Sunday, April 08, 2007


RUTH 1

Introduction

This little book tells the story of two women, Naomi and Ruth. Naomi suffered much hardship, but found peace and security. Ruth was faithful to her mother-in-law, left her home in a pagan land, and joined herself to Israel, finding redemption. The book also tells us of Boaz, the kinsman redeemer. But, truly it is the story of God, who works in the affairs of women and men to accomplish his purpose and to bless those who trust him. It is a story of God’s grace, given to a pagan woman who pledged herself to follow God.

This story occurs in the time of Judges, which we have studied. We don’t know who wrote the book. We don’t know when it was written. It was included in the Jewish scriptures. The Babylonian Talmud has it. Josephus referred to it. It appeared in possibly the oldest list of Old Testament books, a manuscript found in the Greek Patriarch’s library in Jerusalem.

1:1-2 Famine and Flight

1 In the days when the judges ruled, [a] there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

This first verse tells us Ruth lived in the time of the Judges. You might remember from out study that this time was marked by the unfaithfulness of the Israelites, who would cease worshipping God until they were conquered or harassed by other nations. Then they would repent and God would deliver. Then they would start the whole cycle over again.

In Deuteronomy 28, the Lord told the Israelites they would suffer drought and the resulting famine if they forsook the Lord. This is also set out in Leviticus 26:19-20. Yet, Judges 2:11-12 says that the Israelites did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord… And so the Lord began to bring on them the punishments he described in Deuteronomy 28. For example, Judges 6:3-4 speaks of famine caused by the invasion of the Midianites during the time of Gideon.

In this opening verse in Ruth, we are told there was a famine in the land. This was probably the result of drought, or maybe invasion. So, this Israelite family suffered from the famine.

This family is composed of a man, his wife and their two sons. The man is Elimelech. His wife is Naomi. The sons are Mahlon and Kilion.

This family lived in or near Bethlehem. Verse 2 calls them Ephrathites, meaning they were from Betlehem Ephrath. Evidently the name of the town was originally Ephrath, and it was renamed Bethlehem. Rachel died and was buried there, according to Genesis 35:16. Bethlehem was awarded to the tribe of Judah in the allotment. The second most famous Judahite was King David, who was born and anointed as king in Bethlehem. So, it was called, in Luke 2:4, “the city of David”. Then, the most famous Judahite was born there, Jesus. In Micah 5:2, the Lord gave the prophesy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and referred to it as “Bethlehem Ephrathah”.

The word “Bethlehem” means “house of bread”, so it was probably a fertile farming area when there was enough rain. However, during this famine, food became scare, so Elimelech decided to leave and go to Moab, to the east, across the Jordan river. Moab was normally an enemy of Israel, although the left handed judge of Israel, Ehud, subdued Moab and won 80 years of peace for Israel, according to Judges 3.

Notice that there is no prayer for direction before Elimelech took his family out of the covenant land, and no word from God that he should. It is similar to Abraham taking his family out of the land to Egypt during a famine.

1:3-5 An Overcoat of Clay

Death is a Dialogue between
The Spirit and the Dust.
"Dissolve" says Death -- The Spirit "Sir
I have another Trust" --

Death doubts it -- Argues from the Ground --
The Spirit turns away
Just laying off for evidence
An Overcoat of Clay.

Emily Dickinson

3 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

Naomi’s husband died, and her sons married Moabite women. What started out as a short exile to avoid a famine turned into a long term stay. As you know, there was a specific prohibition concerning Moabites. Deuteronomy 23:3 prohibited Moabites from becoming part of the Israelite congregation. There was not a specific rule against marriage to a Moabite. (Deuteronomy 7:3 forbids marriage to Canaanites.) Some have interpreted the prohibition of Deuteronomy 23:3 to apply only to men.

After about 10 years of living in Moab, the sons also died off, leaving Naomi with only her daughters-in-law, two Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. Naomi was in a bad spot, for it was difficult for widows to survive.

1:6-7 Time to Go Home

6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

With her husband and sons dead, Naomi had little to hold her in Moab. When she heard the famine was over in Israel, she decided to return to her home. The daughters-in-law prepared to go with her and, evidently, even set out on the road to Judah with her. Notice that the end of the famine is attributed to the Lord coming to visit or aid his people. It is not ascribed to chance.

1:8-10 Attempted Separation

8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband." Then she kissed them and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, "We will go back with you to your people."

As Naomi set out on the road, she told her daughters-in-law to go back to their homes. Interestingly, she calls it “your mother’s home” rather than “your father’s house”. This book really is told from a woman’s point of view.

You can tell that Naomi and these younger women loved each other. Naomi gives them a blessing: “may the Lord show kindness to you” and “may the Lord grant each of you will find rest in the home of another husband”. She gives them a blessing and hopes they will each remarry and prosper. Then she kissed them. So you see affection and love from Naomi.

She also says that the women have shown kindness to her sons and to her. So, they had love for her also. Plus, they wept when she tried to leave them and stated their desire to go with her.

Also note here how Naomi refers to God. The text says “LORD” in all caps. That is a device used in most English versions to refer to “YHWH”, the Tetragramaton, the name of God. So, there is no possible confusion here to whom Naomi refers. In contrast, the Moabites were polytheistic, and their main god was probably Chemosh. In Numbers 21:29, Moses calls the Moabites the “people of Chemosh”. In 1 Kings 11:7, he is called the “detestable god of Moab”. In Numbers 25, they worship Baal, a Caananite god. But, Naomi is clear her allegiance is to YHWH, the LORD.


1:11-15 The Second Attempt

11 But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons- 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!" 14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. 15 "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."

Naomi persisted in trying to get the women to go back to their families in Moab. She had nothing to offer them, and knew they would be better to go back and seek husbands. In addition, she told them the Lord’s hand had gone out against her. That is, she attributed her difficulties to the work of the Lord. Orpah then decided to go back. Notice that Naomi tied people and gods together. For these women, a return to their people is a return to their pagan gods. Ruth, however, is not dissuaded from following Naomi.

Naomi does not expect to do well in Israel. She said in verse 12, that there is no hope for her, and this is tied to the idea of finding a husband, the only vocation open to women. She expected to find food in Israel, but still to be a poor widow.

1:16-18 Ruth’s Profession

16 But Ruth replied, "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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

In this passage, Ruth declared her faithfulness and devotion to Naomi. First, she says she will go wherever Naomi goes. Wherever Naomi’s travels would take her, Ruth was willing to go.

Second, Ruth said she would stay wherever Naomi stayed. She knew Naomi was headed back to Israel, and she was willing to go there just because Naomi would. This would have several implications for Ruth, as she would be cut off from her people and their religion. Her subsequent statements indicate she knew that.

Third, Ruth would adopt Naomi’s people as her own. Though the Moabites were related to the Israelites, they were seldom friendly. Yet, Ruth was willing to cut herself off from her own people and become part of Naomi’s people out of devotion to her.

Fourth, Ruth would adopt Naomi’s religion. Naomi’s God would be her God.

Ruth saw this as a permanent arrangement. She would die where Naomi died.

Finally, Ruth took an oath, invoking the name of YHWH. She said, “may the LORD (YHWH) deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” Her invocation of the Lord’s name indicates to me that she had already made a commitment to the Lord and felt bound by an oath to his name.

Ruth basically swears to forsake everything to follow Naomi. It reminds me of the requirements set by Jesus to become a disciple in Luke 14. First, he said (inverse 25-26) you could not become his disciple if you did not hate your father and mother, your wife and children, brother and sisters, and even your own life.

Second, Jesus said, in verse 27, you could not be his disciple if you did not carry your cross and follow him. Third, in verse 33, he said “any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple”. He went on to tell them parables to encourage them to count the cost before they tried to follow him. This isn’t very seeker friendly. But, it tells us Jesus expects complete devotion and commitment to follow him, not just a casual relationship.

Naomi accepted this commitment from Ruth and quit trying to dissuade her. Together, they traveled on to Israel.

Ironically, this chapter is about choices and consequences. Both Naomi and Ruth made choices to leave their country. Both suffered the loss of family as a result of the choices. But, Naomi’s choice was to leave the covenant land for a foreign land, in effect, leaving God’s protection to make it on her own. She suffered great loss as a result. In contrast, Ruth made the choice to leave her pagan land and go with Naomi to the land of the covenant and become part of it. As we will see, that resulted in blessing to her.

1:19-22 Return To Bethlehem

19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?" 20 "Don't call me Naomi, " she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." 22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.

Naomi and Ruth made it to Bethlehem, and the women of the town recognized Naomi. The men were out a the barley harvest. This puts the time of year around the end of April. Naomi responded, not with delight that she was remembered, but by telling them not to call her Naomi, which means “pleasant”, but to call her “Mara”, which means “bitter”. The reason is that the Lord had made her life bitter. Compare these words with Job’s, who said “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15)

Naomi said “the Almighty” had made her life bitter. The term “the Almighty” is a translation of the Hebrew “Shaddai”. This may be her way of saying the Lord’s will is irresistible, even when he brings trials to us.

There are some previous uses of this name for God in the Old Testatment. In Exodus 6:3, The Lord told Moses he appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the name of El Shaddai (or el sadday). In Geneses 17:1, God appeared to Abraham and said I am El Shaddai and commanded him to walk before him and be perfect. In Genesis 28:3, Isaac called on El Shaddai to bless Jacob as we prepared to leave for Padan-Aram. In Genesis 35:11, God appeared to Jacob and changed his name to Israel, telling him I am El Shaddai, and giving him the land of Canaan, as he gave it to Abraham and Isaac. Many of the verses in the Old Testament that refer to El Shaddai seem to be concerned with his power, so that is thought to be the meaning of the name. This fits Naomi’s context as well.

When she said the Lord “afflicted” her, she referred to “YHWH”.

Naomi sees God’s hand in her suffering, not the work of “chance”. She does not, however, say anything about her own, or her husband’s, role in these events as they left the “promised land” for the land of the pagan.

Naomi also said she went away full, and came back empty. She must be referring to the death of her husband and sons, not food or money, since they left because of a famine.
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