Day 10 of Unopened // Naomi's Pattern of Tragedy

Hi friends. Here we are, at day 10 of 18. Already past halfway. Crazy, right??

So far we’ve identified the concept of unopened packages. We’ve been working on acknowledging and praying over our own packages, and in that process, we’ve studied two Old Testament women with their own, very real set of packages. Both Sarah and Rahab lived lives of struggle, failure, and triumph. When it seemed like they had been forgotten by the Almighty, they had not.

Our next two women, Naomi and Ruth, were victims of tragedy. The lives they set out to live were drastically altered by the deaths of their husbands. They were forced to sail on and move forward, but the packages they held on to would chart the course they had to take. Even though they are so connected, they were both very much individuals in their choices and actions. Some of their packages would have been similar, but not all.

Let’s get started with a little background, and then move forward into Naomi’s story.

The book of Ruth was written during the time of the Israelite judges, after Joshua’s death. My ESV Study Bible notes say this: “This book highlights how God’s people experience his sovereignty, wisdom and covenant kindness. These often came disguised in hard circumstances and are mediated through the kindness of others.”

Ruth is very much a book of contrasts. We see our two heroines deal with the living and the dead, with pleasant and bitter, and with empty and full lives.

Are there any contrasts in your life like these?

Go ahead and read in your version of the Bible, Ruth 1:1-5.

We establish setting, conflict, and our first few main characters, all within the first verse. We see the writer introduce Naomi and Elimelech's homeland of Bethlehem, a city of rich Israelite culture and belief. Naomi and her husband were believers, and again, the names in verse 1:2 uniquely shed light on their situation.

Naomi means sweet, pleasant one. Elimelech’s name signifies allegiance to God: ‘my God is King.’ Their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also have telling names: the two are defined as something along the lines of ‘sickliness, consumption, or wasting away’—so scholars assert that perhaps they were weak or premature even from birth.

This makes a lot of sense as to why they would leave their beloved homeland in a time of famine; they needed to provide sustenance for their sons.

To only have two sons, both that needed extra care and attention, would have been a life calling and great responsibility for Naomi and Elimelech. Back then, if you could, you’d have as many children as possible. So I imagine that the two she had were extremely precious to them.

The Israelite couple were willing to take the risk to move to Moab to provide for their sons. Moab was known as an unfriendly place where it’s people, like those from Jericho, worshipped many gods. Nevertheless, that’s what they did. They got to their location, and soon after, their beloved father, husband, and leader died.

What do we see Mahlon and Chilion do in verse 1:4?

How long did they live in Moab with Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah?

What happens in verse 1:5?

First Elimelech dies and Naomi becomes a widow in a foreign land. At least she still has her young adult sons. But no, they are also taken. She was isolated, removed from her hometown, away from her family—she lost everything.

A pattern of tragedy kept Naomi weighted down and her boat full of heavy, unopened packages.

Naomi was alone, devastated, and so incredibly empty.

I don’t want us to overlook her grieving and skip right to the point where she told everyone she was bitter. We need to try to get in her head and heart, and relate, sympathize, and have compassion. All that she had loved, taken care of, looked after and felt purpose for in her life was gone. Gone.

There was nothing left to Naomi’s name, other than two barren daughters-in-law. Even then, they were Moabite women, who looked, sounded, and acted in ways that would have likely been considered ‘lower class’ compared to Israelite customs and culture. Naomi wasn’t even confident that their faith conversion had been real. Both Ruth and Orpah were young enough to re-marry, and begin a new life.

But not Naomi. She was past her prime, and very much in need of community support. As a widow in a foreign land, she was about to be destitute and dangerously vulnerable.

Let’s continue on and read Ruth 1:6-14 together.

In her grieving, Naomi must move forward. She hears rumors that the famine has lifted in Bethlehem, knows she needs to return. Whether or not she was ready to face the past and leave behind the last decade with her sons, for her own survival, she must go back.

Ever the maternal-hearted soul, she is worried about her daughters-in-law as well as herself.

What does Naomi say to Ruth and Orpah in verse 1:8 and 9?

Can you imagine the emotion-packed sentiment here? This woman who loved and looked after these two young women for ten years has nothing left to give. All three of them are overcome and overwhelmed with grief, yet decisions have to be made.

What happens in verses 1:10-13?

I can’t help but think that these quotes were spoken in anything other than tears and choked-back sobs. This is raw literature if there ever was any. Naomi loved these women, and even calls them her daughters, (1:11, 1:13) indicating closeness of relationship. She addressed them as her own.  

In her plea for Orpah and Ruth to leave her, she highlights her desperate situation again. She makes sure they know she has nothing to offer them. It’s a ‘you’re better off without me’ mentality.

Naomi says in verse 13: “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.”

Right there, in the midst of her brokenness and grief, she believes that Yahweh has forgotten her, or is punishing her, or has turned his back on her.

When bad/hard/unforeseen things happen—do we do that too? Don’t we sometimes doubt too?

When things are beyond our understanding, as humans, we want to know why—and we want to know why right away.

We question our motives, our actions and desires. We examine our lives with a magnifying glass, looking for sin, things we might need ‘punishing’ for. We dig up old wounds, past mistakes, conversations we wish we could take back. Anything to figure out why and what’s the purpose.

The beautiful thing about redemption, the gospel, and the book of Ruth, is that the story isn’t finished yet, and our God isn’t out to ‘punish’ us. Naomi will learn that even though she was to lose her greatest loves, she would gain another. She would never forget her beloved Elimelech, or her boys Mahlon and Chilion, but in a loyal foreign girl, she would find her joy again.

God uses Naomi’s story over and over again. It’s like a bedtime story, where things start out sad and scary, but one must read on to the end. Because the ending is quite nice. Readers, and survivors alike, must always remember to hang in until the end.

  • Who do you know in your life that might be dealing with similar packages as Naomi? How can you pray for her or take further action to love on her?
  • What have you lost?
  • What has left you feeling empty and alone?
  • How can you ‘hang on’ until the end?

Please share your response in the comments section below or join the conversation with our Facebook Community Group. #undividedwomen

// Rachel