As previously stated in Love Stories, the book of Ruth begins during a dark time. A time when all were living as they saw fit and as a result a famine has come upon the land. Leading to Elimelech taking his wife and two sons to the land of Moab.
In chapter one we find that soon after the arrival of Elimelech and his family that he dies. Now, Naomi is in a foreign land with no husband. If this isn’t bad enough, her two sons take Moabite women as brides. We aren’t told much concerning this, but I can’t imagine this is what Naomi had in mind for her sons while they were growing up. I”m sure she had envisioned them marrying good Jewish women and yet now they are married to foreigners and to most Jews, the worst kind, Moabites. Yet for ten years Mahlon and Kilion are married to Oprah and Ruth. Then they too, die. We aren’t told a whole lot as to the deaths of these men or their father, but I believe there deaths were results of disobedience to the Lord and his commands. Elimelech should never have brought his family to Moab, but he did and as a result dies. Mahlon and Kilion should never have married Moabite women, but they did and eventually they too die without an heir to carry on the family name. Now Naomi is left alone other than her two Moabite daughter in-laws.
In verse six, we find that Naomi hears that the famine has ended in Bethlehem and she and the girls prepare to return. By this point it has been at least 10 years and most likely a bit more. I can’t imagine the anxiety she must have felt as she prepared to leave Moab and return home. Any move is stressful but especially when you have been gone for a long time. For over ten years Naomi has lived in the land of Moab and though I’m sure she sought to keep to the traditions of her family and followed Jewish custom, things were entirely different. However, now that her sons are dead, Naomi must return home, for no longer does she have a male to provide for her.
So Naomi and her daughter in-laws left the place they had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to Judah. Not only must Naomi experienced anxiety, she also must have experienced great grief. Her husband and two sons are now dead and have been buried in Moab. Her last memories of them were in the home she is now forced to leave.
As they set out, Naomi turns to her daughter in-laws and tells them they should return to their mother’s home. Naomi knows she has nothing to offer them, that they are better off staying in Moab among their own people, their own gods, their own customs. I’m sure she knows from experience what they as foreigners will encounter if they return to Judah with her. If they come with her, they too will be dependent on the generosity of others, for Naomi knows it is highly unlikely they will ever have the chance to remarry in this land. This too must have been difficult for Naomi because these two girls are all she has left. They are her family and though they might not have seen eye to eye in the beginning, we know from the Scripture, that there is much love at this time. They have been through a lot together.
At first they both refuse to leave her, but in the end Orpah leaves to return home, yet, Ruth is determined to go. The Bible says Ruth clung to Naomi and then she says the verses we often hear today. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
I find it so interesting that many couples use these verses in their marriage vows today, when this is not the context. Yet, regardless you see in these words the devotion of Ruth to Naomi. I can only conclude that Orpah and Naomi were not as close. Yet a deep bond has been formed between Ruth and Naomi through the hardship they have walked through together. Ruth is willing to give up ever having a family, every seeing her own family again and ever having children in order to go with Naomi.
When Naomi sees Ruth is determined to go, the Bible says she stopped urging her. So the two women traveled until they reached Bethlehem. When they arrive the city is stirred up by their coming. In this day, there weren’t phones but the word of mouth flew quickly. For the Scriptures tell us the whole town was stirred and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
Naomi replies, “Don’t call me Naomi,(which means joy, delight, beauty) call me Mara (which means bitter) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi: The Lord has afflicted me, the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me (Ruth 1:20-21).”
You can just hear the bitterness and anger in her voice. You can easily see whom she blamed for all of her troubles. Her finger is pointed straight at God. So much anger, so much bitterness that she fails to see what she does have. Did you catch what she said? I went away full, but the Lord brought me back empty. Ruth is standing right there with her, but she fails to see her, she is consumed by bitterness.
Bitterness is a hard pill to swallow and will lead to a hard heart, which always leads to sin (Hebrews 3). We are told as Christians to put away all bitterness (Eph. 4;31) for such a thing does not imitate God, but the world. When we are hurt by others, we must forgive or we are the ones held captive. We must let go of bitterness or it will consume us.
Naomi is so consumed by bitterness that she fails to see God at work. The last verse of chapter ones is a picture of God’s grace. For it says, “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabites, her daughter in law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”
This is huge, for during the harvest time, the Lord had commanded his people concerning the widows and how they were not to pick everything, but to leave some for the alien, the widow and the fatherless (Deut. 24:19). We see the Lord has brought them back at a opprotune time, for they are now able to go into the fields and get the food they need.
Ruth chapter one is full of lessons to be learned.
1. Even in harsh circumstances it is better to trust God. Had Elimemlech stayed with his family, much harm could have been avoided, yet he gave into fear thinking they would all die if they did not leave. In the end, he leads them to a foreign land where he and his sons die anyway.
2. Obedience is always best and disobedience will be punished. Today TV shows make a mockery of sin, they lead us to laugh at sin and excuse sin. Yet God hates sin and we can be sure our sin will always find us out. I pray daily that I will understand the seriousness of sin and hate it as God does.
3. Bitterness leads to sin. An unforgiving spirit leads to a hard heart and a hard heart leads to sin. As Christians we are to love as Christ loves, to forgive as we have been forgiven and not to hold on to grudges which will only punish us. We must turn such grievances over to God and allow Him to heal our hurts.
4. God’s grace is amazing. Though Naomi is angry with God and blames God for all that has happened, He who is rich in mercy blesses her with a daughter in law who loves her so much she is willing to give up everything . And the Lord brings them back at the beginning of the barley harvest. Had they come back a few months earlier or later, they would have missed out, yet God brings them back at just the right time.
Let us learn from the mistakes of Elimelech and hold fast and stand firm during difficult time. Let us seek to obey the Lord and to hate sin. May we learn to forgive as Christ has forgiven us and may we never underestimate the grace of our Lord.