Scriptures

Ruth 1

Introduction

The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful books we find within the Bible, it’s a story about love and loyalty. Although it has only four chapters, we see God working in people’s lives in wonderful ways. The author is unknown, some scholars credit the writing to Samuel the prophet, Samuel died before David’s kingship, which is alluded to at the end of the book.

It was probably written sometime after 1010 B.C. since that was when David took the throne of Israel. It also refers to a ‘former time’ in Israel, indicating it was written years after the actual events occurred and it was written to Israel.

The book opens in Moab, which was a pagan country east of Judah and the Dead Sea. Naomi and her husband Elimelek fled there during a famine. After Elimelek and Naomi’s two sons died, she decided to return to Israel. The rest of the book takes place in Bethlehem, the future birthplace of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Faithfulness is one of the main themes of this book. We see Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi, Boaz’s faithfulness to Ruth, and everyone’s faithfulness to God. God, in return, rewards them with great blessings. All their faithfulness led to kindness toward each other.

Kindness is an outpouring of love and we see that everyone in this book showed the type of selfless love toward others that God expects from his followers.

We also see Ruth was a hardworking, morally pure woman, Boaz treated her with respect while fulfilling his lawful responsibility.

We also see obedience to God and His laws within the book. Ruth took care of Naomi, Naomi took care of Ruth, then Boaz took care of both women.

Finally, God took care of all of them, blessing Ruth and Boaz with a child they named Obed, who became the grandfather of David. From David’s line came Jesus of Nazareth, Saviour of the world. And finally, redemption is an underlying theme in the book of Ruth.

As Boaz, the ‘kinsman redeemer,’ saves Ruth and Naomi from a hopeless situation, he illustrates how Jesus Christ redeems our lives.

‘In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So, a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.’ Ruth 1:1-2

The setting for this book is ‘in the days when the judges ruled.’

This is the story of a woman who wasn’t a Jew but a Moabite woman who would play a significant part in the ancestry of King David and Jesus. We’re reminded that another Gentile, Rahab the harlot, also played a part in the linage of David and Jesus.

When we think of the period of the Judges we think of a turbulent period in which there was apostasy, oppression from other nations, intertribal jealousy and civil war. By contrast it would seem this was a period of time in which there was peace throughout the land. This story focuses on the providence of God as He deals with a family that has faced tragedy. It can also be called a love story.

Because of ‘a famine in the land’ a man by the name of Elimelek and his wife Naomi and their two sons Mahlon and Kilion left their home in Bethlehem and moved to the land of Moab. Rainfall in Palestine was never plentiful and frequently it was insufficient to provide adequately for the crops.

A number of famines are mentioned in the Bible. Famines took place during the lifetimes of Abraham, David, Elijah and during the early years of the church in Jerusalem. As a result of the famine Elimelek moved his family to the neighbouring country of Moab.

It got its name from Moab a son of Lot, the evil fruit of the incestuous relation of Lot with one of his daughters, Genesis 19:36-37.

We remember the story how the king of Moab, Balak, hired Balaam to curse Israel, during their pilgrimage to Canaan after wandering in the desert for forty years, Numbers 22:1-8.

By contrast David when fleeing from Saul found a friend in the king of Moab, 1 Samuel 22:3-4. It would seem that the two nations were on friendly relations.

‘Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.’ Ruth 1:3-5

Seemingly not long after their arrival in Moab Elimelek died, the two sons married Moabite women. There is no specific condemnation of these marriages, although they would surely have been frowned upon by the orthodox in Israel.

According to the Law of Moses this would have been forbidden, for an Israelites was not to marry outside his or her tribe which in this case would be the tribe of Judah, and certainly not to a Gentile as the Moabites were. In time both sons die.

Some Jewish writers venture to say that death was punishment sent upon this family for moving to Moab and marrying Moabite women. However, it’s interesting to note that another Gentile woman, Rahab preceded Ruth in the linage of David and Jesus and no punishment resulted that we know of.

‘When Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law, she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.’ Ruth 1:6-7

Hearing that the famine no longer existed in Bethlehem and that God was blessing His people and their crops were now yielding them food (bread) Naomi having family ties there, prepares to return to her home. Her two daughters-in-law accompany her at the beginning of her journey.

This indicates they were very much attached to Naomi even to the point they were willing to leave their own country and go to Bethlehem. This speaks much about the character of Naomi.

‘Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband. Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud.’ Ruth 1:8-9

Naomi evidently thought it wouldn’t be wise for the girls to leave Moab, their native land. So, she commended them for their loyalty to their dead husbands and to herself but urged them to return to their families.

She knew these young women would want to remarry so she kisses them and prayed that God would grant them days of prosperity and blessing in their second marriage. The very thought of their being separated from Naomi brought forth weeping.

‘And said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!’ At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.’ Ruth 1:10-14

While the daughters-in-law were intent on leaving their own land to go with her to Bethlehem, Naomi objects.

‘Why will you go with me?’ According to levirate marriage, the next brother or kinsman was expected to marry the childless widow of a deceased brother. The first child of the second marriage carried on the family name and inherited the property of the deceased first husband, Deuteronomy 25:5-6.

Naomi is simply saying that she couldn’t hope to be the mother of sons who could later marry the two Moabite widows. Even if she could have children, would they be willing to wait until they were old enough to marry them? After more weeping Orpha kisses her mother-in-law and turns back to Moab.

However, Ruth wouldn’t be dissuaded, she is determined to remain with Naomi regardless of the consequences of not finding a husband since she was a Moabite.

‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’ But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.’ Ruth 1:15-18

With the departure of Orpha, Naomi admonishes Ruth to return also, Ruth’s response was please do not deny me from following after you. This next section of the book is esteemed one of the most touching passages in all of literature.

Ruth renounces all that she could be expected to hold dear in Moab and voluntarily chooses to go to Judah and begin an entirely new life with her mother-in-law among a different race of people. She says, ‘Wherever you go, I will go.’

There are cultural overtones in her words, ‘and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people.’

Her choice has strong religious implications as we see from her words, ‘Your God (shall be) my God.’ Had Ruth already been convicted and converted to the one God of Israel by the faith of her mother-in-law and husband?

In Moab Ruth would have worshiped Chemosh, Numbers 21:29. In going to Judah, she would now worship the one God of Israel. We think it is a testimony to both of her deceased husband and her mother-in-law that she was willing to entrust herself to the God whom they worshiped. She is also willing to die and be buried in Judah.

Her words, ‘May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me’ is a solemn vow that can be paraphrased, ‘May a severe judgment fall on me if I am not true to my vow.’

Ruth’s words expressed a love and loyalty that is rare and one that the Naomi could not reject so she no longer gave up in urging her to return to Moab.

‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 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.’ Ruth 1:20-21

The two now finish the journey to Bethlehem and their arrival in the city caused quite a stir as the people seem surprised. They ask, ‘Is this Naomi?’

Years earlier Naomi and Elimelek had left with their happy family, now Naomi returns without her husband and sons.

No doubt her looks have changed, certainly she would look older now. Perhaps her very appearance bore testimony to the hardships and sorrow she had experienced while away in Moab.

She tells them, ‘Don’t call me Naomi. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.’

The name Naomi means (pleasant), whereas Mara means (bitter). Naomi is saying in effect, that the experiences in Moab had brought great grief into her life and she could no longer wear a name which meant pleasant.

Rather they should call her by a name that meant bitterness. She says, ‘The Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’ The KJV says, ‘The Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.’

It would seem Naomi recognized that the tragedies of her life weren’t all accidental but that the hand of God had been involved in the life of her family. God is the Almighty. We may not understand why he allows tragedy to come into our lives at times.

He is the sovereign God who can make all things work together for the good of his children, Romans 8:28.

While her life in Moab had ended in bitterness yet the end of her story in Bethlehem will be good and would eventually results in great things.

‘So, Naomi returned, accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth, who came back with her from the region of Moab. (Now they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.)’ Ruth 1:22

The famine was over and the land was producing again and Ruth and Naomi arrive at the beginning of the barley harvest which was a good time to return to Bethlehem.

The Moabite experience had proven tragic, but the fields of Bethlehem were now full and this will demonstrate to us how the providence of God can work to bring about good out of a bad situation.

Go To Ruth 2

 

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will."

Romans 12:2

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