May 13, 2018
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
At first, I did not believe what our guide was telling us as we stood under the tree in the jungle. I was in Ecuador and the guide stopped our group under a tree in the jungle to sample its fruit. The fruit looked like a spaghetti squash that had shriveled up and was shaped like a football. The guide cut into the fruit to reveal an inside filled with dark brown seeds covered in white, sticky pulp. He proceeded to hand everyone some of the sticky seeds and told us to suck on them, but not bite down on or swallow the almond sized seeds. He said that the seeds are very bitter and are only able to be eaten after they are dried and crushed into powder. The strange fruit was a from the cocoa tree, which is where we get chocolate. As I stood there, I thought how strange that something bitter could become something so pleasant. We are often surprised by events in our lives that turn from bitter to sweet. Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth endured a lot of bitterness in her life, but also found that when God leads, your heart rests.
Naomi lived during the time of the judges in the Old Testament. This was the time between Moses leading the people out of Egypt, 1400 BC, and the period of the Kings of Israel begun by Saul, David and Solomon, 1000 BC. The period of the judges was chaotic. God wanted the people to trust him as their leader, follow his commands and live in peace, but the Israelites did not keep their promise to follow him. Instead, the period of the Judges is described in Judges 17 and 21 as,
“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
It wasn’t a pleasant time to be alive in Israel and on top of the chaos, Naomi lived during a famine and had to leave the country of Israel for the country of Moab in order to find food, which wasn’t a pleasant experience because Moab and Israel were not on good terms.
Naomi’s life was characterized by bitter situations. She lived at a time in Israel’s history often described as anarchy, during a famine and in a foreign country despised by her people. Naomi may have thought life couldn’t get much worse, until her husband passed away leaving her with her two sons. She loved her sons and was glad to see them both get married, except for the fact that they married Moabite women, instead of Israelite women. Then, her two sons died and they died before they could leave any grandchildren. If Naomi was alive today, which is Mother’s Day, I’m not sure there is any number of flowers, jewelry, Hallmark cards or special meals that could bring her joy.
Mothers, as you hear about Naomi’s life, consider your own situations. You may not live in anarchy, but the political divides in our nation seem to be getting deeper and more hostile. You may not live in a time of famine, but has money ever been a point of concern for your family? Has the thought that there may not be enough in checking, savings or on the credit cards to make it through the month ever lead to arguments and threats to give up on a marriage? Have you lost your spouse or a child? Has your son or daughter married someone you did not approve of and it is tearing your family apart? Or perhaps none of those things affect you and your Mother’s Day is going to be perfect because your whole family will be together without any trouble or arguments to give you unending gifts and admiration.
We all have bitter situations in our lives, but they do not have to make us bitter. Mothers, the troubles you face are enough to cause anyone to feel hopeless because it seems you are helpless against them. That hopelessness so easily leads to anxious thoughts of worry and stress that build up inside to the point of even causing health problems. Or the worries and stress fill up your hearts until they pour out in hurtful words and actions sometimes directed at strangers and acquaintances, but more often than not the hurtful words and actions are directed at our friends and family, those who we love most.
We will all have bitter situations in our lives, they are unavoidable, but they do not have to cause us to be bitter because we have hope. We have hope that doesn’t come from inside ourselves. Not a hope from a self-help book, television show or podcast designed to encourage you to be your best you, change yourself and get out of toxic relationships. Those all keep the burden on you to fix your life, when all you want is for someone else to help you because you can’t do it alone. No one wants to feel alone anytime, especially on Mother’s Day.
Naomi had many bitter situations in her life, but she was not alone. She had her two daughters-in-law. After Naomi’s husband and sons passed away, she was left in a foreign country with her two daughters-in-law. Then, we hear in Ruth 1:6,
“Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.”
Naomi finally got some good news that the famine was over in Israel and she could return home. At first, she planned to return home with her daughters-in-law, but soon asked them to remain in their homeland. There would be nothing for the two women in Israel; they would have no land, no jobs, no income and no family. One daughter-in-law listened to Naomi, but the other did not.
Ruth, would not leave her mother-in-law because she loved Naomi and she loved Naomi’s God. Naomi tried to encourage Ruth to stay,
16 “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
Naomi could not keep Ruth from coming with her, so they returned to Israel together.
The two women faced a bitter reality when they returned to Israel, but there was hope that God would provide. When they returned to Israel, they settled in the city of Bethlehem in Judah because Naomi and her family were from the tribe of Judah. When news of Naomi’s return spread, she told the people to call her Mara, which means bitter, because God had allowed bitterness to fill her life. Naomi and Ruth survived in Bethlehem through Ruth going into the barley fields behind the harvesters and picking up whatever grain she could find to feed them. It looked like life would continue to be bitter for mother and daughter-in-law.
If you’ve ever seen a cocoa plant, then you know it’s hard to believe it can turn into the wonderful thing we call chocolate. It doesn’t look like a Hershey bar because it has the wrong shape and color. In fact, biting into the hard, brown seeds of the fruit, which at least have the right color, makes it harder to believe it can become chocolate. It’s a long process to turn the seeds of the cacao plant into chocolate. It means harvesting the fruit, extracting the beans, refining the beans, shipping them, cleaning them, grinding them into a powder, heating the powder and adding milk and sugar to make it sweet because cocoa is naturally bitter. All of this must happen to turn the bitter cocoa seeds into sweet, pleasant chocolate.
After years of bitterness, Naomi finally got a taste of the sweet life. The fields Ruth gathered barley in were the fields of a man named Boaz. Boaz was a close relative of Naomi’s late husband. This meant that Boaz was in a position to be what was called a ‘kinsman redeemer.’ In Israel, this referred to a person who was obligated to redeem a relative stuck in a difficult situation. When Boaz learned who Ruth was and how she was helping Naomi, he made sure she was taken care of by asking his harvesters to treat her with respect and allow extra barley to be left in the field for her to pick up. After Ruth told Naomi about Boaz and his kindness, Naomi arranged for Ruth to offer herself to Boaz in marriage. Ruth’s marriage to a kinsman redeemer would give Naomi the rights to the property of her late husband and mean she would be taken care of the rest of her life. There was a man closer to Naomi who could have redeemed her family, but he did not want to, leaving Boaz and Ruth free to marry one another.
The bitter status of Naomi’s life finally changed after Ruth and Boaz married. Naomi was guaranteed a sweet life and pleasant, which is what Naomi means, future after Boaz redeemed her family. Her husband’s name would continue through Ruth and she would have the means to stay alive without begging or surviving on whatever could be found out in the fields. Her joy continued to grow when she found out that Ruth and Boaz were having a child. And in Ruth 4, we hear that,
16 “Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.”
Through Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, came King David and from his line came Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus.
God allowed bitterness to linger in Naomi’s life, but he always had a plan to redeem her. Naomi was blessed at the end of her life to be taken care of by Boaz and Ruth. She was also blessed by her grandson, Obed, who was the ancestor of Jesus. Jesus was the hope that Naomi, Ruth and Boaz all shared as believers in the God of Israel. They all believed that God was going to send a Redeemer to save his people from sin and death. Jesus provided that redemption or ‘buying back’ through his sacrifice on the cross. All the pain, bitterness and guilt from sin that weighs on our hearts and condemns us to hell was put on Jesus. He took the punishment we deserved and restored our relationship with God. Through Jesus, we now have hope for eternal life in heaven where God will provide us with all we need.
Life will cause us bitter situations, period. We must expect them because of the havoc sin causes in the world, but knowing we will face bitterness means we can be ready for it. When bitterness comes into our lives, Jesus’ redemption remains. Jesus’ love and forgiveness keep us from falling into hopelessness, even when we face helpless situations in our lives. Our hope in him as our Redeemer is a guarantee because before he ascended and went back to heaven, he said John 14,
2 “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Heaven is ours through Jesus and that is the greatest gift of all.
I pray your Mother’s Day is blessed and that it is filled with pleasant things, maybe even chocolate. And above all, I pray that you are blessed to have a mother who knows her Redeemer. A mother who knows her Redeemer will keep her faith in Jesus, even during the bitter times and encourage her family to keep their faith like Naomi encouraged her daughters-in-law even after her husband had passed away during a famine, in a foreign country and after her sons had passed away. Finally, a mother who trusts God to lead is best described by King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, at the very end of his book of Proverbs,
10 “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
Naomi, the mother-in-law of Ruth endured a lot of bitterness in her life, but also found that when God leads, your heart rests because God has redeemed us and has paradise waiting for us in heaven. Amen.