Empty Handed

Ruth 1:6-22


Have you ever been at the end of your rope hanging on for dear life? Life is difficult. Days are hard and you are weary and worn-out. The story of Ruth portrays Naomi clutching tightly to the end of her frayed rope. She was husbandless, childless and helpless in a foreign land. Naomi was utterly barren and unable to provide for herself. There were no close family members except for her widowed daughters-in-law. At last, Naomi was empty handed and had only one place to turn and that was back toward Bethlehem to the land of God’s promised blessing. The good news that she heard– ‘the Lord had visited his people, giving them food’ (1:6).

Ultimately, this is the purpose of God’s bitter judgment and discipline. Barrenness is meant to drive you toward God. Don’t be surprised when the Lord’s hand of discipline finds you in the greener grass and leaves you empty handed. Although Mrs. Pleasant (Naomi) was on her way back to the land of Judah, the story indicates that her heart was still estranged from the Lord God. Mrs. Pleasant had no regard for her daughters-in-law.

Essentially, Naomi had nothing to offer them. She was empty handed and bitter. She had little affection for God.  Her powerful indictment toward God, whose ‘own hand attacked’ her, betrayed her bitter heart. Naomi insisted that compared to the Lord’s cruel treatment, her daughters-in-law would be better off staying in Moab away from the presence of the Lord.  Orpah made the smart choice. Like Elimelech, she weighed her options, chose the greener grass of Moab, and returned to the house and idols of her father.

Ironically, Ruth would have none of it. She was committed to Naomi. Ruth was committed to God and his people. She swore an oath before God to her mother-in-law. The irony is that a ‘nobody’ from Moab would be so committed to God and His people. Ruth ‘clung’ to her mother-in-law which implies a firm loyalty and deep affection for her. Ruth, the Moabite, showed more merciful kindness than Naomi, the Ephrathite. In the end, Ruth’s adventurous faith led her to lay down her own life, leave her own land and demonstrate a reckless abandon of all that was dear to her. Moreover, Ruth was committed to an embittered, aged and hopeless mother-in-law.

However, do not give up too soon on Naomi. Even though she held the Lord responsible for her misery, at least she acknowledged His presence. Naomi’s bitter complaint, at least, covered a firm faith. Yet, she was betrayed again by the silence of her bitterness. When Naomi ‘realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, ‘she said no more.’ The long and silent journey back to Bethlehem draws a surprising contrast. Ruth-the-Moabite’s dedication and powerful monologue (Ruth 1:16-17) strongly contrasts the cold shoulder of unbelief by Naomi-the-Bethlehemite. You can almost feel the silence. Ruth’s faithful discourse echoes through the ages. The lesson is clear.  Don’t allow your concept of God blind you to His good and purposeful ways. Don’t be preoccupied with the pain of your present predicament. Rather, entrust yourself with committed affection to the Lord God, His Word and His people. Furthermore, admit to yourself that bitterness may blind you to God’s purposes. See, Naomi-the-Bethlehemite was blinded by bitterness. However, she was moving back toward God even though she was empty handed.  Her bitter silence was interrupted by shouts of joy echoing through the streets of Bethlehem.  ‘The whole town was stirred because of them.’

Two things stand out in the story

First, Naomi’s own testimony of bitterness. ‘Don’t call me Mrs. Pleasant (Naomi) but call me Mrs. Bitter (Mara). I am bitter and the Lord has made me bitter.’  “I went away full but empty handed the Lord has brought me back” (Ruth 1:21). You see, whether Naomi realized it or not, she uttered words of truth. All along the Lord was bringing her back to Himself.

Second, is that Ruth was marginalized in Bethlehem. Not a single woman in the town acknowledged her – the foreigner. The silence continued toward Ruth. She was as welcomed in the streets of Bethlehem as a pork chop at a Bar-mitzvah. Ruth was a Moabite woman who was marginalized and ignored. She fared no better in God’s city than with Naomi. Yet, Ruth models committed devotion while Naomi models utter honesty. She laments the bitterness of her heart in the gates of Bethlehem. But, she references God seven times in two bitter discourses. Was she bitter? Yes! But there was hope in the presence of the Lord God of Israel. There was no better place for her to be than Bethlehem of Judah.

You see, even through bitterness and empty-handedness, the Lord God brought Naomi back to His promised presence, back to His people, back to His blessings. God was bringing Mrs. Bitter back to Himself. Likewise, He may be drawing you back into his fold.

Although bitterness and resentment may have you at the end of your rope, at the bottom of the barrel or even empty-handed, you are in a good place to cling to the Lord Jesus Christ.  So, in faith, turn from bitterness and turn toward Jesus in confident trust that He will provide all that you need for this life and the life to come. Whether you are an embittered believer in Jesus, a marginalized outcast or an outright unbeliever, pursue Jesus and perhaps you will come to enjoy the fullness that only Jesus can provide.


Canton, GA