"Do not call me Naomi," she replied. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has dealt quite bitterly with me.
Return after long absence to scenes of youth always affecting; he who returns is changed; they who receive him are changed too. Observe the reception which Naomi met from her former neighbors at Bethlehem. Their question, "Is this Naomi?" evinces -
1. Surprise. She is living! We see her again! Yet how is she changed!
2. Interest. How varied has been her experience whilst absent! And she loves Bethlehem so that she returns to it in her sorrow!
3. Compassion. "All the city was moved about them." How could those who remembered her fail to be affected by the calamities she had passed through? Consider the sentiments expressed by Naomi upon her return.
I. HER GRIEF WAS NATURAL AND BLAMELESS. "I went out full," i.e. in health, in youth, with some earthly property; above all, with husband and sons. "The Lord hath brought me home again empty," i.e. aged, broken down in health and spirits, poor, without kindred or supporters. "Call me not Naomi," i.e. pleasant; "call me Mara," i.e. bitter. Her lot was sad. Religion does not question the fact of human trouble and sorrow. And she was not wrong in feeling, in the circumstances, the peculiar pressure of grief and distress. We remember that "Jesus wept."
II. HER RECOGNITION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS RIGHT; WAS A SIGN OF PIETY. She attributes all to the Almighty, to the Lord. Observe that in two verses this acknowledgment is made four times. In a world over which God rules we should acknowledge his presence and reign in all human experience. If trouble comes to us by means of natural laws, those laws are ordered by his wisdom. If by human agency, that agency is the result of the constitution with which he has endowed man. If as the result of our own action, he connects actions with their consequences. Therefore, let us reverently recognize his hand in all that happens to us!
III. HER INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS MISTAKEN. "The Lord," said Naomi, "hath testified against me." Men frequently imagine that if God could prevent afflictions, and yet permits them, he cannot regard the afflicted in a favorable and friendly light. But this is not so. "Whom he loveth he chasteneth." The Book of Job warns us against misunderstanding the meaning of calamity. Christ has also warned us against supposing that Divine anger is the explanation of human griefs and sufferings. "All things work together for good unto those who love God." How often is it true, as the poet Cowper knew and sang -
"Behind a frowning providence
God hides a smiling face!" - T.
Naomi was not wrong in tracing all her changes in condition to God, but she erred in ascribing any bitterness to God in His treatment of her. The father loves the child as really when he administers the disagreeable medicine which is to recover him from disease as when he is dandling him upon his knees. The only difference is in the manner in which the love is shown, and that is accounted for by the differences in the circumstances of the child. In like manner adversity, how bitter soever it may be, is a manifestation of God's love to us, designed for our ultimate and highest welfare. Now this may well reconcile us to trial. It will not make the trial less, but it will help us to bear it, just as the wounded man is braced for the amputation of a limb when he is told that it is indispensable if his life is to be preserved.
Call me not Naomi, call me Mara. I.
INCIDENTS IN HER LIFE. This world is to all, in some measure, "a vale of tears." The pilgrimage of the true Christian is not through verdant plains and flowery fields, but through a "waste howling wilderness," where much toil is exercised, many troubles undergone, many perils encountered, and many severe privations endured. God is a Sovereign in the distribution of sufferings and tribulations. His own people have frequently the greatest share of troubles in this life — that their souls, which are too full of earthly attachments, may be weaned from the world. We should learn hence not to murmur nor charge God foolishly under our trials, for if we compare them with those of many of God's people who were more gracious in their dispositions and tempers than we are they will appear "light" indeed. We find this bereaved and distressed individual returning towards her native land. She acted wisely, for she was more likely to fare well in her own country — among her relatives and acquaintance, and where the knowledge and fear of God prevailed, than among strangers and idolaters in a foreign land. It would be well if we imitated Naomi in a spiritual point of view. At length we find Naomi in Canaan. When she returned her former acquaintance were greatly astonished at her appearance. Her affluence was gone, her earthly glory had faded away, and her circumstances were mean and narrow. God, however, in mercy, calmed the evening of her day. The troubles of the Christian are not only to end, but to end blessedly — even in bliss and honour!
II. MORAL EXCELLENCES WHICH STOOD PROMINENTLY FORTH IN THE CONDUCT OF NAOMI UNDER THE WEIGHT OF HER TRIBULATIONS.
1. Her benevolence. Behold it delightfully displayed towards both her daughters-in-law. See how ardently she wished their prosperity, how fervently she prayed for it. Herein she, and all who are under the governance of the same superhuman principle, resemble their Divine Master. He also felt intensely for others — even when He was Himself involved in dangers.
2. Her acknowledgment of God in her troubles. See how piously she develops this feeling (Ruth 1:13, 20, 21). Nothing enables a man to behave as he should in the day of adversity, nothing enables him to keep down an envious and impatient spirit, but the viewing his troubles as the allotments of Heaven, the all-wise appointments of his Father and of his God.
3. Her gratitude both to God and man.(1) Her gratitude to God. If a few handfuls of corn excited Naomi to offer to her heavenly Father a sacrifice of such fervent praise, how fervent should our praise be for abundance of spiritual food, for Christ Himself to be the strength and joy of our souls? If a little earthly food is a mercy to be acknowledged in songs of adoring praise, how much warmer should our affection be for endless and unmingled felicity for the whole man in the land of everlasting life?(2) Her gratitude to man. Inasmuch as Ruth had shown kindness to her in Moab, she showed her all possible kindness in Judah.
The Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me
How unfit are we to judge of an unfinished providence, and how necessary it is, if we would understand aright the reasons of God's ways, that we should wait and see the web with its many colours woven out! Three short months, during which those dark providences were suddenly to blossom into prosperity and joy, would give to that sorrowful woman another interpretation of her long exile in Moab. And one Gentile proselyte was thereby to be brought to the feet of Israel's God, who was not only to be the ancestress of Israel's illustrious line of kings, but of that Divine Seed in whom "all the nations of the earth were to be Blessed." When the night seems at the darkest we are often nearest the dawn. Begin to tune thy harp, O weeping saint and weary pilgrim! "The night is far spent, the day is at hand." Learn to wait. When the great drama of our earth's history is ended; when Christ's glorious redemption-work is seen in all its wondrous issues and ripened fruits; when order has evolved itself out of confusion, and light has come out of the bosom of darkness, and the evil passions of wicked men and the malignant devices of evil spirits have been so overruled as to work out the sovereign will of Heaven; when all the enemies of Christ have been put in subjection under His feet, and death itself has died then shall the words spoken at the creation be repeated at the consummation of the higher work of a lost world's redemption, and God will again pronounce all to be "very good."
Naomi began to err when she ceased to believe in the wisdom and benignity of all those dark events, when she looked upon them, not as expressive of paternal discipline, but of Divine indifference and desertion, when they appeared to her distressed soul as the arrows of judgment rather than the strokes of love; like those affrighted disciples on the Galilean lake who failed to recognize Jesus in Him who was walking in such calm majesty on the tossing waves. She was also wrong in this morbid concentration of her thoughts upon her trials, and in not realizing the many blessings and comforts that yet remained to her. Elimelech and her two sons had been taken, but this lovely and devoted Ruth had been raised up. She was now poor, but she had health; and God had brought her back to those altars and courts of the Lord after which "her soul had longed, yea, even fainted." And then there were blessings which she could not lose, and which were of more value to her than a thousand worlds. Besides, how greatly did she err, as devout persons in a despondent mood are so apt to do, in measuring God's providence, as it were, by her human line, and imagining that the cloud which had hung over her like a shadow of death could not possibly be turned into the morning; just as we may imagine the people near the pole, with their many months of unbroken night, beginning at length to doubt whether the sun will ever rise again. An eloquent writer on astronomy imagines the different aspect in which our earth would appear to us could we be projected from its surface and permitted to look on it from one of the nearest planets, or from the moon. And how different would the afflictions of God's people often look could they only be projected a few years into the future, and permitted to regard them even in some of their earliest explanations and consequences. Lift up thy head. O thou bruised reed, thou too desponding woman, for lo, the winter of thine adversity is past! Cease to clothe everything in sackcloth. Take down thy long silent harp from the willows, and tune it anew for notes of loudest praise. Thou hast long exercised the duty of self-denial; it is time for thee now to exhibit the duty of delight.
()How different are summer storms from winter ones! In winter they rush over the earth with their violence; and if any poor remnants of foliage or flowers have lingered behind, these are swept along at one gust. Nothing is left but desolation; and long after the rain has ceased, pools of water and mud bear tokens of what has been. But when the clouds have poured out their torrents in summer, when the winds have spent their fury, and the sun breaks forth again in glory, all things seem to rise with renewed loveliness from their refreshing bath. The flowers, glistening with rainbows, smell sweeter than before; the air, too, which may previously have been oppressive, is become clear, and soft, and fresh. Such, too, is the difference, when the storms of affliction fall on hearts unrenewed by Christian faith, and on those who abide in Christ. In the former they bring out the dreariness and desolation which may before have been unapparent. But in the true Christian soul, "though weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning," and tribulation itself is turned into the chief of blessings.
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