Was Naomi Bitter?

Q – Was Namoi a bitter person? I have heard so many preachers/teachers and they all seem to say the same thing, that she was very bitter. But then I read how Orpah and Ruth clung to her, did not want to leave her, and then they all wept together. And if she was so bitter then why would Ruth want to go with her?

Jim – Well, the reason you’ve heard so many preachers speak of Naomi as “bitter” is because of Ruth 1:20. It reads –

“But she said to them, Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

In that verse, Naomi chooses to call herself by a different name to reflect the circumstances of her life. “Naomi” means “pleasant.” But, “Mara” literally means “bitter.” However, we can see from the balance of this verse that the name change was not because she herself was bitter, but rather the Lord’s providential hand had dealt with her in a bitter way; i.e. the loss of her sons and husband.

So, I am not prone to say that she was a bitter person. And, the verse does not say that, either. But, it’s easy for preachers to simply recite what they’ve heard and believe to be true without genuinely exegeting the meaning of a passage.

Q – Also was it sin for Mahlon and Chilion to marry women from Moab? Our former pastor always taught that Elimelech was not out of God’s will when he and his wife moved from Bethlehem Judah to Moab. But I cannot see that in God’s word.

Jim – Well, I am one of those people who has trouble with the phrase “out of God’s will.” I think it is virtually impossible to be out of His will, considering His omniscience and omnipotence. Not to get overly theological, but if God is everywhere, knows everything, and empowers everything, it’s difficult for me to believe that people can be out of His will.

Now, granted, people do sin, rebel and do things that are less-than-edifying. But, the question is, “Does that mean that they have escaped the exhaustive providence of God, or has God merely allowed them to go their way in order to serve His own purposes?” I am prone to conclude, based on the way the God reveals Himself in His word, that all things are genuinely working according to God’s foreordination. Consequently, every action of man ultimately serves God purpose, whether that purpose is the opportunity to display His own holiness and righteous judgment, or whether that that purpose is the dispensation of His grace on undeserving people.

That said, normally when God includes tales of disobedience in His word, He also tells us that it was wrong so that it will serve as a cautionary example. But, we have multiple examples of people roaming from place to place in the Middle East looking for food during times of famine – think of Joseph’s brother coming to Egypt looking for food and ending up kings. And, even Jesus was taken into Egypt as a boy to avoid Herod’s murders. So, there’s no inherent sin in traveling into Gentile areas. In Elimelech’s case, the story does not tell us that his actions were wrong or righteous. It simply relates the narrative of how Naomi ended up in Moab. But, the fact that they went back to Judah because they heard there was bread there indicates that they had traveled in search of food. And, I cannot conclude the Elimelech was wrong in trying to feed and care for his family.

As for the question of taking a foreign wife, it was certainly against God’s command that Israelites not intermarry. But, in God’s grand economy, it taught a very vital lesson. The book of Ruth primarily teaches the concept of the Kinsman Redeemer. It typifies the final Redeemer in Israel who would pay the redemption price to purchase His people. And, it’s certainly intriguing that the two women who were redeemed were a Jew and a Gentile. Plus, Ruth became the great grandmother of King David, proving that the greatest king in the history of united Israel was partially Gentile, which may be why he is described as fair and ruddy, or light-skinned and freckled. (1 Sam. 17:42)

In any case, we also see multiple examples in Scripture of people following their own minds and perfecting serving the cause and glory of God. Whether it was Abraham in the tent with Hagar, typifying the children of bondage versus the children of the free (Gal. 4), or the evil will of angry men crucifying the Lord of glory and in so doing accomplishing the redemption of God’s people (Acts 2:23-24). Ultimately, the acts of men – whether in sin or in righteousness – will redound to the glory of the One who works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11)

These are good questions you’re asking. Thanks for sharing them with me!

Yours in Him,
Jim Mc.