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3 Encouraging Truths from Naomi’s Life in the Bible

  • Hope Bolinger Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2020 6 Mar
3 Encouraging Truths from Naomi’s Life in the Bible

Many readers may have heard of Naomi when they heard a sermon on a person named Ruth in the Bible. They may have even stumbled across passages in Christian Living books about how to live life like Ruth instead of Naomi.

Naomi, who later changes her name to “Mara”, which means bitterness (opposed to “Naomi” meaning sweet), loses her husband and her two sons, which constitutes all her male family members. Lost and destitute, she returns to Bethlehem from the foreign land of Moab. But she doesn’t go alone.

Her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, accompanies her. Ruth takes care of Naomi, while God moves to redeem both Ruth and Naomi’s circumstances.

But who exactly was Naomi? Why should readers have sympathy for Naomi’s circumstances? And what can we learn from her?

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What Is the Context of the Story of Naomi?

What Is the Context of the Story of Naomi?

It may seem odd that Naomi allowed for her two sons to marry Moabite (foreign) women named Orpah and Ruth, but we have to ask ourselves how they managed to land themselves in foreign territory in the first place.

Ruth 1:1 indicates the reason for how they stationed themselves in Moab. During the time of Judges (right before Israel was ruled by kings) a famine swept Israel, so Naomi’s family settled temporarily in Moab. There, her two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) found Moabite wives.

Although we don’t have exact dates for when this narrative took place, we can presume it happened sometime between 1300 BC, and likely between the time of Otheniel and Ehud as judges.

What’s really interesting about this time was that Israel was being oppressed by many foreign powers, including the Moabites. We don’t see the Moabites receiving justice until Ehud, a left-handed judge, stabs the Moabite king, Eglon (Judges 3:12-30). Nevertheless, God carries the genealogical line of Jesus through a Moabite woman: Ruth.

We don’t know much about how Naomi’s family members died, but we can assume her sons didn’t die of old age, as their deaths have left her embittered and in shock. An extra-biblical text suggests they died simply because they took foreign wives and moved to a foreign land, instead of trusting God’s providence in Israel. But that doesn’t explain why Boaz didn’t die later when he married Ruth.

No matter what the causes of their deaths, Naomi returns to Bethlehem. And her foreign daughter-in-law insists that she joins her for the journey. Naomi relents and begrudgingly allows her to come.

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Who Was Naomi in the Bible?

Who Was Naomi in the Bible?

As is the case with many women featured in the Bible, we don’t know a plethora of details about Naomi. We do know her name means sweet or pleasant, and after she loses all the male relatives in her immediate family, she changes her name to mean bitter.

Name changes in the Bible have more of an extreme significance than simply getting a legal name change now. A name change determined a person’s character, life circumstances, and purpose. Often God changed the name of a person, but we do see people such as Paul (from Saul) in the Bible who may have personally changed their own names to reflect their new purpose.

Naomi, now widowed and with no hope for a future, gives herself a new identity of bitterness. She especially places the blame on God who had sent her away from the land of Moab embittered in her new circumstances (Ruth 1:20-21).

Nevertheless, God continues to move. He provides Ruth with someone known as a kinsman-redeemer, a person who can essentially help the two widows Naomi and Ruth in their destitute circumstances. Furthermore, through Ruth and Boaz’s (kinsman redeemer’s) lines comes forth the Savior of the world, Jesus.

When Ruth comes home and tells Naomi about Boaz, Naomi recognizes that God has provided a kinsman-redeemer and walks Ruth through how to essentially propose to Boaz (Ruth 3).

Even though Naomi was embittered, she continues to look out for Ruth. She wants Ruth to be “well provided for” instead of poor and with her dejected mother-in-law (Ruth 3:1). This is a far cry from the depiction we often hear of Naomi in sermons.

Yes, she changed her name to reflect the fact she had been saddened by the life circumstances God had given her, but it doesn’t really stretch beyond how humans normally react while in grief.

In the end, Naomi gains a son, and this blessing sustains her through her old age.

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What Can Christians Learn from Naomi?

What Can Christians Learn from Naomi?

Although it appears that Naomi is sulking throughout the narrative, if we’re patient and pick through contextual clues, we can see that she actually has a sweet and caring spirit. Christians can learn a lot from Naomi about perseverance, especially while navigating difficult circumstances.

1. God Continues to Move During Hardships

We can often feel abandoned by God when tragedy strikes. Naomi by no means had an easy go of things. In a foreign land she loses her husband and her two sons, and returns back to her hometown with no prospects and with very little means to survive.

As she faithfully journeys forth, God still continues to work—and he does in our lives, too, when we face our most difficult seasons. By Naomi opening her heart and life to Ruth, welcoming her to come along to Bethlehem and work in the fields, Ruth met Boaz. And this blessing redeemed both her and her mother-in-law Naomi. In the end, Naomi gains a son, and through her line, the Savior of the world redeems mankind.

2. We Can Help Others in Our Difficult Moments

At first glance, we may think that Naomi does absolutely nothing in the story. She gets sad that her family passes away and then Ruth works in the fields to provide for both of them.

We have to keep in mind Naomi wasn’t young and probably couldn’t pull her weight in the field. Furthermore, grief had paralyzed her.

Nevertheless, as soon as she catches wind of Boaz, she praises the Lord and walks Ruth through the Israelite customs of proposals to kinsman redeemers. She explicitly says she wants Ruth to have a good home and husband. Even before the two of them come to Bethlehem, she tries to send her daughters-in-law away from her to find new husbands. After all, she doesn’t want them tied down to having to help an old woman.

Throughout the narrative, we actually see Naomi looking out for Ruth, even while in the midst of paralyzing grief.

3. God Redeems the Lost

Naomi thought her family line had ended, but God continues it through a kinsman-redeemer. She gains a son and so much more at the end of Ruth.

We see other examples throughout the Bible of people who think they will have no offspring. Abraham and Sarah didn’t have their first child until they were 100 and 90-something respectively (Genesis 21).

Even when we’ve reached a dead-end and can’t see how anything good can come out of our circumstances, Naomi’s story reminds us that God is working out redemption and restoration always.

Although Naomi wasn’t perfect, her character is very different than what we hear about in church. In the midst of her crippling grief, she continues to look out for her daughter-in-law, despite tensions Israel would have experienced with Moab at the time.

Once she senses God moving through Boaz, she rejoices. Naomi helps pave a way for Ruth to be redeemed, and in the process, allows God to redeem her family line.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Sam Edwards


Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 500 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) released in June, and they contracted the sequel Den for July 2020. Find out more about her here.





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