"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God." - Ruth 1:16
The time of the Judges was a period of transition for the people of Israel. There was no central government. The land was still inhabited by many Canaanites. It was a time of compromise, especially regarding religion. God's people seemed to have little comprehension of purpose. Except for a few judges who rose to prominence, God's expectations were forgotten. On our own pilgrimage through life, each of us confronts circumstances calling for adjustments. Our survival may depend on our ability to cope with changing times. The story of Ruth is not a story of war and strife as is the preceding book of Judges. The story of Ruth is a family story of hard times in the lives of ordinary people. Ruth is not about national leaders, but people trying to make their way through the routine of living. The story of Ruth - a non-Israelite, a foreigner - coming to a clear and definite commitment to God is remarkable in a period of confused and compromised convictions. Truly, the story is a bright light shining in a dark night. The story of Ruth is a love story - a young wife's devoted love for her mother-in-law!
1. Departure for Moab (vv. 1-2)
Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons, left Bethlehem and journeyed to Moab in search of food. They planned to remain there temporarily, waiting on the crisis in Judah to pass. Moab lay across the Jordan River and east of the Dead Sea. The "sojourn" in Moab extended to about 10 years. The man's name of Elimelech means "God is King." Naomi means "my pleasantness" or "my sweetness." The sons' names appear indicative of their physical weakness, as the name Mahlon means "weakening" and Kilion means "pining."
2. Death of Naomi's Husband (v. 3)
Elimelech apparently did not live very long in Moab since the entire sojourn was 10 years. The text suggests Mahlon and Kilion married after his death and lived in Moab for some time afterwards. Elimelech is described as "Naomi's husband" suggesting that Naomi is the prominent personality in the story.
3. Death of Naomi's Sons (vv. 4-5)
While in Moab the Naomi's sons married Moabite women. The names of the women were Orpah and Ruth. Orpah means "stiff-necked." Ruth means "friend" or "friendship." Both sons died. Their deaths left Naomi and her two daughters-in-law without a male relative to provide for them. These three women faced a harsh life. Ruth and Orpah had left their families. Naomi, as a foreigner, had few legal rights and no one to help her. The future was dark and choices few.
4. Decision of Naomi (vv. 6-13)
Naomi heard the famine had ended in Judah. She resolved to return to her homeland. As a widow, she could seek refuge with her relatives. Naomi was determined not to force her daughters-in-law into leaving their country. She urged each to return to her mother's home. Naomi's urging was an act of love.
5. Decision of Orpah (vv. 14-15)
When Naomi concluded her exhortation for Ruth and Orpah to remain in Moab, the women wept. Parting seemed imminent. The statement, "but Ruth clung to her" (v. 14b) contrasts Ruth and Orpah. Orpah is obedient to Naomi's insistence and returns to her people.
6. Decision of Ruth (vv. 16-18)
In these verses, Ruth gave a beautiful affirmation of faithfulness, determination, and commitment. Ruth said in essence, "I won't turn back." Even though these verses are used in weddings, they were words spoken by a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. The commitment she made had no escape clause or "ifs," "buts," or "maybes." She would travel with Naomi. She would become an Israelite and worship Naomi's God. Upon her death, she would be buried in her adopted land. Family, nation, and religion all were involved in her choice. Ruth invited God's wrath to fall on her if she failed to keep her commitment. When Naomi saw the strength of Ruth's resolve, she said nothing more. Ruth had made her own life-determining choice. Ruth became an ancestor of David and Jesus.
POINTS TO PONDER: In what ways could you show kindness to a person in need of direction in life were you to use God's kindness to you as a model?
PRAYER: Father, open our eyes to the needs around us, and grant us a selfless heart to reach out and meet those needs. We pray in Christ's Name. Amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: God uses the faithful to help those in need.
Grace and Peace,
Kirk Greenfield is the pastor of Wallonia Baptist Church. He also works for the KY Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He, his wife, and three daughters reside in Princeton. He may be reached at email@example.com.