Summary: God’s wondrous workings may take us through a deep struggle with sovereignty.
One old commentator wrote about our text: “Names are given to men and women, not only to distinguish them from each other, but also,—1. To stir them up to verify the meanings… of their names. Wherefore let every Obadiah strive to be a “servant of God,” every Nathaniel to be “a gift of God,” every Robert “famous for counsel.” 2. To incite them to imitate the virtues of those worthy persons who formerly have been bearers… of their names. Let all Abrahams be faithful, Isaacs quiet, Jacobs painful, Josephs chaste; Lewis, pious…. Let them also carefully avoid those sins for which the bearers of the names stand branded to posterity. Let every Jonah beware of stubborn disobedience and Thomas of distrustfulness. If there be two of our names, one exceedingly good, the other notoriously evil, let us decline the vices of the one, and practice the virtues of the other. Let every Judas not follow Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Savior, but Judas the brother of James, the writer of the General Epistle….
“In the days of Queen Elizabeth, there was a royal ship called “The Revenge,” which, having maintained a long fight against a fleet of Spaniards (wherein eight hundred great shot were discharged against her), was at last fain to yield; but no sooner were her men gone out of her, and two hundred fresh Spaniards come into her, but she suddenly sunk them and herself; and so “The Revenge” was revenged. Shall lifeless pieces of wood answer the names which men impose upon them, and shall not reasonable souls do the same?”
Few of us set the same value to names, but I did look up some of your names on the internet:
• Amy: from the Old French meaning “beloved.”
• Sarah: means “lady” or “princess” in Hebrew.
• George: From the Greek for “farmer, earthworker.”
• Stanley: is Old English for “stone clearing.”
• Helen and Elena: from either the Greek “torch,” or “moon.”
• Ken: Irish: handsome
• Gwendolyn: means “white ring,” in Welsh.
• Maury: French: dark skinned.
In our study we meet Naomi, which means, pleasant. In English, probably “Felicia,” or “Felicity,” have similar meanings. But after the troubles Naomi endures, she prefers to be called, bitter. Let’s read her story and see what God would teach us about the power and love that does not always do what we want.
[Read Ruth 1.1-22. Pray.]
Life in a small village offered rare moments of excitement and interest. Two visitors leading a donkey with a small load of belongings, wearily trudging the dirt path, grabbed attention long before they reached the village. Harvesters in fields far from town back with the news that created quite a stir.
“Look – travelers! Who could they be? They seem worn and dirty – they must have come from far. Look! They are small and fair – women traveling alone. Strange.”
Whisperings or the arrival create a crowd of gawking women ready to pry into the reasons for this unexpected visit. “The whole town was stirred because of them.”
As they draw close, curiosity gives way to shock when someone recognizes Naomi. “Is this Naomi? It has been years, yes; but she looks like it has been decades.”
When the two dusty figures finally reach town, one from the crowd of women dares ask the questions all want answered: “Is that you, Naomi? Where have you been? What has happened? Where are your husband and sons? Who is this foreigner who travels with you in such sad condition?
She responds: “Naomi? Pleasant? Do I look pleasant to you? Naomi? Call me, “Bitter,” “Mara,” like the maror we eat at Passover, the bitter herbs, for God’s ways leave a bitter taste in my mouth. He is Shaddai, the Mighty One; no one stays his hand; no one can say to him, “What have you done?” But his hand has come down harshly on me. I went away full – husband, sons, happy. I return empty – broken, angry, bitter. Why call me ‘Pleasant’ when Jehovah has brought calamity on me?”
So what do we say to a “Naomi” who visits our church? Better, what about Felicia that you work with, the young lady who is lonely and afraid and feels abandoned by God?
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, who wrote about the struggles of faith in dark nights of the soul, said: “Everything helps me to God.” That was his way of agreeing with Romans 8.28: “for those who love God all things work together for good.”
Larry Crabb (Shattered Dreams, 77): “If we are to find hope when everything we’ve lived for is taken away, if we are to move on with peace and purpose when our hearts are broken by indescribable pain, or when they quietly ache with regret and missed opportunity, we must rescue Paul’s teaching and de Caussade’s restatement from their usual status as clichés. ‘All things work together for good’ and ‘Everything helps me to God’ must no longer be regarded as Biblical mantras for pious folks to utter when they want to deaden pain.”