From Naomi to Mara: A Perspective on Bitterness

Ruth 1:20 “… Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara, she answered, for the Almighty has made me very bitter.” (HCSB)

Bitterness is a funny thing.  Perhaps funny is not the right word, because there really isn’t anything funny about bitterness.  Bitterness is destructive.  Bitterness leads toward rebellion.  Bitterness rips at our heart and soul.  Bitterness leads us away from the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23 that our Lord leads us into for nourishment.  Yet, I am reminded that just as the Lord leads us to that place of nourishment, Psalm 23:4 reminds us that he also leads us into the valley of the shadow of death.  How do we as humans process all the human grief and goodness of ourselves and others without becoming tripped up in bitterness?  Lets take a look at the book of Ruth and observe from the life of Naomi some perspective on what bitterness is able to do in our lives.

We see in Ruth 1:1-5 that the book gets off on a rather sour note.  In fact, we learn that a family from Bethlehem, “The House of Bread”, has moved to Moab due to famine.  The book takes place during the time of the judges, so we know things are mess.  Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  We would describe that scene today as total anarchy.  What a mess it was.  To make matters worse, this was God’s chosen people living in the promise land under the law.  They had been given clear direction by God and they had promised to obey His law.  But, they didn’t.  They fell into idolatry and God promised to judge them, and He did.  As a result, a famine broke out.  Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, decided to move the family to Moab due to the famine in the land.  The Moabites were not godly people.  Their origin was the result of sin between Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19:30-38).  As a result, they were a thorn in the side of God’s people.  For this family to come to Moab shows how bad things were spiritually and physically in Israel.  During their stay in Moab, Elimelech dies and both of their sons die.  However, before the boys died they took Moabite wives.  So, Naomi is left with no husband, no boys, and two Moabite daughter in laws.  And to make matters worse, she isn’t even in her own country.  Being a widow back in that day was dangerous, not to mention, living in a foreign land.  All of this leads Naomi toward bitterness.

The term for bitter, “refers to intensity of suffering of mind and body, something that is difficult to bear, something that causes animosity and reaction, something that is brought about by hatred or antagonism.”    It is also defined by bible study tools as “bitter gall, extreme wickedness, a bitter root, and so producing a bitter fruit, bitterness, bitter hatred.”  Through these definitions you can see that our concept of bitterness and the biblical definitions are a little bit different.  However, please note that the destructive nature is the same.

What does that mean for our observations from Ruth?  I am so glad you asked!  Notice in Ruth 1:13 that she says, “it grieves me very much for you sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”  The phrase, “grieves me very much…”, is the word for bitter.  Naomi was bothered in her spirit.  She was unsettled.  She had bitter gall.  Then in Ruth 1:21 Naomi says to call her Mara which means bitter.  Naomi continues and says, “the Lord has testified against me….”, again with the same idea in mind toward bitterness.  What can we learn from this?

Notice a few thoughts that we can take from this:

  1. Naomi told her friends to call her Mara.  This is a choice.  This is a decision made in her mind.
  2. Naomi has the impression that this is all on God.  God did it.  he allowed it.  How could this happen to me?  Which leads to
  3. Naomi has the wrong view of God.
  4. Naomi has swallowed the pill that it is all about her.  It is never all about you.  It is always about God.
  5. God is more concerned about our holiness than he is about our happiness.
  6. God is more concerned about our joy than our happiness.
  7. Bitterness causes us to lose sight of the hope in Christ.  In all things, our lives are to proclaim and magnify the good news of God!  How?  You say, Chris, look at Naomi!  This is a train wreck!  Remember, hope is coming.
  8. Bitterness may be rooted in a misunderstanding that God works on our timetable.  Don’t root your bitterness in your timetable for which God is not working.  God has a perfect plan and time for you.  It might not be right now.  You could be in a season of winter.  Dark, cold, lonely.  Spring is coming.  God has not forgotten you.  There is always, always hope in Jesus! In Ruth chapter 4, after Ruth has a baby through the kinsmen redeemer, the hope, our picture of our savior, the ladies say in verse 14, “… Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative…”  Do you see it?  Her joy is back!  She is no longer Mara, she has answered to Naomi!  God will restore us.  If we turn our eyes to his timing, his plan, and his purpose, the pleasant and sweet joy of our Savior will reign within us once again.  What is your joy rooted in?  What is your bitterness rooted in?  I encourage you, get your eyes off your circumstances and keep your eyes on Jesus.  Jesus is our sustainer, our hope, our comfort and our rock.  When our eyes are on him, there is no room for bitterness because we have joy in WHO He is!

5 thoughts on “From Naomi to Mara: A Perspective on Bitterness

  1. Reblogged this on Meeting God in the Margin and commented:
    I got a marvelous comment on my first reading of Ruth Chapter 1 that made me see a lot that I missed. I found this post in a Google search to look at the things my commenter brought up. This is a marvelous writeup and explanation of the parts that just flew right by me as I read Ruth for the first time. It’s marvelous, and I appreciate it.

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