It has been over a week since I posted about the Book of Ruth! So, allow me to continue! But, maybe you are like me and you need a refresher of the background, purpose, and outline of this small book. You can find any of that by clicking on the links to the previous posts:
- Ruth: An Interpretive Study Part One
- Ruth: An Interpretive Study Part Two
- Ruth: An Interpretive Study Part Three
- Ruth: An Interpretive Study Part Four
Alright, let me continue the study by looking at the Ruth 1:1-19a. If you look at Ruth: An Interpretive Study Part Four you will see why I stop at 1:19a instead of continuing through the rest of the chapter. My outline provides answers for you!
Ruth 1:1–19 (ESV)
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem.
The land and people of Israel were going through a rough period, to say the least. In a time where judges ruled the land, people did as they pleased (Judg. 21:25). Because of this, Yahweh seems to be rightly punishing the people of Israel with famine (Duet. 28:18; 28:38-40; Ruth 1:1). The famine causes an Israelite man, Elimelech, to move his family away from the land of Israel and to a pagan nation (1:1-2). This act exemplifies the reliance that Elimelech did not have upon Yahweh and his provision for his people.
Elimelech’s act of disobedience has its consequences. Death strikes Elimelech’s family: first, with himself in Ruth 1:3 and then, with the death of his two sons (Ruth 1:3-5). This could just be coincidence, but when Yahweh is involved, there is no coincidence. This is, most likely, the result of the sin that Elimelech has unknowingly committed by not fully trusting in Yahweh’s providing hand. This sin affects Naomi and the two Moabite wives of Mahlon and Chilion, since all three women are left without men to provide for them (Ruth 1:5). Having no husband, Naomi is now alone in a pagan Moab and, on top of that, her sons die! She is a stranger in a strange land, indeed.
Naomi makes the pivotal decision to return to her homeland. She doesn’t make this decision on a whim though. The destitute widow hears how Yahweh has blessed his people with food (Ruth 1:6). She arises with her daughters-in-law to leave the country of Moab, but before she leaves, she requests that her daughters-in-law stay in Moab (Ruth 1:8-9). Staying in Moab would be the best option for the two Moabite women because they would have the chance to start a new life. Naomi blesses them and plans to leave them, but the daughters-in-law object (Ruth 1:9b-10).
The destitute widow reasons with her daughters-in-law (Ruth 1:10-14b). She states that she has nothing to offer them. Her husband has died so she cannot become pregnant. Her sons have died so the daughters-in-law cannot become pregnant with sons for them. Naomi wants the two women to understand that even if she finds a husband the women wouldn’t have the patience to wait until her children were old enough to marry them (1:12-13). There would be no life for the women if they were to stay with Naomi. Therefore, Naomi wants what is best for them by staying back in Moab.
Orpah follows Naomi’s request, but Ruth remains with Naomi (Ruth 1:14b). Ruth stays with Naomi knowing fully that it would mean sacrificing any future she would have in Moab. She commits herself to Naomi and to Naomi’s God (1:16). Naomi saw how determined she was and wouldn’t try to reason with Ruth any longer (1:18). Ruth demonstrates a loyalty that Naomi probably didn’t comprehend. She cared about Naomi and was committed to be with her until she died. The two of them now head back to Naomi’s hometown (1:19a).