AN EXPOSITION OF RUTH 1:1-22
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 sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
The story of Ruth is one of the great stories in human history. The drama begins with a famine in the land of Palestine. No matter how hard the people worked, the parched earth would not yield enough food to feed the hungry.
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 Bethlehem Judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
During this difficult period, a Bethlehem citizen named Elimelech (God is my King), his wife Naomi (the sweet one), and their two sons Mahlon (sickly) and Chilion (pining) decided to leave the land and find refuge in Moab.
Moab (from father), was located in the territory east of the Dead Sea. Sharply rising hills comprise some of its rugged terrain.
From Mt. Nebo in the Abarim range of Moab, Moses was permitted to view the Promised Land that he had been forbidden to enter because of his sin. Elimelech thought there would be work and food in the land of Moab.
3 And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
Once in the land, more tragedy struck. Elimelech died suddenly and without warning. Naomi was left with her two sons, and a depressing future.
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: and they dwelled there about ten years.
For a little while, life returned to normal, for the two sons came of age and married. Naomi was able to find some female companionship in her two daughters in laws, Orpah and Ruth.
5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
Great tragedy came again. Mahlon and Chilion also died. It is possible that these men were never in the best of health as their names indicate. They left behind weeping wives, and a distraught mother.
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 how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.
Those who have been to the graveside of a loved one know the sorrow that grips the soul. Life does not seem to be worth living. And yet, somehow, in some wonderful way, Naomi found the inner strength needed to make some basic decision about the future. She would leave Moab. She would return to Bethlehem. She would go home.
The basis for these decisions was practical. Naomi had heard how the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread (Ruth 1: 6). Herein are some wonderful truths.
First, the Lord is ultimately in control of nature. While there are Laws of Nature, the Laws are simply the manifestation of Divine faithfulness. God can, and does sovereignly supply, or withholds, the forces that govern the affairs of man. Agricultural prosperity should be attributed to the blessing of God.
Second, the Lord will visit His people. God has a “people.” It is a humbling truth, but from the sea of humanity, God has a chosen people that He calls His own. It is not a racial people, but a regenerated people consisting of all who have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour because of electing love.
The doctrine of election is one of the great truths of Scripture. The Baptist Confession of 1689 teaches
“By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ.”
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:” (Matt. 25:34)
The purpose of electing souls to salvation is “to the praise of His glorious grace.”
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, 6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” (Eph. 1:5-6)
Third, the gifts of grace are designed to draw individuals back to the Lord. Naomi wants to go home because she has heard how the Lord has visited His people.
7 Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.
Initially, both Orpah and Ruth decided to go with Naomi
8 And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.
9 The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
11 And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
12 Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;
13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? Would ye stay for them from having husbands? Nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.
As the journey progressed, Orpah had a change of heart. The thought of leaving her extended family and friends was too much. She would remain behind. Besides, as Naomi reminded her, it was not practical
14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.
15 And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and departed. But not Ruth. Ruth had grown especially close to Naomi and was determined not to leave her. Ruth’s decision has given rise to one of the greatest expression of friendship love in the world.
16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
18 When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to remain with her, the journey continued. It was a long journey of 100 miles, on foot, over barren treacherous land.
Some of the mountains that had to be crossed were over a mile high. Finally, the journey ended. Bethlehem was in sight.
19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
The spirit of Naomi did not rejoice. Her heart had grown hard with the difficulties of life. Disillusioned and distressed, Naomi instructed her former neighbors to call her Mara, which means bitter.
A spirit of bitterness now saturated Naomi’s heart. She no longer found faith in God. She was a very angry woman, reflected in the words she spoke, and the change in her name.
In contrast to the bitterness of Naomi is the blessed response of Ruth to the adversities of life. There is no record that she became bitte, but Ruth did become a source of blessing to her mother-in-law by sharing in her life.
Ruth was not just a daughter in law, she was a friend. “A friend is one who helps you bridge the gaps between loneliness and fellowship, frustration and confidence, despair and hope, setbacks and success.” Ruth was a friend. She was a blessing to others.
I pray the Lord will allow all bitterness to be put away from our hearts so that we can be a source of blessing to others. That is the great challenge that will come to each of us on the journey of grace. To be a blessing, or to be bitter, there is a choice.
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.