Ruth – how I love this story. It’s a beautiful love story that pictures God’s love for us, and it’s personal to me as I described here.
I just want to go through it a few verses at a time and share with you some of the things I’ve learned while meditating on this beautiful story.
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.
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.
5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
This story starts out very sad. First of all, it takes place during the time of the judges. We know that this was a time of judgment for Israel over and over again. The first verse tells us they were experiencing famine. Whether this was a judgment for a specific sin or just the way life happens sometimes we don’t know. We do know though that famine is hard no matter what the reason for it is.
Names in the Bible are significant. Bethlehem means “house of bread” making the fact of a famine there all the more sad. This family was living in a place that should have had an abundance of food. Instead a famine had made them think of doing the unthinkable – moving away from the land God had given them.
Egypt in the Bible is a type of the world. While it is true that Elimelech and his family did not go to the “world”, they did leave the place where God had put them to go to a land that had never been friendly to the Jewish people. We can only imagine how desperate the famine must have been for them to take this step.
Elimelech’s name means “my God is king”. The fact that they were called “Ephrathites” shows that Elimelech was of a noble lineage. Knowing this fact makes their move to Moab away from their home even more sad. I’m not trying to be dramatic here, but I wonder about the soul-searching and agonizing that went in to this decision. I’m inclined to believe this was not a decision made on the spur of the moment.
Naomi’s name means “pleasant”, and I’ve always imagined that she was a pretty lady inside and out. Someone you’d enjoy visiting or knew would be there to help you if you needed her. When she finally returns to Bethlehem her former neighbours seem to be happy to see her and they genuinely rejoice with her at the end of the book. So I think she was someone you would have been to happy to call your friend.
The meanings for Chilion and Mahlon are not as clear but appear to have something to do with weakness and sickness – a clue perhaps to why they did not make it to old age? Perhaps.
Verse 1 talks about the family “sojourning” in Moab which has a meaning of being a temporary dwelling place. But then we see in verse 2 that they “continued there”. That certainly speaks of more permanence. What changed? They must have wanted to go home. Anyone who has spent time in a foreign country knows how much they miss their own language, food, culture, etc. We don’t know what changed their mind. Perhaps Elimelech became ill? He seems to have died after a short time.
Then we see the family really putting down roots through the sons marrying Moabite women. I think this shows how far the family had moved from the place of God’s blessing. Instead of going back to Bethlehem to marry Jewish wives they took foreign wives. These were women from a country that God did not His people to have dealings with. Someone can be very nice, but we still need to be very careful who we form relationships with always seeking to know if this is what God wants.
I do have to say though that I see God working in the background to provide for Naomi. Surely he led Mahlon to marry Ruth. God knows the end from the beginning. He knew Ruth’s heart. He knew she would one day love Him and be a blessing to her mother-in-law. God always works the gold and silver threads into the tapestry of our life.
Interestingly the family now has ten years of apparent peaceful living. I say “interesting” because I wonder if this was God’s grace – giving them time to return to Bethlehem. “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” Romans 2:4 and “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9 Over and over again the Bible tells us that God is longsuffering.
We should never take advantage of this, but what a comfort to know that God IS longsuffering. If this were not true, we would all have been in big trouble long ago. There is always hope.
So, we don’t know if Elimelech, Chilion and Mahlon all died as a result of God’s judgment, but it does give us pause to stop and ask ourselves – Are we living in the place of God’s blessing or have we wandered out of the place where God wants us. If we have, God is ever merciful and forgiving allowing us to come back to Him.