I’m not arguing. Her life was hard. Her husband died, leaving her a widow. Her sons died, leaving her broken. There was famine in the land, leaving her hungry and destitute with two daughter-in-laws to care for.
Her name, Naomi, meant “pleasant,” and I believe at one time she was. The devotion of her daughter-in-laws lends itself to that conclusion. But then, the hard times hit. Then, she returned to Israel holding onto but a trace of hope.
When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town got excited because of them, and the women asked, “Could this be Naomi?”
Had she changed that much? Did the years of hardship and heartache changes her appearance so that her friends didn’t recognize her? We don’t know. We can only imagine as Naomi responds:
“Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
There’s a lot of speculation that could be made at this point. But this we know. Naomi was not a happy camper. Her life had been flipped upside down, and no doubt, she had felt lonely, alone, and abandoned. She created a new identity, complete with a new name, to represent how she was feeling.
But here’s the thing:
Her feelings weren’t the truth. She may have felt lonely and alone, but God was still there. She may have felt abandoned, but God was by her side. She may have felt like her life wasn’t destined for bitterness. But she was wrong. In God’s eyes, she was still pleasant Naomi, not bitter Mara.
How did I come up with this? Because the only time in the book of Ruth where we see anyone calling her Mara is when she calls herself that.
Immediately after she proclaims her new name to the women of town–Can you imagine their faces at her proclamation? I have to wonder if even Ruth didn’t roll her eyes and think, “Really, mom?” (She called her mom, don’t you think?)
Immediately after her proclamation, the writer of Ruth starts the very next sentence with, “So Naomi. . . ”
“So Naomi. . . “
Those are two powerful words.
Because those two words remind us that even when we may temporarily lose sight of our identity in Christ. He does not.
And throughout the rest of the story we see words like, “So Naomi,” “Now, Naomi,” “Naomi said.”
As the story comes to a close, we see the women of the town speaking to their friend Naomi, not to a bitter woman named Mara.
Their words were filled with celebration and hope, “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. . . ”
Are you facing some hard days? Have you been tempted to let that change who you are and how you see yourself? Take heart and remember that the LORD has not left you. Hold on. Don’t give up. There is hope. The One who filled the empty Naomi with joy can do the same for you.