Summary: The Old Testament book of Ruth is a short story about love, but even more importantly, a story of incredible faith. The evidence of her faith was found in stepping out into the unknown while trusting God when she left both her culture and her family behi
The Old Testament book of Ruth is a short story about love, but even more importantly, a story of incredible faith. The evidence of her faith was found in stepping out into the unknown while trusting God when she left both her culture and her family behind. It is an incredible story. This took place about a hundred years before the time of David. You can find “Ruth” tucked between the book of Judges and the book of 1st Samuel. The entire account of this woman’s life is given in only 85 verses. You can read it in less than an hour and I encourage you to do so.
Ruth was an extraordinary woman of God, even though she didn’t start out that way. She was a sinner just like you and me, yet God used her in a profound way – just as He uses us today. She was a widow and a foreigner who left her country for a strange land. Tragedy reduced her to poverty almost overnight. She was not only an outcast (as widowed women were in those days) but she had no money and few possessions. She was destitute and needed help, she could not continue on her own. And that’s when God used a man who was a distant relative of her Mother-in-law to provide the help she needed – he became her redeemer.
The story begins in Israel when Israel was suffering a severe drought. Water was scarce, jobs were gone, and day after day the heat and the wind drove people elsewhere. In the beginning chapter of “Ruth” we meet Elimelech (Ee-lim-ah-lek) and his wife Naomi, both devout Jews. They had two sons named Mahlon (May-luhn) and Chilion (Kil-ee-uhn). Elimelech was a land owner, and a prominent man of God and their hometown was Bethlehem. The same Bethlehem where Rachael, Jacob’s wife was buried. The same Bethlehem where David grew up and yes the same Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born. The story of Elimelech’s family became a key link in the chain tying the Messianic line to Bethlehem.
Droughts and famines in Israel were not uncommon; after all Israel is a desert. Just as Abraham was driven from Israel to Egypt to escape a famine and just like Joseph’s family escaped to Egypt for the same reason, Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons left Israel to find a better way of life. They were Israelites and they worshipped God and followed Jewish law. They were brought up in the Jewish culture in those days. Why they escaped to Moab is an enigma at first, but as the story continues, God’s hand is clearly on them. These must have been desperate times because Moab itself was mostly a desolate region bordering the Dead Sea to the west and to the east, nothing but wasteland. The country of Moab is in modern day Jordan. It wasn’t far from Israel geographically, but it was light years away spiritually. In the beginning Moab was a son born to descendents of Lot going way back and he was a distant relative of Jacob as his second cousin. Later, even though they were related and had close ties, the Moabites and the Israelites generally despised one another. Throughout the Old Testament, relations between Israel and Moab ranged from uneasy tension to outright hostility.
The Moabites worshipped a false god named Chemosh (Kee-mosh) among many others. They practiced human sacrifice, and pagan rituals to say the least. It was a pagan culture and idols were merely their way of life. Everything the Moabites practiced was the polar opposite of what the Israelites believed. They were warned by God Himself to distance themselves from Moab, yet that is where Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons chose to start a new home. They would live in Moab for over ten years.
Early on, tragedy overtook this family. For reasons unknown Elimelech died in Moab, leaving Naomi a widow with the responsibility of raising her two sons. The sons Mahlon and Chilion were approaching adulthood and they both soon married. And the wives they took were full blooded Moabites. Israelite men were forbidden to marry Moabite women according to Jewish law, so they would not be tempted to worship false gods. Yet Naomi’s two sons ignored Jewish law and married them anyway.
However Naomi and her sons must have felt trapped by their desperate circumstances, so Naomi accepted her two daughters-in-law with open arms. One was named Orpah (Or-pah) meaning “stubborn” and she was married to Chilion (Kil-ee-uhn.) The other was named Ruth meaning “friendship” and she was married to Mahlon ((May-luhn) the older of the two sons. Again tragedy occurred when Naomi’s two sons died most probably due to disease as a result of the famine, leaving Naomi, Orpah and Ruth to fend for themselves. In that culture, it was a most impossible situation, three widowed women with no children on their own. They could not survive long, even if they pooled their meager resources.