January 3, 2012

Ruth & Boaz: The Set-Up




In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. -Ruth 1:1
The book of Ruth begins by introducing us to the cast and setting of one of the Bible's best love stories. The time period is that of the judges, which was a "godless and wicked" age in Israel's history. Basically everybody did whatever they wished and whatever they pleased (sound a bit familiar?). It's during this time that we find that the land of Bethlehem is going through a famine (possibly the judgement of God due to the people's lack of obedience to Him). Just as a side note, the book of Ruth has quite a few ironies throughout it, the first one being a famine in Bethlehem, whose name means house of bread. Anyway, we're quickly introduced to Elimelech and his family. Elimelech is married to Naomi (whose name means sweet), and together they have two sons: Mahlon (whose name means sick) and Chilion (whose name means dying). Clearly Elimelch and Naomi failed big time when it came to naming their children. Don't ever name your kids that. 

In the first few opening verses we gain a lot of insight into the character of Elimelch. Like many men, when faced with serious economic situations, he begins to make new plans. There's a famine in the land, which means there's no food, thus he looks to where he can get his family fed. And of all places he chooses Moab. Moab was no place for an Israelite to be living. Moab was am extremely pagan society. The Moabites worshiped the god Chemosh and their worship practices were sexually perverted (that's putting it lightly). The fact that Elimelch even considers this is a big deal. He would be moving his family to a country where they'd basically have no connection to anyone of their own faith. There would be no church, no community group, no Bible Study, no coffee that tasted like dish water... nothing for them in terms of spiritual nourishment. Not that coffee does that either... but you get the point. Elimelch is a fool for this. He doesn't count the spiritual cost of this move for him or his family. Rather than staying in Bethlehem and trusting in God for provision (Irony #2: Elimelch's names means God is my King, although Elimelch doesn't act like it), he uproots his family and relocates to Moab in order to escape starving to death.
But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. -Ruth 1:3
Turns out what Elimelech was running from ended up actually happening: he dies, leaving his widow and sons in the land of Moab. No family or community for support. These two sons then end up taking Moabite women as their wives: Chilion marries Orpah and Mahlon marries Ruth. Together they all live in Moab for ten years. Both Orpah and Ruth are barren during those years as well, which back then was pretty serious since many people would see that as a sign of God not blessing them. Then to top it all off both of Naomi's sons die as well, leaving behind three, childless widows with no support and no money. But, it's here that we start to see the providential hand of God at work; a central theme in the book of Ruth.
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. -Ruth 1:6
Naomi gets word that rain has finally come and Bethlehem is again fruitful. So she decides to pack up what little she has left and to journey back to her home, back to her people. While they're traveling Naomi encourages her daughter in-laws, whom she loves as her own, to return to their families because she has no more sons for them to marry, she's broke, and she really has no idea what her future holds. Naomi cannot promise them much of a future if they continue on with her (verses 11-13). Orpah does so and returns home, but Ruth does not.
But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you" -Ruth 1:16-17
Ruth is an incredible woman of God. It's here in verse 16 and 17 that we see her conversion and the incredible amount of faith she has in the Lord. Ruth is traveling to a land she has never been, one where she will be looked down upon due to her nationality, previous religion, and the fact that she's a childless widow. Ruth knows no one there and is penniless. Despite all of that though we see that Ruth trusted that God would provide and take care of her, all she need do is have faith. A huge amount of faith. Ruth also loved her mother in-law dearly and was loyal to her. Together they had Hesed love for one another. This is the second major theme throughout the book.
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, "Is this Naomi?" She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?" -Ruth 1:19-21
I like Naomi's honesty here. Actually she's more than just honest, but she reveals in her heart that she's painfully bitter towards God because of her circumstances. She changes her name to Mara, meaning bitter. This should serve as some encouragement to us when we find ourselves in a season of life where we're not happy and go-lucky. But even still, as the book reveals later on, despite our bitterness, God is still sovereign and has a plan He's carrying out (even in the subtle details of our lives). It also shows us that every affliction we face is for the purpose of our good and our sanctification. And it's His plan that a new season should unfold for the two of them at this appointed time...
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. -Ruth 1:22 (emphasis added)

3 comments :

  1. I really like this story. So much love and redemption.

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  2. Ruth is one of my favorite Bible stories. So romantic♥

    xoxo,
    Jessica

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  3. interesting....can't wait to read the future posts :)

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