to God. Yet she blamed the Lord instead of blessed him. She used two names for God, Shaddai and Yahweh, in a chiastic manner: Shaddai, Yahweh, and then Yahweh and Shaddai. Yahweh, as we have seen, means, “I am who I am”. But what is the meaning and significance of Shaddai? It seems that Shaddai means “Almighty”, though this cannot be proved beyond question. The significance of this name for God is clearer in the OTS. It speaks of God’s rule over the universe (Psalm 68:14; Job 42:2). As he rules over all things, Shaddai dispenses blessings (Genesis 17:1; 35:11; Psalm 91:1-2), but he also maintains justice (Job 24:1; 27:2) and people appeal to him for justice (Job 13:3; 31:35). This also means that Shaddai executes judgment (Job 27:14-23; Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 10:5, 18; Joel 1:15). It is in this sense that Naomi now viewed her covenant Lord. She was thinking of Shaddai as Job did (Job 6:4; 27:2).
Naomi rightly saw God in control of human life. She refused to look at “second causes”. She left Bethlehem full, but Yahweh brought her back empty. Notice how she puts this! She did not simply return, but the Lord brought her back. She did not lose her husband and sons because of chance, disease or some other calamity, but God emptied her arms of her family. She was upset with the Lord and what he had done, but she still acknowledged his control over her life. Yes, this is a tough path to walk.
Someone might ask, “How can you trust a God like that?” To which I reply, “How can you trust a god who isn’t in control? Why bother to trust a weakling that fate or sinful people can frustrate?” In addition, we must remember that sovereign power is not the only characteristic of the true God. He is also holy, wise, all-knowing, everywhere-present, eternal, unchangeable, good, merciful, patient and love. Before you complain about his will, I advise you to read about what he has told us his will is for all who trust him. Naomi’s serious problem is that she evaluated God on the basis of how she felt about her current circumstances. Do you commit the same error? When you’re enjoying a week at the shore, do you sing, “God is so good, he’s so good to me?” But what song do you sing when your car breaks down, you’re in physical pain, you feel no one cares, there’s trouble in your family, the bill collectors are calling, and the “wrong” candidate will the fall election? Where did God ever promise to work out everything according to the purpose of your ill-considered, short-sighted, self-serving, sinful will? The answer is not to deny that God is sovereign. Neither is the answer to deny that he is holy, wise and good.
I learn a couple truths from this text. One is the shocking kindness and compassion of God in putting up with this kind of talk from his people, who act like spoiled brats. I discover that his mercy is always new, even when I lose control and talk like Naomi. Do you? We all should shut up, get down on our knees, and confess our arrogant pride that we have dared to contend with the Almighty (Job 40:1-2). Another is that we need to wait and see what God is doing. We are so anxious about our story! We want heaven now. But God is writing another story, the story of his glory, in the pages of our lives. Faith is the confidence that God’s story will be wonderful.
If you could choose, which words would you prefer to be remembered for speaking? Would you choose Ruth’s words (1:16-17) or Naomi’s (1:20-21)? Read both about ten times, think about them for ten hours, and then evaluate which one you sound like as you tell the story of your life, even if it is only to your closest friends.
Grace and peace, David