Hesed is a beautiful Hebrew word that has no obvious English translation. It implies covenantal loyalty, kindness, faithfulness, and love. And this theme of hesed runs throughout the book of Ruth. In verse 15, Naomi urges Ruth to follow Orpah’s example and return to her people. Ruth famously replies: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Despite Naomi’s pain and bitterness and logical appeal, Ruth pledged her loving commitment (hesed). And, through Ruth, God was caring for Naomi with His own act of hesed. So the two women traveled back to Bethlehem. When they arrived, the whole town gave a glad reception. The women chattered: “Can this be Naomi?” (v. 19). Naomi squelched their excitement with a strange order: “Don’t call me Naomi.” In that culture, a person’s name expressed her character. So Naomi said to call her Mara meaning “bitter” because the Lord had made her such. She had left Bethlehem full, and God had brought her back empty. Here she blames God four times (vv. 20–21).
If the story were just about Naomi’s quest for food and home, it could finish right here. She was safely back in Bethlehem. She was bitter, but she was also fed. But verse 22 finishes with a subtle, and wonderful, foreshadowing of the work that God would do. Naomi was, in fact, not alone. She was accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess. Her foreignness is highlighted here. And the author notes that the barley harvest was just beginning. The timing was providential. God, in His hesed, would provide more than these two women could ever imagine.
>> Sometimes we cling to our bitterness and pain, blaming God for the circumstances that have befallen us. Naomi’s story reminds us that we do not always realize what God is doing behind the scenes. Be encouraged that God is at work in your life, even when you do not see it.
Our hearts go out to loved ones who have faced unimaginable loss and have fallen into bitterness. Father, open their eyes to Your loving kindness. Overwhelm them with Your goodness. Lift their hearts in worship.