The Book of Ruth
There was a famine in Bethlehem, so Elimelech decided to move his family (his wife and two sons) from Bethlehem, his home town, to the country of Moab. We aren’t told the name of the particular town or village where they settled. There was provision there so they settled in. We aren’t told that Elimelech sought God about this decision or that the Lord led him to this go there. There was food there, so he decided to pack up his family and go. His two sons grew up there and in time took Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth, but had no children of their own.
Even though there was provision there, things did not go well for this little family. Elimelech got sick and died. When they had lived there for about ten years, both sons died and Naomi with left with two Moabite daughters-in-law. Then Naomi heard that things were now better in her home town of Bethlehem and provisions were available, so she decided to return. She and her two daughters-in-law prepared to leave.
They set out on the road that would take them back to Judah. Naomi had become very bitter because of the circumstances in her life, and as they walked, ruminated about what she was going to do with these two Moabite young women. By law she was responsible for them unless they returned to their father’s house. What was she going to do with them in Bethlehem? So, she began to urge them to return to their mother’s home. “You’ll be able to find another husband. It will be better for you there.”
“She kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’” But Naomi continued to urge them to return, and reminded them that she was too old to have another husband and produce sons for them to marry. “Do you want to remain unmarried?” Then she began to blame the Lord for her circumstances. “It’s more bitter for me than for you because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me.”
They cried some more, and then Orpah decided that she would return. But Ruth clung to Naomi and no amount of urging would change her mind. Four times Naomi urged her to go back, but Ruth had committed herself to the God of Israel, and she was not going to return to the idol worship of the Moabites. Their main god was Chemosh, the fish god, which means “destroyer and subdue” and involves human sacrifice. “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” Naomi finally realized that Ruth was determined to go with her and quit urging her to go back.
The road back to Bethlehem was a distance of 30-60 miles (we don’t know which town they were traveling from.) The terrain was rough and steep and would have taken them anywhere from seven to ten days traveling on foot. The roads in those days were known to be dangerous because of robbers, but they did arrive safely in Bethlehem.
The people in Bethlehem were glad to see that Naomi and come back, but she urged them to call her by a different name. “Don’t call me Naomi (sweet, pleasant),” she told them, “Call me Mara (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”
If you don’t know the rest of the story, you can read it in the Book of Ruth. God provided wonderfully for these two widows, and Naomi was once again willing to be called “pleasant.”
There is quite a contrast between Naomi and Ruth. Naomi was the Israelite, but she is the one who turned bitter because of the stress. Ruth, a Moabitess, remained sweet, committed to the God of Israel, willing to leave her own family and country to follow Him, even though she probably knew she would never go back to Moab.
The Moabites were descendants of Lot and the incestuous relationship with one of his daughters. (Gen.19:36-37) They became enemies of Israel. (Num. 22 and 23). Moabites were prohibited from the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation, “all of your days forever.” Duet. 23.3. Yet God provided a way for them to be part of his people. “Foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant – these will I bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” Isa. 56:6-7
Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s husband, married Ruth, and they had a son whom they named Obed. Obed became the grandfather of David, and is in the lineage of Jesus. (Matt. 1:5-6)
In troubled times, it’s easy to become bitter and even blame God for our circumstances. Naomi’s family got to Moab because of their own decisions. Sometimes our situations are a result of our own decisions, but sometimes they are not. The best decision is to cling to God no matter what, because he has promised to provide for us and never leave us.
Evidently Naomi did have a support group around her because when her grandson was born, “The women said to Naomi, ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in our old age. For your daughter-in-law who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’” It is important to surround ourselves with positive people who can encourage us in the Lord. Ruth 4:14-15
Another lesson from this story is that if we do have a bad attitude, we don’t have to make that a permanent part of who we are. Naomi was able to change and began to be positive again. We see in the Psalms that David wrote, sometimes he was in the depths of despair, but other times he was full of praise to God. Let that be our bench mark: we might despair because of circumstances but we can always come back to where we know God is our provider and will not forsake us.
“He knows our frame and remembers that we are dust.” Psa. 103.14