Ruth 1 (New Living Translation)
Just before Christmas — a look at some of Jesus’ ancestors!
Elimelech Moves His Family to Moab
1 In the days when the judges ruled in Israel,
The stories in the book of Judges present several distressing pictures of the people of God doing “what was right in their own eyes” and not following the Lord. However, the book of Ruth presents a community that did what was right in God’s eyes. We see kindness and honor and faithfulness and and love. We see loyalty and obedience and joy and love. We see grace and new beginnings and love.
Ruth is one of my most favorite books in the Bible. I have learned it by heart. It is a sweet story of love and redemption, and those are the best stories of all!
a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.
3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth.
In the Old Testament, names had meanings that were thought to shape a person’s character. Sometimes in the Bible, God will even change a person’s name to reflect more closely what God has in mind for him or her.
The name Elimelech means “God is king.”
Naomi means “pleasant, joy.”
Mahlon means “weakening.”
Kilion means “puny” — no wonder the sons died young!
Orpah means “cloud.”
Ruth means “water abundantly.”
Later we will meet Boaz; his name means “in him is strength.”
But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.
(Alone?! What about her two daughters-in-law? They were with her!)
Naomi and Ruth Return
6 Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.
8 But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.
10 “No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands? 12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again. And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what? 13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else? No, of course not, my daughters!
Naomi is referring to the ancient practice of Levirate marriage, in which the brother of a dead man marries the widow to care for her and to raise up a child to carry on the dead man’s name (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). If there were no brother, then the job went to the next closest male relative. These men were called “family redeemers.” This practice was an important mechanism for insuring that property was kept within the original husband’s family. And for the wife: to be a widow in the ancient world was very difficult, so this system also provided a home and a family for a woman who might otherwise be utterly bereft. In a patriarchal society, a woman really needed a man for her livelihood, for her well-being, for her reputation.
Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.”
14 And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi.
15 “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”
Galatians 3:14 (NIV)
He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.
Something about that family — about Naomi — caused Ruth to leave her own family and go to the Israelites and their God. What a shining witness!
18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
Sonnet 9 — by John Milton
Lady that in the prime of earliest youth,
Wisely hast shun’d the broad way and the green,
And with those few art eminently seen,
That labour up the Hill of heav’nly Truth,
The better part, with Mary, and with Ruth,
Chosen thou hast, and they that overween,
And at thy growing virtues fret their spleen,
No anger find in thee, but pity and truth.
Thy care is fixt and zealously attends
To fill thy odorous Lamp with deeds of light,
And Hope that reaps not shame. Therefore be sure
Thou, when the Bridegroom with his feastfull friends
Passes to bliss at the mid hour of night,
Hast gained thy entrance, Virgin wise and pure.
19 So the two of them continued on their journey. When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara (Mara means “bitter”),for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty.
(Not quite empty. Ruth, who loves her dearly, is with her!)
Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”
Psalm 25, selected verses
Do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
No one whose hope is in you
will ever be put to shame.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart have multiplied;
free me from my anguish.
Guard my life and rescue me,
for I take refuge in you.
22 So Naomi returned from Moab, accompanied by her daughter-in-law Ruth, the young Moabite woman. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest.
HERE is a girl gospel trio, from West Africa — “Entreat Me Not to Leave You.” I find it charming! (Thank you, Carole!)
Entreat me not to leave you
Don’t ask me to go back
They God shall be my God
Thy people shall be my people
Where thou diest, I will die.
Or if you prefer something more SATB, HERE is Dan Forrest’s recent (2012) work of the same name.
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.