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Basic Bible: Ruth Follows Naomi

Ruth 1:1-9, 14b., 16

The book of Ruth records an inspiring story that is much more than just a story. It is scripture which has been preserved by God for our benefit. As scripture, it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness. As a book of history, it must be read with the understanding that history is a result of actions of individuals driven by free will. The decision to follow or not to follow the Lord is a free-will choice.

The book of Ruth was written well after her lifetime. The earliest that the book would have been written is during David’s reign. David’s genealogy reveals that Ruth was his great-grandmother. The events recorded in the book would have occurred approximately 100 years before David began to reign from Jerusalem when he was 40 years old. The events in Ruth transpired at the time in which God raised up judges to rule over His people.

“. . . there was a famine in the land” (v. 1). For Israel, lack of seasonal rains meant crop failure and an ensuing famine. Famines in the land were cause for Abraham to go to Egypt and for Isaac to go to Gerar (Gen. 12:10, 26:1). The famine in the scripture before us severely affected the family of Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons.

To escape the famine, Elimelech departed from Bethlehem-judah with his family and journeyed to Moab, the nation to the immediate east. The straight line distance, in today’s terms, was almost nothing — perhaps fifty miles. Moab would have been a journey of several days for the family and it would have been a journey that Elimelech undertook knowing that Moab was free of famine.

Elimelech left Bethlehem-judah because he thought it best for his family. There is no reason to believe that God influenced his decision.

There was food for the family in Moab, but there was also tragedy. Elimelech died soon after his arrival. Naomi and her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, continued to dwell in the land. The sons took wives of the women of Moab. Their decision, like the decision of their father Elimelech, does not appear to be God-directed.

After about ten years tragedy hit again. Both Mahlon and Chilion died leaving Naomi with two widowed daughter-in-laws. For Naomi, life in Moab had been one disappointment after another. Famine had caused her to be uprooted and planted in a foreign land. Death had robbed her of her husband and of her two sons.

The decision to sojourn in Moab belonged to Elimelech (v. 1). The decision to take wives of the women of Moab was Mahlon’s and Chilion’s (v. 4). Naomi may or may not have influenced their decisions. The scripture is silent.

In verse 5, Naomi is alone. Decision-making responsibility had been thrust upon her. Verse 6 reveals that Naomi decided to leave Moab and return to Judah. Verse 6 states that Naomi heard the Lord had visited His people and given them bread.

This is the first mention of the Lord in the book of Ruth. The Lord’s involvement jumps out. Naomi heard what the Lord had done. Naomi acted upon what she had heard and made preparation to return to Bethlehem-judah. Her decision to return was not an attempt to escape famine. There was no famine in Moab. Her decision was prompted by news that the Lord had bestowed blessings upon His people. Naomi desired to return and share in that blessing.

Verse 7 finds Naomi with her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, packed up and ready to depart for Bethlehem. Ruth and Orpah are devoted to Naomi and are intent upon remaining with her. Naomi turned to them and said, “Go, return . . . the Lord deal kindly with you” (v. 8). The second mention of the Lord in this book is from the lips of Naomi. She asked the Lord to extend His loving-kindness upon her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi called upon the God who had blessed His people with bread to bless these two daughters of Moab. Naomi knew a God who is able to reach out in love to them who do not know Him.

She urged both Ruth and Orpah to return to the homes of their mothers. It was decision time for Ruth and for Orpah. Naomi made it known to them that they would forfeit future hope of prosperity and security if they remained with her. According to the custom of the time, Ruth and Orpah’s inheritance was dependent upon their marrying a future son which Naomi might bear. Naomi was past her childbearing years. There would be no future sons and no hope of inheritance.

Orpah kissed Naomi and departed to return to her people. Orpah decided to remain in Moab. Ruth clave to Naomi. Ruth decided to cast her lot with Naomi. Why different decisions? Both desired to go where Ruth would go (see v. 10). Both Orpah and Ruth loved Naomi and were willing to go where she would go. The difference is found in that Ruth was willing that Naomi’s people would be her people and Naomi’s God be her God. Orpah was not willing to accept Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God. Orpah chose her mother’s people and her mother’s god.

New Testament believers relate to Ruth’s decision because we have been blessed by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We know Naomi’s God. We know God to be the God who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son such that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16). We rejoice because Ruth chose Naomi’s God.

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