Mara: bitterness

This wrinkly thing below is bitter melon a.k.a. bitter gourd. It tastes awful. (I think so, and I’d eat almost anything digestible.) Bitter melon is actually quite good for your health.

Here’s the story:

She moved to a difference country with her family. Her husband died. Her two sons died. She had no grandchildren, and only her daughters in law were left. A troubled immigrant who had everything taken from her, with reason to bear sorrow.

She said to her daughters-in-law, “My daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me.”

When she and one daughter in law arrived back in her home province, she said to those who remembered her and greeted her, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” [passages from Ruth, HCSB]

——

It would seem that Naomi is a bitter woman because of her bitter life. It would seem that she has had unfortunate things happen to her, and that she is a victim of misfortune. We are, however, informed of a few things that could suggest otherwise. This happens historically in the time of judges ruling Israel, which is a time when men did whatever was right in their own eyes. There was a famine in the land of Judah, possibly a sign of judgment about the wickedness in God’s people, purposed as a wake up call. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, moved their family to Moab, a pagan land far away from people who worshipped God, to escape the hard times. Their sons married women who did not worship God. There’s quite a bit of disobedience and lack of faith and trust amongst the family.

The deaths (and the rumour of food back in Judah) ultimately caused Naomi to return to Judah with Ruth. When Ruth ends up marrying well and bearing a son, there is no record of what Naomi says.

——

So the LORD’s plans at the juncture of the deaths and returning to Judah appear to be a bitter hand dealt to Naomi. However much of this was her fault is irrelevant; even if Naomi’s personal sin was not a direct cause of this entire bitter fate, Naomi is also not a mere victim. She was bitter, mara, vexed, provoked, annoyed, irritated, angry. Many years earlier, the Israelites had grumbled to Moses about the bitter water, and the LORD’s lack of provision in the desert. They were tested. They discovered that they needed to obey and trust, and not to complain. [Exodus 15:22-27]

——

At the end of Naomi’s tale, the other women in Judah say to her, “ ‘Praise the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him.” She has nothing to say now but does seem to treasure what God gave her eventually. Her life was bitter for a time, but hindsight is 20/20. You see things so much more clearly as you reflect and look back than while you were in the middle of it; and yet we hold on to the past as if we knew better.

In time, the Lord who is good will provide, ultimately in eternity but also somehow in the land of the living. In the meantime, we must be blind to take unsavoury situations with annoyance, irritability, anger, vexation or bitterness in our hearts. God is at work, and we must keep up with Him, being ready to change our minds, change our behaviour, and change our desires. Not easy for change-resistant breeds like us who think we know better.

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