Ruth 1:1-18

Sunday Morning Bible Study

December 16, 2001


Though the book of Ruth does not tell us who the author was, Jewish tradition has it that Ruth was written by the prophet Samuel.

: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 Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

in the days when the judges ruled – it’s hard to nail down a precise date of these events.  The hero of the story, Boaz, will be the great grandfather to King David.  This could be a hundred years or so before the time of David.  Some have suggested that the time of Ruth may have been somewhere around the time of Gideon.

famine – things like famines would cause people to move from one area to the next in order to survive.  Often in the Bible, famines came as a judgment on the people.

Bethlehemjudah – the town of Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah.  Bethlehem means “house of bread”

The same little town that has figured prominently in the last couple of stories in Judges.

Judges 17-18 – The Levite that led the tribe of Dan into idolatry came from Bethlehemjudah
Judges 10-21 – The concubine that was cut into pieces by her husband was from Bethlehemjudah

Now, Elimelech comes from the same town.

This is the same town Jesus would be born.

Moab – the land on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, about 50 miles to the east of Bethlehem.  These were the descendants of the incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters (Gen. 19:30-38).


Even in dark times, God is at work

The period of the judges were some of the most bleakest in Israel’s history.  We’ve already seen in the last two stories in Judges how great depravity was going on, all in the area of Bethlehem.
Yet while the nation was slipping downhill, God would be at work.  Even while the nation was involved in horrible things, a family was growing, a family that would give birth to a king, David.
There would be another day when the land of Israel would be in great darkness.
(Mat 4:13-16 KJV)  And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: {14} That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, {15} The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; {16} The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up.

:2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.

In Bible times, a person’s name had significance.  Often, there was a prophetic aspect about a name.

Elimelech ‘Eliymelek – “my God is king”

I think there’s an interesting turn in events.  In the two previous stories involving Bethlehemjudah and the troubled nation of Israel, the catch phrase was, “there was no king in Israel”.

Now there will be an eventual change for the better for Israel, and it will start with a man whose name is “my God is king”.

NaomiNo‘omiy – “my delight”, or, “pleasant”

MahlonMachlown – “sick”

ChilionKilyown – “pining”

Ephrathites – “fruitfulness”, the ancient name of Bethlehem was Ephrath (Gen. 35:19)

Ge 35:19  And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which [is] Bethlehem.

You will see this name used in that special prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah –

(Micah 5:2 KJV)  But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.

:4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth

wives of the women of Moab – This is not necessarily a good thing.  The Moabites were not godly people.  There was some bad history between Israel and Moab. The Moabites were worshipers of the god Chemosh, a deity whose worship was similar to that of Baal.

When Israel was about to cross into the Promised Land, it was the Moabites that caused such great trouble to Israel through the hiring of the prophet Balaam to put a curse on Israel.  When Balaam was unable to curse Israel, he counseled the Moabites to send their young girls into the Israelite camp and tempt the Israelites into immorality and idolatry.  As a result, God said,

(Deu 23:3 KJV)  An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever: {4} Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. {5} Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee. {6} Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.

Though it was not expressly forbidden for a Jewish boy to marry a Moabite, it might have been considered an unwise thing.

Orpah ‘Orpah – “gazelle”.  She married Chilion (Ruth 4:10)

RuthRuwth – “friendship”.  Ruth married Mahlon (Ruth 4:10).


God uses outcasts

What we’re going to see is how God is able to take someone who is “unacceptable”, and use her to bring great blessings.
This is grace.  Where the “Law” would exclude Ruth, God in His grace would include her.  She is included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ:
(Mat 1:1-6 KJV)  The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. {2} Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; {3} And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; {4} And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; {5} And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; {6} And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;

In just these six verses, there are four women mentioned, and all of them could be considered “outcasts”.  Tamar seduced her father-in-law.  Rahab was a harlot.  David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  Yet all are mentioned by Matthew in the family tree of Jesus.

You may not feel like you are the kind of person that could fit into God’s plans, but perhaps you are.

:5  And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them

Was it a mistake for Elimelech to take his family to Moab?

I can see why some would say “yes”.

Elimelech abandoned his heritage in the Promised Land.  He left Israel.
Sojourning was something you did for a couple of months, but they ended up staying ten years.
You could make a point that he “walked by sight and not by faith” because he made his decision based upon his circumstances rather than God’s leading. 
People move during times of famine because they don’t want to die. Yet in the end, his move ended with his own death and the death of his two sons.


God can turn tragedy to triumph

Even though you could make a case for the trip to Moab being a disaster, if Elimelech hadn’t taken his family to Moab, there’s be no Ruth.
And Ruth is GOOD.
(Rom 8:28 KJV)  And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

:6  the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread.

Naomi heard that there was now “bread” in Bethlehem, the “house of bread”.

:8 Go, return each to her mother's house

In the culture of the time, women frequently lived in separate quarters from the men.  If the gals went home, they would be living with their mothers.

:8  the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.

Naomi is asking God to treat these gals with kindness, the same way they treated their husbands while the husbands were alive.


What if God treated you like you treat your spouse?

Jesus said, (Mat 5:7 KJV)  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Playing Wedding
A grandmother overheard 5-year-old Christy “playing wedding.” The wedding vows went like this: “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say may be held against you, you have the right to have an attorney present. You may kiss the bride.”
In reality, God is much more merciful to us than we are to others.

:10 Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.

Both Orpah and Naomi express that they wish to return to Israel with Naomi.  We get the idea that neither of them have been to Israel.  They have been exposed to Judaism through this family.

:11 are there yet any more sons in my womb

Naomi is referring to the Levirate law (Deut. 25:5-10), where it was a man’s duty to marry his brother’s wife if the brother dies without having a child.

(Deu 25:5-10 KJV)  If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. {6} And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. {7} And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. {8} Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; {9} Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. {10} And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.

An example of this happening is found in Genesis 38, where Judah’s son Er died, and his wife Tamar was given to the next brother Onan in order to have a child.  Onan too died, and in the end Tamar ended up tricking and seducing Judah in order to get pregnant.  She would give birth to twins, Perez and Zerah, who would be the fathers of the rest of the tribe of Judah.  At the end of Ruth, the people of the city pray that God would bless Ruth’s descendants like He did the descendants of Judah and Tamar (Ruth 4:12).

Naomi is saying that she doesn’t have any more sons to give to these gals.

:12  I am too old to have an husband

Naomi is past the age of childbearing.

:13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown?

Naomi is presenting what seems a funny situation.  She is saying that even if she had a husband, and she were to get pregnant that same day, would the gals want to stick around to wait for a baby boy to grow up and marry them?  Of course not.  Let alone think of what a funny situation of a baby growing up, knowing that he would have to one day marry these older women.

:13  for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.

LORD – Naomi uses God’s name, Yahweh.


Helping or hindering the kingdom.

Moses invited his father-in-law to come with them to the Promised Land
(Num 10:32 KJV)  And it shall be, if thou go with us, yea, it shall be, that what goodness the LORD shall do unto us, the same will we do unto thee.
It seems that Naomi is doing everything she can to keep Orpah and Ruth from coming back with her.
One commentary suggested that she might have been embarrassed to bring the Moabite girls back with her, since it would demonstrate to the rest of the town that they had left the Promised Land.
Do you know people who don’t know the Lord?  How important is it to you that they come to the Lord?  Would you be embarrassed if they came to church with you?

:14  Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.

Orpah kisses Naomi goodbye and leaves.  But Ruth doesn’t want to leave.

John Wesley wrote, “She loved Naomi, but she did not love her so well, as to quit her country for her sake. Thus many have a value for Christ, and yet come short of salvation by him, because they cannot find in their hearts, to forsake other things for him.  They love him, and yet leave him, because they do not love him enough, but love other things better.”


What would make you leave?

It seems it didn’t take too much to talk Orpah into leaving.
Naomi makes a very good point.  Naomi doesn’t have anything to offer to the girls. 
She is poor and can’t support them financially.
Life would probably be very much better if they just stayed in Moab.  After all, they are Moabites. 
Naomi can’t give them husbands. 
Why take so many risks and go?  Why not leave Naomi?
There is a sense in which it can be quite easy at times to want to walk away from the Lord.
Jesus told a parable of a farmer throwing his seed on various types of soil.  It was a picture of how people react differently when the Word of God is planted in their lives.  One of the soils was the “rocky soil”.  Jesus first described it by saying:

(Mat 13:5-6 NLT)  Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The plants sprang up quickly, {6} but they soon wilted beneath the hot sun and died because the roots had no nourishment in the shallow soil.

Then Jesus gave the interpretation:

(Mat 13:20-21 NLT)  The rocky soil represents those who hear the message and receive it with joy. {21} But like young plants in such soil, their roots don't go very deep. At first they get along fine, but they wilt as soon as they have problems or are persecuted because they believe the word.

If you make a choice to follow Jesus, understand that there will be times when you will be tempted to walk away.  Will you?

:15 return thou after thy sister in law.

The Scripture doesn’t condemn Orpah for leaving.  But there is a greater blessing that is coming for the one who is committed, not just to Naomi, but to the Lord.

:16-17  thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God …


Commitment in marriage

Verses 16-17 are sometimes used in wedding ceremonies, and for good reason.
Author and business leader Fred Smith writes: One of my treasured memories comes from a doughnut shop in Grand Saline, Texas. There was a young farm couple sitting at the table next to mine. He was wearing overalls and she a gingham dress. After finishing their doughnuts, he got up to pay the bill, and I noticed she didn’t get up to follow him.
But then he came back and stood in front of her. She put her arms around his neck, and he lifted her up, revealing that she was wearing a full-body brace. He lifted her out of her chair and backed out the front door to the pickup truck, with her hanging from his neck.
As he gently put her into the truck, everyone in the shop watched. No one said anything until a waitress remarked, almost reverently, “He took his vows seriously.”
That’s the way God expects us to commit to our marriage.


The blessing of commitment

While Orpah chose to leave Naomi to look for a husband, Ruth made a choice that could very possibly end with her staying single for the rest of her life.
Though we don’t know what happened to Orpah, we do know that Naomi found blessings beyond what she could ever have dreamed of.

:18 When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.

stedfastly minded ‘amats – to be strong, alert, courageous, brave, bold, solid, hard

John Wesley wrote: “See the power of resolution! Those who are half-resolved, are like a door a-jar, which invites a thief. But resolution shuts and bolts he door, and then the devil flees from us.”


Commitment brings resolve

The strength of Ruth’s commitment would keep her from even thinking of leaving Naomi.  Nothing could persuade her to leave.
Senator John McCain writes, “In the final years of our imprisonment, the North Vietnamese moved us from small cells with one or two prisoners to large rooms with as many as 30-40 men to a room. We preferred this situation for the companionship and strength we could draw from our fellow prisoners. In addition to moving us to new quarters, our captors also let us receive packages and letters from home. Many men received word from their families for the first time in several years. The improved conditions were a result of public pressure put on the North Vietnamese by the American public.
“In our cell was one Navy officer, Lt. Commander Mike Christian. Over a period of time Mike had gathered bits and pieces of red and white cloth from various packages. Using a piece of bamboo he had fashioned into a needle, Mike sewed a United States flag on the inside of his shirt, one of the blue pajama tops we all wore.
“Every night in our cell, Mike would put his shirt on the wall, and we would say the pledge of allegiance. I know that the pledge of allegiance may not be the most important aspect of our day now, but I can tell you that at the time it was the most important aspect of our lives.
“This had been going on for some time until on of the guards came in as we were reciting our pledge. They ripped the flag off the wall and dragged Mike out. He was beaten for several hours and then thrown back into the cell.
“Later that night, as we were settling down to sleep on the concrete slabs that we our beds, I looked over to the spot where the guards had thrown Mike. There, under the solitary light bulb hanging from the ceiling, I saw Mike. Still bloody and his face swollen beyond recognition, Mike was gathering bits and pieces of cloth together. He was sewing a new American flag.”


Commitment to Jesus

Ruth has a wonderful commitment to her mother-in-law.  But it’s more than just a commitment to Naomi,
This is a picture of true conversion.
Ruth is committed to Naomi’s people (Israel). Ruth is leaving her old life as a Moabite behind and choosing to be an Israelite.
Better yet, Ruth is committed to Naomi’s God. She no longer counts herself a follower of Chemosh, but of Yahweh.
Jesus said,
(Mat 16:24-26 KJV)  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. {25} For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. {26} For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?