Ruth is a short, yet powerful book, tucked among the Old Testament. Its events are in accordance with the book of Judges (during the same period as the book of Judges), set during a time when there was no king in Israel, and "every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
Warren Wiersbe puts it like this: “The book of Judges is the story of Israel at one of its lowest points in history – it’s a record of division, cruelty, apostasy, civil war, and national disgrace. Spiritually, our lives resemble elements of the book of Judges, for there is no king in Israel, and there will not be until Jesus returns. Like Israel in the past, many of God’s people today are living in unbelief and disobedience and are not enjoying the blessings of God.”
As we travel along the road between Moab (a picture of the world) and Bethlehem (God’s city of promised blessing and the future birthplace of the Messiah; Bethlehem literally means house of praise), let us find rest in knowing Jesus traveled this road for us so that we could live an eternal life in His House of Praise.
The book of Ruth is a beautiful, redeeming love story, but its beginnings are rooted in tragedy. This is a story about a family that makes one bad decision out of fear, and in return receives three funerals. Fear drives unwise decisions, and we must guard our hearts against it because we know fear is not of God.
1 Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4 Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.
- There was a famine in Bethlehem. In Old Testament times, a famine was an outward display of God’s judgement on His people because of their unbelief and disobedience. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God tells us, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
- When a famine hits our own heart, our encouragement from God is that we:
o Humble ourselves (recognize we have sinned and realize He is greater)
o Pray for forgiveness
o Seek His face
o Turn from our old way
- And God’s promise to us is that He will hear, forgive, and heal. Quite the trade off, isn’t it? If you have a heart that is weighing you down today, take a moment to put into action what the Lord desires for your life: humble yourself, pray for forgiveness, seek His face, and turn away from the sin.
- One thing to note about the patriarch, Elimelech is this: he chose poorly for his family. Instead of enduring the famine he ran from his problems and chose to walk by sight and not by faith. This is where we hit the pause button on our own lives and begin to examine the areas where we’re running away from God v. running to Him. Running to Him means that regardless of how you feel, what you see, or what may happen, you make a conscience choice to live in hope.
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. 7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.”
- Naomi was ready to return to her home country. She had lost her husband and two sons in a foreign land. However, take note that Naomi didn’t encourage her Moabite daughter-in-laws to return with her to God’s land. Interesting move on her part. If Naomi brought both of her daughters to Bethlehem with her, the people would’ve realized she disobeyed God and departed from His will by not only leaving the Promise Land, but marrying her sons off to a sinful nation.
- When we cover up our poor decisions, it only creates about more weight to carry. 1 John 1:9 assures us that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all wickedness. I would rather have a cleansed heart than one I’m trying to constantly cover up (just read Psalm 51 and you’ll discover David felt the same). In this very moment, confess your poor decisions before the Lord and allow Him to heal your broken heart so you don’t have a bitter one.
11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said:
“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
17 Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.”
18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.
- Here we read both Orpah’s and Ruth’s response, a parallel of how we ourselves respond to the Lord. In Orpah’s case, she started off to Bethlehem, but her actions proved that her heart was really back home in Moab (Moab represents the world). The same can be true of us and others – we start off deciding we’ll be in fellowship with the Lord, but then we decide that we like the world’s way better, so we go back.
- With Ruth, the opposite was true. She was a woman from a sinful land, yet was willing to stand up and choose God and follow through with her actions. Ruth’s decision is a picture of God’s grace. Ruth was a Gentile (non-Jewish) woman who didn’t know the Lord; yet, despite her difficult trials and heartache she clung to Naomi and was determined to accompany her (verse 18). Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi is a parallel picture of how we are to respond to Christ by saying, “I will not leave you, Lord. Wherever you go, I will go.”
- Gracious Father, thank You for the grace You extend to me. Thank You for calling me into eternal life with You. I choose You today, and am determined to follow You. Strengthen me in the inner man that I may know You more each day.
19Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”
20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
- Naomi had been away from Bethlehem for 10 years. The people’s question of, “Is this Naomi?” was from both bewilderment and surprise (Wiersbe). Naomi’s name means pleasant, but she told her people to call her Mara (which means bitter). That sums up Naomi’s life while outside of the will of God, doesn’t it? The same is true for us when we are out of fellowship with Him. I don’t mean we’ve lost our salvation because God promises that in John 10:28 that if we’ve truly given our life to Him, we cannot be lost, torn away, or plucked out of His hand. However, I am referring to walking away from Him (being out of fellowship with Him), just like Elimelech and his family chose to do. While sin may be pleasurable for a season (Hebrews 11:25), that season quickly withers and we are left with repercussions and shame. A life of sin brings a life of bitterness.
- While we often can’t control our situations, we can control our responses to them. I believe the saying is, “We can become better or we can become bitter.” How we react to circumstances is a choice – and we often forget that and instead blame our foul mood, lack of sleep, or shortness with others on the situation v. recognizing the state of own heart.
- It was barley harvest in Bethlehem – which means it was the beginning of a new season. It was spring, just like it is now (um, finally). The Jewish people had just celebrated Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread, and were into the First Fruits celebration.
o As a side-note, if you fast forward a couple thousand years, the First Fruits celebration would’ve began on the day Jesus rose from the dead. Christ is the fulfillment of the Passover (shedding of blood), a representation of the Unleavened Bread (sinless man), and the First Fruits (Jesus being the first fruit of the resurrection, 1 Corinthians 15:23).
- Alexander Whyte coined this phrase, and I think it’s fitting for this first chapter of Ruth: The victorious Christian life is “series of new beginnings.” Friends, this is so true. Whatever heartache, sin, shame, or bitter times you’ve had – Jesus is ready to be your new beginning. You have come to a new season and He is ready for you to participate in the upcoming harvest. Are you believing God for your new beginning? I am believing for you.
- God Almighty, I thank You that You are a God of new beginnings! Thank You for the grace You extend through Jesus. I choose today to walk with Jesus and to give up this season of sin. Teach me Your Word and strengthen me to know Your truth more each day. Amen.
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