A jar half empty . . . ?

Ruth 1:19-22 “So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ She said to them, ‘Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?’ So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.”

Our attitude can affect us very deeply as it greatly influences our outlook on life.  You’ve heard the expression “the jar is half empty” versus “the jar is half full.”  It’s a way of seeing the exact same thing in two entirely different ways.  Underlying all of this is our view of “the why” behind the circumstances we find ourselves in. 

In the account above, we see the women Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth returning to Israel from the land of Moab.  They had both fallen on very hard times, for in Moab, Naomi’s husband and both of her sons (one of which was Ruth’s husband) had died.  Her life had been going pretty well before this happened.  She refers to this by reference to her name, Naomi, which means “pleasant.”  Life had been pleasant for her. She says she had been “full,” i.e., she at one time had had a “full life.”  As a result, her disposition at that time had matched her name.  However, the tragic events that had happened in Moab had now left her “empty,” or at least that’s the way it seemed to her. As a result, she asks those of her hometown to no longer call her “Naomi,” but to now call her “Mara” which means “bitter.”  And who’d she blame for her change in attitude? She blamed God.  It was He that had brought her back empty, testified against her, and brought calamity upon her. 

Naomi had a proper view of the sovereignty of God, for He is indeed in control of all things, but she had an improper view of His attributes.  Although she followed God and saw His hand in every part of her life, she viewed this as a bitter thing, rather than as a pleasant condition as she had once thought.  Her focus was on the recent past and she allowed those difficulties to define both her and her view of God. Apparently, she assumed that nothing would ever change.  Interestingly, this section of scripture ends with these words: “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.”  In other words, this just “happened” to be the time when they arrived. 

What Naomi failed to see is that this simple “happenstance” would lead to incredible blessings of which she could have never conceived.  Long story short, this event would lead to Ruth meeting and marrying Boaz, having a son named Obed, who would have a son named Jesse, who had a son named King David, whose line would lead to the Christ.  God was sovereignly at work in Naomi’s and Ruth’s lives to bless them in the near future as well as in the eternity to come.  While Naomi should and could have had the attitude of Job, who in his calamity would say “Though He (i.e., God) slay me, yet will I trust in Him,” she had the attitude of Job’s wife, who had encouraged her husband to “curse God and die” because of the bitter circumstances of their lives.

You see, our attitude will be shaped by our views on who or what is in control of our lives.  If we view what happens to us as “chance” or “fate,” who knows what our attitude will be?  If we are naturally optimistic people, perhaps we will usually be optimistic, no matter what happens, although the truth be told, our reason for that optimism may be suspect.  Same for those with a natural tendency toward pessimism.  On the other hand, if we are those who believe God is in sovereign control of all things, our attitude will likely be shaped by how we view Him.  If we think that “bad things” happen to us because God is harsh and out to get us, our underlying attitude may be bitter, anxious, angry or some other negative state of mind. But if our life is “good,” we may think it is because God is good. 

Well, the truth is that God is good, and He is also loving and kind no matter what our circumstances may be.  He has promised us that “for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). But His purposes and ways are higher than ours, as the heavens are above the earth (Isaiah 55:8-9).  This was something that Naomi lost sight of or perhaps didn’t believe, and her attitude became bitter as a result. 

May God help us to trust His character and His Word as we face the circumstances of life, for in all of it, although we may not understand it at the moment, we can be sure that “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made” (Psalm 145:8-9).

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