By Peter Amsterdam
October 11, 2022
The book of Ruth is one of the historical books in the Old Testament and is placed between the books of Judges and 1 Samuel. It is one of the two books of the Bible that are named after a woman, the other being the book of Esther. In four chapters, the book of Ruth tells the story of how a Moabite woman came to be the great-grandmother of King David, the greatest king of Israel.
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.1
During the time of the Judges (1200 BC to 1020 BC) an Israelite family from Bethlehem moved to the nearby country of Moab due to a local famine in Israel. Their plan was to temporarily ride out the famine in Moab and return home when it was finished. They were Ephrathites, which meant they were from Bethlehem.
But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.2
Some time after immigrating to Moab, Elimelech, the father of the family, died. Naomi and her sons remained in Moab, and the two sons married Moabite women. Around ten years later, the sons died, leaving the two Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth, as widows, along with their mother-in-law, Naomi, who was also a widow.
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.3
Upon hearing that the famine in the land had subsided, Naomi decided to return to the land of Judah. On the way, Naomi, possibly reflecting on her experience of moving to a foreign country, which resulted in her being in an alien land with virtually nothing, thought about her two daughters-in-law who would be entering a land which was foreign to them, just as she had done so long ago.
Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.”4
Naomi sacrificially instructed the two daughters-in-law to return to their mothers’ homes in Moab, as it would be more likely that they would find new husbands among their own people, rather than relocating in Bethlehem with her. That was Naomi’s first blessing on the women.
Her second blessing was,
“The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.5
Naomi knew that when her sons were alive, Orpah and Ruth were good wives to them. She thanked her daughters-in-law and prayed that they would find new husbands. Her intent was that both of them would return to their country, Moab, where they would remarry. She was releasing them from any responsibility they had to her as their mother-in-law. Naomi kissed them, and they collectively wept together.
They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”6
The daughters-in-law loyally stated that they would remain with their mother-in-law. They were committing themselves to leaving Moab and moving to Bethlehem, where they would be foreigners. Naomi looked at things pragmatically. She was past childbearing age, and even if she weren’t, if she bore new sons, would the women wait until her sons were grown and then marry them?
Naomi added that it was exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me. Naomi’s view was that God was against her for some reason. She expected that she was going to be alone and impoverished in old age, and she didn’t want her daughters-in-law to be tainted by her. She loved her daughters-in-law and was willing to let them return to Moab, where she felt they would have better prospects.
Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”7
This was an emotional moment for all of them. Orpah decided to return to Moab so as to remarry. Ruth, however, chose to stay with Naomi. Using Orpah’s decision as an example, Naomi tried to convince Ruth to return to Moab as well.
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”8
Even though Orpah decided to return to Moab, Ruth refused to leave Naomi. Ruth made a statement of commitment: “Where you go I go, where you live I will live; your people will be my people, your God will be my God.” Ruth’s first declaration was her pledge that she would permanently remain with Naomi. Her second was a pledge of commitment, that the relationships which were important to Naomi would also be important to her. She pledged to cherish Naomi’s memory and said that when she died, Ruth would continue to live in the same location. At the time of her own death, Ruth would be buried in the same place as Naomi. Ruth was committing to give up her culture, language, family, and the possibility of a future family in order to stay with Naomi. From this point forward, she would be joined to Naomi’s people permanently. Lastly, Ruth closed her pledge by making an oath calling on the Lord to severely deal with her if anything but death caused her to separate from Naomi.
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.9
Upon hearing Ruth’s commitment, Naomi stopped trying to persuade her to remain in Moab. Ruth’s relationship with Naomi was originally based on her marriage to Naomi’s son. However, after his death, Ruth continued as part of Naomi’s family—not through marriage but by her pledge, a covenant agreement. Even if Naomi were to die, Ruth was committed to remaining in Israel. Because of Ruth’s pledge, Naomi agreed that she could accompany her to Bethlehem.
(To be continued.)
Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
1 Ruth 1:1–2.
2 Ruth 1:3–5.
3 Ruth 1:6–7.
4 Ruth 1:8.
5 Ruth 1:9.
6 Ruth 1:10–13.
7 Ruth 1:14–15.
8 Ruth 1:16–17.
9 Ruth 1:18.