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Ruth 1

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Naomi And Ruth (ch. 1:1  -  22)


Verse 1 states, "in the days the judges ruled there was a famine in the land".  This tells us that the events we see in the book of Ruth took place some time during the rule of the judges, as seen in the book of Judges.  This is why our English Bible's place the book of Ruth just after the book of Judges.  Jewish Bibles place Ruth in a group with Ester, Songs of Solomon and other such books.


The famine described here is unknown to us.  We don't really know when this famine took place.  Some suggest that it took place in the life and times of Gideon.  In Judges 6:3 and 4 we see that Gentile pagans had ravaged parts of Israeli occupied Canaan.  Part of the ravaging was destroying their crops.  We don't know this for sure if this ravaging caused a famine, and especially this famine, but it sure could have.  


It has been said, and I haven't counted, that there are 13 famines mentioned in the Bible, all of which are due to God's judgment.  Was this famine God's judgment?  We don't know.  There is not enough said about it to draw any such conclusion.  That being said, because we know God judged Israel many times during the time of the judges, this might well have been an act of judgment.


As I've just said, in Judges 6:3 and 4 we note that Israel was devastated by pagan attacks that affected their agricultural based economy.  If you understand the nature of the book of Judges, you will know that this particular devastation was God's judgment.  So, many Bible teaches feel that this famine in Ruth was due to God's judgment.     


We see the city name of Bethlehem of Judah mentioned in verse 1.  There was more than one town named Bethlehem in Israeli occupied territory back then.  This Bethlehem was in Judah, six miles south of present day Jerusalem, where it's always been.  Bethlehem means, "the house of bread".  Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and He is called the "Bread of life" throughout the gospel of John.  That's just an interesting bit of prophetic history.


It's my thinking that right away, here in verse 1, we have some hint that this story has something to do with the Lord Jesus Christ, because we see the town of  Bethlehem.


Also in verse 1 we see that a man and his wife, along with two sons left Bethlehem to live in the country of Moab.  One thing we need to realize at this point is that Moab really wasn't a country or a nation.  Israel had already conquered Moab.  We should understand that throughout the promise land, even in those areas where Israel controlled, there were pockets of pagan people like the Moabites, who, were descendents of Lot.  Nations back then weren't like nations today with well defined borders.  They were simply pockets of ethnic people who controlled a certain area of land with a not so precise border. 


This family then, left Bethlehem of Judah for a place that was not in famine.  This place was east of the Jordan River, where the tribes of Gad and Ruben had territories.  The exact place where they relocated was settled and controlled by Moabites.  These people descended from Lot and the incestuous relationship he had with his two daughters one night when he was drunk.  Just so you know, after Lot fled Sodom , and, after his wife was killed, the two daughters of Lot who had no husband got Lot drunk and it was their idea to have sex with them so they could have children to carry on the family line.     


Some suggest that it was not God's will for this family to leave just because things got tough in and around Bethlehem.  They suggest this family should have hung in and prayed for repentance for Israel.  They also suggest that all the tragedy that took place in this family proves this, and they might well be right.  If it means anything, many of the Jewish rabbis believed that it was not God's will for this family to leave their home land.


Concerning Moab, Psalm 108:9 says, and God is the one speaking here, that Moab "is His (God's) washbasin".  That doesn't speak well of Moab.  They are compared to dirty water in a washbasin where someone washes his hands, and in this place, figuratively speaking, the someone is God. This is where this Israeli family fled to in order to escape the famine in a land that God had placed them in.  This is one reason why many say that this family was not in the will of God when they left Bethlehem for Moab.  


Verse 2 states the name of the man, his wife, and his two sons.  The wife, Naomi, is key to the book of Ruth.  Her husband's name was Elimelech, and beyond chapter 1 we see little of him.  They had two sons,  named Mahlon and Kilion.  Israelis didn't name their children when they were first born.  They named them at some later point when they could see what kind of people these children were, because, names were to reflect the nature of people.  Israelis didn't just name their babies after important people or because they liked the name.  Mahlon means "sickly".  "Kilion" means "puny". 


Naomi means "pleasant", while Elimelech means "God is king".  "Ruth" means "a friend". "Orpah" means "youthful freshness".  Ruth and Orphah were the wives of Mahlon and Kilion. 


Verse 2 says that this family was "Ephrathites".  Some teach that Ephrath was the former name of Bethlehem as seen in Genesis 35:19, the place where Rachel was buried.  Other's suggest that Genesis 35:19 speaks of another Bethlehem.  Some even suggest, but it's probably not correct, that the word refers  to Ephraimites", that is, from the tribe of Ephraim.  It seems this family was from the tribe of Judah because they lived in Bethlehem of Judah.  It also appears that name Ephrathite was a clan name around Bethlehem.  


In verses 3 to 5 we read that in a span of 10 years, both Naomi's husband and two sons died.  Prior to the death of her two sons, they married two Moabite wives, something a good Israeli would never think of.  Some suggest that they died because they married pagan women.  They suggest that God judged them.  I don't believe we can conclusively say that, but I tend to believe it.   


When it comes to Elimelech's death, it appears from the story line that he most likely died as a middle aged man. 


Deuteronomy 7:1 to 3 lists seven nations, or, ethnic peoples, that Israeli men were not to marry.  Most Bible teachers, but not all, say that these seven ethnic groups are representative of all pagan people.  I tend to agree. If this is so, what the two sons of Naomi did was outside of God's will.  Some don't say this because the Moabites aren't mentioned in the list of seven in Deuteronomy 7:1 to 3.


I think if you read Exodus 34 and other such passages you will come to understand that God told Israelis not to marry any pagan peoples.  They were to stay within their own people of Israel.  God reminded Israel of this later on in their history as seen in Nehemiah 13:25 to 27.


In verses 6 and 7 we see that the Lord was now blessing Israel , or, at least that part of the territory around Bethlehem.  The famine was long gone so Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws headed back to Bethlehem. 


In verses 8 and 9 we note that on the way home, Naomi thought it was best for her two daughter-in-laws to return to their Moabite home to marry a Moabite man.  She then kissed the girls.  A kiss in those days and in that culture was either an act of saying hello or good-bye.  Naomi was simply saying good-bye, which made all three very sad.  That would be expected since they had been together for quite some time.


In verse 10 the girls said that they didn't want to go home.  In verse 11 Naomi tried to persuade them to go home, but only had half success.  One daughter left.  The other, Ruth, stayed with Naomi.


In verses 12 to 14 we see how Naomi really felt at this point.  She felt bad.  Verse 14 says that she thought the "Lord's hand was against her".  She was too old to find another husband, and even if that was possible, and even if she could have children at such a late time in life, the two girls couldn't wait around for her sons to grow old enough to marry.  Naomi had the Levirate Marriage in mind when she was saying these things. You can certainly understand why Naomi would feel this way. 


The question arises.  Was Naomi expressing the reality of her situation as God viewed it?  Was her family experiencing the discipline of the Lord?   There are some Bible teachers that say "yes".  Her family really did experience God's discipline.   Other say "no".   They say that she was simply feeling bad.  If you believe it was not God's will for Naomi's family to leave Bethlehem, then you would probably feel that God was in deed disciplining Naomi's family.  I tend to believe that Naomi's thinking was correct.  She and her family were being disciplined by the Lord.         


In verse 14 Orpah left while Ruth stayed. 


This is where the names of these two girls comes into play.  "Orphah" means "youthfulness".  Youth tend to think one thing one day and another the next day.  This might well have been the case with Orphah.  "Ruth", on the other hand was loyal and stuck with Naomi through thick and thin, as her name implied.  "Ruth" means "a friend".   


In verses 16 and 17 we see Ruth's commitment to Naomi.  Ruth told Naomi that where she went she would go.  Naomi's God would be her God.  Naomi's people would be her people.  Ruth says that nothing will separate her from Naomi but death, and where Naomi is buried, so shall she be buried.  These were covenantal words. They expressed what the Law of Moses stated when a Gentile wanted to become an Israeli.  Gentile converts to Judaism were to forsake all that made them who they were.  They were to live as Israelis, as if they were born into an Israeli family.  This is another one of those verses I will return to when I finish this commentary.  It's another hint to the type, the model, the spiritual significance to this story. 


If you think of what Ruth says here, her words express exactly what a person should express when becoming a Christian today.  One must give all of who he is to Jesus, just as Ruth gave all of who she was not only to Naomi, but to Israel and Yahweh.  Way too often this is not the case.    


There's another aspect when thinking of today's world here.  When one becomes a Christian, he isn't just united with Jesus, he is also united with all other Christians.  Our commitment to Jesus should be seen in our commitment to other Christians, but that's not always the case. 


I've mentioned before that Ruth was in the lineage of Jesus as seen in Matthew 1:5.  The words that she just spoke proves to me that she is a good candidate to be in the lineage of Jesus.


In verse 18 we see that Ruth's covenantal words convinced Naomi to let Ruth come along.  This is one of those relationships we see every so often in the Bible where the bonds of covenant are strong.  Again, the words that Ruth speaks to Naomi are covenant words.


In verse 19 Israeli Naomi and Moabite Ruth, make it back to Bethlehem and the people are ecstatic to see them, especially to see Naomi.      


In verses 20 and 21 we see Naomi express her feelings to the people of Bethlehem.  She is still feeling really down.  She told them to call her Mara because she is returning home empty, devastated by the hand of the Lord.  She wanted to be called "Mara".  "Mara" means "bitter".  This too is significant when we talk about the typological significance of the book of Ruth.


In verse 21 we note that Naomi's family left Bethlehem "full" but returned "empty".  This tells me that Elimelech's family was wealthy.  They were full and they were trying to escape Judah before they lost everything in the famine.  Some might suggest that their departure from Judah was a good economic move on their part, but as events went in Moab, that didn't turn out to be the case.  What this tells me is that Elimelech did not put his trust in Yahweh, but in his own riches, and that mentality was why God was judging Israel with the famine in the first place.    


Note in verses 20 and 21 the reference to the "Almighty".  That's "Shaddai" in Hebrew.  Many believe the word "Shaddai" means "breasted one".  The term "Shaddai" is often preceded by the word "El', the generic name for god.  Thus, when you see "El Shaddai" this name might well suggest the motherly and nourishing nature of God.  Some actually believe that God is both male and female, that is, if you want to place or see God on a human level.  This might well be why male and female were created in God's image, because He is both.        


Verse 22 ends chapter 1.  Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem during barley harvest, which is around the time of the Feast of Pentecost.  


Before we get into chapter 2 I believe I can safely say that Naomi was a godly woman.  It's my opinion, although there is no exact textual proof, that it was Elimelech's idea to move away from Judah, not Naomi.  I think that she would have probably wanted to stay in Bethlehem and waited out the famine and trusted the Lord.  Elimelech, as all husbands would have been back then, probably would not have confided in Naomi concerning this matter.  Wives were to obey and do whatever their husband's decided. Throughout the book of Ruth, Naomi appears to me to be the pleasant person her name means.  She seems to me to be a godly woman and thus would not have wanted to leave the land that God had given them to go to a land of gentiles. 


One last thought.  Naomi the righteous, lived and had to follow Elimelech, the unrighteous to Moab.  Naomi, you might say, lived amongst the unrighteous.  God brought judgment to the family Naomi lived in.  The judgment was severe.  Her husband and two sons died.  Beyond that, she lost one of her two daughters-in-law.  Even though Naomi was righteous, she suffered, but not to death, along with the unrighteous.  The same is true today.  I believe the western world is beginning to experience God's judgment.  It is seen in many ways.  Even though some of the unrighteous in the west might even die because of God's judgment, example, 911 and Katrina, God's people don't die.  That being said, they do suffer along with the unrighteous.  If God judges the west and the economy collapses, God's people, like Naomi will experience the pinch.  I do believe that Christians should understand this, because there are rough days ahead.             



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