A Bittersweet Providence
By Laurie Mathers
It was her childhood home, the place where she married her husband and gave birth to two sons. After ten years away, she was back in Bethlehem of Judah, with nothing but a young foreign woman at her side. The townspeople struggled to put a name to her changed face. Her name was Pleasant, Naomi, in Hebrew. The sound of it alone made people smile. If names were prophetic, hers was a blessing. But now, here in Bethlehem, after all these years, and after everything she had lost, her name sounded like a cruel joke. She begged them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty.” Ruth 1.21-22a
In those days, judges ruled Israel and the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. When the people turned their backs on God, He would bring war or famine until they cried out to Him again.
During one such famine Naomi’s husband took his family to sojourn in Moab, the land of their enemies (Deut. 23.3-6), because food was plentiful there. And there, he died, leaving Naomi with her two sons, who, in disobedience to God’s command, married Moabite women (Deut. 7.3-4). With no husband, and with her sons tied to Moab, there was no turning back. Naomi devoted her pleasant nature to the family that remained, winning the hearts of her daughters-in-law in the process.
When both of her sons died, everything Naomi had ever loved, every blessing she’d brought with her, and all her financial provision was gone. Hunger had begun to eat away at her and her daughters-in-law, when she got word that God had once again blessed Israel with food. With no future to promise them, Naomi encouraged her now beloved daughter’s-in-law to go back to their own families, get married, and start over without her. But one, Ruth, refused to leave the mother she’d grown to love or the God who, through Naomi, she had learned to honor.
What Naomi did not know as she changed her name to Mara, was that even in her wanderings in a foreign land, even in her grief, even when providence was bitter, not pleasant, God was with her. In kindness He was converting an idolatrous foreign woman into a faithful, God-fearing daughter. He was carefully preparing the way for Naomi’s return home to God’s likewise idolatrous people and lovingly providing the means not only for her joy and redemption through the birth of her grandson, Obed, but for theirs through Obed’s grandson, King David, and for ours through the Son of David, Jesus Christ, Savior of the world.
It was no mistake, even in the midst of her bitter grief and loss, that Naomi’s name was Pleasant.