Bitter Mother-In-Law

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Sermon on Ruth 1

Title:  Bitter Mother-in-law

Theme:  God develops people of character as he shows his loving kindness.

Goal:  to encourage believers that God develops people of character as he shows his loving kindness.

Need:  In the midst of bitterness, people do not recognize the possibility of growth of character or God’s loving kindness.


Prescripture explanation of the laws of Israel concerning the responsibilities of a daughter in law.

Scripture reading:

Part 1:  Our bitterness and misunderstanding of circumstances and God

Part 2:  naomi’s bitterness

Part 3:  Loving Kindness shown to Naomi.

Part 4:  Loving Kindness show to us through Jesus Christ.


  This morning we are going to look at the first chapter of the book of Ruth.  But before we get into it, we have to talk about a big difference between the time of Ruth and what we have today. That big difference has to do with the purpose of family.  Today family is something we value and appreciate as a place where we can be ourselves. And at the heart of the family relationship is love.  That’s especially true for the relationship of husband and wife.  The relationship between a husband and a wife today is about love and fulfillment and family.  But it is less about carrying on the family line.

  In the days of Ruth, having a descendant was almost the most important part of the marriage relationship.  You have to have an heir to continue on the family line and it was the only way to care for the elderly in their day.  There were no pensions and no savings accounts.  You had children who provided for you.  It was of such importance to them that if a woman didn’t bear any children it was shameful.  And if a husband passed away without providing his wife any children to care for her and carry on his name, then it became the responsibility of the brother-in-law to get her pregnant.  This child would then carry on the dead brothers name and provide for the wife.

  To our ears it sounds weird.  But as we read the passage we need to try to step into that cultural mindset and listen to the message of a bitter mother-in-law and the loving kindness of God.

Let’s look at the passage together.  Ruth chapter 1.

Read the passage.

Part 1

  Life sure can have some amazing moments can’t it?  Wasn’t it absolutely amazing to see those miners brought out of the collapsed mine alive.  It was about time we had some good news, wasn’t it.  Way too often, the only thing that seems to be going on is the bad news. Hurricanes.  Earthquakes.  Floods.  Disease.  Isn’t it incredible that in the week we all were giving thanks for his blessings to us, we could see the way God was blessing those miners with safe passage to the surface.  Its good to hear good news every once in a while. 

  The bad things always seem to be right around the corner. And they always seem to come all at the same time.  Its not just that the car has broken down.  Its that the car is broken down and the kids need to be brought to the doctor and the folks at the job sight are breathing down your neck. 

  And it doesn’t have to be a lot of things to make a person feel like life has become bitter.  A spouse gets sick and passes away.  The world turns bitter. Your child comes down with a serious illness, the whole world can lose the sweetness that it once had when things were going well.  It can leave you looking to God wondering where exactly the sweetness of his promises to love us has gone.


The book of Ruth helps to show us that God allows our lives to taste bitter.  But he doesn’t do that to tear us down, but to build people of character. And to show allow us to experience the depth of his love in a more fantastic way.

In the book of Ruth, who would you figure would be the main character?  Hmmmm.  Let’s see.  Just a stab in the dark here, but we would probably think Ruth would be the main character in the book.  But she isn’t.  She’s a major player in the story.  But the main character in the story is actually Ruth’s mother-in-law.  Naomi.  She is the main character.  The events that unfold are all told about what happens in the family of Naomi.  In fact, the story is all about the bitterness of this mother-in-law.  Does anyone here, have a bitter mother-in-law.  Don’t you dare raise your hands.  J

Naomi even confesses it herself in verse 20 “Don’t call me Naomi,b” she told them. “Call me Mara,c because the Almightyd has made my life very bitter. [1]

The meaning of the name Naomi is Pleasant.  But she does not want to be called “pleasant” any more.  Her own name makes her gag.  Pleasant.  Hardly. The Lord has caused bitterness.  Life is just plain bitter for her.

This bitterness comes from the complete loss of everything that meant anything to her.  The book of Ruth starts off setting the scene saying there is a famine in the land of Israel during the time of the Judges.  The days when Israel is going from ruin due to godlessness to salvation through judges like Samson, Gideon and Deborah, there is a famine in Israel.  People are going hungry.  The economy of Israel is in the tank because of this famine.  To survive families have to make drastic changes. 

Naomi’s husband decides that there is more chance of economic prosperity if they move away from Israel and head to the nation of Moab.  That already is the beginning of the bitterness for Naomi.  Away from her homeland.  Away from the promised land of Israel.  And it gets worse.  Her husband dies in Moab.  Elimelech leaves her with two sons to raise.  And as they grow up in Moab, they get to know the Moabite girls and each one marries a foreigner. 

Lose your homeland.

Lose your husband

And then lose your children.  We find out that the bitterness reaches its peak when even the boys who would carry on the family name both die without having any children.  The line of Elimelech is going to die out.  Naomi will have no one to support her as she ages.  Her line is going to be completely cut off.

Naomi has every reason to be bitter.  The chapter ends with Naomi sharing her bitterness.  She is the bitter mother-in-law.

But Naomi is human just like the rest of us.  And just like the rest of us who sometimes get caught up in life’s bitterness, she isn’t able to see what is starting to happen all around her.  Even when her daughters-in-law show their devotion to her, she says what for.  Are you going to wait until I get married and have more sons.  Are you going to wait until they grow up so you can have children of your own.  Seriously.  Go back to you hometown. 

She doesn’t see what is happening right in front of her.  She says, in verse 13 in the depth of her bitterness. “13would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!”

But everything begins to change when God inspires this foreigner named Ruth to stick with her mother-in-law.  Its in Ruth that we see what Naomi couldn’t see. God develops people of character so that he can showcase his love. 

God uses the times of disaster and pain and bitterness to develop people of character.  And he does that so he can show us his heart.  God will show us his loving kindness.

Naomi is not left alone. She is shown love and grace through the character of this foreign woman who has just recently lost her husband as well. 

One of the most powerful passages in Scripture is in this chapter as ruth shows the strength of her character in refusing to leave Naomi in her bitterness.  Verses 16-17 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”[2]

Now that is character.  Now that is love and devotion.  It is love like that that this world could use so desparately.  Its love like that that should bind Christians to one another.  Its love like that that shows the way that God binds himself to his people.  Ruth shows her love for Naomi and it is the small little beginning of life turning sweet again for Naomi. 

And what does the first chapter of the book of Ruth do for us today.  Well for one it reminds us that often times when bitterness is up close in our lives, we are going to have trouble seeing clearly the ways that God is showing his covenant love for us.  Sometimes the garbage of life is just right in our face and we miss out on seeing the good work of God through it all.

Another challenge it gives to us is to look in the places that we might not expect to find the work of Jesus Christ.  After all, in Jesus Christ we know there is no greek or jew, male or female, slave or free.  For Naomi it didn’t matter that Ruth was a lady from Moab.  God was going to show his goodness through her.  Perhaps today we need to look at the person that we would often overlook as a person God would use to show his love to us.

And finally, through the commitment of Ruth we ought to be challenged.  When life just absolutely became terrible, Ruth could have just gone with her sister-in-law Orpah, found a husband from her land.  She could have lived the safe and comfortable life.  But she stepped out as a person of strong character.  She allowed God to use her to make a difference in the life of Naomi.

Jesus Christ has given us his Holy Spirit.  He has given us all the daring we could possibly need.  All we have to do is to step out and be the people of Christ like character.  And you know what.  When someone else is experiencing the depth of bitterness that Naomi was, we can be used as a reminder that God loves.  That God shows his love through Christ and through those who follow Christ.  In the tough times, we can be the inspiration to reveal to someone else the supreme and unfathomable love of God. 

Is the garbage close in your life.  Look and see Jesus Christ. 

Are you the person of character that God is going to use to share the sweetness of life with Christ?



b Naomi means pleasant; also in verse 21.

c Mara means bitter.

d Hebrew Shaddai; also in verse 21

[1]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ru 1:20). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (Ru 1:16-17). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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