When the Worst Thing Happens

Naomi is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. Her story is told in the book of Ruth (which, in my opinion, is misnamed—Naomi is clearly the main character).

This week’s song— “A Sweet and Pleasant Providence” —is a hymn based on the story of Naomi. (Go ahead. Follow the link and have a listen. You can finish this post later.)

Naomi’s story takes place during one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history—”in the days when the judges ruled.” “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” A famine struck the land, prompting her husband to move the family from Bethlehem to the country of Moab (a nation they were to have nothing to do with). There, her husband died. And, Naomi’s sons married (forbidden) Moabite women, who were apparently barren. And then her sons die.

Naomi bids her daughters-in-law remain in Moab while she returns to Bethlehem. It is pointless to go with her, she argues—”it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” Orpah remains. Ruth goes with Naomi.

Imagine Naomi’s situation—widowed, bereaved of her children, returning home (after fleeing to an enemy land) with a barren, Moabite daughter-in-law. She is convinced that God has dealt bitterly with her, that Yahweh is against her. In fact, she forbids the women to call her Naomi (which means “pleasant”), opting for “Mara” (meaning “bitter”) because “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” She had gone away full (a husband and two sons) and the Lord had brought her back “empty” (with nothing but a barren daughter-in-law). In Naomi’s eyes, nothing good could come of her situation.

Are we not often like Naomi, convinced that we can read precisely what the Lord is doing in our lives? We look at situations and despair, convinced that the Lord is against us, that all we have is “emptiness.”

Like Naomi, we err when we assume that we can interpret providence. God alone is the proper interpreter of history and of our circumstances. He is the God who ordained the worst event in the history of the world (the crucifixion of his own son) to bring about the greatest event in the history of the world (the redemption of all things).

What Naomi could not see was her redeemer, a man named Boaz. In the end, he would marry Ruth and they would have a son, Obed. Obed would be the grandfather of King David—from whose line would come Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of the world.

Naomi thought that the Lord was against her, emptying her hands to fill her with bitterness. In reality, he was granting her something very sweet and pleasant—a place and a role to play in the line of the Redeemer and the salvation of God’s people.

If the Lord is for us, none can be against us. In fact, everything must work for our good. Things are often bitter now (and they really are bitter). But for those who are in Jesus the Messiah, the best is yet to come.

Remember that the next time God deals bitterly with you.