Bible Study

Why did Naomi change her name to Mara?

Naomi is one of the main characters in the book of Ruth. Her story starts with a famine in her hometown of Bethlehem, which results in her family making the decision to move and settle in the neighbouring country of Moab. But while they were there, her husband, Elimelek dies.

Naomi, in English, means pleasant

Naomi was now a widow, but she was not alone in her grief she still had the comfort of her two sons. Both her sons were now adults and married Moabite women. Naomi must have felt as if she was moving into a time of hope, seeing her family extending. But all too soon, disaster strikes, her two sons also die. In the brevity and matter of fact tone of the story it is sometimes easy to overlook the immense sense of loss and grief that Naomi must have experienced.

She had lost her husband and her sons, but also her security – she was now very vulnerable, and her future was fragile. What prospects were there for her and her two childless daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth….

A bitter time, and the decision to move

Word filters over to Moab, that things have improved in Bethlehem, “that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them.” Naomi makes the decision to pack up and move back home. At the start of her journey she realises that there might be better prospects for her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and return to their families.

There is a very touching scene, were it is apparent that they all care deeply for each other. And although the thought of parting from her daughters-in-law is very distressing to Naomi, she is willing to put their best interests first. She spells out her desolate position, that she has nothing to offer them, and reveals the extent of her grief.

“It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”

Ruth 1:13

The outcome is that Orpah says goodbye and decides to stay in Moab, but Ruth will not leave Naomi and commits to stay with her. Their arrival in the small town of Bethlehem, a journey which would take about a week, is the news of the day. People recognise and remember Naomi, but when they greet her, she declares, “Don’t call me Naomi.”

Mara, in English, means bitter!

In many cultures, names have great significance, and we can see that in scripture. Names were a declaration, full of hope and promise. Often in a Bible story the name of a person is a mini story in itself. Will they fulfil the promise of their name? Does their name summarise their story and experience? Do they rebel and turn away and be the antithesis of their name?

Naomi wants everyone to know her grief and heartache. And so she suggests, that from now on, she should be called Mara, because her life has become very bitter! The name Marah in the Bible, means bitter, it refers to the first place that the Israelites came to in their travels through the wilderness. There was a well of water there, and they needed water to drink – but it was bitter and undrinkable. A place of failed expectations.

A hint that God is at work

At the end of the first chapter of Ruth, there is a glimmer of hope for the future. Naomi has arrived back in Bethlehem at the beginning of harvest time – the season of blessing.  Naomi has returned empty and desolate, in her grief she is bitter and angry with God. Her story, however, is not over, there is a possibility of being renewed and filled once again.

God redeems!

The heart of the gospel message is that God redeems, no matter how awful or dreadful the circumstance, ultimately there is redemption. This life is not all that there is – we have an eternal hope in Jesus! We can hold on to that hope, even in a time of grief. Jesus declared that He came to bring beauty instead of ashes, and the oil of joy in place of mourning. He promises to give us a garment of praise, instead of a spirit of despair. Jesus changes everything. He is our hope for the immediate future and our eternal future!

Naomi’s story moves forward, her daughter-law Ruth re-marries to Boaz, a kinsman redeemer, and they have a son. Naomi is pictured caring for her grandson, surrounded with the love of friends and family – once more in a pleasant place! The book of Ruth ends with a genealogy, the evidence of God weaving a bigger picture. Boaz was the father of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of David. This became the promised line of the Messiah, our Lord Jesus. Far more than Naomi could ever have envisaged possible!

Devotional – When the end brings a new beginning!

An elderly gentleman once told me the story of how he survived childhood TB. He fully believed, that God had answered his mother’s prayers and healed him from that terrible disease. Then at the age of eighteen he joined the Territorial Army. The attraction, for someone who had never been very far from home, was to go for a week to a training camp. He was looking forward to going somewhere different, a trip of about sixty miles and a little adventure! But he had no idea what was to come and potentially what he was signing up for. He survived the Second World War, and while on an army posting in Belfast, he met and married an Irish girl. Surely a story that should have a happy ending….

But by the time he was thirty-eight, his wife had died of cancer leaving him with a young daughter to bring up on his own. The overwhelming sense of grief and loss left him on his knees in prayer, crying out to God in despair. He felt that his life was over, but in that moment God met him where he was. He felt an inner voice telling him to get up, that this was not the end. In fact his life was far from over, and that God had a future for him. There was still so much more ahead.

Why did Naomi change her name to Mara? Picture of the back of a woman's head.
Why did Naomi change her name to Mara?

Moving on from grief

Within a couple of years he remarried and had two more children, my brother and myself. He lived to the age of ninety-two and saw ten grandchildren and the first of many great-grandchildren! Through the years he was able to serve the Lord faithfully in his local church, in many different ways. But most of all, he loved to sing of God’s love and faithfulness. He would grasp any opportunity to share a song, right up to the end of his life. God is faithful! He can redeem, our hard and difficult experiences, when we place our trust and hope in Him.

Three Scriptures of Hope and Encouragement:

God’s promise to us:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”  Isaiah 41:10

Our response:

“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you, your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:6-8

Pass on what we receive:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Reach out to God today if you need renewal and restoration, He is there by your side. Ask Him for that revelation of hope for the future, and place your trust in God who is able to redeem your time…..

Free printable Bible Study Notes to download!

Why did Naomi change her name to Mara?

Additional material included, exploring the historical biblical meaning of the name ‘Marah’. And reflecting on what a Marah experience might mean to us, with hope and encouragement that God redeems our hard stories!

Three A4 sheets.

19 thoughts on “Why did Naomi change her name to Mara?”

  1. Wow. This is such a powerful post – thank you for sharing your story and using it to point us towards hope. “Jesus changes everything. He is our hope for the immediate future and our eternal future!” – I loved this part. It’s very comforting.

  2. I had never heard the story of Naomi changing her name. Enjoyed reading it and how you compared it to your family. Thanks so much for linking up with me at my party #FaithAndWorshipChristianWeekend 11, open until November 30 at 12:05 am. Shared on social media.

  3. CONGRATS! Your post is FEATURED at the #FaithAndWorshipChristianWeekend 12, open until December 7 at 12:05 am.

  4. I believe in being honest. There are times when I’ve felt like Naomi did initially but she wasn’t condemned and God was still working. With him we can go from bitterness to joy, just like Naomi.

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