Sometimes we watch a film and before doing so, we glance through the list of characters. In the book of Ruth, the names of the characters and places are frequently linked with the narrative itself. Elimelech means ‘God my king’, Naomi means ‘pleasant’, Mara translates as ‘bitter’, Mahlon ‘sick’, Chilion ‘destruction’, Orpah ‘stiff necked’ and Ruth means ‘friend’. To state the exact opposite; someone who is ‘ruthless’ has little concern for others if they are determined to get what they want.
These events occurred when the judges ruled, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). There was a famine in the land, and this was a case of history repeating itself. In Genesis 12, Abram camped near Bethel meaning ‘house of God’ but moved on because of the famine. But where did he arrive? Abram arrived at Pharaoh’s house (Genesis 12:15). Since Sarai his wife, was of such beautiful countenance, he stated that she was his sister because he feared they might kill him on account of her.
Though Abram had abundant food from Egypt the Lord plagued Pharaoh’s house. Then Pharaoh came to realise that Abram was in fact his wife as well as half-sister and sent him away. Where did they arrive? They arrived where they had been in the beginning between Bethel and Ai and at the place of the altar, he had made there at first (Genesis 13:1-4). Egypt is like the world and the above is an illustration of our lives when we seek bread from Egypt instead of God.
I wonder how long it would take for us to crack if we experienced a famine? After one day we would probably eat food past its sell by date and after three days be rummaging in the waste bins. After a week we might finding ourselves fighting over food and after not much longer people may start eating their pets. In 2 Kings 6 there was a famine in the land and people ate their own children. When you are desperate and there is a famine it is instinctive to go anywhere you can find food and individuals will be willing to take risks that they would not consider otherwise.
So because of the famine Elimelech’s family left Bethlehem Ephrathah for Moab. Moab was about 50 miles or so on the other side of the Dead Sea. What was wrong with Moab? Let us consider firstly how Moab became a nation. In Genesis 19:30-38, Lot’s daughters got him drunk with wine and slept with him on respective occasions from which the Moabites and the Ammonites became nations.
Then in Numbers 22-24 Balak King of the Moabites was afraid of the Israelites. He hired a false prophet called Balaam to curse them, but God only permitted him to bless Israel. The Moabites worshipped Chemosh and Balaam and committed vile practises. Sadly even Solomon’s heart was swayed by his Moabite wives and he built an altar to Chemosh.
The book of Ruth could be described as a supplement to Judges and an introduction to Samuel. Samuel probably wrote Ruth, the dates corroborate, and Jewish tradition affirms the same. It was written around 1000BC. In the last verse David is mentioned but Solomon is not. The book of Ruth contains a mini genealogy in the closing verses. Genealogies were important then and still are. One only needs to browse the half a dozen magazines on family trees and ancestors available at bookstores such as WH Smith, to recognise that, or the number of television documentaries concerning the same in recent years.
The story of Ruth is also an essential link in the chain of biblical history leading to Messiah’s birth. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David and is mentioned in the first chapter of the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) in the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah. By incredible providence, Ruth came to Bethlehem which was also where David would be born and where the Lord Jesus was born too. These events are not merely coincidence but the outworking of God’s sovereign purposes.
There are two books in Scripture named after women, Ruth, and Esther. They are similar but different in a significant way. Ruth was a Gentile who married a Hebrew, whilst Esther was Jewish though married a Gentile. Both books show clearly how Gentiles are brought to the Lord in connection with God’s purposes for Israel and the nations. Ruth is the heroine and she is mentioned twelve times. Ruth is also an excellent depiction of the Proverbs 31 virtuous woman which is evident in her loyalty and love. For a woman seeking to uphold godly character, the message is simple yet profound, be like Ruth!
But now let us spare a thought for Naomi as the tragic events unfold in her life. Her husband passed away whilst she was in Moab. Her sons took Moabite wives. It would have been a wrench leaving Bethlehem and living in a culture not far away geographically yet alien spiritually with different gods, culture, and customs. Then her sons also died. Could things have been worse for Naomi as she was trying to cope with bereavement in a foreign land? There was nothing for her in Moab and it was time to return to Bethlehem.