What does Ruth 1:21 mean?
ESV: I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?"
NIV: I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me."
NASB: I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?'
CSB: I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?"
NLT: I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?'
KJV: I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
NKJV: I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
Verse Commentary:
Naomi is explaining her situation to the women of Bethlehem. Ten years before, she, her husband, and their two sons fled the town because of a famine and settled in Moab. Now, the famine has ended and she returns, but without her husband and sons who died in a foreign land (Ruth 1:1–6).

Part of her resentful story is to point out the irony of her predicament. When she left Israel, Naomi's belly was empty because she had no food. Yet, poetically speaking, her hands were full because she had her family. Now, Bethlehem is filled with food—the barley is ready to harvest (Ruth 1:22), but the terrible loss has emptied her hands. She realizes that whatever the hardship of the famine would have brought them, it is nothing compared to this.

Because of this, she insists that her friends stop referring to her with the Hebrew word Nō'omi, meaning "pleasant and lovely." God has "dealt very bitterly" with her, and that sourness infiltrates every part of her heart, so she says they should call her Mārā (Ruth 1:20).

"Empty" means "with empty hands, i.e., without a gift." God tells the Israelites that certain events require a sacrifice, and they may not appear before Him empty-handed (Exodus 23:15; 34:20). At times, He also promised to fill their hands, such as when they left Egypt (Exodus 3:21). And when an Israelite releases an indentured servant, the master is to supply that servant with what he needs; he is not to leave "empty-handed" (Deuteronomy 15:12–13).

Naomi feels that by allowing her husband and sons to die, God has somehow suggested to others she is guilty and should be punished. But Naomi has done nothing wrong; she speaks as if God is not acting as He should. Like with Job, God's actions run counter to expectations; He is supposed to take care of widows (Exodus 22:22–24), not abandon them to poverty. Again, Naomi uses "the Almighty," referring to God as the sovereign ruler of the universe (Ruth 1:20). This choice, as opposed to something more personal, subtly implies He has abandoned His oath as Yahweh, the God who cares for His people.

What Naomi is too hurt to realize, for now, is that God's work in her story isn't finished. Her daughter-in-law's role in this saga has just begun. Within a year, Naomi will have a new son through Ruth—and the women who try to comfort her now will praise Ruth as more valuable than seven sons (Ruth 4:13–17).
Verse Context:
Ruth 1:19–22 describes Naomi's return to Bethlehem. Ten years prior, she fled with an empty stomach, but also with a husband and sons who filled her hands with blessings. Now, Bethlehem can again fill her stomach, but her family has died. In her bitterness, she seems to forget the faithful, loving Moabite daughter-in-law who has followed her and vows to stay at her side. She will learn soon enough how God will use Ruth to restore her hope and her future.
Chapter Summary:
Ruth 1 depicts how a person can feel "starved" for things other than food. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, flee a famine in Bethlehem and settle in Moab where there is plenty of food and their sons find devoted wives. Within ten years, however, Naomi's husband and sons are dead. When she hears Judah has food again, she prepares to return as an old, bitter widow. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, insists on accompanying her. On the surface, a young Moabite widow in Israel would be the last person who could help, but God honors Ruth's lovingkindness and eventually uses her to restore Naomi's hope and future.
Chapter Context:
Ruth chapter 1 introduces the tumultuous life of a Jewish woman in the era of the judges (Judges 2:16–19). The Israelites have entered the Promised Land but have only half-heartedly pursued God's command to drive out the depraved Canaanites. Too often, they rejected God for foreign idols. God responds with war and famine. In the face of one such famine in Judah, Elimelech and Naomi take their two sons and flee to Moab. After ten years, when the famine is lifted, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with all that is left of her family: one daughter-in-law. They encounter Boaz, whose character is explained more in chapter 2.
Book Summary:
Though set in a time of violence and tragedy, the book of Ruth tells one of Scripture’s most uplifting stories. Naomi, an Israelite, leaves her home during a famine. While away, in Moab, her husband and sons die. Naomi convinces one of her Moabite daughters-in-law to leave her and seek a new life. The other, Ruth, refuses, declaring her love and loyalty to Naomi. When the pair return to Israel, they encounter Boaz. This man is both kind and moral; his treatment of Ruth secures Naomi’s future and becomes part of king David’s ancestry.
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