Ruth begins with the words “In the days the judges ruled” – these were dark times illustrated by a cycle of sin by the people which would lead to God’s judgement and enemies sent against them, to the cry of those people to God for help, to God raising up a judge to rescue them. This cycle continued over and over again. We see how God either blesses His people in their obedience in Lev 26:3-4 or subdues the people in their disobedience in Lev 26:18-20 “your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits”
A few name meanings to start off this book:
Bethlehem – irony in that it means “house of bread.”
Elimelech – “My God is King”
Naomi – Naomi is derived from the Hebrew word for “pleasant” or “lovely”.
Mahon – puny
Chilion – pining
The beginning of Ruth shows how the family of Elimelech and Naomi were in a struggle due to famine, likely punishment sent by God during a time of the disobedience of His people, but were still whole and in right standing with God. This then turns to a distrust in the Lord’s provision as the family turns their back on their home of God’s chosen people, Israel, to find refuge and provision in Moab, a place often at war with Israel and peopled by the descendents of Lot’s illegitimate son. A place that worshipped false gods (Judges 10:6). It is upon beginning a life here that true tragedy strikes the family, beginning with the death of Elimelech.
Our first response not only when things go wrong, but also when things go right should be to turn TO God, not away from him. Our flesh is disobedient and its natural response is to rely on self, we need to re-train our ‘self’ to first and foremost rely on God in all things.
In verses 4 and 5 after the death of the household patriarch Elimelech, instead of his sons taking their mother back to their homeland, they take foreign wives from Moab, a place that had its people restricted from entering into the “Congregation of the Lord” (Deut 23:3) due to their prior treatment of the Israelites. The sons continue living there with their wives for 10 years, showing no apparent intent to return to Israel and neither Orpah or Ruth becoming pregnant in that time period is surprising. Their apparent infertility added to the deaths of the last two males in the family leaves both Naomi and her two daughters-in-law in a precarious position, Naomi being a foreign widow with no heirs to provide her support and too advanced in age to attract a new husband and bear them, and Orpah and Ruth apparently barren widows who would have left the support of their parents household for that of their late husbands. The family chose to continue living a life separate from God and tragedy of childlessness and death came upon them.
After the death of her two sons, Naomi hears that the famine has ended and that God’s provision has come again to Israel, and decides to move back home from Moab, though the hopelessness she feels is obvious in her speech to her daughters. She encourages them both to stay in Moab and go back to their families and attempt to marry again, and stresses how she has nothing to offer them in her position as an elderly widow without prospects. Despite these difficulties Ruth showed loyalty to her mother-in-law and chose to stay by her side. Naomi has taken the first steps to get back on God’s path, though she may not be doing it out of love or faith yet she is still headed the right direction to a right standing with the Lord. God is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb 12:2) and he sustains it as we ebb and flow in our lives living in His will and straying from it.
Ruth has made an incredible decision in verses 15-18, she chooses to stay with her mother-in-law despite the challenges Naomi has told her about, and is determined to live in a strange foreign land for the rest of her life to her death. In doing this she is completely forsaking her nationality and its religions, and despite Naomi speaking to Ruth of how she felt the hand of God had gone against her, Ruth still wonderfully opened her heart to making Yaweh her own God. Obviously she has seen the character of this family through her 10 years of marriage and realizes that their God and faith makes them different. One other thing to consider is the value Ruth’s family places on her by marrying her off to a “famine refugee”. I hope that my faith in God impacts my behaviour to the point that others want to know why. The lyrics in “Let them see you” by JJ weeks band/Colton Dixon really speak to me about this.
“Let them see You in me, let them hear You when I speak, let them feel You when I sing…”
When the two women arrived back in Bethlehem Naomi was recognized by the other townsfolk and introduced herself as “bitter” toward God. Ruth is in turn identified as a woman from Moab, “Moabitess”, an outsider which would have given her lower social standing and restrictions on worship, laws, and finances; yet God uses Ruth as we will see eventually as a part of the lineage of David and Jesus (Matt 1:5, Ruth 4:17-22). What a choice to make from being remarried in your homeland to deciding to be the lowest rung on the social ladder in a foreign land where she could face unjustness and abuse without recourse. Ruth shows true love and loyalty! Naomi feels for a time that the Lord dealt unjustly with her as Job also felt at one time. In the case of Naomi, it is consequences of disobedience that put her in this position, not unjust retribution.
1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth–lehem–judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth–lehem–judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. 3 And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. 5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband. 6 Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread. 7 Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. 8And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. 9 The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. 10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. 11 And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; 13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me. 14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. 15 And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. 16 And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. 18 When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.19 So they two went until they came to Beth–lehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Beth–lehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? 20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. 21 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? 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Beth–lehem in the beginning of barley harvest.