“My lot is far more bitter than yours, for the hand of the LORD has struck out against me.” Ruth 1:13 JPS
Than yours – The Hebrew phrase mar li me-od me-kem (“more bitter than yours”) can be read another way. It can also mean “more bitter because of you.” You can see a hint of this alternative translation in the KJV. Which is correct – “than yours” or “because of you”? Ah, the point is that both are equally possible. Perhaps the author intended us to struggle with this double meaning because we also struggle with who we can blame.
Think about Naomi’s speech. Isn’t it possible that she views her daughters-in-law as at least partially responsible for her dilemma and tragedy? After all, if she weren’t saddled with obligations toward these Moabite women, she wouldn’t have to try to engineer a way around returning to Bethlehem with them. She wouldn’t face possible ridicule and certain gossip. And she wouldn’t have to care for anyone but herself. Maybe that’s one of the reasons she leaves out certain critical pieces of information. Maybe she would just as soon cut the ties and move on.
How much is Naomi like us? Just ask someone divorced with children. Aren’t there plenty of days when you would just as soon leave all the attachments to your “ex” behind? And what about those past people and places that remind you of tragedies or worse? Wouldn’t we rather see them fade into the distance? I suspect that Naomi’s reaction is very typical. It also seems quite typical, when we are in this state of mind, to draw the next conclusion – God is punishing me.
Naomi doesn’t just imply that Ruth and Orpah are a burden too heavy to carry. Naomi also implies that the weight of the burden is God’s fault! Obligations that I have toward others that prove inconvenient, constraining or arduous often tempt us to think of God as the real agent behind the scenes. The future looks bleak. The weight feels oppressive. Escape seems elusive. That’s when we say, “God must be against me. Why should I be the one to bear all this?” Naomi has forgotten, just like we forget, that we can’t see the forest for the trees. We don’t know how it will all work out. We are called to trust in His faithfulness, not in His present actions. Frankly, His present actions are usually undecipherable. Ask Moses if he had any idea what God was going to do at the Sea of Reeds. Ask Hosea if he understood why Gomer was in the picture. Or ask the disciples if they were clear about the pathway of the Messiah.
The blame game is the easiest of human sports. It requires almost no training to become quiet proficient at proper placement. To be an expert at blaming, all you need is a good sense of injustice (from your perspective) and outrage. A large dose of “life isn’t fair” will serve to ensure a big score. It seems to be that Naomi subtly qualifies. She is so good at this game that her words only imply judgment. Perhaps she has been your life coach.
Topical Index: blame, than yours, me-kem, Ruth 1:13