There is a famine in Israel and a family from Bethlehem flees their home to enemy territory in Moab, no doubt in desperate need for food. The husband is Elimelech and his wife is Naomi, and they have two sons. After some time, Naomi’s husband dies. Her two sons take wives from Moab and then the sons both die. Suddenly Naomi has lost her husband and two sons, leaving her all alone in a foreign land.
Her daughters in law want to stay with her, but she tells them she cannot support them and their young lives will be wasted waiting for husbands, saying, “For the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me” (1:13, NASB). Later, when she returns to Bethlehem, she tells people who are shocked at her poor state of affairs, “…the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty…the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me” (1:20, 21).
What kind of loving God would allow a good woman to lose her husband and all her children and beat her into the ground emotionally?
Today we are asked frequently what kind of God would allow the disasters we see all around us!
Is Naomi angry at God? She is obviously a woman of faith who has not forgotten the Lord of her homeland like so many others – she blesses her daughters in the name of the Lord. Ruth is drawn to her like a magnet, saying, “Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (1:16).
I think the Cycle illuminates something different in Naomi than anger at God, something we need to learn as a nation and as the church of Jesus. I believe Naomi’s husband and sons disobeyed several commandments, taking things into their own hands by moving to Moab instead of trusting God in the famine; then the sons married Moabite women. The entire family was punished severely.
When we fall to temptation to distrust God and disobedience to his commands, we likely will see judgment, sooner or later. But we also need to consider the collateral damage our actions can bring down on our loved ones.
I think Naomi’s harsh words were not anger at God, but rather a witness to her country of what can happen when we take over for what we think is an incompetent and uncaring God.
No! God has never-ending love for his children who obey and disobey his commandments! God does not punish indiscriminately. His judgment is what redirects us back to the straight and narrow path.
Naomi, strong believer that she is, understands this and wants to share it with Israel and with us. She did not go out to Moab full, but rather empty in her husband’s distrust of God. She returned, not empty, but full of God’s power in her life as the rest of the Book of Ruth shows.