As we begin reading the book of Ruth, I first want to look into the background of this for context so that we can have a better understanding as we read through it. The author of this book is actually unknown, but we know that the story takes place during the time of the judges (before Samuel) and was written sometime after the judges ruled. At this point in time, people were not living for God, they were living for themselves, our application calls it “a period of disobedience, idolatry, and violence.” When we read this, we will break this up to learn more background throughout the scripture.
Naomi Loses Her Husband and Sons
1 In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
Naomi and Ruth Return to Bethlehem
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 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? 12 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— 13 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 turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
19 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?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,[b]” she told them. “Call me Mara,[c] because the Almighty[d] has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted[e] me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.
In verses 1 and 2 we can understand that the famine had to be really bad for Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, for him to move them to Moab. Moab actually once oppressed Israel, at least during the time of the judges, so even if they didn’t by this point, we can assume there would still be tension there.
Now living in Moab, Naomi’s husband dies, she has her two sons, they end up marrying Moabite women. However, her two sons also die and now her daughter in laws are widowed, too. Being a widow in these days was hard because they no longer had someone to provide for them, our application says “there was almost nothing worse than being a widow in the ancient world. Widows were taken advantage of or ignored. They were almost always poverty stricken.” So when Naomi heard this news of Israel in verse 6, they’d decided to go back to her home, however as they started their journey, what happened in verse 8? What does Naomi tell her daughter in laws? What do they do in response?
I love how Ruth responds. Verse 14 says she clung to Naomi. And she goes on to speak todays scripture, verse 16.
It sounds like from scripture and our application that Moabites didn’t worship the true God, but that it didn’t stop her from doing so. God saw her, he accepted her and he is there to accept anyone who truly worships him, God does not discriminate and he can use anyone to further his kingdom.
I think it is important that we look at verses 20 and 21 because when I first read this I was confused because I know she was a woman of faith in God, but her reaction caught me by surprise. So, I want to be sure we clarify what’s happening here. Our application first reminds us that she has endured some serious hardships, then goes on to share with us “[she] changed her name to express the bitterness and pain she felt. Naomi was not rejecting God by openly expressing her pain. However, she seems to have lost sight of the tremendous resources she had in her relationship with Ruth and with God. When you face bitter times, God welcomes your honest prayers, but be careful not to overlook the love, strength and resources that he provides in your present relationships. And don’t allow bitterness and disappointment to blind you to your opportunities.”
Let’s take a moment to reflect there. Is there an area in your life right now where you may be overlooking the good because bitterness has gotten a hold of you. Maybe you aren’t there right now, so write about a time when that was you. Looking back where did you see the love, strength and resources that the Lord provided?
Heavenly Father, thank you Lord for this book on Ruth and Naomi. Thank you for showing us a love and bond like theirs. Thank you for the reminder that even in the bitterness, where we know you want our open and honest prayers, that we can also have our eyes open to see the good and the beautiful that you have put before us and around us. Allow us to press into you in the times like these. Help us to love like Ruth does here. Help us to reflect and imitate your faithfulness to others in our time here. In your loving name we pray, AMEN!