My discipleship group is doing a study on the book of Ruth in the Old Testament. I thought it might be fun to share with you some of what God is showing us through our study of this small but remarkable book. At only 4 chapters long, it is quite short, but it is packed full of wisdom and application. Today, I’ll concentrate on Chapter 1, which you can read in the NIV here. (I’ll write about a different chapter for each of the next three Sundays.)
Naomi and her husband, Elimelek, lived in the time of the Judges, when man did what was best in his own eyes. Famine hit Bethlehem where they lived, and instead of trusting God to provide, they moved to Moab, which was in enemy territory. Their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, grew up and married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, breaking God’s commands not to intermarry with the Moabites. However, Elimelek and his sons all died, leaving Naomi, Ruth and Orpah widowed. Naomi now had no means of support and all the money was gone, so she decided to return to Bethlehem as she had heard that the Lord was providing food for His people there.
As Naomi and her daughters-in-law start out, Naomi commands her daughters-in-law to return to their own homes and not to go with her to Bethlehem. Both daughters-in-law cry, but Orpah leaves to return to her own mother’s home. Ruth, however, refuses to go. Naomi tells her, “Your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” (verse 15) Ruth’s stunning reply is, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. 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 even death separates you and me.” (verses 16 and 17) This is truly great evidence of her faithfulness; she leaves behind her own family and her old ways and chooses Naomi as family and chooses the Lord as her God. So, the two women return to Bethlehem.
The journey from Moab to Bethlehem would not have been an easy one, especially for two women travelling alone. We don’t know if they had any food at all along the way or any money to purchase any, but it can be inferred that they did not as the point of the return journey was to find food. They would have had to traverse the River Jordan as they walked around the Dead Sea from Moab to Judah. The Lord protects them on their journey, however, as they ultimately arrive safely in Bethlehem.
When they get to Bethlehem, Naomi’s return causes quite a stir among the women. (verse 19) In testament to the state of her heart at her change in fortune, Naomi tells them not to call her Naomi, which means pleasant, but to call her Mara, which means bitter. (verse 20) She is at the lowest point of her life. She acknowledges her change in status; there is no pretense. There is no evidence that Ruth was bitter in heart, however.
Verse 22 tells us another piece of wonderful information, and that is that they arrive in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was starting. (“Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”.) This is God’s timing for sure, and His plan to provide for these two women was already in motion. Barley was the first harvest, followed immediately by the wheat harvest. After a total of seven weeks of harvest, the Jews would celebrate the Feast of Weeks to thank the Lord for what they had been given.
How often do we, like Elimilek, go our own way and try to provide for ourselves, only to have our plans end in disaster? (I know I’ve done it more times than I can count.) How often do we, like Orpah, return to our old ways when things get hard? How often do we, like Naomi, respond to hard circumstances in our lives with bitterness? May we all instead have the faithfulness of Ruth, leaving our old ways and facing the unknown with God guiding our steps!
What did you take away from reading this first chapter of Ruth? Share your insights in the comments. Let’s start a conversation!