The single mother sat in my classroom distraught and in tears over her son’s poor grades. He was failing some courses and in danger of failing for the year.
“What can I do,” she asked.
“Well, let me ask you a few questions. Does he have a TV in his room?”
“Does he have a computer in his room?”
“To start with, you need to take the TV out of his room and put the computer downstairs where you can monitor his use of it.”
“Oh! I could never do that! He loves to chat with his friends on the computer and stays up late chatting with them and watching TV. He would be so angry with me. I just couldn’t stand it. He would pitch a fit, and I don’t want to upset him.”
Need I tell you that the boy continued to struggle academically. He failed my class, but I passed him on anyway. We teachers gave him an opportunity to go to summer school to make up for the lost credits hoping that perhaps he by himself could become self-disciplined enough to turn off the TV and computer. I don’t know how the story ended.
One thing I do know; however, is that giving a child everything he wants is not love. Love takes away everything (the TV) and everyone (chatting on the computer with friends) in order to focus on being a student and attaining an education.
In the story of Naomi and Ruth, God did just that. He took away everything and everyone from them. Naomi knew the providence and sovereignty of God. He is absolute ruler, and He directs our paths. Sometimes, that path leads to the Valley of the Shadow.”
Naomi did not kick or scream at the Lord. She did not complain. Sure, she was broken, grieved, and desolate. But, she knew who was in control. She testified, “The Lord is against me and gives me trouble” (Ruth 1:20-21). By this confession, she accepted the reality of what God took away from her.
It’s important to note that Naomi did nothing to deserve this. Her life was pure and innocent before God. God had no cause to judge and punish her. In his sovereignty and providence, He chose to take away everything and everyone from her. You must probably will see yourself in Naomi and have searched to find some sort of meaning when “The Lord is against me and gives me trouble.”
Elimelech and Naomi along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, had rebuilt their lives under the blessings of God as foreigners in the land of Edom. They came as refugees from Bethlehem of Judea, with nothing but the robe on their backs. A severe famine struck Judea causing much of the population to flee and search for sustenance. The cupboard was bare. Babies cried themselves to sleep from hunger. Hungry men and women begged for food.
In Edom, Elimelech’s little family made a life. There was food, shelter, and perhaps some money to be made or some barter to be traded.
Without explaining any details, the Bible simply records, “Elimelech died.” Naomi was a widow in a strange country. But, she did have her two sons. That was all the family and support she had.
The death of any loving relationship brings suffering, grief, and emotional pain. Only a widow and a divorced spouse knows the pain.
You reach on the other side of the bed and nothing is there. You listen for the familiar voice, “Hi honey, I’m home” only to be met with silent echoes of the past. Dinner for one. Many of us have been there. You may be there now. You are Naomi.
You know the questions you asked God. “God, why did you take him?” How can I live without her/him? In your mind, you know God is love. But, in your heart, you feel God turned His back on you.
Famine, refugee, a rebuilt life, death. And behind all of the circumstances, good and bad, the ups and the downs, life and death is the hand of God. Nothing happens without God’s awareness. Didn’t Jesus say, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Matthew 10:29 NIV).
What’s going on? I thought God is a giving God giving us what we ask for and want. Remember Naomi’s confession, ““The Lord is against me and gives me trouble.”
After Elimelech’s death left Naomi a widow, life began looking up again. After ten years in Edom, the two boys decided to settle down there and make a life, raise a family and give grandchildren to their poor mother. Laughter would replace the sadness. Joy would fill the empty room. Places would be set at the and family would occupy the seats at the table.
Mahlon and Kilion took Moabites for their wives, Orpah and Ruth. Two weddings. Two weeks of feasting and merriment. Dreams, anticipation, and a life together forever filled their hearts and the heart of their dear mother, Naomi. Spring sprouted from the cruel winter of death.
And again, without explanation from the Bible, Mahon and Kilion died. No details, no reasons, no obituary - they died.
God took away her home. He took away hope. God took away future children to be born, and He took away Naomi’s support and love. Nothing was left this time. First, no food in Bethlehem. Next, her husband died. Now, nothing and no one was left.
She called her two daughters-in-law and announced she was leaving. She was going back home to Bethlehem. For the third time in her life, she had to start over. Only this time, she was older. She had no husband to lean on. No sons to rely on. Alone with nothing and no one.
Naomi couldn’t stay in Edom. Ruth and Orpah were young women. Their lives stretched before them as the sunrise on the eastern shore. They would marry again and forget their mother-in-law. They would have no families. Their children would have grandparents. Naomi would not be one of them.
She called the two women. Unfolding before us is one of the saddest scenes in the Bible. Pull back the curtain and look, and if a tear falls from your eye, don’t be surprised.
But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me-- even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons--would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!" (Ruth 1:11-13 NIV).
The three widows embraced each other for a long time. They wiped tears from each others eyes. The two young women stood there with their mother-in-law in the valley of decision. The eastern sunrise beckoned them. A husband, children, a home. They were free to go, and Orpah, did leave to go back to her mother and begin life again with the loving support of her family. Naomi and Orpah embraced a final time. Orpah turned and walked away from sadness and death and toward happiness and life.
Ruth begged her mother-in-law to allow her to go with her to Bethlehem of Judea. Naomi said, “No. Don’t go. There’s nothing there for you. No family but me. No money, no house, nothing. You will be a foreigner like I am a foreigner here in Edom. Edom is your home. Stay here. Forget about me. Let me go alone back to Bethlehem.”
Then Ruth passionately made a commitment to Naomi that is not only one of the most beautiful passages in all the Bible, but is one of the most beautiful in all the world’s literature. Stand amazed at her promise of love and loyalty as she looks deep into the eyes of Naomi.
But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me" (Ruth 1:16-17 NIV).
Ruth grabbed Naomi’s hand and held it to her breast. Naomi’s heart melted from the love, and it beat with hope. Together, the two women with nothing but the clothes on their back and the sandals on their feet begin the journey down the dusty roads back to Bethlehem. Homeless, hungry again, helpless, and with Naomi’s life sinking like the western sun, they walked forward. Somehow, they gathered themselves up and walked the lonely road to Bethlehem.
When the weary women reached the outskirts of Bethlehem, someone spotted them. One lady looked familiar. The other a stranger, a foreigner. Someone looked closely. The face had aged. The wrinkles of suffering etched into the once radiant face. But no doubt about it, it was Naomi.
The whole village came to see and welcome her back home. “Naomi, Naomi, it’s Naomi, she’s back. Come see! Pleasant, delightful, Naomi. Always full of joy!’
Naomi didn’t smile. She was there in body but seemed far away. Something was wrong, very wrong. “This is not Naomi, the pleasant one, we remember or know.”
“Don’t call me pleasant,” Naomi admonished them. “Call me Mara. Call me bitter. My name is Mara. God made my life bitter. The Lord is against me and gives me trouble.”
Dear friends, Do you see the truth in this story of Ruth and Naomi? God is the God of the mountain, and He is God of the valley. Naomi recognized correctly that God takes everything just as He gives everything. God takes away everyone just as He gives everyone. Isn’t this the meaning of death.
How much will Bill Gates leave behind when he dies? Everything. Who will he leave behind? Everyone.
We all have an appointment with death designed by the will of God. So, what is it if God chooses to take away everything and everyone from us before death?
The Bible teaches us to welcome troubles. Troubles are temporary and achieve for us eternal glory. We want this world to be heaven and have everything perfect now. But, the believer’s goal is not to be reached in this world, but the next.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NIV).
Could it be that our troubles are preparing us for that day when absolutely everyone and everything is taken away from us in death?
Look at Job. He experienced the loss of everything and everyone too. Perhaps Naomi had heard about Job and knew of Job’s submission to the will of God. Job accepted his condition of having everything and everyone taken from him and saw the hand of God in it all.
Job testified, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised" (Job 1:21 NIV).
Is this not a true saying? “The road to ruin is the road to righteousness. When God takes away everything and everyone, we find that we are not self-reliant after all. Our resources fail. Our abilities and talents come up short. Our dreams disappear. Our bank account vanishes, and debts pile up.
Could it be that when we come to the end of our rope that we finally get through all of the clutter, and realize how impotent, powerless, and helpless we are? Suddenly like lightning appears from the sky, hope lifts our eyes to see God - to see our Savior on the cross, to see the empty tomb, to see the glorious Christ on the right hand of the Father.
We are exactly where God wants us to be - to be totally reliant upon Him. God’s goal for us is one thing - to be conformed into the image of Christ. Anything He gives beyond that is like gravy on steak or honey on a biscuit! We are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory! (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Our relationship with the Lord deepens into a profound love never experienced before in the good times when everything was going our way.
God took away everything and everyone from his beloved Apostle, the Apostle John, and John had one of the most profound experiences and revelations that ever was. Banished to the isolated isle of Patmos in his old age with nothing and no friends or family, John worshipped one Sunday morning, and the Lord revealed Himself in power and glory. John wrote down the revelation, and today, we know that revelation as the last book in the Bible. It is the book of absolute victory in Christ and the overthrow of Satan and his kingdom.
When Israel cried under the bondage of Egypt for a deliverer, they were totally reliant upon God. Prayers went up. Days, years, and decades passed. Then one day, Moses appeared in answer to their prayers, and you know the rest of the story.
As time went by, the Israelites had a life of ease and plenty from the hand of God in the promised land. Oh, how He blessed His chosen people. And what happened? They became apathetic, took for granted the kindness of God, and turned from Him.
Most of the time, the hardships in the valley are best for us because those troubles make us bow on our knees, get right with God, and become solely dependent upon Him. This is the condition God wants for us because in our weakness, He is forming the image of Christ in us making us strong in the Lord.
If you have the choice of having everything and everyone or having to be totally reliant upon God with all things and all people taken away, which would you choose? I can tell you that the pure in heart see God (Matthew 5:8). And for that reason, we are here in this world - to see God without the trappings of things or the interference of people.
Naomi had everything and everyone taken from her. She had one loyal friend, her daughter-in-law, Ruth. She cried out, “God speaks against me and gives me trouble!”
Fortunately for us, we can read the back of the book of Ruth. and know how the story of Naomi and Ruth is resolved in victory. But, we don’t have the back of the book written down in our lives - yet! So, the troubles God sends to us confuse and try us.
But know this, dear friend and lover of the Lord, God has already written the ending to our troubles, and I can assure you that He will bring to pass in your life what our loving heavenly Father brought to pass in the lives of Naomi and Ruth.
Let us be reminded again. “We live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV).
When God speaks against me and gives me trouble, it is because of His great love for you - like taking a TV and computer out of a boy’s room - to get us to focus on the most important thing - living in fellowship with Him preparing us for eternity.
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