[ Part 6: House of Bread: From Lamenting to Bitterness ]
Chapter one of Ruth comes to a close with these words: “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” This was probably late April or early May. The barley harvest lasted about one month followed by the wheat harvest, which led up to Pentecost. So Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem during a time of promise and abundance. The writer sets the stage for us now as he shifts our focus from the emptiness of Naomi to the fulness of a harvest. Hope is on the rise.
Before we turn the page to chapter two, however, I can’t help but think about Naomi’s preferred name for herself among her friends and relatives—Mara. She is obviously fixated on her pain and suffering, claiming her new identity from it. Many of us can put ourselves in Naomi’s place and think her thoughts. “Everything was going great until this (insert whatever your “this” is) happened. What am I suppose to do now? I pray and read my Bible and go to church and tithe and take meals to sick people and look at my life now. Why is God doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this?”
Mara takes us back to the Old Testament account of the Israelites in the desert. Naomi knew this story well, which is why she pulled the name “Mara” out of her self-pitying hat. After God delivered His people out of the slavery of Egypt, they arrived at a place called Mara. They immediately grumbled against the Lord because the water there was bitter and undrinkable (Exodus 15:23-24). Who cares that God had just parted the Red Sea and destroyed their slave masters. They were thirty NOW. Naomi followed in the footsteps of her ancestors and complained about her life in the desert—a desert in this case of her own making.
Bitterness is a strange poison. It flows through our spiritual veins quickly, permeating our thinking, feeling, and doing. Before long, our speech is infected with it, oozing cynical statements, critical remarks, or harsh judgments. It’s never content to stay within the confines of our own hearts but must strike out with the intent of damaging others or inflicting pain. It views life as unfair, God as a rigid taskmaster exacting punishment at every turn, and ourselves as victims. Bitterness is baked in self-pity and served with anger.
There is no place in the Christian life for bitterness, and we should guard against it at all cost. Remember, the true Christian life is a life of repentance and faith.
Although Naomi allowed bitterness against God to fester in her heart—and make no mistake about it, bitterness is against God no matter who we point the finger at on earth—she put one foot in front of the other in a slow repentance and moved herself back to the land of her covenant God. Sometimes the first steps of our repentance are slow in coming and done badly. Thankfully, God isn’t limited by our brokenness and failures. He is in the business of saving sinners like Naomi and you and me by His grace. It is His work from start to finish.