“The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:14-15 NIV)
Her name meant “pleasant”, yet the Book of Ruth starts out in ruin. When Naomi left Bethlehem for Moab, she had a husband and two sons and now that they were dead, she and her two daughters-in-law were left vulnerable and helpless in a foreign land of idol worship.
Discouragement became her constant companion and her faith in God’s blessings and mercy fell to its lowest. In the first chapter, she said to her daughters-in-law: “the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13 ESV)
Naomi’s lack of faith was so blatant that we are even tempted to look down on it. After all, did she not know our Lord’s compassion for widows (Exodus 22: 22 – 24; Deut. 10: 17 – 18)? Did she not know His love and the covenant He made with His people (Ex. 15: 1 – 21)?
It’s easy to forget the reason her faith is so shakable:
She does not know the end of the story.
She doesn’t know the part where Jesus triumphs over sin. She doesn’t know the part where Light triumphs over darkness. We have the part in our hands where the savior is born, then dies for our sin, and then rises from the dead. Perhaps remembering that fact is what allows us to feel compassion and empathy for this glitch in her faith. But what TRULY allows me to feel compassion for her is remembering this:
I have been Naomi.
I have wrestled with God in prayer when I felt like He wasn’t listening. I’ve looked upon dark times in my life as if it were all in ruin. I’ve felt as if there was no hope left, nothing good left in the cards for me. I have been Naomi. And I think you’ve been Naomi, too.
I think you’ve had those times when tragedy, despair, and setbacks hit your life one after another like waves. I think you’ve felt like you were walking through the valley of the shadow of death from Psalm 23, except you felt fear and you didn’t feel the comfort of His rod or His staff. You wondered if he even heard your prayers. But really, the glitches and struggles in our faith have the same source as Naomi’s struggles in faith:
We don’t know how the story ends.
Now, while all of you wait for me to be struck by lightning, hear me out. I’m not talking about the big story. We know how THAT story ends. We know that our Jesus will return for His bride. We know that if we’re in relationship with Him, we’ll get to spend all of eternity with our King after death.
But we don’t know how our story here on earth ends. We know that anything that happens to us, good or bad, God will use for good.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20 NIV)
But we still don’t know whether it’s in His plan for us to get everything our flesh wants. We know He intends everything for good, but we just don’t know whether He will write our story the way WE want Him to.
We are just so concerned with the temporary and the earthly. We know how the eternal story ends, yet our faith waivers because we don’t know how the earthly story ends. We know on an intellectual/theological level that God’s way is perfect.
“This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:30 ESV)
Yet, even though we know that His ways are superior to our own, we are not content until our flesh is. We lose faith unless our earthly story is written the way we’d write it ourselves. And sometimes, our flesh is missing out in a big way. Tragedy, loss, heartbreak, sickness.
All of these things challenge our human need for reassurance. Not a reassurance that things will be okay, but a reassurance that they’ll rearrange themselves into how our earthly selves always envisioned our earthly lives turning out.
Naomi lost her faith because God dealt her a hand that she wouldn’t have chosen for herself. Who would? But in his endless grace and loving patience, God blesses Naomi by bringing her out from ruin and returning her joy. He blesses her with renewed faith, family, and security as Boaz redeems Ruth. He used her crisis and desperate trial as a means to showcase His perfect redemptive love, provision, and grace… just as he said He would!
What I take away from Naomi is this…
You don’t need to know the ending of the story to keep faith.
What you need to know is the past. Naomi should have drawn her faith from knowing that God rescued His people from famine (Ruth 1:6), that He blessed foreigners (vv. 8, 9), and that He had made a covenant with His people. She also should have drawn her faith from the blessings through which she could have seen God’s love and provision in her life. Ruth’s pledge to Naomi is boundless.
She also should have drawn her faith from the blessings through which she could have seen God’s love and provision in her life. Ruth’s pledge to Naomi is boundless (vv. 16 – 17). She makes an oath to Naomi, using Yahweh’s name, to stay with her until death. She promises to worship Naomi’s God. She even leaves her homeland, along with most likely marriage opportunities and safety, in order to be with Naomi and the people who worship our God.
Naomi teaches us that to keep faith, we don’t need to know what’s in store for us tomorrow, whether hardship is coming (it is, by the way), or whether God gives us everything our flesh wants. We simply need to know the past. What God’s already done for us, the ways He’s kept His promises, how we can look back on our past trials to see how He’s used them for His glory.
Now, when I move through difficult seasons of my life, I can hold onto faith not because I know what God’s going to do with my trial, but because God and I have a history and He has never let me down.