Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged,
for the Lord your God will be with you
wherever you go.”
It was a drought, much like we had here. Ours was five years of relentless heat and sun, the scarce showers seemed to miraculously bring everything to life; flowers temporarily woke from hibernation and you could birds happily singing in the shower. The drought Naomi suffered hit harder; they didn’t have reserves of water or food. Eventually her family was so desperate they were forced to leave their home in Bethlehem for Moab. Located on the opposite shore of the Dead Sea, it was a place of pagans and strangers. For Naomi it would be a place of death and tears.
Soon after arriving Naomi’s husband passed away, making her reliant upon her two sons. Each son marries a woman from Moab but then the sons die as well, leaving behind three hopeless widows. Swimming in unimaginable grief and despair Naomi decides to go home to Bethlehem. Her daughter-in -law Ruth insists she will go as well and the two head back across the Dead Sea. In Bethlehem old friends and neighbors recognize Naomi but she tells them to call her Mara, which means “bitter”. She says, “I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty.” Naomi had escaped a literal drought only to find a spiritual one. She has lost all sorts of comfort and naturally assumes she has lost God as well.
It’s natural to think that when we have experienced great loss or can no longer feel God than we must be alone, abandoned. It’s like rain clouds in the midst of a drought; they are there even though we can’t see them. In fact it can be frustrating to know they are in our sky even though they are not in our view. But since we know they are there, we know they will feel them again soon. Naomi is scared, lonely, sad and empty yet the first chapter of Ruth ends with good news on the horizon. The women arrive just as the barley is about the be harvested. God is very much with Naomi and soon she will feel the comfort of his presence again.