Sermon: The Burden and Bitterness of a Barren Life - Ruth 1

A model sermon by Jerry Gifford. Naomi's decision to return to her family had nothing to do with love, commitment, or faith. She saw it as the practical, not proper, thing to do.

Sermon series: Building Lasting Relationships - Ruth

  1. Facing the Hidden Dangers that Threaten the Home
  2. Why Do Some Walk Away?
  3. The Burden and Bitterness of a Barren Life
  4. Holding the Family Together When Your World Is Falling Apart
  5. Virtuous Realities, Part 1
  6. Virtuous Realities, Part 2
  7. Love is in the Air
  8. A Heritage Builder

Scriptures: Ruth 1:6-22

Introduction

Last time, we studied the life of Orpah, a woman who walked away from established relationships. Today we look at Naomi, a woman whose life was full of bitterness. She is like the monk described by Dr. Tony Evans in his book "Guiding Your Family in a Misguided World" [35-36].

"As two monks walked along a river's edge, they saw an old woman sitting by the bank, upset because there was no bridge. One of the monks offered to carry her across, to which she agreed. So the two monks joined hands and carried her to the other side. She thanked them and went on her way.

"After the monks had walked a mile or two the second monk began to complain about the pain in his back and the dirt on his clothes. A few minutes later, the second monk griped again, 'My back is hurting badly, I cannot go on.' And he asked his fellow traveler, 'Isn't your back hurting?' 'Of course not,' replied the first monk. 'You're still carrying the woman, but I set her down several miles ago.'"

This is where we find Naomi. As with Orpah, we are more concerned about Naomi's spirit than her circumstances. While Orpah did the wrong thing for all the wrong reasons, Naomi does the right thing, but in the wrong spirit. Naomi's decision to return to her family had nothing to do with love, commitment, or faith. She saw it as the practical, not proper, thing to do. That is, she returned out of sheer necessity and duty. While this is certainly better than just walking away from one's responsibilities, necessity is an inferior motive that robs an individual of joy in his/her relationships. Further, this discontentment only magnifies the problems and pain that one is experiencing.

To learn from her mistakes and understand her better, let's take a closer look at her story.

I. Notice the burden she carried - 1:5-7

No one would suggest that the pain, heartache, and disappointment that Naomi felt were illegitimate. Nor would we minimize the burden she carried. She certainly felt overwhelmed when her life in a distant land began to completely unravel. Consider what she lost in ten years time: [1] her husband – 1:5, [2] her children- 1:5, [3] her security, [4] her possessions – 1:21, [5] her status – 1:19, [6] her reputation – 1:19, and [7] her closeness to God - 1:13.

Before we judge Naomi too quickly we should try to imagine how we would respond in her circumstances. By verse 6, she bears a heavy burden. When she heard that things were better in Bethlehem, she returned because she had nowhere else to turn. But that is not bad in itself. When we do what is right, even when our motive is not the best, it positions us for restoration both with God and others. To say it another way, her burden drove her back to where she belonged. Once she returned home, she could begin rebuilding her life.

II. Notice the bitterness she harbored - 1:13, 20, 21

Emotional pain that goes untreated can poison even the strongest Christian. They may wear a smile at church or put up a façade of happiness, but deep down they harbor bitterness. And eventually, bitterness infects every relationship.

Naomi freely admits that she had grown bitter over time [1:20a]. Do you remember the meaning of her name? Naomi means "pleasant one." But now she desires to be known as "Mara", which means "bitter one." Let me make two observations about bitterness from Naomi's experience (these are typical).

A. Bitter people tend to blame others for their trouble

At the risk of sounding insensitive to her trials, we must ask, "Who created her problems?" The answer: She and her husband. When Elimelech moved to Moab they moved outside of God's will for their lives. Surely, she shared some of the blame for that act of disobedience.

Like many, she primarily blames God. Notice three phrases:

  1. 1:13 "the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!"
  2. 1:20 "the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me."
  3. 1:21 "the Almighty has afflicted me?"

The name "Almighty" (El Shaddai) has great significance here. Adam Clark writes that she was suggesting that "He who is self sufficient has taken away the props and supports of my life."

People typically blame God for one or more of several misplaced reasons. [1] We don't know whom to blame. [2] We expect God to override the consequences of our personal failures. [3] We expect God to fix immediately what we have taken years to progressively damage. This could be true of both our health and our children.

B. Bitter people tend to vent hostility on others

Bitter people are easy to spot. They are critical, insensitive, and negative. They seldom care for those whom they hurt. Sometimes they intend to hurt others and sometimes they don't. But the result is still the same. Notice the subtle ways Naomi's bitterness manifested itself.

1. She offered poor advice – 1:8

Her advice was based on her experience. She was so distant from God that she suggested that they "return" to their false gods.

2. She was insensitive to Ruth and Orpah's grief - 1:12-15

She thought her situation was more desperate than theirs. Maybe it was, but that did not free her to diminish their loss or pain.

3. She considered Ruth and Orpah as carnal as she was - 1:15

Here Ruth is about to place her faith in Jehovah [1:16], but Naomi thinks that Ruth is only concerned with worldly matters.

4. She depreciated the value of her relationship with Ruth – 1:21

When Naomi said she was "empty" she must have forgotten about Ruth. Anyone can see the great danger that a bitter spirit poses to relationships. But God can heal your pain and renew your heart if you will allow Him.

5. Notice the barrenness she experienced – 1:21

Despite the source of her misery, she really felt empty. While she lost most of her material possessions, her emptiness stemmed from the loss of relationships.

Amazingly, the God that she blamed for her trouble had already taken a major step to filling the void in her life. The Lord, who "works all things together for good to those that love Him" (Romans 8:28), intended to use Ruth to transform Mara back into Naomi. Healing would take some time, but it would come.

After all her pain, what was her greatest need? It was an intimate relationship with God. As a child of God she needed only to "return." It would take some time for her to completely experience the joy of former days, but it would change dramatically if she would just make the decision to include God in her life.

"Return" is a key word in the first chapter of Ruth [1:1, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15, and 22]. It illustrates repentance. And it reminds us that one can build or recover his or her relationships if he is willing to respond properly to the problems that strain them. In order to do so, one must make a firm decision to stay and salvage the relationship.

Conclusion

Charlotte Elliot of Brighton, England, was an embittered woman. Her health was broken, and her disability had hardened her. "If God loved me," she muttered, "He would not have treated me this way."

Hoping to help her, a Swiss minister named Dr. Cesar Malan visited the Elliotts in May of 1822. During dinner, Charlotte lost her temper and railed against God and family in a violent outburst. Her embarrassed family left the room, and Dr. Malan, left alone with her, stared at her across the table.

"Your are tired of yourself, aren't you?" he said. "You are holding to your hate and anger because you have nothing else in the world to cling to. Consequently, you have become sour, bitter, and resentful."

"What is your cure?" asked Charlotte.

"The faith you are trying to despise."

As they talked, Charlotte softened. She said, "If I wanted to become a Christian and to share the peace and joy you possess, what would I do?"

"You would give yourself to God just as you are now, with your fightings and fears, hates and loves, pride and shame," he answered.

"I would come to God just as I am? Is that right?" Charlotte did come just as she was. Her heart was changed that very day. And as time passed she found and claimed John 6:37 as a special verse for her . . . "he who comes to Me I will by no means cast out."

Several years later, her brother, Rev. Henry Elliott, was raising funds for a school for the children of poor clergymen. Charlotte wrote a poem and it was printed and sold across England. That poem has since become the most famous invitational hymn in history.

Jerry Gifford is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Franklin, Kentucky. Jerry holds degrees from Western Kentucky University and Liberty Baptist Seminary. He and his wife, Tammie, have two sons, Daniel and David. He is passionate about his family, spiritual renewal, discipleship, preaching, basketball, and water sports.