Naomi’s Reception at Bethlehem.
B. C. 1312.
19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? 20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
Naomi and Ruth, after many a weary step (the fatigue of the journey, we may suppose, being somewhat relieved by the good instructions Naomi gave to her proselyte and the good discourse they had together), came at last to Bethlehem. And they came very seasonably, in the beginning of the barley-harvest, which was the first of their harvests, that of wheat following after. Now Naomi’s own eyes might convince her of the truth of what she had heard in the country of Moab, that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread, and Ruth might see this good land in its best state; and now they had opportunity to provide for winter. Our times are in God’s hand, both the events and the time of them. Notice is here taken,
Of the discomposure of the neighbours upon this occasion (v. 19): All the city was moved about them. Her old acquaintance gathered about her, to enquire concerning her state, and to bid her welcome to Bethlehem again. Or perhaps they were moved about her, lest she should be a charge to the town, she looked so bare. By this it appears that she had formerly lived respectably, else there would not have been so much notice taken of her. If those that have been in a high and prosperous condition break, or fall into poverty or disgrace, their fall is the more remarkable. And they said, Is this Naomi? The women of the city said it, for the word is feminine. Those with whom she had formerly been intimate were surprised to see her in this condition; she was so much broken and altered with her afflictions that they could scarcely believe their own eyes, nor think that this was the same person whom they had formerly seen, so fresh, and fair, and gay: Is this Naomi? So unlike is the rose when it is withered to what it was when it was blooming. What a poor figure does Naomi make now, compared with what she made in her prosperity! If any asked this question in contempt, upbraiding her with her miseries (“is this she that could not be content to fare as her neighbours did, but must ramble to a strange country? see what she has got by it!”), their temper was very base and sordid. Nothing more barbarous than to triumph over those that are fallen. But we may suppose that the generality asked it in compassion and commiseration: “Is this she that lived so plentifully, and kept so good a house, and was so charitable to the poor? How has the gold become dim!” Those that had seen the magnificence of the first temple wept when they saw the meanness of the second; so these here.
Note, Afflictions will make great and surprising changes in a little time. When we see how sickness and old age alter people, change their countenance and temper, we may think of what the Bethlehemites said: “Is this Naomi? One would not take it to be the same person.” God, by his grace, fit us for all such changes, especially the great change!
II. Of the composure of Naomi’s spirit. If some upbraided her with her poverty, she was not moved against them, as she would have been if she had been poor and proud; but, with a great deal of pious patience, bore that and all the other melancholy effects of her affliction (v. 20, 21): Call me not Naomi, call me Mara, &c. “Naomi signifies pleasant or amiable; but all my pleasant things are laid waste; call me Mara, bitter or bitterness, for I am now a woman of a sorrowful spirit.” Thus does she bring her mind to her condition, which we all ought to do when our condition is not in every thing to our mind. Observe,
1. The change of her state, and how it is described, with a pious regard to the divine providence, and without any passionate murmurings or complaints.
(1.) It was a very sad and melancholy change. She went out full; so she thought herself when she had her husband with her and two sons. Much of the fulness of our comfort in this world arises from agreeable relations. But she now came home again empty, a widow and childless, and probably had sold her goods, and of all the effects she took with her brought home no more than the clothes on her back. So uncertain is all that which we call fulness in the creature, 1 Sam. 2:5. Even in the fulness of that sufficiency we may be in straits. But there is a fulness, a spiritual and divine fulness, which we can never be emptied of, a good part which shall not be taken from those that have it.
(2.) She acknowledges the hand of God, his mighty hand, in the affliction. “It is the Lord that has brought me home again empty; it is the Almighty that has afflicted me.” Note, Nothing conduces more to satisfy a gracious soul under an affliction than the consideration of the hand of God in it. It is the Lord, 1 Sam. 3:18; Job 1:21. Especially to consider that he who afflicts us is Shaddai, the Almighty, with whom it is folly to contend and to whom it is our duty and interest to submit. It is that name of God by which he enters into covenant with his people: I am God Almighty, God All-sufficient, Gen. 17:1. He afflicts as a God in covenant, and his all-sufficiency may be our support and supply under all our afflictions. He that empties us of the creature knows how to fill us with himself.
(3.) She speaks very feelingly of the impression which the affliction had made upon her: He has dealt very bitterly with me. The cup of affliction is a bitter cup, and even that which afterwards yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness, yet, for the present, is not joyous, but grievous, Heb. 12:11. Job complains, Thou writest bitter things against me, Job 13:26.
(4.) She owns the affliction to come from God as a controversy: The Lord hath testified against me. Note, When God corrects us he testifies against us and contends with us (Job 10:17), intimating that he is displeased with us. Every rod has a voice, the voice of a witness.
2. The compliance of her spirit with this change: “Call me not Naomi, for I am no more pleasant, either to myself or to my friends; but call me Mara, a name more agreeable to my present state.” Many that are debased and impoverished yet affect to be called by the empty names and titles of honour they have formerly enjoyed. Naomi did not so. Her humility regards not a glorious name in a dejected state. If God deal bitterly with her, she will accommodate herself to the dispensation, and is willing to be called Mara, bitter.
Note, It well becomes us to have our hearts humbled under humbling providences. When our condition is brought down our spirits should be brought down with it. And then our troubles are sanctified to us when we thus comport with them; for it is not an affliction itself, but an affliction rightly borne, that does us good. Perdidisti tot mala, si nondum misera esse didicisti–So many calamities have been lost upon you if you have not yet learned how to suffer. Sen. ad Helv. Tribulation works patience.
– Matthew Henry Commentary