Summary: In the first in a series of messages on the book of Ruth, a great love story set against the backdrop of the era of the Judges of Israel, we see the high price of sin and Ruth's great confession and how it applies to the church today.
Ruth Chapter 1:1-22
J. Vernon McGee calls Ruth "An addendum to the Book of Judges. A brochure of beauty. A bright picture on the black background of the judges."[i]
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.
In the Days The Judges Ruled
There are two thoughts that arise out of this statement in the days the judges ruled.
-First it sets the timeframe of the story, the era of the judges that is the book of Judges in the OT. (Approximate times are 1417-1155 BC).
-Second, it gives an indication of the general attitude of the people in Israel at that time. Seven times they "did evil in the sight of the Lord" (Judges 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). What was this evil? They left the Lord God to serve other gods. Twice we are told they "did what was right in their own eyes" (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Not turning towards the God of heaven but looking to the god of self to do right according to the flesh. Can we guess how that would turn out?
-When they did evil God did judge them and put them in bondage to other nations.
-Doing what is right in our own eyes can lead to pride and pride comes before a fall. Judgment comes in many forms when God has to judge us (and if will not judge ourselves then He must judge us).
-As we are going to see, one of God's judgments is famine.
There was A Famine in the land
Famine was one of the judgments God used for Israel:
A famine in the land, in the land of Canaan, that land flowing with milk and honey. This was one of the judgments which God had threatened to bring upon them for their sins, Lev 26:18-20. He has many arrows in his quiver. In the days of the judges they were oppressed by their enemies; and, when by that judgment they were not reformed, God tried this, for when he judges he will overcome. When the land had rest, yet it had not plenty; even in Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, there was scarcity. A fruitful land is turned into barrenness, to correct and restrain the luxury and wantonness of those that dwell therein.[ii]
It is against this background we enter this story.
The Significance of the Famine
The Location of the Famine
We are told that there was a certain man of Bethlehem Judah. This had to be notated because there is more than one Bethlehem in Israel. The interesting thought here occurs when we consider the meaning of the word:
OT:1035 Beyth Lechem (bayth leh'-khem; from OT:1004 and OT:3899; house of bread; Bethechem, a place in Palestine: KJV - Beth-lehem.[iii]
There was no bread in the house of bread! What does that mean? I can think of a few answers:
-In the Old Testament, one of the symbols of God's presence was the showbread. That is what it technically means in the first reference of the word in Exodus 25:30. The bread of His Presence, and the symbolic meaning that God is not there.
-In the New Testament Jesus is the Bread of Life. (And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. -John 6:35).
-When I see this famine, this lack of presence of God in His Church, I understand why churches are empty, lacking. People are coming to church looking for bread and finding none. Yes they see the big empty ovens where bread use to come out. The large cathedrals that stands empty and unused from a bygone era. They come for the promise of bread and get stories of bygone times when God use to visit. They may find some crumbs around the sanctuary but nothing satisfies them.
-When this happens the go looking other places to be filled. If the church will not meet my needs, maybe Buddha will, maybe the psychic will, and maybe the bar will. This is where we pick up the story of Ruth. There was a famine in the house of bread so they left.
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. And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. 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. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.