The book of Ruth begins, “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled.” Judges were raised to administer the laws of God (Judges 2:16–19). However, how quickly the people of God would turn “out of the way their fathers walked in.” The Scriptures admonish us to teach our children with our hearts upon the Word of God and our eyes upon the generations to come: “Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go possess it. That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments; which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged” (Deut. 6:1–2). Failure to teach without taking in view the generations to come could easily lead us to be lax in teaching the full truth and mercy found in Christ our Lord and Savior. We are to hear Him who alone is our Lord: “The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. …and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (6:4–7).
Contrasted with the picture of the continued disobedience by the people of God, we have wonderful picture of the family of Elimelech and Naomi. They were from Bethlehem, that glorious city where David the King would be born (Ruth 4:22); and city where the King of kings would be born (Matt. 1:1, 2:6). It was in this city that Elimelech and Naomi would bring their children up in the teachings of the Lord. Ruth, a Moabite woman, finds honor both in being known in a book which bears her name, and in an ordained place in the covenant of God. In God’s redemptive plan, He chose Ruth to become an ancestress of David, of the royal house of Judah. Her words to Naomi have echoed down through the ages, “for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
There was a great famine in the land. Elimelech and Naomi journeyed to the country of Moab with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, from Bethlehem of Ephrata. It was here that Elimelech died. While living in the country of Moab, the two sons took for them “wives of the women of Moab.” The name of one was Orpah, and the other Ruth. Ruth became the wife of the eldest son, Mahlon (Ruth 4:10). They dwelt in Moab for about ten years.
As you check your map, you will see that Bethlehem is located west of the Dead Sea, and Moab is to the east. God, in His providential care for those whom He loves, directed Elimelech and his family to Moab during the time of famine. They found blessing in the midst of the pagan Moabites. Remember that it was the Lord who directed the life of Joseph that he might be a blessing to his people during the time famine. What God records in His word are not chance meeting of events, but His acts in history that His covenant would be kept by Him and known by His people. The family of Elimelech was sent to Moab, for God had a chosen child through which David would be born; for Boaz and Ruth had Obed, and “Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” (Ruth 4:22). Then through the line of David came Jesus. Both Mahlon and Chilion died and Naomi was left alone with her two daughters-in-law (1:5).
After ten years, Naomi went to her daughters-in-law and told them that she would return to Bethlehem; for she had heard that the “Lord had visited his people in giving them bread.” Naomi began her journey with Orpah and Ruth: “They went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.”
It is here that we begin to see Naomi’s love for her Lord, which is in turn expressed to her daughters-in-law. First we see that Naomi has been waiting for that day when the Lord would bring the famine to an end, to give His people bread. Then there is that love for her daughters-in-law, and their love for her. They are willing to leave with Naomi for Bethlehem. However, Naomi says to these women, “Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.” Naomi asks the Lord’s blessing on each one.
Naomi knows the burden that her daughters-in-law carried, how they showed their love for her sons and her. Her blessing for them was, “Go, return each to her mother’s house; the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead and with me.” She then kissed them as Orpah and Ruth wept. They both questioned Naomi, saying, “Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.” Naomi answered, “Why will ye go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?” She could not offer Orpah and Ruth sons for husbands, and if they were to wait for her to bear sons, it would be a foolish wait.
Naomi felt the grief that she had received when her husband and sons died. Her grief is not selfish. It is for her daughters-in-law as well. It is a grief that rests upon her Lord. Naomi testifies, “For it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.” Here is a real test of faith. Naomi believes that what has taken place is a result of the hand of the Lord. If our sorrow is not in the hands of the Lord, then the victory and joy which follow cannot be assured.
Our Lord is the Potter, and we are the clay. All things work together for His glory, for His good pleasure and eternal purpose, and for our good. God is in full control of evil, and certainly is not moved by evil, directing it to the end which He so desires. Therefore, we put our faith in the King of kings, in the Lord Jesus our Savior, who carries us in His hand. We know, even when He brings sorrow into our lives, that He is able to deliver us and give us rest.
Orpah and Ruth wept, and Orpah kissed Naomi, “but Ruth cleaved to her.” Naomi told Ruth to look to her sister-in-law who is returning to her people, “and to her god: return thou after thy sister-in-law.” The Holy Spirit gave to Ruth a grace by which she was able to grasp the opportunity to decide either to follow after the gods of her people or the God of Naomi. Ruth had learned of the Lord God of Israel through Naomi during those ten years. Therefore Ruth said, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
What did Ruth see in Naomi that she would make such a statement of faith? Ruth’s pleading for Naomi not to send her back to Moab commended the love of Naomi for her Lord, her people, and for Ruth. Our Lord’s covenant promises that He will be our God and we will be His people. This is the covenant which says that the people of God are to love Him with all their hearts and each other as they so love themselves. “Thus God blessed the faithful Naomi who so showed the presence of God in her life that a pagan girl was drawn to that God by Naomi’s life. God provided for Ruth a godly husband and together they raised a godly family which terminated in the person, Jesus Christ. All was not lost in this sinful godless age, because God is gracious and would not let the light go out in Israel” (John Scott).
A great love had reached into the heart of Ruth that would commit all to the God and people of Naomi. Ruth goes on to say, “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” This is the love of which the beloved apostle spoke: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God …Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:7–11).
Naomi saw that Ruth was steadfast in her determination to go with her to Bethlehem. Naomi and Ruth came to Bethlehem and “and all the city was moved about them.” Is this really Naomi, the greeters asked? Naomi said, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?”
Naomi revealed her total dependence upon the Lord. She had left Bethlehem with a husband and two sons. Now she returns empty. Though her friends are excited about seeing her again, Naomi tells them to call her the bitter one. Even though she knows that the Lord is her Lord, she still feels the bitterness of having lost her loved ones. She doesn’t question the work of the Lord. She knows that what has come from the Lord is a very bitter pill to take. However, the Lord had given her Ruth, and Naomi would have the balm of healing from the same Lord who had taken her husband and sons. Naomi and Ruth the Moabitess return to “Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.”
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