There are three main characters in Ruth and all of them give us guidance to serve others this week. Naomi and Ruth are the first two main characters we meet and in them we meet homeless, hungry, and helpless women. Then there’s Boaz, the man, he’s righteous, he’s godly, and he’s a dude, the dude of dudes, he teaches us about how to serve and give.
-Chapter 1 has four sections; I’ll walk through them one at a time:
a) 1:1-5 = “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.”
1:1 says this story happened in the days when the judges governed. This was the time period between Joshua and the prophet Samuel. The book of Judges records this time for us, and it gives us a glimpse into what this time was like. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Rather than everyone doing what was right in God’s eyes, the people were now so far from God that they each did what they wanted to do. This was a dark day in Israel’s history, and the story of Ruth happened during this dark time. This teaches us that even in the darkest moments, God is still at work.
In this passage we meet a family, who is this family? Elimelech was the Dad, Naomi was the Mom, and they had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They lived in Bethlehem, but there was a famine in Bethlehem. So they leave Bethlehem and travel to Moab, a pagan nation. After they moved to Moab, Elimelech dies. Mahlon and Chilion find wives in Moab, one named Orpah and the other named Ruth. Then both the sons die! So now the only ones still alive are Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. Nice story so far huh? Notice how it only took 5 verses to get into the painful situation of Naomi. She’s living in a foreign land away from her home, no one in Moab worships the God of Israel, she probably doesn’t know many people, her husband dies, and her two sons die! More so, being a woman, she couldn’t work to earn a living in this culture, and she had no man to work to take care of her. She was in the worst possible situation a woman in the culture could be in. There could be no darker time in life for her.
To make matters more interesting, Bethlehem means “house of bread.” This family left the “house of bread” because there was no bread. Now, Moab, which only 50 miles away, had bread. This is strange because famines usually spread out over a large area of land. It’s rare to have a famine in a small area of land because the people could have gone somewhere close by to get food! The famine in Bethlehem shows us that God was bringing judgment against His people for their sin (remember it was the time of judges), and rather than dealing with their sin, Elimelech (whose name means “My God is King”) takes matters into his own hands, leaves the land of promise, and takes his family to Moab, a pagan nation, to find bread. Remember, Moab isn’t a good place. This was one of nations Israel wandered through after leaving Egypt.
So why does Elimelech leave the land of promise and go back into the wilderness? One reason, for bread. Elimelech moved so that he wouldn’t die. What happened in Moab? He died. Elimelech moved to Moab so that his family wouldn’t die. What happened to his sons? They died! Why did he and his sons die? Was it judgment for leaving God’s land and going back into the pagan wilderness?
Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why, it just says that Elimelech and his sons died in Moab, leaving Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth to fend for themselves.