The Curious Case of Naomi

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We were studying Ruth 1 in class on Sunday and someone asked if Naomi was the only person in the Bible who had a name change that no one took seriously. I hadn’t ever thought of that before so I did a little bit of digging. The question comes from Ruth 1:20 where it says,

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.

What is fascinating about it is from that point on, no one calls her Mara, ever. In fact, just two verses later the writer is still referring to her as Naomi as he does through the rest of the book of Ruth. What is also interesting is that she is the only person in the Bible to change her own name. Other people had their name changed but it was always by someone in authority over them (God, a parent, Moses, Jesus). In this instance Naomi tries to change her name but it doesn’t stick. Often in the Bible a name change comes with a change in circumstance or future outlook. In this instance her life had gone from pleasant (which is what Naomi means) to bitter (which is what Mara means) but it didn’t stay that way. I wonder if the name didn’t stick because her present characteristic of herself didn’t hold true through the rest of the narrative. As Ruth finds loving kindness and faithfulness (hesed) through both Boaz (2:20) and the Lord that had to have been a blessing to Naomi. In fact, here is what we find at the very end of the book of Ruth that causes me to believe this is why the “call me Bitter” thing didn’t pan out for Naomi,

“The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” – Ruth 4:14-17

All of this reminds us that our lives are not defined but what happens to us in a moment but by the faithfulness of God that stretches from here into eternity.

4 Responses

  1. Amen, Matt. She needed to vent her frustration and lament, but didn’t need to let it become her identity.

    The only other that comes to mind might be Daniel, who was given a new name by his Babylonian captors, but it gets only a mention. The references continue on as Daniel. I’ve found that interesting because the book does refer to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah by their Babylonian names once given (Shadrach, Meshach, and a Abednego). Not sure that there’s any significance to that, however.

  2. I also think of Daniel and Jacob. I understand Daniel… who wants to go by Belteshazzar? But I often wondered that perhaps Jacob, much like the inverse of what you pointed out with Naomi, did not live up to his new name. Jacob, even after the name change, looks more like the deceiver than the one who walks with God.

    Thanks for the object lesson.

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