Ruth 1: Naomi and Ruth
The book of Ruth opens up by introducing a woman named Naomi, who lives in Bethlehem, and her family (her husband Elimelech, and her sons Mahlon and Kilion). The book takes place during the same timeframe as the book of Judges, although I don’t know when in that timeframe (i.e. near the beginning, the end, or somewhere in between).
Because of a famine in Israel, Elimelech and his family move to Moab. While there, Elimelech dies, but his sons Mahlon and Kilion marry Moabite women, named Orpah and Ruth. So they stay in Moab for quite a while, but after ten years, Mahlon and Kilion also die, leaving Naomi without a husband or sons to care for her.
However, after her sons have died—the passage doesn’t state how long after—Naomi hears word that the famine in Israel has ended, and that the LORD has “come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” (verse 6). So she and her daughers-in-law decide to set out from Moab, and go to Israel.
But then she seems to change her mind; she tells her daughers-in-law not to come back with her, to go back to their mothers’ homes, and she prays that the LORD will grant that they find new husbands. But they tell her that they don’t want to return home; they want to go with her, to her people. So she tries again to convince them:
But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!” (verses 11–13)
This speech convinces Orpah, who decides to return home, but Ruth continues to cling to Naomi (verse 14).
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
So Naomi realizes that Ruth is serious, and stops urging her to return home. They return to Bethlehem, and cause quite a sensation when the people recognize Naomi.
So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
This quote will make a lot more sense if I mention that the footnotes indicate that the name “Naomi” means “pleasant,” and “Mara” means “bitter.” That is, “Don’t call me ‘pleasant,’ call me ‘bitter.’”
Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem just as the barley harvest is beginning. (We’ll find out why that matters in the next passage.)
As the rules stand for the Israelites, I don’t believe Elimelech should have moved his family to Moab, and I’m definitely sure that Mahlon and Kilion should not have married Moabite women. I believe that it would be okay if the women decided to become Israelites, and worship the LORD, but other than that, I don’t believe it was allowed. In this case, it doesn’t seem that Orpah did that, although Ruth seems to have done so. (Although that might be foreshadowing, of the chapters to come…) There is a verse in this passage (quoted above) where Ruth says, “May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely,” but I don’t know if that necessarily means that she actually is following the LORD; it may just be a figure of speech.
To a modern-day Christian—somebody who is urged to evangelize as much as possible, and help bring as many souls as possible to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ—it seems very odd to read Naomi telling her daughters to return home to their gods. Why wouldn’t she urge them to come with her, and to come and worship her God? Evangelism doesn’t ever seem to be a priority for the Old Testament Israelites—who are the uniquely chosen people of God—even though God does sometimes tell them that He wants to use them to show His Glory to the other nations. And with my poor understanding of the relationship between God and His people in the Old Testament, I’m not even sure if evengelism was supposed to be a priority for them or not. But to make things more complicated, whether they were supposed to evengelize or not, this story happens to take place during the time of Judges, when the nation of Israel seemed to only have a very vague notion of who God is. So Naomi not evengelizing, in this instance, doesn’t really tell us much one way or the other.
All of which I hadn’t meant to type—the keyboard just got away from me. I was really just struck by the fact that it seems odd to my modern-day Christian sensibilities.