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Ruth 1

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General Background

Many theories are found concerning the time of the writing of this Book, ranging from the earliest of Judges to after David became king. From the tone of this Book and the lack of reference to great problems in Israel, it would suggest that the book was written in the earliest times of the Judges. This means it was not written chronologically later than the main Book of Judges, but during it.

Another clue is the mention of Boaz, a name found only once in scripture with a link to a person (the other mention is to pillars in Solomon’s Temple, named ‘Boaz’ for reasons unknown), and the additional mention of a famine. Taking both together we can assume the clues refer to a specific time in the history of Israel, which will give us an approximate date for the writing of the Book. The Book is part of the group of writings called the Ketuvim (the final part of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible).

(Note: Boaz was the grandson of an Hebrew prince, Nahshon, who was born during the wanderings in the wilderness. Boaz could not, then, have lived in the later period of the Judges).

The only time a famine is mentioned in connection with the Judges is at the time of Gideon, after enemies burnt the fields. This information is also spoken of by Jewish rabbis and has been discovered by archaeologists. The background tells of an Israelite woman (Naomi) and her husband who went outside Israel to live in Moab, at a time of famine. Though the couple should not have done so, the story of Ruth, their daughter-in-law, is celebrated every year, to this day, at the time of Shavuot (Feast of Weeks, 50 days after Passover).

The Book of Ruth is different, because it is not filled with lust, war and sin! Rather, it speaks of love and loyalty. Ruth is the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi. She remained in company with Naomi after she moved back to Bethlehem, especially after Naomi’s two sons died, leaving Ruth and her fellow daughter-in-law, Orpah, widows. Orpah decided to stay, but Ruth remained loyal to Ruth.

Importantly, this move back to Bethlehem forms part of the genealogy of Christ. God brought together several strands of human existence – the earlier famine, the death of Naomi’s husband, her decision (or was it God’s?) to return to Bethlehem to find a way of living, the inclusion of Boaz, and the bringing of a Moabite woman into the ancestry of Christ. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David. Thus, a Moabite became part of the royal line, showing that even one who was outside of God’s chosen people became a part of them by her faith and adoption of Israel’s God.

Verses 1&2

  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.

We see clearly that the time spoken of in this Book is NOT after the cessation of the Judges (with the death if Eli), or at the end of the Book of Judges. Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, lived sometime within the period of the Judges, at a time of relative peace and prosperity. There was a famine, and this means the Book was written about a time when Gideon was alive (between about 1179 BC & 1154 BC).

A man named Elimelech (‘my God is king’), who lived in Bethlehem (Judah), just south of Jerusalem, and of the tribe of Ephraim, moved with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, to Moab (the inhabitants were descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship). That is, east of the river Jordan and mostly alongside the Dead Sea. The Moabites were from the same Hebrew stock as the Israelites, but they went after a false god, Chemosh (related to the goddess Ashtar/Ashtoreth, companion of Baal), and were considered to be enemies of Israel. Therefore, Elimelech acted against the law of Israel and implicated his wife and sons in what was considered to be sin.

Verses 3-7

  1. And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.

  2. 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.

  3. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

His two sons were Mahlon (‘sick’) and Chilion (‘pining’), whose names seem to have predicted their youngish demise. After living a while in Moab, Elimelech died. The two sons were of an age to marry and took Moabite wives (against Israelite law), named Orpah (‘gazelle’) and Ruth (‘friendship’). They appeared to have lived happily until both husbands died after about ten years. The three women then lived as one family with apparent mutual friendship. It is always very sad when modern women will not live with their mother-in-laws when necessary, nor do they value their experience or wisdom. This is our unfortunate modern way, that does not lend itself to good relationships in many cases.

After these deaths, and probably so as to begin again with males to support them, Naomi decided to leave Moab and return to Bethlehem, because God had again given Israel crops to make into bread. Naomi made arrangements to leave with her daughters-in-law.

Verses 8-11

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.

  4. 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?

Naomi did not wish to impose upon the two women and said they should go back to their mothers’ homes, for support and comfort. She commended them for the way they supported her and said surely the Lord would look after them because of their kindness. Expressing a hope they would both find new husbands, Naomi kissed them both… then they wept tears of sorrow. The women said they would both return to Bethlehem together, but Naomi did not want them to follow her out of loyalty alone… after all, she was now not able to bear children so they might remarry. These things were said while they were all still in Moab, but on the road to Judah.

Verses 12-17

  1. 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;

  2. 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.

  3. And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.

  4. 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.

  5. 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 thy God my God:

  6. 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.

Naomi was beyond the menopause and so could not have any more children, as she said. So the likelihood of remarrying was probably not an option. But, the two women were still able to bear children and to remarry… so she again urged them to go back to their family homes. The younger women again cried. Orpah decided to return to her mother and kissed Naomi with much love. Ruth, however, refused to leave.

Naomi pointed to Orpah and said, ‘Go with her, Ruth, back to your Moabite gods’. There seems to be an implicit thought here, that if Ruth went to Judah she would not be able to worship her Moabite gods. Ruth, however, had such a relationship with Naomi, she refused to leave her. She even said that she would worship the God of Israel, and live there forever, thanks to God. How many today are this loyal? To family, to friends, or to God? Ruth almost gave a vow to the Lord in what she said, and we see her lovely character in this.

Many today claim to be believers, yet they follow their own ‘Moabite gods’ by not obeying the Lord in all things. God does not bless such people, for they live behind an hidden hypocrisy… their mouths say they love God but their behaviour shows the opposite. God will not give them His commendation, nor will their lives ever be filled with grace and love, though they might pretend to others that they belong to Him. Huge numbers of ‘Christians’ today use this fake identity, but, as they go through life, they don’t see God’s hand, because it isn’t there. They might dupe friends and even relatives or spouses, but God sees all and condemns their fakery.

Verses 18-22

  1. When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.

  2. So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?

  3. And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.

  4. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?

  5. 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.

In her response Ruth shows us a woman who was intensely faithful though at that time she was a Moabite. Her character already shines through as lovely and kind, genuine and moral. Today, I see many who pretend to be such, but their behaviour lacks that sparkle of Holy Spirit truth. To these I say “Turn back!” Not to Moab, but to God. If what you say does not match what you do, it makes you an hypocrite! Stop, think, and choose the Lord, not yourself.

Naomi saw Ruth to be honest and steadfast, so she stopped trying to persuade her to go back. They travelled on, over the river Jordan, then down south towards Jerusalem, which came just before Bethlehem. They reached Naomi’s old city and everyone recognised her… “Is this Naomi?”

Naomi said with a sigh, not to call her Naomi any longer, but to use the name Mara (‘bitterness’), because of the way her life was dealt several blows. She said she left full of promise, but over the ten years or so her life took a downturn, so now she returned to Bethlehem “empty”. She believed it was a sign of God’s anger against her. It might indeed have been, for living amongst pagans when she should not have. How many Christians are content to become friendly with pagans, heretics and evil people? The answer is ‘many’! We all take sin too lightly at times, but a large number do worse, and their ‘Christianity’ is just a weightless coat they wear for show.

Another historical clue – when the two women arrived in Bethlehem it was the  “(beginning of the) barley harvest”. This was roughly March/April, and the times have not changed to this day. And so Ruth arrived to begin a new era for herself, and to fulfil God’s plan, which brought her into the life of Christ via David.

On many occasions we cannot see why God has done something with or to us. We might lose everything, or sink so low as to cause us to be miserable. But, God looks after His own and will not let us sink into oblivion. Those who show lack of His Presence, do so for one of several reasons; perhaps they are secretly sinning and not repenting, or they are doing what should not be done, or, conversely, not doing what they should be doing; they may be ignoring godly counsel, or being hypocritical. Whether this is true in their lives or not, sinking low is not an excuse to stay there, but a very real prompt to rise above ourselves and our sin, to obey God to the uttermost!

Bad times or tough circumstances do not excuse us from being holy or obeying God. They are the very times we must soar like an eagle and not grub in the dirt! To ignore what is godly shows one of two things – that we are not truly saved, or, we are saved but living according to our own evil thoughts. So, do you show godly promise as Ruth did? Or, will you stay in the dirt of sin and never arise?


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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom