“So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?  And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? Ruth 1:19-21

Years ago, when I was a Youth Leader, we used to organize walks to raise money for Sheaves For Christ. We would start early in the morning feeling great, but it did not take long until we began to feel tired. Along the way, someone would be waiting with cool drinks or a small snack, so we could rest before we continued. By the end of the day, we were exhausted and glad it was over.

I can picture Naomi and Ruth as they turned their backs on Moab and began the long, difficult journey. No doubt they were carrying everything they owned, and enough food to last them for several days. A fifty-mile journey lay ahead of them. There were probably dangerous areas they had to pass through.

Desolate and discouraged, Naomi, was probably wondering how she would be received in Bethlehem. Ruth, no doubt, suffered from homesickness, and fear of the reception she would receive in a strange land. She probably had many questions for Naomi about God and what living for Him would entail. So, as they journeyed, they both found solace first in God and then in ministering to each other.

I love the way the people of Bethlehem received these two weary travelers. Verse 19 says, “all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?” They welcomed her and Ruth with open arms.

Naomi asked them to change her name to Mara, which meant “bitter” because she felt God had punished her. Her words, “I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty” express such deep sorrow for what had happened in her life. She did not blame her husband or anyone else, she acknowledged that she had made a wrong decision and had to face the consequences.

Naomi was returning home, Ruth was entering a new stage in her life, both needed grace and friendship, which the women of Bethlehem extended freely.

Three truths stand out to me in this passage:

  1. There are a lot of people who have walked away from the Lord, left the “house of bread” and gone their own way. God still loves them and sometimes He will allow them to face difficulties to get their attention. The first step for them is to realize their need, repent, and return to the Lord.
  2. We who know the Lord have a responsibility to pray for these folk, asking the Lord to draw them by His Spirit. When a prodigal returns to church, we need to receive them with grace and mercy. We need to rejoice that they are returning to the Lord, forgive and encourage them.
  3. The people of Bethlehem accepted Ruth, even though she was a stranger. When people visit our church, we should welcome them and make them feel like one of us.

Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for your mercy and grace to each one of us. Help us to always extend grace and mercy to others.

Devotion by Anne Johnston


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