“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1.20).
Mara means “bitter.” Can you imagine meeting an old friend after a long absence and when she calls you by name, you say, “Don’t call me Donna or Diane or David … call me Bitter.”
If someone was to describe you using one word, what would they call you? Would it be kind, compassionate, joyful, thankful … or would it be ungrateful, fearful, critical, angry, sarcastic, or bitter?
Famine and loss
We’re beginning the book of Ruth, a beautiful little story of God’s mercy and redemptive work even in the midst of great sin and evil. This story takes place during the time of the Judges when, as you remember, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17.6, 21.25)
The story starts out talking about a famine in Bethlehem where Naomi and her husband Elimelech live. God often uses famine to discipline His people, but He also uses it to prune and grow and test them.
Because of the famine Elimelech takes his family, Naomi and his two sons, and moves to Moab where he dies. The boys marry and then die prematurely, too. Eventually, Naomi hears that there is bread—prosperity—once again back home so she decides to return.
Dr. Amy Baker, a teacher and counselor at Faith Baptist Church in LaFayette, Indiana, paints an interesting picture of this story. She pictures Naomi and her daughters-in-law packing and cleaning and getting the house ready to sell and finally loading the wagon and getting on the road headed for Jerusalem when Naomi says to the girls, in effect, “Why don’t you just go back home to your families? I’m not going to be any good to you.”
They obviously love Naomi. Both of them weep and tell her they want to go with her, but Orpah eventually heads back to her family. Ruth does not, instead, she insists on going with Naomi.
What is going on here? We don’t know all the details, but we can glean a great many truths—some of them sad and some beautiful. Continue reading