January 22, 2021

It is OK to Lament

Kever Rachel, Bethlehem

By Chaplain Mike

Ordinary Time Bible Study 2011
The Book of Ruth (6)

Today we complete the first part of Ruth’s story with a look at the concluding verses of Ruth, chapter one.

This text has many lessons for those who grieve and those who love them.

So the two of them journeyed together until they arrived in Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole village was excited about their arrival. The women of the village said, “Can this be Naomi?” But she replied to them, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi’! Call me ‘Mara’ because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly. I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me ‘Naomi,’ seeing that the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer?” So Naomi returned, accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth, who came back with her from the region of Moab. (Now they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.) (1:19-22)

• • •

Returning to Bethlehem
Naomi’s journey is complete. She has come home. However, at first she finds little comfort in this, for she has returned empty. Coming home merely makes her feel her plight more keenly.

As friends who care about our neighbors, we must understand that our presence is not always comforting to those who grieve. There are times when our presence only serves to reinforce that things have changed, that happier days are past, that we cannot continue on relating as we did before. That doesn’t mean we should not be available to our grieving friends; it just means we must realize that our love can sting even as it promotes healing.

Naomi’s friends express their joyous wonderment at her return, but the rest of the words belong to the one returning from exile. They are words of lament.

  • Naomi expresses her bitterness. She speaks of her name changing from “Naomi” (pleasantness) to “Mara” (bitterness) to reflect God’s bitter dealings with her. Note how she is unafraid, as a person of faith, to attribute her suffering to God and even protest his dealings.
  • Naomi expresses her utter poverty. God has taken her from “fullness” to “emptiness.” Again, note that she has no scruples about attributing this to God himself.
  • Naomi questions God’s justice. “She portrays herself as a defendant in a legal action who has already been found guilty and punished…but who knows neither the charges nor the testimony against her.” (Hubbard)

In conclusion, one applauds the display of Naomi’s humanity by the narrator. Like Jeremiah, Job, and the psalmists, she stood open and honest before God in her suffering. If Ruth modeled devotion, Naomi modeled utter honesty. But one must avoid attributing Naomi’s suffering to some heretofore unmentioned sin, whether done by her, her family, or Israel as a nation. The narrator gives no grounds for doing so. Rather, Naomi’s words point to the mysterious and often (from a human perspective) unjust workings of God. Finally, one must realize that her outburst in fact assumes a positive view of God, namely, that he controls the universe, normally with justice. Her case is an exception—thought not a rare one—but such is the mystery of God.

• Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (NICOT), p. 127


  1. Powerful. Having the ability to recognize God as sovereign in the midst of grief is a gift…many of us, in similar circumstances (far from home, mourning the loss of loved ones, alone, and responsible for the well-being of Ruth) would picture him as cruel or uncaring, or, in an age of absent dads, just downright unavailable. I would love to know more about Naomi’s “pre-Ruth” story. I would wager that there’s a lifetime of loss partnered with resilient faith and caring for others.

    Greatly enjoying the series…

  2. Tim Snow says

    I am struck by the “fullness” and “emptiness” of Naomi’s lament. This is a play on the intent of Elimelech and Naomi’s move to Moab. The reason for their move was because of famine, so they should have gone “empty” to Moab and come back “full” to Bethlehem. Naomi’s loss of her husband and sons changed that.

    As the Psalms have taught us, we can lament as a community as well as individually. In liturgical traditions this is manifested during lent. Those who have not learned lament are poorer (or empty) because of it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Those who have not learned lament are poorer (or empty) because of it.

      “Hell has no torment worse than Constant Forced Cheerfulness.”
      — G.K.Chesterton, “Three Tools of Death” (Fr Brown Mystery)

  3. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh…………….

    Yidden across the world are now lamenting for little Leiby. Do visit my site to see the music video in his memory. The lyrics are in the comment section.

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