the shape of leadership

A Mom for All Seasons

Lessons from the life of Naomi

George O Wood on May 10, 2018

You find Naomi in the Bible’s greatest human romance short story, the Book of Ruth.

I call her “a mom for all seasons” because there are seasons we go through in life — and she experienced them all. She is the woman of summer, fall, winter and spring.

Perhaps you can identify with one or more of the seasons in her life, and by so doing take heart that God is so very aware of the present passage in your own life. 

The Woman of Summer

We first meet Naomi as the Book of Ruth opens. In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.

It’s scorching hot during the summer in Israel. Famine results from lack of rain and is felt when the spring crop perishes. So, Naomi’s story opens in the season when there is lack, thirst, need and no food.

More than that, Naomi’s story begins at the end of a 400-year period of turmoil when the judges ruled, a season summarized by the last verse before Ruth begins: “In those days … everyone did as they saw fit.”

In that season of material need, political chaos and moral disintegration within society, Naomi married and had children. If you’re waiting for the ideal time to bring a child into this world, you’ll wait forever. The season will never be right, for the world is evil.

It might take time for you to find out all God accomplished in your seasons of summer, fall and winter.

When the famine hit, Naomi’s two little boys felt its impact. In fact, she lacked more than food for them. She had none of the resources we now deem essential for child-rearing: no church or Christian school, no religious storybooks or videos, and no ministers or Christian authors or family experts.

Are you and your children low on resources right now? Perhaps you wonder how you’re going to make it in your season of summer. Things could get worse before they get better. That’s what happened to Naomi.

The Woman of Fall

In the fall, leaves turn colors and let go their hold of twigs and branches. Grass browns. Days shorten. Winter approaches.

Naomi faced her fall with that dreaded word: relocation.

How odd that Bethlehem, where she lived, literally means “house of bread.” But there was no bread. The bowls on the table were as empty as the grain fields and threshing floors.

When your husband can’t get work, when you have no resources for your children, you move on. So, the second verse of Ruth says, “And they went to Moab and lived there.”

Moab! Southeast of Bethlehem, the other side of the Jordan and Dead Sea. Centuries before, the king of Moab had hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel, but when Balaam blessed instead, the men of Israel engaged in sexual immorality and idol worship with the women of Moab (see Numbers 23–25). After that, no Moabite was permitted to enter the assembly of the Lord for 10 generations (Deuteronomy 23:2). The duration of this ban ends when Ruth comes on the scene.

What a terrible place to take two little boys. Can you imagine the fear that filled Naomi — wondering whether her own sons, when they grew up, would be seduced by Moabite women and serve idols rather than the living God?

Many of you, or your parents or grandparents, have felt like Naomi. Maybe you are in a place other than your native land — a land where there is a different language and a different culture.

Or perhaps presently you are going through changes of a different kind. What distressing thing has happened to you? Are you going through a kind of relocation, such as a physical move, divorce or other enormous change?

It’s fascinating to consider the names in this small family. Naomi means “pleasant, delightful, lovely,” and her husband’s name, Elimelek, means “my God is king.” Why then did this couple, with such great identity within their own names, call their children weak or sick (Mahlon) and failing, pining or consumptive (Kilion)?

Naomi and Elimelek appear not to be God’s people of faith and power. When the going got tough in Bethlehem, they left, jumping with their two sick and poorly named kids from the frying pan into the fire.

However, before you leap to judgment against them, remember that had the Lord condemned Naomi, we would not be telling her story today.

Can things get worse? Unfortunately, for Naomi, the answer is “yes.”

The Woman of Winter

It gets cold in winter. Stark whites and grays dominate the landscape.

In winter, Naomi’s husband dies. Her sons marry Moabites and die 10 years later. How did she cope with all the welling bitterness? The relocation had proven a disaster. Now she was a widow, grandmother-less and past the age of bearing children, even if she remarried. Worst of all, she felt let down by the One who mattered most: “the Lord’s hand has turned against me (Ruth 1:13).

Do you, like Naomi, find it perfectly natural to equate your struggles as punishment against you from God himself?

Shredded by the decade of winter, Naomi returns to her ancestral home in Bethlehem and says something like, “Don’t call me lovely anymore. Call me Sister Bitter” (see Ruth 1:20). Moffatt captured the underlying Hebrew text in his translation of her words: “Call me Mara, for the Almighty has cruelly marred me.”

How would you help Naomi in her winter? Unfortunately, some believers would agree with her, or put her down, or try to give her an instant solution. Maybe it would be far better if we gave the woman of winter some encouragement. “Naomi, you must have done some things right. If you were such a bad person, Ruth wouldn’t love you like she does. And don’t give up on God. Remember Jacob who thought bad things about God because he didn’t yet know the rest of the story” (see Genesis 42:36).

Indeed, if you’re in winter, don’t pass judgment on yourself that the Lord is finished with you. You must retain the hope woven through the fabric of Scripture and knitted into Romans 8:28: God is working for good in all things.

Can things get better? By all means! They do for Naomi.

The Woman of Spring

Naomi redirects her gaze from the past to the future. She returns home to Bethlehem and begins to believe again that God can do good things, so she encourages the romance of her daughter-in-law Ruth to Boaz. She could have reacted negatively to Ruth’s news of Boaz’s kindness, but she did not let herself get stuck in life.

When Ruth comes back from the fields loaded down with barley (Ruth 2:17), and then brings home another load after Boaz’s proposal at the threshing floor (Ruth 3:15), Naomi encourages and supports Ruth in the tense time of waiting. “For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today” (Ruth 3:18).

God’s way with Naomi was not clearly understood until the fourth generation after her. From Ruth and Boaz came Obed, then Jesse, and at last King David. Ten centuries later, another descendant of Naomi would be born in a manger in that same village of Bethlehem. It might take time for you to find out all God accomplished in your seasons of summer, fall and winter.

Naomi’s life did not end in bitterness. The last mention of her brings a picture of completion and closure. “Then Naomi took the child [a decision to accept] in her arms [a decision to love] and cared for him [a choice to nurture]. The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son.’ And they named him Obed [worshipper]” (Ruth 4:16–17).

If Naomi had never returned home to Bethlehem, she would have missed it all. Will you be “home” this Mother’s Day? In your heart of hearts, do you know you have yielded your life to the Lord, and that He is truly in control throughout every season in your life: summer, fall, winter and spring?

Healing from losses may take time. Naomi discovered that her life was not over, even though her husband’s was. God had much good ahead for her. He never let her change her name permanently to “bitter.” She ended as she had begun: Naomi — pleasant, lovely and delightful.

Will you?


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