“When they arrived in Bethlehem the whole town was soon buzzing: ‘Is this really our Naomi? And after all this time!’
But she said, ‘Don’t call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left her full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn’t. The Strong One ruined me.’
And so Naomi was back, and Ruth the foreigner with her, back from the country of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” Ruth 1:20-22
There’s a temptation to succumb to the bitterness when we’ve done all the right things, followed the right plan, think we deserve better. The wind is howling outside as I type these words, and I’m watching the snowflakes blow in waves across the hardened crust of snow. When life gets hard, I just want to harden. I fight getting stuck in my sorrow.
Naomi had left with her husband to escape a famine. They had settled away from home, their sons got married and life was good. But tragedy struck and within a short amount of time, both her husband and sons died. She was left alone, with two daughters-in-law and no where to go. And so she went home. She convinced her one daughter-in-law not to come with her, but Ruth, well, Ruth was stubborn. She refused to leave Naomi.
Naomi had left full of hopes and dreams of a better life. But she returned empty, defeated, and sad.
Frederick Buechner says, “The sad things that happened long ago will always remain part of who we are just as the glad and gracious things will too, but instead of being a burden of guilt, recrimination, and regret that make us constantly stumble as we go, even the saddest things can become, once we have made peace with them, a source of wisdom and strength for the journey that still lies ahead. It is through memory that we are able to reclaim much of our lives that we have long since written off by finding that in everything that has happened to us over the years, God was offering us possibilities of new life and healing which, though we may have missed them at the time, we can still choose and be brought to life by and healed by all these years later. “ (from his book Telling Secrets)
We can be so empty, but that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. If Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10), well, he’s not just talking about the few who make it through life unscathed. He’s talking about us all.
Ruth returned with Naomi to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest— a time when the land was full again. They had left at a time of emptiness, during a famine, and so happened to come back when it returned to fullness. Landowners would leave the grain the harvesters had missed, for the poor, the alien, the widow and the fatherless to gather. And that’s how Ruth ended up picking grain from the field of Boaz. And that’s how Boaz learned about Ruth and how Naomi discovered hope again.
Boaz, actually a relative of Naomi, was their Kinsman-Redeemer. He was responsible for protecting family in need. Kinsman-Redeemers would provide an heir for a brother who died or redeem a relative who had been sold into slavery, they would protect those in their family who were needy. Boaz was Naomi’s kinsman-Redeemer, able to rescue them from poverty by marrying Ruth. Later he and Ruth would have a son named Obed, who would one day be the great-grandfather of King David… and eventually a man named Jesus would be part of their family line.
The entire book of Ruth is a testimony of redemption and transformation. It’s the story from emptiness to fullness, from destitution to security, from desperation to peace.
There’s a clear turning point in the story of Ruth when Naomi is awakened to the hope that her life could be restored.
“Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Why, God bless that man! God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!’” (Ruth 2:20) That’s the moment she realized she didn’t have to be known as Bitter and her story didn’t have to end in heartache.
Don’t ever believe that God will leave you for empty. He is a God of restoration and redemption. He will not walk out on you.
Jesus looks at your life and He has compassion for you. He longs to take you in His arms and heal your heart. Without Him, we are so broken. But He whispers words of joy to our weary souls. He can take what brings us the most pain and sorrow and transform it into something beautiful. He redeems us. He wraps us up in His love and suddenly we see His pain for a broken world.
When we read the book of Ruth, we see the foreshadowing of our Kinsman-Redeemer in Jesus, the one who can take us from desperation to peace. Naomi had every right to be bitter. She lost it all— her family, her land, her home— but her bitterness was transformed when she trusted in the redeeming work of God. And Ruth, her daughter from another country, was the one who kept pressing on, unswerving and selfless. She clung to the hope that God could and would use the harsh circumstances of their lives.
Jesus heals our broken hearts.
He is healing me.
He is healing you.
We may feel the weight of our sorrow daily, but we are changed people because of the way Jesus restores. Jesus looks at us and He doesn’t shake his head at our hardened, crusty hearts. He doesn’t see a wasted life. Instead, He hands us love and hope. He takes our wounded lives and speaks words of truth, like salve on our souls. And, if we open our eyes, we will see him bring good in ways we would have never imagined. He is our Kinsman-Redeemer. Our Rescuer. Our Redeemer.