We all know Ruth as the “face character” of the book that bears her name. After reading this book in my devotions, however–and watching the Sight and Sound production with Emily right after–I’d like to nominate Naomi as the “backbone character” of this story.
It’s Naomi who starts the book, it’s Naomi who ends the book, and it’s Naomi who undergoes a quiet change of heart just as powerful and beautiful as Ruth’s conversion and love story.
In the first five verses of the book, Naomi’s husband and two sons die, leaving her an unsupported widow in a foreign land.
She returns to Bethlehem and says,
“Do not call me Naomi [pleasant]; call me Mara [bitter], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”Ruth 1:20-21
Naomi feels abandoned by God. She is hurting. She is walking through a deep, dark valley. She looks at God and sees nothing good.
But what does she say when Ruth returns from gleaning in Boaz’s field? “Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead” (emphasis mine).
We then see Naomi reach beyond herself to secure Ruth a future of safety and provision.
And in arranging security for Ruth beneath the wings of her kinsman Boaz, Naomi finds herself equally secure beneath the wings of the Almighty.
God gives Ruth a son, and what do the women of Bethlehem say? “There is a son born to Naomi” (emphasis mine). The book concludes with the image of Naomi holding baby Obed, her arms full once again.
Naomi starts empty and bitter, but she ends filled and rejoicing.
I believe the message of Naomi’s story is that God never abandons His own.
At the same time that He is showing love to the foreigner Ruth by bringing her into His family and blessing her with a place in the line of the Messiah, God is showing love to His own Naomi by restoring her soul and providing for her.
Even if she didn’t see it, God’s goodness toward Naomi never ceased.
We have the same promise: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb 13:5), and “The LORD will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance” (Ps 94:14).
Psalm 118 begins and ends, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”