Coping with personal suffering and evil – A study of Ruth 1:19-21 in Hebrew and English

Ruth 1:19-21 (Hebrew Text) וַתֵּלַ֣כְנָה שְׁתֵּיהֶ֔ם עַד־בֹּאָ֖נָה בֵּ֣ית לָ֑חֶם וַיְהִ֗י כְּבֹאָ֙נָה֙ בֵּ֣ית לֶ֔חֶם וַתֵּהֹ֤ם כָּל־הָעִיר֙ עֲלֵיהֶ֔ן וַתֹּאמַ֖רְנָה הֲזֹ֥את נָעֳמִֽי׃ 20 וַתֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֔ן אַל־תִּקְרֶ֥אנָה לִ֖י נָעֳמִ֑י קְרֶ֤אןָ לִי֙ מָרָ֔א כִּי־הֵמַ֥ר שַׁדַּ֛י לִ֖י מְאֹֽד׃ 21 אֲנִי֙ מְלֵאָ֣ה הָלַ֔כְתִּי וְרֵיקָ֖ם הֱשִׁיבַ֣נִי יְהוָ֑ה לָ֣מָּה תִקְרֶ֤אנָה לִי֙ נָעֳמִ֔י וַֽיהוָה֙ עָ֣נָה בִ֔י וְשַׁדַּ֖י הֵ֥רַֽע לִֽי׃

Ruth 1:19-21 (NASB) “So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Introduction

James-Fausett-Brown note in their commentary on today’s passage: “all the city was moved about them—The present condition of Naomi, a forlorn and desolate widow, presented so painful a contrast to the flourishing state of prosperity and domestic bliss in which she had been at her departure.”(1)

The last several blogposts have been dedicated to understanding the English and underlying Hebrew text of Ruth 1. We have witnessed how Ruth’s journey from Moab to Bethlehem unfolded as she traveled with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth’s fellow Moabitess, Orpah, has journeyed back to Moab. Both Ruth and Naomi are tired, broken-hearted and ready for a change in life. Ruth has just made her full confession of faith in Yahweh – the God of Israel. The immediate lesson we find in following God is that it is far from easy. 

Ruth 1:19-21 presents to us some very interesting textual details that also provide ample points for practical application. The textual details mainly have to do with a verb, a couple of names, their meanings and the understanding of the circumstances. 

In Ruth 1:19 we find that upon Ruth and Naomi’s entry-way into Bethlehem, the NASB describes the city’s response as: “was stirred”. The Hebrew verb וַתֵּהֹ֤ם is in a verbal form that can be translated generally as a passive (as in “was stirred”). All the standard English translations render this verb (which in the Hebrew is the form “Niphal”, third person feminine singular) as follows: KJV “was moved”; ESV “was stirred” and HCSB “was excited”. One lesser known version, the International Standard Version, translates the verb with more of the idea that the people’s excitement came as a result of their watching one another get excited over Ruth and Naomi’s arrival in the rendering: “got excited”. Such a translation is feasible, since the Hebrew verb form (Niphal) includes the idea of people responding to one another and producing a given result.

At any rate, we know that Naomi and Ruth’s arrival caused a great deal of excitement, stirring and undoubted whispering. Naomi’s graven face and the addition of a Moabittess (Moabites were generally looked down) to the return must had certainly sent ripples throughout Bethlehem. The reader ought to recognize the significance of Bethlehem as the eventual birthplace of Jesus as predicted in Micah 5:3 and fulfilled in the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke. 

We then come to Ruth 1:20 and find some word-plays on the name of Naomi. The people address Naomi by her birth name “Naomi” (נָעֳמִ֑י), which according to Halloday’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament is traceable to a verbal root that refers to God’s kindness. Naomi’s name itself means “beautiful” or “lovely”. We must be reminded of the fact that names in the Bible held great significance. A name was given in connection with certain events, peoples or perceived activities of God in a person’s life. 

In Ruth 1:21, Naomi’s perceptions were rubbed raw by the loss of her husband and her conclusions that God had turned against her. She responds to the well-wishers of Bethlehem by saying not to call her Naomi (a name indicating a sign of God’s kindness), but rather “mara” (

מָרָ֔א). Mara comes from a root meaning “bitterness”. As seen in the purple-colored words above in the Hebrew and English, the full meaning of “Mara” is given: 

Ruth 1:21 (NASB)

for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

Ruth 1:20-21 (Hebrew)

קְרֶ֤אןָ לִי֙ מָרָ֔א כִּי־הֵמַ֥ר שַׁדַּ֛י לִ֖י מְאֹֽד׃ 21 אֲנִי֙ מְלֵאָ֣ה הָלַ֔כְתִּי וְרֵיקָ֖ם הֱשִׁיבַ֣נִי יְהוָ֑ה לָ֣מָּה תִקְרֶ֤אנָה לִי֙ נָעֳמִ֔י וַֽיהוָה֙ עָ֣נָה בִ֔י וְשַׁדַּ֖י הֵ֥רַֽע לִֽי

Closing thoughts:

This particular section of Ruth 1 brings us face to face with the problem of suffering. The problem of evil and suffering impacts everyone. As a Christian, I have had my share of experiences that have left me broken-hearted, disappointed and grieved. Naomi’s words reflect what many a saint feels in dealing with personal struggles in  the seasons of faith. Naomi could not see the pattern of circumstances God was working forth on her and Ruth’s behalf. Often our own finite limitations of being creatures and living our lives within a relatively small span of time in comparison to the wider circumstances can bring us to conclude that the wheels of God’s handi-work are against us. Theologian and Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig notes: 

“We are not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for the evils that occur. As finite persons, we are limited in time, space, intelligence, and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end from the beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve His ends, God may have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils which appear pointless to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework.” (2)

Though we may not comprehend what is happening, God has morally-sufficient reasons. Romans 8:28 reminds us that “all things work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Genesis 50:20 has Joseph saying to his formerly treacherous brothers “what you meant for evil, God meant for good”. We know God would work forth events in Ruth 2-3 that would result in Ruth meeting Boaz, they in turn getting married and continuing the bloodline of the Messiah that would lead through the lineage of King David down to Jesus.  May we trust God and remember that although we may at times miss seeing His face in every situation, His hand is ever upon the saint. 

Endnotes:

1. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/jfb/ruth/1.htm

2. Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil#ixzz4FWYhVVtX

 

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About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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