Can This Be Naomi?

Can This Be Naomi?

burnIn Ruth 1:18, we saw that once Ruth showed her determination in her decision to return to Bethlehem with her, Naomi quit trying to persuade Ruth to turn around and go back to Moab with Orpah. For Naomi to attempt to persuade Ruth to turn back now would surely invoke a curse on her that Ruth herself hung over Naomi’s head with her declaration, “May the LORD punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death shall be able to separate me from you!” (NET) “May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (ESV).

Here is a woman who sticks by her word! She reminds me of Psalms 15:4, when David asks, “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” (Psalms 15:1); and then with verse 4, goes on to give twelve attributes of such a person: “who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind?” In the final summary of this Psalm, David says in verse 5: “Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

This Psalm definitely describes Ruth in the exact moment she binds herself to Naomi, to Naomi’s people and to God by her vow. With these words, she cut all ties with her past and effectively burned all her bridges, never to return to Moab again. She is steadfast. And, as Matthew Henry so aptly states in his commentary, all temptation to turn back was silenced by her steadfastness.

 “See the power of resolution, how it puts temptation to silence. Those that are unresolved, and go in religious ways without a steadfast mind, tempt the tempter, and stand like a door half open, which invites a thief; but resolution shuts and bolts the door, resists the devil, and forces him to flee.”– Matthew Henry

We also saw in Ruth 1:18, that Naomi’s response to Ruth’s great outpouring of dedication was one of silence. She stopped talking to her. Now, the text doesn’t indicate that she didn’t talk to her for the duration of the journey, but it does indicate that she stopped talking to her about turning back. That conversation had came to a complete dead end.

However, I imagine there was some weighty silences on the journey as they picked up their bags and began to walk together toward Bethlehem, both of them certainly wondering what would be waiting for them ahead. Someone once said that the greatest storms in life we face are often not the outward ones but the inward ones, the ones that no one else sees or knows about except ourselves and God as we wrestle with our fears, doubts and temptations. I believe that there may have been some long, weighty silences between them on this journey, and it is almost certain that there were some great storms going on inside their hearts as they walked. I imagine Naomi worried about what awaited them ahead. She would have been very familiar with the Israelite laws, especially the one from Deut 23:3-6, which says:

     “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD forever, because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days forever”

Moabites were not welcome in the congregation of Israel. Naomi probably worried about how Ruth would be received, and because of her own love for this girl, I imagine she was pained over it.

19. So they two went until they came to Bethlehem.

‘Two” came to Bethlehem, as opposed to Naomi returning by herself. In a sense, Naomi was by herself, she was returning without her husband and without her two sons. Of course, she did have Ruth, so she did not return completely alone, but she would have to address that too, wouldn’t she? There were many questions by the people that she would have to answer, many questions she would have to face. But even with all these dark moments in her life, we can see God’s hand of grace operating; though Naomi may have been missing it or overlooking it, since God was operating in such an unpredictable way. Also, what Naomi may have viewed as an added affliction, Ruth’s presence, which was an additional responsibility and a constant reminder of her past behavior, was in truth, a gift of God’s grace toward her.

19. ..And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them,

They did not enter the city unnoticed. Everyone knew they were there and they were the talk of the town. All the city was moved it says … There was a great commotion in the city upon their arrival.

We see that Naomi’s return created a great commotion throughout the entire city. Her return was a very big deal. We don’t know if part of the reason was because she had a Moabite woman with her or not. The text does not even mention Ruth, it just leaves her awkwardly standing off to the side. We know she is there, but no one is addressing her. Once again, I imagine they are standing there, staring at her, wondering who she is and why she is with Naomi . . . But no one says anything to her at all; not directly anyway.

More than likely, the reason the entire city was moved by their arrival was due to their former knowledge of Naomi. Naomi was probably well known before she left, had formerly lived respectably among them and the sheer magnitude of her condition and calamities caused the news of her return to spread like wildfire in the small city of Bethlehem. “Did you hear about Naomi?” They would ask one another. “She has came back from Moab, alone, with a young Moabitess. Her husband and both her sons are all dead. She has nothing now. I barely recognized her, she looks terrible, doesn’t look like she use to at all …”

19. and they said, is this Naomi?

They” is in the female gender, so some translations say that these were the women talking amongst themselves. You can almost feel the tension in the air, can almost hear them whispering behind their hands, can almost see them pointing their fingers. It had only been 10 years since she had left, but the drastic change in her appearance, in her spirit, in her status, must have been dramatic enough to cause them to question if this was indeed the same person, to cause such an uproar and commotion in the city.

The journey itself would only have been about 30-60 miles, depending on the route taken. However, since the terrain is rugged and steep, the trip is estimated to take about 7-10 days on foot. They would have been tired and worn, road-weary.

Matthew Henry gives a good commentary on the city’s reaction to Naomi’s return.

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…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 neighbors 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!””

We’ve all run across old friends and wondered, ‘Can this be so-and-so? They look so rough. They have changed so much from the divorce, from the illness, from the tragedy or hard life they’ve lived. What happened? They are just not the same person we remember.’ Often, it’s not just in physical appearance, but in demeanor, in countenance, in attitude, that has made the most significant changes in them. It doesn’t take long for afflictions to make significant changes in our appearance to others, as well as to ourselves.

20. And she said unto them, Call  me not Naomi, call me Mara; (KJV)

Naomi’s name means ‘pleasant, sweetness, affording pleasure; being in harmony with your taste or likings.’ The name “Mara” means ‘bitter, unpleasant. It is the property of having a harsh, unpleasant taste.‘ The name “Mara” is just the opposite of the name “Naomi”. The name “Mara” is much more expressive of her severe grief and her current circumstances, which seemed very difficult for her to accept or to bear.

Interestingly enough “Marah” is also a place the Israelites came to in Exodus 15:23, where they could not drink the waters because they were so bitter:

Exo 15:23-25 KJV – “And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them.”

In the story of Marah, the waters were not only bitter and distasteful; they were also full of disease. If the people would have drank from them they would have became ill. But the ‘waters of bitterness’ were made sweet and safe to drink. Its ill effects were removed when God had Moses cast a tree into the waters, and healed them. In the same way, through our obedience to God’s voice, God is able to provide a remedy for our bitterness and turn our waters sweet from all things that would otherwise hurt us.

Despite Naomi’s severe affliction, and despite her desire to be called ‘bitter’, we actually do not see any sign whatsoever that Naomi was bitter with God, or anyone else, over her circumstances. She is grieving, she is broken and worn down. But, as many women might have been in those very same circumstances, she is not bitter or resentful. For instance, we do not see her blaming her husband for moving them to Moab; nor did she blame her sons for not returning their families back to Bethlehem sooner, before they too, died. We do not see her bitter over daughter-in-law, Orpah’s, return to Moab. Instead, we see her gracious towards Orpah, even in her intense grief and sorrow. We do not see her bitter over her poverty, but grateful when Ruth brings home the extra gleanings of Barley. We see her continually blessing people for their kindnesses to them when it is shown. Naomi was never called ‘Mara’ in God’s Word and she never revealed herself as ‘Bitter’. She continually proved herself to be ‘Pleasant’. Pleasant toward others, despite her great pain, and that really says allot about her character. Our character truly reveals itself in moments of such intense distress, anxiety and grief. It’s too easy to make excuses for acting badly and to be short tempered with others when we are in pain or grieving; but Naomi, at her very worst, reveals her strength of character, which is another exemplary example for us to model. Despite her believing that her life was to be forever bitter, with no hope of remedy, God would soon make her waters sweet and pleasant once again.

20. for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me

Naomi does believe that ‘God Almighty’ has dealt bitterly with her. In this verse, the Hebrew for the verb ‘has dealt‘ means ‘with exceedingly, abundant force’. She is expressing that ‘Shaddai’ has dealt very sharply with her in great abundance and with great force. Her circumstances and calamities are indeed bitter and indeed very difficult to bear; but the bitterness of her circumstances does not affect her view of God or her attitude toward others. Naomi does not blame God, nor does she shake her fist at God in anger. She does not abandon God as many of God’s fair-weather followers would have. In contrast, we see her clinging more tightly to God, evidenced by her return to Bethlehem, by her addressing with such humility the loving hand that is behind her calamities, by her steadfast, gracious and pleasant attitude toward others, despite her painful circumstances.

Naomi sees God’s sovereignty behind all that is true and good. But nowhere do we see any bitterness or anger toward God on her part. For in this season of her greatest grief and her greatest distress, it is Shaddai that she comes to in order to seek refuge and shelter. She is simply telling her story. She is not pretending or putting on a fake smile, nor is she trying to appear strong. She is completely honest and transparent in her circumstances. Shaddai has dealt harshly with her. She isn’t denying it or trying to hide it or even making excuses for Him or for herself.

The word used for ‘Almighty’ in this verse and in verse 21, is ‘Shaddai’. Naomi’s choice and use of God’s name, ‘Shaddai’, is very significant here. This name for God is used 41 times in the Old Testament, 6 times in Genesis and 31 times in the book of Job, which is significant, because there are allot of similarities in comparing Naomi’s and Job’s responses to their severe calamities in the loss of their families.

The very first time ‘Almighty God’ or ‘Shaddai’ appears is in Genesis 17:1, is when God makes a covenant of circumcision with Abraham and promises to bless him.

Gen. 17:1-2 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

The remaining five times it is used in Genesis also have to do with God’s promise to make them fruitful. God reveals Himself to the patriarchs by this name, showing them that He is the ‘All Sufficient One’, fully able to bless them, fully able to make them fruitful, to multiply them and to meet all their needs.

Gen. 28:3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.

Gen. 35:11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants.

Gen 43:14 And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

Gen 48:3   Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me

Gen. 49:25  because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty,who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb.

 Exo. 6:3  I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord  I did not make myself fully known to them.

The meaning of the name Shaddai is uncertain, but it appears to have multiple layers of meanings. The NET Bible outlines several:

tn Heb “Shaddai”; traditionally “the Almighty.” The etymology and meaning of this divine name is uncertain. It may be derived from: (1)  (shadad, “to be strong”), cognate to Arabic sdd, meaning “The Strong One” or “Almighty”; (2) (shadah, “mountain”), cognate to Akkadian shadu, meaning “The Mountain Dweller” or “God of the Mountains”; (3)  (shadad, “to devastate”) and (shad, “destroyer”), Akkadian Shedum, meaning “The Destroyer” or “The Malevolent One”; or (4)  (she, “who”) plus (diy, “sufficient”), meaning “The One Who is Sufficient” or “All-Sufficient One” (HALOT 1420-22 s.v. ). In terms of use, Shaddai (or El Shaddai) is presented as the sovereign king/judge of the world who grants life/blesses and kills/judges. In Genesis he blesses the patriarchs with fertility and promises numerous descendants. Outside Genesis he blesses/protects and also takes away life/happiness. In light of Naomi’s emphasis on God’s sovereign, malevolent deprivation of her family, one can understand her use of this name for God. For discussion of this divine name, see T. N. D. Mettinger, In Search of God, 69-72

Another popular belief of where the name ‘Shaddai’ is derived, is from the Hebrew word ‘shadayim’ which means ‘breasts’ connecting the name Shaddai with the meaning of ‘fertility’ which is, One who nourishes, supplies and satisfies the human race through His power and blessings.

In this single name, we see God’s great power as One who is able to devastate and destroy, ravage and lay waste, contrasted with His great love as the One who nurtures, multiplies and sustains life. Many times we like to emphasize the nurturing and sustaining part of God’s character and ignore the ‘just’ part of His character, the One who judges and destroys. But if we would know God, we must know this part of Him in order to know Him accurately and to generate a holy fear of God in our hearts.

The bible has allot to say about God’s wrath, but we must remember that we, as God’s children, have been saved from it.

1 Thess. 5:9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,

 Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Now, I don’t want to digress too far, but I do want us to take the time and opportunity to see a clearer picture of God in this story. Our God is indeed a Destroyer, as much as He is a Life Giver, and, He is greatly to be feared.

Sometimes this is hard to reconcile, these two aspects of God’s character. It brings to mind a portion of a story I once read by George MacDonald, a late nineteenth century author who inspired C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien in his great imagination and his great theology, hidden within his fantasy writing. He was a preacher who taught through stories, fantasies and fairy tales, to attempt to illustrate complicated truths such as this.  In one book he wrote called At the Back of the North Wind he really addresses this topic. It is a fantastic adventure story about a boy named ‘Diamond’ who, in his illness, meets the ‘North Wind’ who, throughout the story, appears to him in many faces and many forms. Some of the forms she appears in frightens and confuses him. She invites him to ride on her back as she rushes through the city, sweeping the streets and brushing the cobwebs from the sky, zipping through houses and down alleyways. He clings to her back tightly as she flies. But the North Wind has some dirty work to do, so in one part of the story, there is a raging storm and he is frightened. He is frightened knowingthat she is the storm. But at the same time, he trusts in her good nature and clings more tightly to her. He climbs down and clings to the front of her and is held close to her breast by her hand. She tries to persuade him to climb onto her back again and cling to her hair as he had before, but he replies:

 “I don’t mind.” He said. “It’s so nice to feel your arms around me.”

“Well, then, I’ll keep you in front. I’ll need only one arm to take care of you, though I’ll need the other to sink the ship.”

Diamond shuddered. “Then you do mean to sink the ship?”

“Yes,” she said.

“How can you take care of a poor little boy with one arm and sink a ship with the other? It’s not like you.”

“What am I like, Diamond?”

“The kindest, goodest, best person in the world,” he said, clinging tighter to her.

“Why am I good to you?” she asked. “Have you ever done anything for me?”

“No,” he said.

“Then I must be good to you because I choose to be good to you?”

“Yes.”

That’s it. I am good to you because I like to be good.”

“But why shouldn’t you be as good to other people as you are to me?”

“But I am, Diamond.”

“But how can that be?”

“You say the arm that holds you is good. Do you think the other arm I sink a ship with is bad? Don’t you think the part of me that you don’t know must be as good as the part of me that you do know?”

“Yes, it must be,” Diamond said. “But it doesn’t seem good to me.”

“That’s another matter,” said North Wind. “It may not seem so to you. I will just tell you that it is so, and you must just believe me.”

Diamond snuggled closer to North Wind. “I do believe you, “ he said. “But I won’t like to see the ship sunk, you know.”

“And that’s another matter too,” she said smiling, “Doing something is not always the same as liking it.”

I think this is a great picture. Much of what God does, or allows to happen, seems dreadful to us. And we are left wondering at times how a good God, like Him, can allow such calamities to happen and still remain good. At the same time, we know Him to be good and we cling tighter to Him. He holds us in the same way, as He goes about His work in this world, and asks us to trust Him, especially when we do not and cannot understand His other hand, His other part. He is holy. And we know Him to be wholly good. He can be nothing less, no matter how fierce He sometimes appears to us, as He goes about His work.

 21. I went out full, and the LORD (Yahweh) hath brought me home again empty:

Here, Naomi says she ‘went out full‘. She sees herself leaving the famine full and returning to Bethlehem empty. She was ‘full’ in that she had a husband and two sons when she left. Sometimes we don’t realize how good we actually have it until we come to know what being ’empty’ really means.

This world would have us think we are empty and in need, when God would call us to wait and be content. This world would keep us dissatisfied, when God would have us be satisfied and full. We don’t know how bad off Naomi and her husband were before they left. She and her husband were probably respectable, they more than likely had status within their small community, they had land and a home. But the famine had made things tight, had made things difficult. Their boys were in ill health and things looked easier in ‘greener pastures’. They could use the extra money, they could use the extra food and it would only be temporary, after all … the move to Moab just made good, logical sense.

But now, ten years later, she has no husband, no boys, no joy; she is emptier now than before she left. Like the Prodigal son who found out what emptiness truly meant, so did Naomi. Backsliding always takes away from our life, it does not add to it as it promises. Naomi had not known true emptiness until she had left God’s will. She had sought fulfillment outside the promised land in the same way we often seek fulfillment outside of Christ, as we discussed a couple of weeks ago. What appears as God holding back on us, a quick temporary fix to our dilemma, is actually a delusion of Satan’s meant to deceive us so that we would distrust God and step outside His will for help and provision. And we are much the worse for it. For there is nothing good outside of Christ, outside of God’s will.

Psa. 84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

 

21. Why then call me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me,

Was it right for Naomi to have left Bethlehem during the famine? She says the end results speak for itself and testifies against her. All the afflictions she has suffered witness against her. It was not blessed. It was not right to follow their own inclinations, to seek their own salvation, their own way. She does not blame her husband’s decision to leave. She could at this point, since the man was the head of the household and she was only following his lead. No, instead she takes the full weight of guilt on herself for her affliction. In these verses, she is not even blaming God or calling Him unjust. Once again there is no bitterness in her heart toward God for the affliction that He has laid upon her.

21. and the Almighty hath afflicted me?

She fully sees that Shaddai has afflicted her. She sees the hand behind the rod and knows who holds it.

The word afflicted here means to break, to shatter, to be broken, and broken into pieces. Naomi is broken to pieces. This is true repentance. Broken, she will not wander from her Lord again.

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, 1Sam 3:18 ; Job 1:21 . Especially to consider that he who afflicts us is Shaddai, the Almighty. – Unknown

Naomi’s recognition of God’s sovereignty and providence was right but her interpretation was not. She measured God’s blessing by her possessions; she thought provision, food and family showed God’s favor. It’s easy to think that because God has afflicted us, He is displeased with us and that we have lost His favor. This can make our affliction all the more painful if we think God Himself is against us.

Why is it that when prosperity finds us, we sense we have God’s approval but when calamity hits, we begin looking around wondering what we did wrong, or we are tempted to question the presence, love and goodness of God? We think He has left us, which is easy to do because if you are like me I can give a thousand reasons why God’s love, grace and goodness should abandon me.

Prosperity, fruitfulness, is from the Lord. We should praise Him and show gratitude for every drop of goodness He blesses us with in our lives. As Christians, we recognize blessings truly come from The Father of Lights. But He also blesses the ungrateful and the wicked. ‘Why do the wicked flourish?’ Their way looks successful. Their state often haunts us. It’s well tried, for thousands travel down the wide, broad highway and it appears safe. But we know it’s not the way of God, for He has called us to a much more narrow and lonely road, a less-traveled road. The grass often appears greener on the other side. And it’s tempting to slip onto that wider, broader highway for just a little while, just to rest, just to get farther faster and to make more progress, just to get past this obstacle or that valley and then we will get back onto God’s path, then we will get back to God’s way. But it never ends successfully for us; ‘those God loves, he chastises’. He leaves the others alone to travel the broad highway at their own will, for they are not His. But He will not allow us to. Others may, but we cannot. God will draw us back to Himself, to His way, by showing us what the others cannot see, which is the emptiness and futility of those things we were seeking on that broad road. We must remember their end and remember that their blessings are only temporary. And to not lose sight of the fact that our afflictions are only temporary, and that we enjoy an eternal, everlasting blessing in Christ.

Poverty and prosperity are no indicators of God’s favor toward us.

Bengel: “If God have loved thee, thou canst have had no lack of trouble.”

Many of Christ’s followers are only ‘fair-weather friends’. They come to Him seeking only His blessings and not Him. Christ wants us to seek Him only. Do we love Him more than all the world? Would we forsake the world to follow Him, leaving everything, perhaps losing everything? Is this something our faith can handle? I know many of us think ‘No, we cannot.’ At the mere thought of losing them, I think of persons, positions and even possessions that my heart clings to more firmly, more desperately. I think, I could not bear losing such a precious treasure, or my spouse, my kids, my grandkids, my job, my drawing board, my books, etc., some of which I cling to more securely with closed, tight fists than others. But all these things we must hold onto with open hands, for they all belong to the Lord and they are all temporary and fragile.

Ecc. 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

 

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.

This verse shows the season, the timing when they arrived in Bethlehem. God’s timing is always perfect, for they arrived at the beginning of the Barley Harvest. A time symbolizing a new beginning. It was the beginning of the New Year, the beginning of spring and the beginning of new life. Barley Harvest began immediately after the Passover held on the 15th of Nisan, which would be March on our calendar. It was the time of the ‘Wave Offering’, where the ‘first fruits’ were waved before the Lord as an acceptable offering, before the rest of the fields were harvested. And if you remember, it was the time when Jesus rose from the dead as the acceptable ‘first fruit’ before God, symbolizing the spiritual harvest to come.

Thus this young convert from the Gentiles comes as the first-fruits of a Gentile harvest to be gathered, and is welcomed with Israel as a partaker of the paschal feast. Happy are we in welcoming our youthful friends giving evidence of their new birth for God and their living faith in Jesus to the table of the Lord. – S. H. Tang

The reference to the harvest reminds us that the famine is now over and Shaddai has once more abundantly provided for His people by replacing their famine with fertility. It foreshadows what God is about to do for Naomi and Ruth.

Summary

One of the greatest truths I have learned from this lesson is that it is not our circumstances that make us nor do they determine who we are. It is our faith in God that defines our character. In this world, we will face the same trials, the same temptations, the same tragedies that the world faces. As Christians, we are not exempt from pain and suffering, instead we are called to it. What makes us different from the world is our response to these bitter and hard-to-bear circumstances. Where others may drink the cup of suffering and become bitterly ill in their hearts toward God, we drink from that same bitter cup and, although it is just as distasteful and hard to swallow for us, we do not become ill and diseased by it. Our hearts do not grow hard and calloused and grow cold and die as the world’s often does from facing those very same circumstances. Instead of becoming bitter toward God or others, we become more humble, more quiet, more gentle, more compassionate, more merciful, more kind and more loving toward others and before God, despite those trials, because of those trials.

It is the cross of Christ that makes the difference as we look upon Him, even as we drink from the same bitter cup, knowing that what appears as bitter and poisonous to our lives will actually bring us life and salvation in Christ in the end, even though we do not yet see how this can be possible or how it can come to pass because of the sheer bitterness of our circumstances. We are truly in the dark, but we have seen a great light and we trust in the presence of that light and its reappearance, even when we are momentarily in the dark. Like the night, we know our darkness is temporary; it will pass, even though the night may be long and we may find no rest within it because of the pain that keeps us awake. We watch for the morning. We watch and patiently wait for the first appearance of God who alone can shed light on our darkness and bring about life from death.

Like Diamond in the story of the North Wind, we too are called to look up and to trust in God during our times of pain and suffering and know that He is still holding us close to His breast with His right hand, even as He goes about performing His work in the world with His left, that other hand that we don’t and can’t fully understand in our limited understanding as children. This alone we know and gain comfort from: ‘It is of the Lord’. Our God is Holy, He is wholly good, He is wholly loving, He is wholly just, He is wholly righteous.

Therefore, we know that whatever form He or His activities may take, however He may appear to us, which may very well be frightening and confusing to us at times, we can always trust Him and cling more tightly to Him, just as Diamond did in the story of the North Wind and just as Naomi did by returning to her God and trusting Him, despite the bitter and hard-to-endure blow He had dealt her.

Naomi did not allow her circumstances or her own understanding to interpret her view of God when it was challenged. She knew who Yahweh, El Shaddai, was and she allowed her knowledge of Him to interpret her circumstances, which brought her peace and stability even in the midst of her pain. Because she kept her eyes on God, her bitter circumstances had no ill effects on her heart when, in fact, they very well could have caused great distress and disease in her soul. She looked upon God and trusted Him for her life and well being, and to give her the strength to bear her circumstances.

So, too, must we remember who our God is and to not allow this world, our experiences or our circumstances to define Him as anything less then what He has revealed Himself to be in His word. As Paul Washer once said in one of his sermons, “God delights in vindicating the confidence of his saints.” May we delight in vindicating God against the world’s definitions.