“Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in Moab’s land with his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons.” Ruth 1:1-3, NASB
THE STORY BEGINS
Naomi lived in Moab’s land with her husband Elimelech and her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. For some unknown reason, her husband died, and she was left as a widow to take care of her two sons. We see that the two sons quickly married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. The Bible tells us they lived there for a total of ten years (Ruth 1:4)
TRAGEDY STRIKES NAOMI’S FAMILY
“Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.” Ruth 1:5, NASB
At this point, Naomi was left without a husband and children. Her two sons had died, and how did she respond? Naomi was thinking of the need to send Orpah and Ruth back to their own households. “And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted their voices and wept.” (Ruth 1:8-9, NASB)
Once again, Naomi implores her daughters to return to their home:
“Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I hope to have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you wait until they were grown? Would you, therefore, refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.”And they lifted their voices and wept again, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” Ruth 1:12-15, NASB
What else can we learn from how Ruth and Orpah stay with Naomi? We see that family is a bond, and that family is meant to be connected. We see that Naomi was bitter in verse 13. However, Ruth would not leave her side even though Orpah kissed her and went back to her land. Together they were grieving and mourning the loss of Mahlon and Chilion. Naomi was “too old” to marry and have more children, but Ruth remained faithful. We can see this as a picture of how God remains faithful to us, even in the midst of our grief. We continually look for and find his Grace in the midst of our grief and mourning.
NAOMI CONTINUES TO GRIEVE AND GROWS BITTER
“So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ She said to them, ‘Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty, has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:19-21, NASB)
In Christian circles I have noticed there is a shame surrounding miscarriages. They are not seen as a child’s death; they are somehow seen as a lesser painful death than, say, a stillbirth. This is doing a disservice and causing an insult to women who have had a miscarriage. There was a certain amount of shame in my miscarriage, which is likely one reason I never got to grieve my daughter’s death properly. The death of a child is always tragic, no matter how early or late it happens. This can cause bitterness and resentment. Should Naomi have called herself Mara?
MAHLON AND CHILIAN REMEMBERED
We jump ahead to where Ruth meets and marries Boaz (a lovely and romantic story.. but not included in-depth in this project). During the course of preparing to marry Ruth, Boaz goes through the measure of bringing remembrance to Ruth’s husband and Naomi’s son who passed away:
“Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, ‘You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife to raise the name of the deceased on his inheritance so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or the court of his birthplace; you are witnesses today’” (Ruth 4:9-10, NASB).
RUTH RECEIVES A BLESSING OF CHILDREN
We see that in verse 11, the people in the court and elders gave Ruth a blessing that she would have many children like Rachel and Leah:
“All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, ‘We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the LORD will give you by this young woman’” (Ruth 2:11-12, NASB).
This lineage had dealt with infertility. The elders were giving Ruth a blessing that she would have many children in the same way that Rachel and Leah did. We see that a redeemer is coming shortly and that Naomi and Ruth will be redeemed! Boaz and Ruth gave birth to a son! The LORD had looked upon her with favor. Unlike Rachel and Leah, she had conceived at the first attempt. We see something even more significant here; her baby would be in the same family lineage as Jesus! What a blessing. She was not (in God’s eyes) considered a “second hand” or “used goods” woman.
How do we feel amidst child loss and infertility? In Christian circles, there is often an expectation of women to have children. It is seen as their identity, what they all strive to become: mothers. In the midst of some genuine loss and hurt, it is difficult not to have that shame and guilt surround you—shame for having lost a child (be it through miscarriage or otherwise) and guilt for not procreating “properly” like the “Bible says to do.” The church we were in at the time was exceedingly hurtful in this regard. Why is it that miscarriage is not seen as the loss of a child?
NAOMI LOVES HER GRANDSON AND IS REDEEMED
We know that Naomi had been bitter. She felt that God had left her “empty.”
“So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went into her. And the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also is to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him’” (Ruth 4:13-15, NASB).
Ruth had been given a son, and therefore, Naomi had been given a grandson! The Lord did not leave her empty but fully restored her. We know that Obed would take care of his grandmother, but there was so much more going on here. He was called a “sustainer” of her old age. Ruth loved him and gave birth to him; he was “better than seven sons” for Naomi. “Naomi to the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse” (Ruth 4:16, NASB).
He was named “Obed,” meaning “A son has been born to Naomi.” She no longer had to feel despondent and empty, for she had a child to love her, and she would love him back. Obed is important because we know that he gave birth to Jesse, who gave birth to David! The lineage of David (and subsequently Jesus) had begun through Naomi.
DAVID WOULD BE BORN!!! Jesus is coming soon to the lineage.
We can learn a lot from Naomi’s life. Ironically, the book is titled Ruth, but the central character becomes Naomi. She had a lot of feelings and emotions surrounding her life. She dealt with life, death, and grief. Here are a few key points we can glean from her life:
1) Naomi was bitter. She had lost her husband and her sons, and she was dealing with infertility. She was so bitter that she insisted her name be changed to “Mara,” which means bitter. It is hard not to feel bitter when you are hit with infertility and child loss. I have felt that way many times, and no matter how much I know God loves me, sometimes it is of little solace. Babies in the Bible were seen as the main measure of success of a woman. She was so grieved in her spirit and bitter. Where is his grace in the midst of that grief?
God is big enough to hear our complaints and loves us anyway. His blessings of Grace will overflow on our behalf. Naomi had bitterness, but God loved her anyway and saw her as worth far more than she saw herself. He decided to bless her with more children and a grandchild to take care of in his infinite grace.
2) Naomi felt abandoned by God. She was convinced God had dealt harshly and bitterly with her. She felt empty, alone, and disparaged. I have often felt abandoned by God when I think of losing my Rachel and other losses. Sometimes it isn’t easy to function in an adult manner. Cognitively I know God is faithful and will not leave us, but that is difficult to grasp at times.
During this time, individuals would read into what God did for them as a way to measure how much he favored (or did not favor) them. God had special and “chosen” folks, and he liked them. Likewise, the “cursed” the ones he did not like. Thankfully, God doesn’t work that way! God created every one of his children and loved us. Do we ever act like he does despise us at times? How does this work in the midst of his grace in our life? When anger, bitterness, and hurt from grief become so strong- it can be difficult to see him in the midst of grief.
3) Naomi was ashamed. The name Naomi means pleasantness, and she felt anything but pleasant. Naomi was dealing with shame from her loss and her disheveled state of grief. When she entered Bethlehem, the city folks called her Naomi, and she insisted they call her Mara so they would be speaking how bitter she was.
Should Naomi have been so “stuck” in her grief that she made it part of her name and identity? Her identity seemed to be surrounding her loss, and not what God had done to glorify her. There is a bigger issue at play here: modeling. People were watching Naomi to see how she would handle this issue. In the same way, the world is watching how Christians handle things that are tough to handle. They were watching to find out: “Would Naomi crumble?” “Would she continue to glorify God anyway, despite all circumstances?”. Naomi changed her name to Mara, indicating she had no desire to embrace an identity other than having lost a child. How did she live out her faith in front of the spiritually vulnerable individuals that were watching?
4) Naomi was faithful to God and was redeemed. God saw fit to restore her to life and countenance. Obed would indirectly usher in Christ through the lineage of David. How powerful for us!
As you go through this journey of healing after child loss, remember that God is faithful. He loves you, and he will redeem and restore you!