“So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’
‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’
So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” (Ruth 1:19-22)
I have always teased about the fact that a Southern woman could say just about anything and make it sound sweet. In reality, no matter how thick the accent, a dose of bitterness will always quench sweetness… and bitter is exactly the condition we find Naomi in our portion of scripture this week. Recalling her recent family tragedy, the death of her husband and two sons, we can certainly sympathize with Naomi, and agree that life gives us no few opportunities to become bitter.
I find it so interesting that Naomi (whose name means “pleasant”) quickly rebuked the women of Bethlehem for calling her by name. Instead, she confessed her state of bitterness by asking to be called “Mara,” which means “bitter.” This is remarkable, because we normally put so much effort into hiding our bitterness…so much, that we often won’t even recognize it in ourselves, let alone point it out to others! Honestly, have you ever told anyone to call you bitter?
Because we may not always be able to distinguish bitterness in ourselves, let’s take advantage of this passage to assemble a quick checklist of identifiers: You might be bitter if…
You are convinced that you have the worst plight of anyone you know…
Hear Naomi’s words in Ruth 1:13 “It is more bitter for me than for you…”
I wonder if Naomi forgot that Orpah and Ruth had just lost their husbands too?
You are sure that your pain is someone else’s fault…
Bitterness always blames, and Naomi is blatantly blaming God for her misfortune. Before we get too offended, I’m convinced that blaming God may be a better option than blaming another person. God is longsuffering and more than able to defend Himself. One thing is certain; Naomi believed that God is all-powerful and that her life was in His hands. We just don’t always know what His plan for our life will involve, and sometimes, that is just plain hard.
You suffer from a “selective memory”…
In verse 21, Naomi complains that she left Bethlehem “full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” It is true that she left with her husband and sons, but don’t you find her choice of words interesting, that she left “full,” when their reason for going to Moab in the first place was to escape the famine in Bethlehem? Were the “good old days” really that good, or have we just forgotten there was trouble then, too?
Your identity has been overtaken by bitterness…
I’m convinced that the reason the Bible compares bitterness to a root is because unless we intentionally dig it up, it continues to grow unseen under the surface and wraps itself around every area of our lives. Once it does, it is easily spotted…our face reveals it, our speech exposes it, and our attitudes and behavior display it. I suppose that Naomi’s bitter root had consumed her to the point that she just decided to admit it…”Call me bitter!”
So, if we have identified ourselves as bitter…now what? An applicable story is found in Exodus 15:22-27, as the children of Israel are just beginning their journey out of Egypt and have gone several days without water when they come to a place called “Marah.” (Sound familiar?) Just as you would expect, the water at Marah was bitter and not fit to drink, but what happened next is fascinating! “Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.”
What in the world was in the wood? Could it be the promise of an old rugged cross in the distant future? Only through that cross are we able to release our bitterness, and offer forgiveness to others, even as we receive it ourselves…and finally, let sweetness overcome the bitter…
Because Every Heart Matters,
Heart Matters is a weekly column written by Angie Land, Director of the Family Life Ministries of the Lafayette Baptist Association, where she teaches Bible studies, leads marriage and family conferences and offers Biblical counseling to individuals, couples and families. Contact Angie with questions or comments at email@example.com