“I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” Ruth 1:21 (NIV)
In the past when I read this verse in the story of Ruth, I viewed it as a quick way to summarize the past and present of Naomi’s story in order to set up the heart message of the book of Ruth.
Remember, Naomi had a husband and two great sons when she left Judah for Moab in search of relief from a famine. Naomi also appeared to be prospering in Moab as she gained two daughters-in- law.
However, it is revealed rather early in the story that all the men in Naomi’s life died and her only choice for survival was to return back to her original land of Judah.
Ruth 1:21 speaks to us in Naomi’s own words which reflect her very heart.
In her mind, filled meant her family and bright future she had when she set out for Moab.
Empty reflected her state when she sulked back into Judah with all of her dreams and hope gone.
Perhaps a foundational truth of the story of Ruth is found right here, at the very beginning of the story.
I (Naomi) “went away full”.
The Lord “has brought me back empty.”
Naomi includes only herself in the first half of her declaration to her friends as the term “I” clearly can only mean her.
Her use of the term leaves no room for God.
How often are we also guilty of being very fond of the word “I”?
It seems “I” tends to come into play when life is flowing in a way that pleases us. The more good that comes into our lives somehow convinces us that we are at the center of it all.
“I” am making good decisions.
“I” am working hard and deserve to reap the benefits.
“I” am religious, so God must bless me.
It is interesting that when Naomi believes her life has taken a turn for the worse, she reveals God’s role in it.
“God has brought me back empty.”
In the course of a single sentence, Naomi reveals the type of relationship she has with the living God.
Good circumstances in life (full) = Me.
Bad circumstances in life (empty) = God.
Naomi’s view might have been different if she could have embraced the concepts of “filled” and “empty” from God’s perspective.
Starting very early in His plan of redemption, God gives us a glimpse of what He means by filled.
Exodus 31:3 describes how God “filled” men “with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills” to build the wilderness tabernacle so He could dwell with His people.
After the death of Moses, Deuteronomy 34:9 tells us how “Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom” in preparation for his role as the new leader of the Israelite nation.
1 Kings speaks to the impartation (filling) of wisdom and understanding God gave men in order to build Solomon’s temple.
Through these examples, we can see that God does intend for us to make good decisions, to work hard and to follow His precepts, but it is in the filling of His Spirit that lays the foundation for all of this to take place.
It is this filling of His Spirit that our decisions, actions and prayers lead us to follow His will in our life so our efforts have eternal value.
Psalm 16:11 sums this up quite well, “You make known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasure at your right hand.”
Naomi did leave Judah “filled” with her family and the dreams of her future intact, but what she did not recognize is that God had “filled” her future in a way she never could have imagined.
In her mind, she returned to Judah after the brutal turn of events in Moab believing God had made her life bitter and empty.
1 Peter 1:18 reminds us of “the empty way of life handed down to [us] from [our] ancestors” was redeemed by the precious blood of Christ.
The story of Ruth and Naomi shows us God’s desire to fill our empty circumstances with new life and hope.
Through the redeeming work Jesus did on the cross, we are free to invite the fullness of God into any area of our life.
Jesus’ sacrifice fills our empty with the hope of eternal life.
I have experienced times when I can now see that God’s “empty” was best for me because it allowed room for me to be filled with His presence above everything else.
God did bring Naomi back empty, but it was done because God was preparing to bless her in ways she could never imagine.
Perhaps God has brought you to empty to allow for a filling of His Spirit in ways you cannot imagine!
Romans 15:13 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”