Ruth 1 Commentary: Hope for Bethlehem. Anticipation of a king. These two issues are addressed in the book of Ruth. So, let’s start reading Ruth 1:1.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verses 1 and 2
KJV Ruth 1:1 ¶ 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 Bethlehemjudah 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 Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
It makes sense that the Lord would have been sending famines in the days of the Judges. Famine is one of the curses stipulated in the Mosaic Covenant for disobedience. And there was plenty of disobedience. So I imagine there was no lack of famines in the land in those days.
Now, we’re almost immediately told of this man from Bethlehem. His name is Elimelech. It means “My God is King.” But we’re led to question that assertion made by his name.
First, he’s from Bethlehem. And if you had just read the book of Judges you’re not predisposed to think highly of this city. Don’t let your mind go forward to prophecies of Messiah coming from Bethlehem or the beautiful Christmas songs that come to our mind when we think of Bethlehem. This city and the folks that come from it up to this point are pretty questionable at best.
Second, Elimelech goes to Moab – the homeland of the big fat king Eglon. Moab – the country that refused to help Israel enter the land promised to them – but rather they hired Balaam to curse Israel. And when Balaam couldn’t curse Israel by God, he advised the Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men and to commit immorality and idolatry. And because Moab was so malicious towards Israel, the Lord forbid any Moabite from ever entering the assembly of the Lord.
And this is the land to which Elimelech was taking his family. Not a very wholesome place. Not a place very conducive to godliness. And yet at the same time, I don’t want to be too hard on Elimelech. I mean, we saw in our last lesson in the book of Judges that Israel was becoming like a new Sodom under the Judges.
So, Elimelech weighs the two options – Godless Israel with no food… or Godless Moab with some food. He chose Moab. And because of that, I am still a bit suspicious. Did he do right? Should he have just stayed put in Israel? I think so, but I admit it would have been a hard decision to make.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verses 3 and 4
And for whatever reason, Elimelech wouldn’t be around very long to ponder the rightness of his decision. Verse 3.
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.
So, without the leadership of the husband and father of the family, the two sons take – gasp – Moabites as wives! Again, it was not too long ago that Moabite women tempted Israel to sin and brought God’s wrath upon them. So, this move, I think, is more than simply questionable. I’m pretty sure these boys ought not to do this. They made a bad move, according to God’s law. No Moabite was to enter the assembly of the Lord, after all. That’s a clear black-and-white statement from God. And I’m not sure if what we see next is God’s judgment on them or not. But, verse 5.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verse 5
5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
What would you do if you moved hundreds of miles away from your tiny home village into a foreign country – and your whole family basically just died leaving you all alone? Naomi wants to go back home. Verse 6.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verses 6 and 7
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.
So, with no male help – and with the news that God had stopped the famine that he previously sent on Israel – Naomi returns home. And her two daughters-in-law follow her. At least for a time. Then we have the conversation between Naomi and those two girls. Verse 8.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verses 8 and 9
8 And 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.
So, Naomi is an interesting character. She goes to Moab – which, again, we might think would be something God didn’t want her to do. But she was simply following her husband. Then her boys take two foreign wives – which, again, we might think would be something God didn’t want them to do. But we don’t even know the part that she played in those marriages. The men die – and that might have been a judgment from the Lord for their disobedience. But he leaves Naomi. And we might start wondering about her spiritual character. She’s from despised little Bethlehem. In the days of those wacky judges. Forsaking her homeland and going to live among pagans. But look what she says in verse 9. She invokes a blessing of the Lord upon her two daughters-in-law. And this isn’t even reminiscent of the blessing we saw with Micah’s mother back in Judges. This blessing seems genuine. It seems spiritual. She wishes the Lord’s CHESED upon them – his faithful loyal covenant love. Why? Because they dealt kindly with Naomi and with her sons. So, there was at least some level of nobility and faithfulness with these two girls. Naomi then selflessly tells them to go back to their parents’ house and get married again. In those days it would have been normal for a single lady – whether she was never married or if she had been widowed – to return to her parents’ house. So, Naomi wants these two girls to be taken care of. But they’re all very sad about it. So, they weep. They also respond to her in verse 10.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verses 10 – 14
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.
Initially, both girls say that they’ll stay with Naomi. In response Naomi launches into a discussion that shows how ridiculous that would be. She has no more children to give to them as husbands. They need to turn back to their people and find husbands for themselves.
It’s very interesting how Naomi interprets the events that we’ve seen thus far. She identifies the Lord’s chastening hand behind it all. I’m thinking that she’s seeing that her actions – and her husband’s and hey boys’ – have brought chastening from the Lord.
So, Orpah leaves. But Ruth stays. That makes Naomi respond to Ruth in verse 15.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verse 15
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.
Catch that – her gods… Would Ruth want to go back to her false evil pagan deities? Let’s hear her response from her own mouth. Verse 16.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verses 16 and 17
16 And Ruth said, Intreat 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 [Here’s the key] 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.
So, something happened there in Moab. I don’t know the spirituality of the three men who died. I’m a little more encouraged about the spirituality of Naomi. But through these Israelites living in Moab – which was probably wrong – and through their intermarrying with pagans – which was most certainly wrong – something happened to one of these pagans. To the point that she is willing to forsake her false gods and follow the true God of Naomi. In fact, she’s not just passively willing. She’s determined. Ruth is showing a great deal of loyalty – CHESED – already to her poor widowed mother-in-law. And I just have to wonder if that loyalty was sparked by faith in the true God of Israel. I think it was.
Well, with that bold response from Ruth, Naomi says no more. Verse 18.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verses 18 – 21
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 Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, [Remember, after at least 10 years of being in Moab…] that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? 20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi [Which means “pleasant”], call me Mara [Which means “bitter”]: 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 [“Pleasant”], seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
Wow. Naomi in no uncertain terms is attributing her series of unfortunate events to the Lord. He’s brought about a complete reversal for her. Her name means pleasant. But her life is anything but pleasant. It’s bitter. She went out full. Now she comes home empty. And she says that all of this is the Lord’s testifying against her. Whether she’s interpreting the situation correctly or not – I think what we see here is a guilty conscience. When you’re involved in things that you know from God’s word are wrong and life stops working the way it used to and things all of a sudden are very difficult and bitter – doesn’t your mind go immediately to wondering if the Lord himself is chastening you? Well, that’s because he probably is. And Naomi feels that.
Ruth 1 Commentary: Verse 22
Lastly, verse 22 is a summary of what we’ve seen so far.
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 Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.