Rth_1:19. It came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
TO seek the applause of man is wrong: but to merit it, is most desirable. A man of worthless character creates no respect in the minds of others; so that, if ill befall him, he finds but little sympathy in the bosoms of those around him: whereas a good man under misfortune, excites a general commiseration; and every one takes a lively interest in his affairs. This is beautifully exemplified in the history before us. Naomi was certainly a woman of piety, and much esteemed. In a season of dearth she had left her country with her husband and sons; and, after ten years’ absence, she returned in a bereaved and destitute condition, having lost her husband and her two sons, and having no attendant but a daughter-in-law, as poor and destitute as herself. Yet, behold, she no sooner reaches the place of her former abode, than the whole city is moved with her misfortunes, every one feeling for her as for a sister, and with tender concern exclaiming, “Is this Naomi?”
The circumstance here recorded will lead me to shew you,
What changes take place in life—
This is altogether a changing scene; every day bringing with it something new, to elevate or depress our minds. Some changes are of a favourable nature, such as the growth of our children in wisdom and stature; the advancement of our friends in wealth and honour; and, above all, the conversion of the gay and dissipated to the knowledge of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. These things sometimes occur so suddenly and beyond our expectation, that we scarcely know how to credit them; and we are ready to ask, with pleasing surprise, Is this Naomi, whom I remember not long since under such different circumstances?
But it is rather of afflictive changes that our text leads us to speak: and we shall notice them,
In relation to temporal matters—
[What effects are wrought by disease or accident in the space of only a few days, we all are well aware. The person who but as yesterday was flourishing in health, vigour, beauty, is become enfeebled, emaciated, yea, a mass of deformity, so that you exclaim, with almost incredulous surprise, Is this Naomi? Nor are changes less quickly made in the outward circumstances of men, one day living in affluence and all the splendour of wealth; the next, reduced to penury and shame. The age in which we live has been fruitful in such examples, princes and nobles having taken refuge, and found subsistence from the hands of charity, in our happy isle [Note: During the French Revolution.]; and, since that period, multitudes of our most opulent merchants having fallen from the highest pinnacle of grandeur to insignificance and want. Nor is it uncommon to behold a man, who by his talents has commanded universal admiration, brought, through disorder or through age, to a state of more than infantine fatuity; so that he can be no longer recognised but as a wreck and ruin of the former man.
The circumstances of Naomi lead me to mention yet another change, namely, that of family bereavements. We have seen persons in the full enjoyment of domestic happiness, with children, numerous, healthy, playful, the joy and delight of their parents, by successive strokes brought to a state of widowhood and desolation. Behold the disconsolate widow, “weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not;” and because the husband, who was her stay and her support, is either languishing on a bed of sickness, or wrested from her by resistless death! In a word, see Job encircled with his family, and in the fullest possession of all that the world could give him: Ah! how fallen! how destitute! What a complete picture of human misery, and of the vanity of all sublunary good!]
In relation to spiritual concerns—
[The most distressing sight is that of one who once was hopeful as to the concerns of his soul, but has “left off to behave himself wisely,” and launched forth into all manner of dissipation: or, if a more pitiable object can present itself to our view, it is that of one, who, after attaining an eminence in the Christian life, has fallen into a state of wilful and habitual sin, and brought public disgrace upon his holy profession. David will here naturally occur to our minds. Look at him: “Is this David?” the man so abhorrent of evil, that he would not suffer a person who should utter a falsehood to dwell in his sight? Ah! how fallen! how unlike this murderer is to “the sweet singer of Israel,” “the man after God’s own heart!” And Solomon, too; Is this Solomon? that perfection of wisdom, whom all proclaimed as the wisest of the human race, now so infatuated, as to seek his happiness in a number of wives and concubines; and so impious, as both to gratify them, and to unite with them, in the most abominable idolatries [Note: 1Ki_11:1-10]? Is this Solomon? I say: Who can believe it?
But must we go back to those distant ages for instances of human frailty and depravity? Would to God that they were of such rare occurrence, that none had ever arisen in our own remembrance. But wherever the Gospel is preached, instances will be found of persons who “ran well for a season only,” and who, though they “began in the Spirit, have ended in the flesh.” Look at any such persons now, and see how unlike they are to their former selves! “How is the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed!”]
But, that we may duly improve these occurrences, let us consider,
What feelings the contemplation of them should inspire—
We should not be uninterested spectators of such events: they should excite in us,
[In no case should we exult over fallen greatness. We read, indeed, of the triumphant utterance of joy at the fall of the Babylonish monarch, agreeably to the predictions respecting him [Note: Isa_14:4-11. Almost this whole passage should be cited.] — — — And similar exultation was felt at the destruction of Jerusalem; as it is said: “All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth [Note: Lam_2:15.]?” But though these gloryings were permitted by God for the punishment of his enemies, they are not recorded for our imitation. We, like our blessed Lord, should weep over the desolations even of our bitterest enemies [Note: Luk_19:41-42.]. We should “bear one another’s burthens, and so fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Gal_6:2.].” The sight of misery, wheresoever it is found, should call forth our tenderest sympathy, and cause us to “weep with them that weep [Note: Rom_12:15.].” This is particularly suggested by the conduct of the people at Bethlehem: “The whole city was moved” at the sight of this poor widow, whom they had not seen for the space of ten years; and one sentiment of compassion filled all ranks of people, saying, “Is this Naomi?” So let it be with us, whether we be able to relieve the sufferer, or not. The very feeling of compassion will be pleasing to our God; and will assimilate us to that blessed Saviour, who pitied us in our low estate, and “who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich [Note: 2Co_8:9.].”]
[In such a changeable world as this, what is there for us to covet? Shall we desire riches? How soon do “they make themselves wings, and fly away [Note: Pro_23:5.]!” Shall we affect honour? How soon may our Hosannahs be turned into, “Crucify him, crucify him!” As for pleasure, of whatever land, so vain is it all, that “even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness [Note: Pro_14:13.].” Indeed, the whole world, even if we could possess it all, is but “vanity and vexation of spirit.” If we “have wives, our true wisdom is to be as though we had none; if we weep, to be as though we wept not; or, if we rejoice, as though we rejoiced not: if we buy, to be as though we possessed not; and, if we use this world, as not abusing it: because the fashion of this world passeth away [Note: 1Co_7:29-31.].” If changes of the most calamitous nature occur, we should remember, that “nothing has happened to us but what is common to man,” and nothing but what may issue either in our temporal or eternal good. There are not wanting instances of the deepest reverses being themselves reversed: for Job’s prosperity, after his distresses, far exceeded any thing that he had enjoyed in his earlier life [Note: Job_42:10-16.]. Naomi, too, found, in the issue, that she had no reason to “adopt the name of Mara [Note: ver. 20.]:” for her subsequent connexion with Boaz soon dissipated all her sorrows, so that she could “put off her sackcloth and gird her with gladness.” But, if this should not be the case, we may well be satisfied that “tribulation worketh patience, and experience and hope,” and that our light and momentary afflictions work out “for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2Co_4:17-18.].” In the view, then, of all these things, we should “learn, in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content: we should be equally ready to be abased or to abound, and to be instructed everywhere, and in all things, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need [Note: Php_4:11-12.].”]
[This will never fail us. If we have much, it will sanctify our prosperity, and keep it from injuring our souls. If we have little, it will supply the lack of every thing. View the rich man in all his abundance, and Lazarus in all his destitution. The eye of sense will look with envy on the one that is revelling in plenty: the eye of faith will form a far different estimate, and congratulate the sufferer in the midst of all his distresses. The wealth of this world brings with it many cares and troubles: but “the blessing of God maketh rich, and addeth no sorrow with it [Note: Pro_10:22.].” Even whilst the two were here in this world, no doubt the poorer was the happier man. But at the moment of their departure hence, what different feelings would have been expressed, if they had still been subjected to the sight of man! Is this the rich man—now destitute of a drop of water to cool his tongue? Is this Lazarus—now in the bosom of Abraham, at the banquet of the Lord? So, then, shall it ere long be said of you, ye sons and daughters of affliction, if only ye improve your trials for the furtherance of your spiritual welfare. How soon shall all “your tears be wiped away from your eyes!” How soon shall “joy and gladness come forth to meet you; and sorrow and sighing flee away for ever!” “Be patient, then, unto the coming of your Lord:” and you shall soon find, that “the sufferings of this present life were not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us [Note: Rom_8:18.].”]