There is so much in the story of Ruth about love, friendship, loyalty, integrity, redemption; it is an example of how God makes even the worst of circumstances for good, of His redeeming love for us, His plan of salvation, the character of Jesus Christ and the purpose of His ministry on this earth. All this is contained in four chapters. I hope that you will go on this journey with me in the next few blog posts as we dive into the book of Ruth. Feel free to comment on what you have learned through this story. May God bless you and teach you as you read through it.
The setting is somewhere before 1050B.C. in the time of the Israelite judges. It is a period of deprivation in Jewish history, when most of the country of Israel has turned their back on God. There was a famine, and as the Jewish nation left God, Elimilech and his wife left Israel. I think this is also a story of how people reject God and how He waits for us to return, in which He accepts each of us with open arms, ready to forgive those who come to Him. Let us look at this incredible story, one chapter at a time. The first is more or less an introduction, giving the background of the events to take place.
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 Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion — Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.
The people of Moab were the enemies of God and of the Israelites. Elimelech and Naomi were so desperate they left their own people to seek a better life. But is it the best choice? Sometimes when we take things into our own hands without seeking God first, we find ourselves in a worse situation and decide to return to our rightful place. And that place is with God. Sometimes we need to be patient with God and allow Him to work in our lives.
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 that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.”
Naomi shows sacrificial love with her daughters-in-law. She realizes that the road ahead will be hard and she will be alone and has nothing more to give them. Though she is mad at God, she still believes and asks God to bless them.
So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.”
But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go — for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
Here we learn a little bit of the Jewish tradition. When a woman becomes a widow, the nearest relative of her husband, usually a brother, will take her in and marry her so that she is taken care of and the inheritance and name of the man will be carried on.
Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
So often our faith and commitment is evident when things get tough. With Orpah, she had the intent to follow, but her commitment was not complete. She eventually turned her back and returned to her people and her gods. Ruth, on the other hand, would be loyal to the end, no matter what. She would follow Naomi and she would have faith in the One True God. As it is today, following Jesus Christ is not easy. As we become believers, our problems do not go away. Most of the time, things get harder. We may lose friends, family, jobs, some may even be imprisoned of lose their lives for the sake of Christ because of the world’s hatred toward God. Jesus says that we must take up our cross to follow Him. Ruth gives us an example of that. She also gives us an example of true love, loyalty and friendship. She has faith that will not be stopped, no matter the cost.
But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
Ruth was taught who God is and she would follow Him. He will be her God. She decided not to just follow Naomi to keep her company, not just go through the motions, but she would trust in God. In Ruth’s song here, it is also a depiction of Christ. Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. So much so, He died for us so that our sins may be forgiven and if we turn to Him and follow Him, we will be with Him for all eternity.
When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.
Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
Naomi was bitter toward God, so much so that she changed her name from “Naomi,” which mean “pleasant” to “Mara,” which means bitter. But I think she still had hope in Him. We will see this in the chapters ahead.
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.