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?”Ruth 1:21 (NASB)
Full – This response from Naomi when compared to chapter’s beginning opens up a deeper understanding of how she came into this state – a state of hopelessness. She went out full during a time of famine. How strange. If Naomi and her husband were full, then why would they leave?
A quick lookup of the Hebrew word מָלֵא, could indicate that it relates to a woman being with child. But looking elsewhere throughout the Bible, we see the word is most often used to indicate a lot of something. So we may assume that she was pregnant when they left Bethlehem which is a perfectly logical conclusion. But maybe there is more. Maybe the double meaning applies here.
The first chapter of Ruth is a rollercoaster. First Naomi’s husband dies, then her two sons break God’s law and marry Moabite women. Shortly thereafter, both her sons die as well. Naomi descends into depression. But this begs a question, why did Naomi’s husband die? Her two sons weren’t married yet, so it is not God enacting retribution for breaking the law… but maybe there is more?
The sages suggest that Elimelech was both wealthy and stingy. The punishment came to him because rather than staying in Bethlehem to help his fellow brothers, he left them to their peril of famine. If Elimelech was generous, he would have stayed and given to the needy, but he left. Not only was Naomi full (pregnant) but her husband was also full (wealthy). And so Naomi recalls how she left compared to how she is returning – empty.
It is interesting to note that Naomi and Elimelech left a town called Bethlehem (House of Bread) during famine. Everyone else endured and the town survived and the famine dispersed. The people who stayed still had their homes, their life, their position in society, but Naomi had lost it all.