In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.
Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.
Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.
But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.
“No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.”
But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.”
And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”
So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest. Ruth 1
Like I said yesterday…I love the story of Ruth. I have written about her before, but it is always worthwhile to study again the things that we have studied before to gain new insight and understanding. I feel so completely inadequate to write about this book, but I’m going to do it anyway. First, the notes with history lessons, national relations and explanations…
Note on verse 1
The story of Ruth takes place sometime during the period of the rule of the judges. These were dark days for Israel, when “the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). But during those dark and evil times, there were still some who followed God. Naomi and Ruth are beautiful examples of loyalty, friendship, and commitment – to God and to each other.
Note on verses 1, 2
Moab was the land east of the Dead Sea. It was one of the nations that oppressed Israel during the period of the judges (Judges 3:12ff), so there was hostility between the two nations. The famine must have been quite severe in Israel for Elimelech to move his family there. They were called Ephrathites because Ephrath was an earlier name for Bethlehem. Even if Israel had already defeated Moab, there still would have been tensions between them.
Note on verses 4, 5
Friendly relations with the Moabites were discouraged (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) but probably not forbidden, since the Moabites lived outside the Promised Land. Marrying a Canaanite (and all those living within the borders of the Promised Land), however, was against God’s law (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Moabites were not allowed to worship at the Tabernacle because they had not let the Israelites pass through their land during the Exodus from Egypt.
As God’s chosen nation, Israel should have set the standards of high moral living for the other nations. Ironically it was Ruth, a Moabitess, whom God used as an example of genuine spiritual character. This shows just how bleak life had become in Israel during those days.
Note on verses 8, 9
There was almost nothing worse than being a widow in the ancient world. Widows were taken advantage of or ignored. They were almost always poverty stricken. God’s law, therefore, provided that the nearest relative of the dead husband should care for the widow; but Naomi had no relatives in Moab, and she did not know if any of her relatives were alive in Israel.
Even in her desperate situation, Naomi had a selfless attitude. Although she had decided to return to Israel, she encouraged Ruth and Orpah to stay in Moab and start their lives over, even though this would mean hardship for her. Like Naomi, we must consider the needs of others and not just our own. As Naomi discovered, when you act selflessly, others are encouraged to follow your example.
Note on verse 11
Naomi’s comment here (sons who could grow up to be your husbands”) refers to levirate marriage, the obligation of a dead man’s brother to care for the widow (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This law kept the widow from poverty and provided a way for the family name of the dead husband to continue.
Naomi, however, had no other sons for Ruth or Orpah to marry, so she encouraged them to remain in their homeland and remarry. Orpah agreed, which was her right. But Ruth was willing to give up the possibility of security and children in order to care for Naomi.
Note on verse 16
Ruth was a Moabitess, but that didn’t stop her from worshiping the true God, nor did it stop God from accepting her worship and blessing her greatly. The Jews were not the only people God loved. God chose the Jews to be the people through whom the rest of the world would come to know him. This was fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born as a Jew. Through him, the entire world can come to know God. Acts 10:35 says that “in every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right.” God accepts all who worship him; he works through people regardless of their race, sex, or nationality. The book of Ruth is a perfect example of God’s impartiality. Although Ruth belonged to a race often despised by Israel, she was blessed because of her faithfulness. She became a great-grandmother of King David and a direct ancestor of Jesus. No one should feel disqualified to serve God because of race, sex, or national background. And God can use every circumstance to build his kingdom.
Note on verses 20, 21
Naomi had experienced sever hardships. She had left Israel married and secure; she returned widowed and poor. Naomi changed her name to express the bitterness and pain she felt. However, she seems to have lost sight of the tremendous resources she had in her relationship with Ruth and with God. When you face bitter times, God welcomes your honest prayers, but be careful not to overlook the love, strength, and resources that he provides in your present relationships. And don’t allow bitterness and disappointment to blind you to your opportunities.
Notes on verse 22
Bethlehem was about five miles Southwest of Jerusalem. The town was surrounded by lush fields and olive groves. Its harvest were abundant.
Ruth and Naomi’s return to Bethlehem was certainly part of God’s plan because in this town David would be born (1 Samuel 16:1), and, as predicted by the prophet Micah (Micah 5:2), Jesus Christ would also be born there. This move, then, was more than mere convenience for Ruth and Naomi. It led to the fulfillment of Scripture.
Because Israel’s climate is quite moderate, there are two harvest each year, in the spring and in the fall. The barley harvest took place in the spring, and it was during this time of hope and plenty that Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was a farming community, and because it was the time of the harvest, there was plenty of leftover grain in the fields. This grain could be collected, or gleaned, and then made into food.
Oh my! Where do I start today? You may know more about ancient culture than I do, but even if that is so, one thing I do know is that these two women were in dire straights.
For the most part, this first chapter is the background for the following three chapters. It explains not only what has gone on before, but also demonstrates the character of the central character of this book, Ruth. Before we get into Ruth, lets talk a little bit about Naomi.
There isn’t really much said about Naomi’s character, so I will take liberties projecting a little bit of observational psychological analysis on her. If you find that you disagree, leave a comment and we can discuss, otherwise, please permit me and read on…
Naomi was the typical Israelite woman, wife and mother. She brought to Moab her life as an Israelite, a child of God and the culture therein. The bible doesn’t say how long she had been living in Moab, and neither do the notes in my study bible, but I think it is safe to say that she lived there for more than 10 years. The bible says that it was after her husband died that her sons took wives from the Moabites and 10 years after they married, they both died.
There is so much left unsaid about the background of this story. How long did they live in Moab before Elimelech died? It is hard to say, but I would guess it was at least a 2-4 years and possibly up to 5-10 years. (If anyone knows or has good evidence suggesting the length of stay, by all means, let me and my readers know.) For the purpose of writing today, I’ll just pick a number, how about 12 years? (The number 12 didn’t escape you did it?)
Okay, Naomi had been in Moab for 12 years before she decided to go back to her homeland. Inferring from present day circumstances, whenever we spend any length of time with another person or group of people there is a combining of the two different people/groups. In this case, Naomi was among the Moabites. She lived there for quite some time. I’m sure she took on some of their habits and beliefs. But, even more importantly is that she still kept her values and beliefs in God as most important. After all that time in the land of Moab, she returned home because she knew that she belonged to God. She lived her life in such a way that her daughters-in-law wanted to leave with her. The saw something in Naomi’s life that was missing from their land and their lives. They were drawn to Naomi and Naomi was drawn to God.
As the notes indicated, Israel and Moab weren’t exactly friendly towards one another. How then would two Moabite women want to ditch family and friends to go someplace where they didn’t know anyone? People are drawn to the truth and the truth was living in Naomi’s life, actions and words. The life of Naomi is an example of the marriage she had with Elimelech and it also gives us a peak of Elimelech’s character. He had to have been a wise and compassionate man. He built his house (his wife and two sons) around the Word of God and they lived it based on what and how he taught them. Thus, Orpah and Ruth could clearly see the contrast of their life before Elimelech and Naomi arrived and after they were married to their sons.
Naomi is a very interesting paradox of a character. She illustrates in a perfect light the dichotomy of her nature, the child of God and the child of Israel. (Sorry for the extra liberty there.) On the one hand, she rest total faith in the God of heaven, knowing that whatever comes, He will provide for her. She doesn’t balk at that. She believes that life is dealt by the Lord’s hand and there is no use ‘wishin’ for something else. She accepts life and God at face value. On the other hand, she feels rejected, unloved and completely futile. I just wonder how much of that stemmed from living in Moab and how much of that stemmed from her own emotions regarding the great losses in her life.
If we took Naomi out of her geographical situation and she led the same life but without the influence of outside factors, in essence a sterile life, would she have demonstrated the dichotomy of her nature? I believe the answer is absolutely yes. I believe that because of the state that we are in, sinners saved by grace, that the sin that lies within and seeks to master us will always rear it’s ugly head, even when we are isolated from others. Remember, the devil’s goal is to keep us from God. He doesn’t need the people in our lives to make us miserable, he can use our own selves to make us miserable. In fact, I’ll be so bold as to say that this is his normal mode of operation, but we blame others and it seems that it is the ‘others’ that make our life miserable. Examine yourself and be completely honest with yourself, most of the time, the problem resides within you… “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Matthew 7:3-5
Okay, enough preaching on that…
In contrast to the steady, stand-your-ground faith that Naomi possessed and demonstrated we have Ruth. Ruth must have been or at least felt like an outsider in her own homeland. I think this mostly because it was so easy for her to pick up and follow after her mother-in-law. In other words, she chose her mother-in-law over her own mother. But more importantly, she chose the God of Israel over the gods of her homeland, Moab.
Naomi expressed vocally the belief and understanding of the Israelite culture, based on the law of God about additional sons marrying the two young widows. This must have been a new concept to Orpah and Ruth. (As a side note, I’m thinking that the two brothers had to have died relatively close together. Otherwise, I’m sure that Naomi would have had the brother take on the widowed sister-in-law as a 2nd wife.) Though Orpah decided to stay in her land, it is the actions of Ruth that stand out because she went against current thoughts at that time. She chose the route of faith. She chose to accept and even embrace the unknown. Why? One thing she was sure of was that the God of Naomi, the God of the Israelites was faithful and just. She stared truth in the eye for at least 10 years while married to her husband by watching and living with Naomi. (Back then, if I understand it right, the woman would live with husband and his family and not the other way around. That, of course, had much to do with the way the land was divided among the tribes, I’m sure.) During that time, she had grown very attached to Naomi, but more importantly, I think she had a genuine desire to be near Naomi’s God and to know Him for herself.
Even unbeliever’s know the genuine heartfelt plea spoken by Ruth to Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” That is strong conviction and my conviction pails in comparison! I don’t know about you, but today, I think of this in terms of husband and wife, not so much between two women, especially daughter and mother-in-law.
I find it interesting that Ruth had completely left her old nature behind and put on the mantle of faith in God instead. Here she used words and made a vow that was so strong, so perfectly Israeliteish that you would think she was born out of place and to the wrong nation. She recognized God as the one true God and placed a curse on herself should she fail to do as she intended.
It is interesting to think about their relationship after she married Boaz. She made the Israelites her people, of that there is no doubt. She made the God of Israel her God. Through her compassion towards Naomi, Boaz found a unique gem of a woman to be his wife. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the thought that she was able to fulfill this promise even after marrying Boaz is amazing. It speaks to her character as a woman, as a daughter-in-law and as a wife. The Lord blessed her in her obedience and because of her servants heart to help her and let her fulfill her promise to Naomi. The thought remains then, and this is a great liberty on my part, that not only did Boaz take Ruth as his wife to care for and raise up in a son in her dead husbands name, but he also took Naomi and cared for her as his own mother.
In this way, both widows were restored to good fortune and the grace of God was showered down upon them. And it all started with the faithfulness of Naomi to her God.
I want to make one thing clear, Naomi, upon return from Moab, stated that the Lord had made life very bitter for her, not that she was bitter. She recognized her misfortunes and adjusted accordingly, but she never disgraced the Lord by blaspheming or cursing Him. She stated facts without harming her testimony of the Lord’s grace and mercy.
Both Ruth and Naomi recognized the hardships they would encounter as widows. They knew that all they had was each other. Naomi was even in a worse predicament than Ruth because she was old and no longer a candidate for marriage, at least not as easily as Ruth would have been given her youth. So, Naomi did not take for granted the blessing of Ruth by her side. I’m sure she thanked the Lord everyday for Ruth. And Ruth, never shook the authority of the older woman but found solace and comfort that Naomi was willing to give, not only willing but lavishingly gave to Ruth. Through Naomi’s wise instruction and complete knowledge and understanding of God’s law, she was able to guide Ruth to a profitable and extremely favorable position as the wife of a wealthy farmer, especially a man that was a close relative. Make no mistake, this was not something that was thought of and planned by two women, but instead was the wonderful work of the Lord within the lives and confinement of these two lowly widows. By all understanding, these women had nothing and were nothing. That Naomi had a ‘welcoming home party’ is somewhat mystifying to me, but it happened.
My questions for myself about this chapter: 1) How would I combine the qualities of both of these women to live a life worthy of the King of Heaven as His princess and daughter? 2) What are the characteristics that define my character and which woman demonstrated these characteristics?
First, and most importantly I would argue is faith. Naomi demonstrated extreme faith in the God of Israel. She believed He was in complete control and that nothing happened or didn’t happen without His foreknowledge and blessing, without His perfect or permitted will. I can, in a real sense, understand the faith of Naomi. Throughout my life, I have encountered bitter situations. Yet, even though I have suffered and endured much, I can honestly say that once I accepted Jesus into my heart, I have never turned from believing in Him. That is not to say that I haven’t been depressed or stressed, or downright bitter. It is to say that through it all I have maintained a ‘grain of faith’ and though I have strayed, it is that grain of faith that has always brought me back to the fully restored position of an heir of God, a co-heir to Jesus.
Next, I have stepped out in faith like Ruth. She didn’t know what would become of her or how to deal with the things of the future, but she knew one thing, Naomi loved God and followed Him, even into uncertainty and because she knew that, she knew she could trust Him in her uncertain future too. After that was accomplished in her heart, and most likely before because I would guess it to be her nature, she held and used her servants heart. She went above and beyond the call of duty to see to her mother-in-law first by following her and then by providing for her. In this way, I have much room to grow. I battle with self so much and so frequently in this area that I must work at developing a selfless servant heart. In time, God will honor me because I do desire to be more of a servant, more like Jesus.
Well, I’ve blabbered on and on forever…I hope I didn’t bore you too much. One last thought, this gives a whole new understanding to Jesus words, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. Matthew 10:37-39
As you know, when we live for Christ, we try to follow His earthly example. Just as ‘doing unto the least of these, my brethren,’ is doing it unto the Lord, so it is true that if we love ourselves more than we love others, if we sacrifice others instead of sacrificing ourselves, we truly don’t love the Lord. I know that we aren’t perfect, but we should be working towards being perfect nonetheless. More often than not, we should love others more than we love ourselves. If, on the other hand,we love ourselves more than we love others more often, then there is ample room for improvement.
Search me, O God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psalm 139:23-24 I give my body to You because of all You have done for me. Let my body be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind You will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship You. I won’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but I will let You transform me into a new person by changing the way I think. Then I will learn to know Your will for me, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 Amen.
May God provide the increase.