Tag: The Virtuous Woman

Postlude – The Gracious Gift of Life

Ruth 4:13-22

The book of Ruth opens with much sadness, great loss, and little hope. Before the story hardly gets started, three of the four original cast members have permanently left the stage. The one remaining, Naomi, can only focus on what has been taken from her, unable to believe her life could ever again be worth living. Even Ruth’s commitment to remain with Naomi fails to cheer her up.

However, the Unseen Member of the cast has not left the stage; He is silently but sovereignly governing the affairs of Moabite and Jew alike. Involved in the most intimate details of their lives, at the same time some very mundane but essential things like barley and wheat harvests, God’s hand is unmistakeable. Having all the plot twists and surprises and a happy ending that make for a great story, it’s a work of non-fiction made possible only by God.

A. the miracle of life v.13-15

no longer barren – the pace of the story picks up, 9 months covered in verse 13. Author makes it clear – Ruth’s pregnancy was a God-thing. Whether God prevented Ruth from having children while married to Mahlon or not, don’t know. Do know God enabled her and Boaz to have a son. Now the “happily ever after-ing” really begins to take shape – God’s stamp of approval on their marriage.

a son is born – true, Bethlehem a small town. BUT, birth of Obed a community event. Seen by Naomi’s friends as blessing from God, given to her. As story opens with Naomi at center of attention, so she resumes her place at the end. It’s appropriate – gift of life to Ruth and Boaz in large measure gift to Naomi also.

a redeemer is given – there would indeed be a caregiver, one who would perpetuate Naomi’s branch of the family. By providing this gift to Naomi, Ruth was enabled by God to give all Naomi could ever ask for in a family. 7 – signifies perfection; Ruth the perfect family for Naomi in eyes of the community. Good reputation/standing to have!

B. the royal line continues v.16-17

the empty is full – Naomi pooh-poohed idea of starting over, raising new family. Unlikelihood of that was part of her perception of emptiness. Contrary to her expectations, God overruled – gave another child to fill her arms, enabled Naomi to have right perspective so child filled her heart also. A cause for rejoicing, not resentment.

a reason for living – every child needs a nanny. If Obed was to fully carry on the family name, needed to know family history and heritage and traditions from insider’s point of view. Naomi only one equipped to do that, to make him her son/grandson in more than just name. Naomi was primary means God used to bring Ruth to true faith; now Naomi has opportunity to do same for next generation. Most valuable facet of family heritage she could give to grandson, obeying God’s command to not only sons but sons’ sons also (Deut. 4:9).

answered prayer (see v.11) – those who prayed for blessing on Boaz and Ruth received postive answer. God indeed blessed their home with a child. They had no way to know how far blessing would extend. Wasn’t simply house of Israel Boaz would be instrumental in building up. As a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus, his house includes us – “the house of God, which is the church of the living God”. 1 Tim. 3:15

C. grace prevails v.18-22

son of Tamar to son of Jesse

two periods of Jewish history: time spent in Egypt and wandering around the wilderness (first five names), time from conquest of Canaan to monarchy. Probably a representative rather than comprehensive genealogy – at least a few missing generations, e.g. between Salmon and Boaz. Specific entries chosen to indicate God was working out particular purpose; showed in his gracious choice of ancestors for kingly line through David, ultimately to the King of kings.

husband of Rahab (Salmon) and husband of Ruth

Numerous times God overruled societal conventions to bring people of his choosing into earthly lineage of his Son. Who in their right mind would marry a prostitute? Especially one who was a former enemy, who lied to the authorities to save her own skin, switched sides because she thought it in her best interests. Salmon did, her name was Rahab. Legitimate? Certainly, since God has graciously given her the gift of faith as he did Ruth. God also graciously gave Salmon and Boaz the needed strength of character and faith to do the hard thing, take risks in relationship while following God.

God’s plan runs through all

If we’d been choosing royal heritage, what sorts of people would we include? If we’d been choosing heritage for Savior of the world, what sorts of people? Would we have included the immoral and the immigrant? A great military leader who was also a murderer? And would we include enough information in the official record (see Matthew 1:1-17) that readers be reminded of sordid details? Identifying Rahab, Tamar, Bathsheba and others whose public life was far from spotless? We probably wouldn’t, why did God?

To make it plain at the most basic inescapable level that Jesus was a gift to the whole world. Not just the Jews, ancestry included Gentiles. Not just royalty, ancestry included shepherds (David) and shopkeepers (Joseph). Not only righteous, ancestry included scoundrels (Judah and Manasseh and Amon). No matter the heritage you bring, the baggage you had no say in acquiring, the bad choices you get full credit for, there’s a place in God’s family for all who come to him by faith. Just as the King’s ancestry included every sort of person, so the King’s household includes every sort. God’s grace and goodness are awesome!

“I Love Ruthie”, Phil A. Smouse; 10 minutes

Act 5: The Public Pronouncement – Overcoming Obstacles

Ruth 4:1-12

The shortest distance (geometrically) between two points is a straight line but life rarely takes us that way. It’s more like what Jean Claude would say, “Next time you come by here, go round.” When we think the objective is in sight, an unforeseen obstacle develops in our path. Then there are those obstacles that we are able to see a little ways off. Often more important than reaching the other side of the obstacle is the path we take to get there.

Three of the players in our drama (Naomi, Ruth and Boaz) were facing obstacles: the close relative, the uncertainty, their personal emotions. There weren’t too many options for Naomi and Ruth: fret or wait, be consumed with anxiety or be actively and prayerfully patient. Boaz needed a plan, perhaps he had already developed it in anticipation of Ruth’s request for help.

How would Boaz work to resolve the question? Would he seek to do it publicly or privately? As a formal legal proceeding or informally? And how would he present the situation – emphasizing the benefits or the burden? Most importantly, how would Ruth figure into Boaz’ presentation? Would he try to keep her out of view and make the deal just about Naomi and the land? Or would she be the one used to gain sympathy from the kinsman?

A. a prior claim v.1-4

Before the beginning of the business day Boaz went to the town gate expecting to encounter the nearer relative there. Apparently well-known to Boaz, he called him by name, let him know they had business to transact. Name is not recorded in Scripture, cause for some speculation – the author didn’t know it, author didn’t figure it was important given the outcome, author didn’t think he deserved to be named given the outcome. Boaz’ character apparent from the outset – determined to do it the right way and trust God for the results. Further shown by obvious regard in which he was held by leaders of the village.

Boaz calling the elders to sit down nearby indicated his intention to make this a formal proceeding. Even if legal decisions were not required, those men served as witnesses to all that happened; their presence would encourage relative to not make rash promises, then not keep them. Further importance unknown to Boaz – if book of Ruth written to validate David’s claim to the monarchy, presence of witnesses showed there was no deception in how Ruth became part of the royal line. Nor were there any spoken objections, in fact, quite the opposite.

Boaz doesn’t beat around the bush – here’s the situation: Naomi is hard up, needs some provision for the future, needs to convert Elimelech’s interest in ancestral property to cash. You have first option, you’re closest relative, I’m in line after you. If you’re interested and have means to fulfill the role of kinsman-redeemer, do so. If you can’t, I will. Either way, make your intentions clear before these witnesses so there’s no misunderstanding.

At this point only Naomi and property have been part of discussion and emphasis has been on piece of land. Nothing stated about how individuals would be provided for other than cash or equivalent given to keep Elimelech’s land “in the family”. Boaz wasn’t keeping secrets – the whole town knew about Naomi and Ruth, their relationship, Ruth’s ancestry. Boaz just didn’t tell everything he knew; also was shrewd enough businessman to understand – more complicated a deal gets, more apt it is to fall through.

Approaching it as Boaz did also a way to test relative’s character and motives. If relative were looking for a deal, something to benefit himself and family without personal regard for Naomi, Boaz’ step-by-step handling of the negotiation would bring that to light. It was initially presented as question of adequate resources coupled with an interest in property. Relative’s quick response: well yaaah!

Imagine Boaz’ consternation when he heard that! In his mind whoever got the land got the girl; he wanted the girl, the other relative wanted the land. He was determined to make best possible provision for Naomi and Ruth, following both the letter of the law and moral obligations attached to it. If Boaz were hoping the relative lacked resources and would decline the offer, that hope ended abruptly. What to do now?

B. opportunity forfeited v.5-8

Was Boaz able to tell from the relative’s expression, body language, what he was thinking? Perhaps, maybe he knew the other fellow well enough to suspect. Whatever Boaz’ level of understanding, don’t forget God is very much involved in this part of the process. It’s reasonable to believe the Holy Spirit precisely directed Boaz’ thoughts and speech to bring about the outcome planned by God.

Oh, by the way, you do know that Ruth is part of the deal, too?? And not just buying out her interest, giving her a son to be Elimelech’s heir. The relative must think quickly, thoroughly, come to a decision, present it in way that allows maintaining good public opinion. The 10 elders, while maybe not having legal authority, certainly had much weight of opinion and standing on their side. They needed to be persuaded the relative’s reason for accepting was just and above board, likewise if he declined and deferred to Boaz.

Boaz was taking a risk, too. The 10 might also decide he was being unreasonable to expect the relative to marry Ruth for purpose of having children. They might buy including Naomi in the deal but could balk at adding Ruth. After all, she was a Moabitess.

Well, Boaz could relax; the other fellow declined to exercise his right to redeem. The reason given – it would ruin his own inheritance; let’s keep it technical and don’t make it personal. My scenario: the relative was age-peer more or less of Boaz, older man, widowed with at least one son. Another wife would not be improper, Naomi too old to have children, so the land would offset her costs and his son’s inheritance would be preserved. Ruth, on the other hand, a much different story; especially the way Boaz presented it. Any sons she might have would put his own son and inheritance at risk. Nope, not gonna do it.

He then made it official and legal – “This was symbolical, and a significant and convenient ceremony; as if he said, Take this shoe wherewith I used to go and tread upon my land, and in that shoe do thou enter upon it, and take possession of it.” Poole Formally relinquished his right to redeem the property, would have no just basis in future to change his mind, give Boaz a hard time. Especially true since all business was conducted in public before witnesses.

Two things of interest: tacit (silent) agreement given by elders and relative that inclusion of Ruth and need for offspring was just requirement. No argument, resistance equals agreement. Second, relative appears far more concerned with his inheritance (aka, stuff) than with people involved. He may have left a goodly inheritance to his offspring but he didn’t leave us his name. Perhaps a quiet yet powerful reminder of the kind of things God considers important.

C. light after darkness v.9-12

Boaz wasted no time in bringing official proceedings to a close. Made formal commitment to handle the financial end of things for Naomi so estate could be finally settled for her husband and sons. Boaz further committed publicly to taking Ruth under his wing, marrying her with the intent of having a family. Unlike the closer relative, Boaz more concerned with giving someone else an inheritance than maintaining his own. Determined to do all within his means to ensure that Elimelech’s name continued, that he as well as his son Mahlon would be remembered.

In that culture, Boaz’ public declaration counted as formal betrothal and eventual marriage (soon, of course!). And who can resist wedding bells? And a “happily ever after” sort of ending? Boaz had attracted quite a crowd there at the town gate; without hesitation all including 10 elders gave hearty approval to wedding plans. No one questioned willingness of Naomi and Ruth, it was assumed as a given. Boaz knew he had nothing to worry about from the ladies, just had to attend to the necessary details to make marriage possible.

The townspeople went even further – calling on God to provide great blessing and a heritage for Boaz and his bride. In their reference to Rachel, a further obstacle to be overcome is evident – until God intervened Rachel was barren. It seems same was true of Ruth; married as many as ten years to Mahlon without children, also language of v.13 (we’ll consider that next time!).

Their prayer included petition to God that he do whatever was necessary for Ruth and Boaz to have children, many of them. Also prayed that as Perez was the father of many generations of offspring, so Boaz would be the same, that he would be able to fulfill the commitment to “perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance”.

Finally the last obstacle has been overcome – Boaz has accomplished what he set out to do, act the part of a kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and Ruth. In so doing he was the means God used to secure their future AND secure the royal line that would culminate in the Lord Jesus. Both ladies had found refuge under the Lord’s wings, they had been rewarded for their faith in God as Boaz had prayed (Ruth 2:12). Both could look to the future with hope, expecting further blessing from God in contrast to the difficulties they had already experienced.

There is a way in which Boaz was like Jesus – voluntarily Boaz paid the price in full to buy Ruth and Naomi back from poverty and give them a hopeful future. He did so because they were family, because he loved Ruth, because there was no other who could do so. Isn’t the same true of Jesus? He was one of us and redeemed us that we might be included in his family. He paid the price in full for our redemption from the poverty of a destitute future because he loved us. Jesus did so voluntarily because there was no other who could be our redeemer. Praise God for his love to us and sending a Blessed Redeemer who would go up Calvary’s mountain in our place.

 

Act 4: The Plan – Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Ruth 3:1-18

It’s amazing how little, comparatively speaking, it takes to encourage someone especially when God is at work. Ruth spoke 7 words in response to Boaz; what and how she spoke radically changed Boaz’ thoughts and dreams for the future. A weeks worth of groceries had a similar effect on Naomi, prompting an about-face; no longer focused on what she didn’t have, Naomi began to recognize the potential for future blessing. True, the full significance went far beyond 7 words and a bushel of barley; yet it is often simple things offered in kindness and humility that make a difference.

Some time passed from Ruth’s first day on the job of gleaning and the beginning of Chapter 3. Likely most if not all of harvest (barley harvest at least; see 2:23) has passed, all that is left is the work of winnowing out the last of the grain. Meanwhile, Naomi has been quietly observing and thinking about future need and the guidance she gave Orpah and Ruth before leaving Moab. Then she prayed that the Lord would enable them to find “rest in the home of a new husband” (Ruth 1:9). Orpah’s future is out of her control but Naomi still feels a sense of responsibility for Ruth’s well-being.

A. mom plans v.1-4

When Naomi finally comes to the point of action she wastes no time or words. She begins by asking Ruth a rhetorical question, one which assumes an affirmative answer, and just barrels ahead without waiting for a response. It’s almost as if Naomi had anticipated Ruth’s objections and was detemined to override them: we’re doing fine, no one’s interested in me, I don’t have a decent outfit, no clue what to say, how to approach a man on that kind of subject. Naomi has a solution for each of these hurdles to be overcome.

you need security – orig. word: rest; meaning: the sort of life that accompanies being settled in your own home with a put-together family. Ruth was probably too busy with the work of day-to-day existence to give much attention to husband hunting. Reprieve for a while after opportunity for gleaning ended but only until supplies ran out; then what? Circumstances certainly improved and had more promise than when in Moab, but… long-term security still a need.

Boaz has a duty – while not stated explicitly in the Law, principle is still there that a family line not be allowed to die out whenever possible. Since Boaz was related to Elimelech and apparently a bachelor, it would be logical to assume he could be prevailed upon to remedy Naomi’s dilemma. If Naomi had knowledge of other eligible family members, she kept it to herself, perhaps counting on Boaz’ demonstrated kindness to make up for distance in relationship.

make yourself presentable – best clothes, best face, best perfume, best smile, but all in modesty. Even though they might be in reduced circumstances, Ruth could be neat and clean and presentable. Given Boaz’ character, simple modest beauty (the kind described by Peter in 1 Pet. 3:3-4) of a gentle and quiet spirit would be most attractive to him. Probably a concept not well-understood by Ruth because of her Moabite heritage.

take a risk – minimize risks to greatest extent possible: wait until you can approach Boaz without being observed, get his attention in a way that will not unnecessarily startle him, then follow his lead. Being part of God’s plan requires discernment and courage – discernment to know what individual responsibility is, courage to act when appropriate. In Ruth’s circumstance, she risked much personally – rejection by a potential husband, alienation in a foreign culture, her personal feelings; yet her character and trust in God were of adequate strength to enable her to do as Naomi instructed.

B. she proposes v.5-9

dutiful

“I will do everything you say” – Ruth isn’t a kid, she’s a grown woman, widowed, should be able to make her own decisions especially with regard to something this big. Yet,… she’s a foreigner in a new culture, not necessarily up to speed on the nuances of relationships, how to move the process of matchmaking along without causing offense or communicating the wrong thing. Ruth is content to trust Naomi for guidance – first, that what she is doing is right, then that she will do it the right way without damaging Boaz’ reputation or her own.

discreet

no witnesses, no embarassment – a public approach could lead others to believe Ruth was being presumptuous, would put Boaz on the spot and perhaps cause him embarassment in front of others. There’s duty, but there’s also chemistry! As well as other obligations of which Naomi and Ruth might be unaware. If there were a better option this would give Boaz an opportunity to tell Ruth without public notice. Approaching quietly, under the cover of darkness, Ruth awakened him in such a way as to not disturb others sleeping nearby.

direct

I did read the signs correctly, didn’t I? (Ruth 2:12) When Boaz awakens, Ruth speaks quietly but quickly and directly. In answer to his question Ruth alludes to what Boaz said at their first meeting – he described Ruth as having come under the Lord’s wings for refuge. Now she asks Boaz to take her under his protection, a polite request for marriage. However, if Ruth misunderstood his meaning, that was his cue to say so and offer a different plan.

NOTE: Many would like to read into this spine-tingling scene far more than is warranted, hinting or even stating outright that Ruth went way beyond the bounds of propriety with regard to physical intimacy. If that is true then Boaz was far from honest when he called her a virtuous woman (v.11).

C. he promises v.10-15

you blessed my socks off – Boaz’ first response: one of surprise, delight, thankfulness. Ruth was looking for a further gift from Boaz in the form of marriage; Boaz viewed it as working the other way round, that Ruth was giving him the gift, the blessing, the kindness.

you’re better than I deserve – Boaz didn’t think he had a chance at anything more than being viewed as a compassionate older friend. That Ruth would consider an older man for a husband totally blew him away. It would have been more in keeping with her circumstances to set her heart on a younger man, one who might even outlive her unlike Mahlon. Boaz was perhaps approaching the age when marriage to anyone would be unlikely but God had other ideas.

I’ll handle the details – Boaz assured Ruth that even though it was more complicated than she apparently knew, he’d take care of sorting out the details. That would need to be done publicly but would not require Ruth’s direct involvement. In either case, her future would be assured whether Boaz or the closer relative married her.

your reputation is safe with me – Boaz praised Ruth as a virtuous woman, a woman of noble character, and then he himself acts as one of noble character. He would if necessary defer to the wishes of the closer relative although his first choice was to marry Ruth himself. Boaz was also determined to guard Ruth’s reputation – all the people in town know your character and I’ll make sure nothing changes that. Ruth did her part by preparing to leave the threshing floor while it was still dark.

here’s my guarantee – As she was leaving Boaz made his intentions very plain, giving her about 60 pounds of barley to take home. Generosity and a token of how seriously he took his promise; while his word was good, he didn’t expect Ruth and Naomi to rely on that alone. Besides, she had blessed him so why shouldn’t he return the favor! with what he had close by to give to her.

D. waiting patiently v.16-18

what happened? who are you? Mahlon’s widow or Boaz’ wife? Did Naomi stay up all night, tensely waiting for Ruth to return with news? Perhaps, for what mother could go to bed and sleep soundly on a night like that? Her question as Ruth approached – who you? Implying the question whether she should still be considered Mahlon’s widow or as betrothed to Boaz?

oo-la-la! It sure seems like Boaz is seriously interested/committed not only to Ruth but Naomi as well. His gift of barley had Naomi in view which could easily be taken to mean Ruth’s new home would have an in-law apartment. That would be in good keeping with Boaz repeated notice of how Ruth was caring for and devoted to Naomi as well as his affection for Ruth. While Ruth probably would not make providing for Naomi an explicit condition of marriage, it certainly was a significant consideration.

shouldn’t have to wait long – just as there was a time for action, then there was a time for quiet waiting. Ruth and Naomi would have to wait while God and Boaz carried out their respective parts in determining who would act the part of the goel, the kinsman-redeemer who would marry Mahlon’s widow. Since Boaz was a virtuous man and had more than a passing interest in Ruth, the details should be settled quickly.

Waiting patiently, quietly when significant details regarding the future are uncertain – not something the average person or, at times, the average Christian manages to do well. It’s really a major element of that rest Naomi spoke of to her daughters-in-law, rest she hoped they would find and that she worked to help Ruth achieve. Did Naomi realize that they could rest right where they were? Willing servants in God’s plan? There is no more secure place to be than in God’s keeping, actively living out our lives under his watchful care and direction. God can be trusted with the details, to work them out for our good and his glory.

 

Act 3: Boaz Introduced – Eligible Bachelor, Energetic Widow

Ruth 2:1-23

Chapter 1 introduces “a certain man of Bethlehem, …and his wife and his two sons.” Chapter 2 introduces us to a relative of that certain man. This brief introduction, telling us that he and Elimelech were of the same family, along with the information that he was a man of means sets the stage for what follows. Several aspects of the story are prominent in this chapter: the character of Ruth, the character and compassion of Boaz, and the careful oversight of God as he superintended events.

The last phrase of Ruth 1:22 is also significant – “they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” The theme of harvest, plenty, fullness predominate in the rest of the story – quite the opposite of how Naomi thought of herself and her circumstances. Yet for the three central characters – Naomi, Ruth and Boaz – an extended period of experiencing God’s richest blessing was about to begin.

It is important to bear in mind as we go along that this is all about pretty normal stuff: meeting basic daily needs for food and shelter; caring for a parent; relationships; starting over after death (or divorce). It’s in the context of “normal life” that God is at work; there is nothing in the story of Ruth that would count as miraculous. There is much that shows evidence of God’s hand directing the steps of the main characters during the course of everyday life.

A. her character v.2-3a, 7, 10, 12c, 13, 17-18, 23

well-mannered v.2a, 7a

graciously submitted to the authority of her mother-in-law – please let me

asked permission to glean – didn’t take conformity to the law by the farmer for granted; did not expect to usurp a place given to someone else

industrious v.2-3a, 7b, 17-18

practicing workfare, not expecting welfare

v.7b – she came and she has persisted – working diligently with few rest stops

accomplished much by her diligence – 20-25 pounds of barley (about 4 pecks), a lot of work for a young woman even considering the consideration of the harvesters

humble v.10

given what Ruth knew of the poor treatment given to foreigners at that time (think about how foreigners had treated them!), she was greatly surprised by the kindness shown her

could have expected preferential treatment because of relationshp to Elimelech, if not on her own account, then on Naomi’s

trusting v.12c

how public the information was isn’t clear, Boaz had received a full report (v.11); put a “Christian” interpretation on her words to Naomi before they left Moab – Ruth was placing her trust in the God of Israel for her protection and provision. That trust would be shared by Boaz as the instrument God used to provide for Naomi and Ruth.

thankful v.13

quickly expresses her thanks to Boaz for kindness shown and comfort given; recognizes that his condescension is out of the ordinary, is grateful for it and says so. Side note: this is the point in the narrative where Boaz’ interest in Ruth changes – up to this point his prime concern has been to make sure Ruth is treated well and her reputation kept untarnished; now Boaz is genuinely interested in Ruth and wants to spend more time with her – let’s do lunch.

diligent v.23

not just a flash-in-the-pan, one day wonder, committed to working to provide for herself and Naomi for the long haul; beginning of barley to end of wheat harvest – about 3 months. Also significant that she didn’t expect a promotion from Boaz; was content to continue with hard work of gleaning.

B. his compassion v.4-6, 8-9, 11-12b, 14-16

kind to his help v.4

had a godly concern for their well-being, God’s blessing on them and their work; kind and civil to workers, not merely supervisors. Doesn’t seem to be just for show since workers/reapers responded in kind, as to a customary greeting from the big boss. Would be a good opportunity (midway through the workday) for Boaz to check on progress of the harvest, to make sure supervisors were not over or under working the help.

observant v.5-6

perhaps by virtue of her dress, perhaps other means, Boaz noticed the stranger. Inquired of the superintendent who she was – asking about more than identity, wanted to know her heritage and where she fit into the scene before him. Observed from superintendent’s response that there was great significance to Ruth’s presence, required more than just passing attention. Disposed to be kind and considerate anyway, there were family connections to take into account.

considerate of Ruth’s

reputation v.8-9a

made sure Ruth had a safe place/surroundings in the field – with the other women; meant they would need to show kindness to her in spite of her immigrant status, not shun or isolate her because she was different.

told the men to leave her alone, not take advantage of or harass her; didn’t need to specify consequences. What he expected of them communicated the message they better treat her right or they’d hear about it from him. They might easily infer that Boaz was more than casually interested in Ruth even though he was perhaps somewhat older – “my daughter”.

physical needs v.9b, 14

if Ruth had not brought sufficient water to the field, would be easy to get dehydrated; Boaz made sure she knew where the water was and that she was welcome to share it.

continued to show consideration by inviting her to lunch, probably to ensure she had a good meal; first day gleaning, “new” to the area, might not have had anything at home to bring for lunch. Also would give opportunity to spend time with her, get to know her better.

attentive to details v.11-12b

of her family – from Moab

her circumstances – widow; left father, mother, home

her conduct – care she had taken of her mother-in-law

her faith – put her trust in the Lord God of Israel, relying on him for protection

generous v.15-16

rewarding diligence, not just simple pity or response to a pretty face – would be wasteful for reapers to throw good food on the ground if Ruth could not be counted on to pick it up

Boaz’ actions were charitable but not simple charity; didn’t give Ruth an outright gift, provided opportunity for her to provide for herself and Naomi

C. God’s care v.3b, 12, 20

a providential “accident” v.3b

told from the perspective of a bystander, but… it’s clear throughout the story the author recognized the hand of God orchestrating events and circumstances – living demonstration of the proverb: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Prov. 16:9

not thunderbolts or visions or quasi-miraculous occurrences that represent God’s activity in daily events. “A chance in outward seeming, yet a clear shaping of her course by unseen hands. Her steps were divinely guided to a certain field, that God’s good purposes should be worked out.” God quietly and unobtrusively works through normal mundane circumstances to bring about his intended purpose. Not the sort of things we can discern when we’re in the middle of them, maybe not after the fact, at least not the full significance of how things work in our lives.

a full reward v.12

Boaz prayed for more than he knew, not realizing at this point that he would be part of that full reward, not understanding the scope of the reward. For Ruth reward included: husband, son, material provision, place in the royal line, example of God’s inclusion of Gentiles in the plan of redemption, eternal reward in heaven. Took some really hard experiences to move Ruth from idol-worshiping Moabitess to ancestor of the Lord Jesus, but what a reward!

a faithful God v.20

just as v.13 was turning point for Boaz, v.20 is for Naomi. Even though she was at the bottom of spiral of depression, still able to find hope in Ruth’s experience of the day. Recognized God’s faithfulness, that perhaps the tide had turned and God would bless them after all. Piece by piece the reality of their new circumstances began to penetrate Naomi’s thinking – the provision of food, the familial relationship with Boaz, the obvious concern/interest Boaz had in Ruth. Gradually tangible evidence of God’s continuing care of them reoriented Naomi’s thinking from preoccupation with what was lost to an interest in what might be gained.

May God give us eyes to recognize his faithful, undramatic hand at work in our circumstances, working out all things for our good and his glory. Then may we respond properly with praise and thanksgiving to him.

 

 

Act 2: Bethlehem – Bitterness or Blessing?

Ruth 1:19-22

Having decided to remain within her comfort zone, Orpah took her leave of Naomi and Ruth. Ruth, committed in the strongest possible terms to following God and caring for her mother-in-law, began the difficult journey to Bethlehem with Naomi. It is good to think of their situations in terms of a journey rather than a trip. A trip usually has the destination in primary view, giving much less attention to the process of reaching it. For both Naomi and Ruth, what they experienced along their journey is quite probably more significant than the actual walk itself. Not that travel was easy, quick and safe in those days. Far from it!

The journey for two women apparently alone was long and toilsome, and not free from danger. Two rivers, Arnon and Jordan, had to be forded or otherwise crossed; and the distance of actual journeying cannot have been less than fifty miles. Thus, weary and travel-stained, they reach Bethlehem, and neighbours, doubtless never looking to see Naomi again, are all astir with excitement. It would seem that though the news of the end of the famine had reached Naomi in Moab, news of her had not reached Bethlehem. OTC for English Readers, Ellicott

If it truly were a journey of fifty miles, that would mean almost certainly at least one overnight stop with its associated issues – how, where, what cost, with whom. On major trade routes there were places where travelers could find food and shelter for the night. But, they would be patronized almost exclusively by men engaged in some type of business activity, not necessarily hospitable in a good way to single women. Then there was the rigor of the walk itself, the weight of all their possessions, the looks and comments that were directed their way by other travelers. But of greater importance yet was the journey each experienced in their innermost being along that dusty road.

A. pondering v.19a

thoughts

Their journey was definitely planned, not a heat-of-the-moment kind of departure. Details of packing, travel route, supplies for the journey, particular destination, all likely were considered. Many unknowns, though, that would have occupied thoughts of both Naomi and Ruth as they walked along.

Ruth: much new and potentially exciting – places, people, customs. At the same time intimidating – would she be accepted, could she learn quickly enough, would she be able to carry out her vow to Naomi, what about the different ways of worship she had heard about.

Naomi: how would the old neighborhood look, how will I bear the pain, who was still there, how will I bear the pain, how well had Elimelech’s inheritance been cared for, how will I bear the pain, what kinds of questions would people ask, how will I bear the pain, how would or should she respond, how will I bear the pain, how could she explain Ruth’s presence

emotions

The author is a master of understatement: “Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem.” It stands to reason that this was an emotional journey in both senses for Naomi and Ruth – a trip colored by strong and wide-ranging emotions, a journey from one place to another in their emotional perspective.

Loss for both women was recent, they were still very much in the grieving process. From what follows in the story, it seems Naomi was stuck, not having fully accepted the death of Elimelech more than ten years prior. To that was added the grief of the death of both sons. It was the magnitude of her loss that occupied her thoughts and emotions, viewing herself as emptied out of all that had significance.

Naomi’s overwhelming grief added to Ruth’s burden of responsibility. It also meant that if she were to effectively guide and guard her mother-in-law, Ruth’s grieving and emotions would have to wait. Yeah, right. Maybe to outward appearances, but not on the inside. Somehow God enabled Ruth to do her own grieving and help Naomi through the process at the same time. Perhaps her eyes of faith were not clouded with tears the same as Naomi; perhaps she could recognize God’s hand in their circumstances for good, something Naomi was unable to do at that time.

B. pity v.19b

can this possibly be…?

Word of their imminent arrival reached Bethlehem, all the ladies of town were waiting to greet Naomi. Elimelech’s family was a prominent one in town, their leaving years before would have attracted great attention as did Naomi’s return. The language of the passage could be taken numerous ways; given how women of town conducted themselves at the time of Obed’s birth, we’ll presume they were genuinely concerned for Naomi’s well-being.

But something was wrong, terribly wrong. This couldn’t be Naomi yet it sort of resembled her. Was it possible? She was so different from how they remembered her. It truly was Naomi, but what could possibly have brought about such astounding change in her? Everything about her seemed somehow different though recognizable.

she left with so much…

Naomi had a complete family when she left; true, the boys weren’t in the greatest health. But they had the means to move to a better situation and continue prospering. It was the sort of situation that should have meant no worries for the future. Guaranteed security whether in Bethlehem or Moab, given the Midianites didn’t destroy everything.

she has so little… she looks so…

What’s this? Naomi could carry all her earthly goods by herself! And where are the men? She had no one to care for her, to provide for her material needs. She certainly wouldn’t look like that if she still had means. How old was she really? The adversity she had experienced was evident in her face, her demeanor, her voice. You can almost hear the excitement fade away, the conversations trickle off into silence as Naomi’s friends and former neighbors realize her joyless condition.

C. perspective v.20-21

bitter, not pleasant

Perhaps Naomi visibly winced each time someone called out her name. Immersed in her grief she couldn’t bear to be reminded that her name meant pleasant, once descriptive of her character and circumstances. Just as unresolved guilt can lead to depression, so, too, can unresolved grief. Slowly but surely Naomi had gone down that spiral of despondency as she limited her focus to what she had lost. All she could think about was what she had lost, all that had gone wrong in her life, all the plans and dreams she shared with Elimelech that had come to nothing.

the object of God’s displeasure and judgment – El Shaddai

Naomi acknowledged God’s hand in her circumstances but only in a harsh and punishing way. She referred to him as El Shaddai, the Almighty or Sovereign One, the one who has the power to do as he pleases. She believed that her circumstances were the result of God’s actions but she couldn’t get beyond the hurt, the pain of profound loss, to see how any good might come of it.

bereft of what she valued – Yahweh

What Naomi valued the most went with her on her journey from Bethlehem to Moab. What she valued the most stayed in Moab, buried in three graves. Naomi knew God, at least by name; in fact, she knew him not only as the absolute sovereign El Shaddai, she knew him also as the covenant God of his people, Yahweh. She declared it was the covenant God who brought her home again, albeit empty.

D. potential v.21-22

returning empty – what does that say about God? and about Ruth?

Naomi had some lessons to learn: her most valuable possession was the one whom she credited for causing her affliction. God was the one who would fill her life and her arms in ways that she could never imagine. Perhaps it is significant that the name she used for God – El Shaddai – is used 31 times in the book of Job (48 total OT). True, Job experienced much adversity at the hand of El Shaddai; but he also received much more by way of blessing. The same would ultimately be true for Naomi

the second lesson: Ruth was her second most valuable possession. In God’s perfect plan for Naomi’s future, Ruth would be the conduit of his blessing. Family, financial resources, food and shelter, all came to Naomi through Ruth and the plan that God had ordained for Ruth’s life. It is often God’s way to use that which we overlook as the means by which he purposes to bless us.

the third lesson: empty means ready to be filled. In her grief Naomi could only see her emptiness as a liability, not a possibility. She wasn’t ready to see that when she became empty God could fill her with that which was far superior: Himself, a future, a place in the royal line of Messiah. Nor did Naomi recognize that God used her difficult circumstances in part to bring Ruth into the family.

Ruth is portrayed in all of this as the silent bystander. Judicious silence is a characteristic of the virtuous woman; knowing when to be quiet is often as important as knowing when to speak. Ruth’s opportunity would come but what Naomi needed at that moment was simply the knowledge that Ruth would honor her commitment, that she would not run off to greener pastures once Naomi was back among friends.

May God give us grace to learn from Naomi’s experience what is of true value and Ruth’s example how to effectively help those in need!

p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }a:link { }

Act 2: Bethlehem – Bitterness or Blessing?

Ruth 1:19-22

Having decided to remain within her comfort zone, Orpah took her leave of Naomi and Ruth. Ruth, committed in the strongest possible terms to following God and caring for her mother-in-law, began the difficult journey to Bethlehem with Naomi. It is good to think of their situations in terms of a journey rather than a trip. A trip usually has the destination in primary view, giving much less attention to the process of reaching it. For both Naomi and Ruth, what they experienced along their journey is quite probably more significant than the actual walk itself. Not that travel was easy, quick and safe in those days. Far from it!

The journey for two women apparently alone was long and toilsome, and not free from danger. Two rivers, Arnon and Jordan, had to be forded or otherwise crossed; and the distance of actual journeying cannot have been less than fifty miles. Thus, weary and travel-stained, they reach Bethlehem, and neighbours, doubtless never looking to see Naomi again, are all astir with excitement. It would seem that though the news of the end of the famine had reached Naomi in Moab, news of her had not reached Bethlehem. OTC for English Readers, Ellicott

If it truly were a journey of fifty miles, that would mean almost certainly at least one overnight stop with its associated issues – how, where, what cost, with whom. On major trade routes there were places where travelers could find food and shelter for the night. But, they would be patronized almost exclusively by men engaged in some type of business activity, not necessarily hospitable in a good way to single women. Then there was the rigor of the walk itself, the weight of all their possessions, the looks and comments that were directed their way by other travelers. But of greater importance yet was the journey each experienced in their innermost being along that dusty road.

A. pondering v.19a

thoughts

Their journey was definitely planned, not a heat-of-the-moment kind of departure. Details of packing, travel route, supplies for the journey, particular destination, all likely were considered. Many unknowns, though, that would have occupied thoughts of both Naomi and Ruth as they walked along.

Ruth: much new and potentially exciting – places, people, customs. At the same time intimidating – would she be accepted, could she learn quickly enough, would she be able to carry out her vow to Naomi, what about the different ways of worship she had heard about.

Naomi: how would the old neighborhood look, how will I bear the pain, who was still there, how will I bear the pain, how well had Elimelech’s inheritance been cared for, how will I bear the pain, what kinds of questions would people ask, how will I bear the pain, how would or should she respond, how will I bear the pain, how could she explain Ruth’s presence

emotions

The author is a master of understatement: “Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem.” It stands to reason that this was an emotional journey in both senses for Naomi and Ruth – a trip colored by strong and wide-ranging emotions, a journey from one place to another in their emotional perspective.

Loss for both women was recent, they were still very much in the grieving process. From what follows in the story, it seems Naomi was stuck, not having fully accepted the death of Elimelech more than ten years prior. To that was added the grief of the death of both sons. It was the magnitude of her loss that occupied her thoughts and emotions, viewing herself as emptied out of all that had significance.

Naomi’s overwhelming grief added to Ruth’s burden of responsibility. It also meant that if she were to effectively guide and guard her mother-in-law, Ruth’s grieving and emotions would have to wait. Yeah, right. Maybe to outward appearances, but not on the inside. Somehow God enabled Ruth to do her own grieving and help Naomi through the process at the same time. Perhaps her eyes of faith were not clouded with tears the same as Naomi; perhaps she could recognize God’s hand in their circumstances for good, something Naomi was unable to do at that time.

B. pity v.19b

can this possibly be…?

Word of their imminent arrival reached Bethlehem, all the ladies of town were waiting to greet Naomi. Elimelech’s family was a prominent one in town, their leaving years before would have attracted great attention as did Naomi’s return. The language of the passage could be taken numerous ways; given how women of town conducted themselves at the time of Obed’s birth, we’ll presume they were genuinely concerned for Naomi’s well-being.

But something was wrong, terribly wrong. This couldn’t be Naomi yet it sort of resembled her. Was it possible? She was so different from how they remembered her. It truly was Naomi, but what could possibly have brought about such astounding change in her? Everything about her seemed somehow different though recognizable.

she left with so much…

Naomi had a complete family when she left; true, the boys weren’t in the greatest health. But they had the means to move to a better situation and continue prospering. It was the sort of situation that should have meant no worries for the future. Guaranteed security whether in Bethlehem or Moab, given the Midianites didn’t destroy everything.

she has so little… she looks so…

What’s this? Naomi could carry all her earthly goods by herself! And where are the men? She had no one to care for her, to provide for her material needs. She certainly wouldn’t look like that if she still had means. How old was she really? The adversity she had experienced was evident in her face, her demeanor, her voice. You can almost hear the excitement fade away, the conversations trickle off into silence as Naomi’s friends and former neighbors realize her joyless condition.

C. perspective v.20-21

bitter, not pleasant

Perhaps Naomi visibly winced each time someone called out her name. Immersed in her grief she couldn’t bear to be reminded that her name meant pleasant, once descriptive of her character and circumstances. Just as unresolved guilt can lead to depression, so, too, can unresolved grief. Slowly but surely Naomi had gone down that spiral of despondency as she limited her focus to what she had lost. All she could think about was what she had lost, all that had gone wrong in her life, all the plans and dreams she shared with Elimelech that had come to nothing.

the object of God’s displeasure and judgment – El Shaddai

Naomi acknowledged God’s hand in her circumstances but only in a harsh and punishing way. She referred to him as El Shaddai, the Almighty or Sovereign One, the one who has the power to do as he pleases. She believed that her circumstances were the result of God’s actions but she couldn’t get beyond the hurt, the pain of profound loss, to see how any good might come of it.

bereft of what she valued – Yahweh

What Naomi valued the most went with her on her journey from Bethlehem to Moab. What she valued the most stayed in Moab, buried in three graves. Naomi knew God, at least by name; in fact, she knew him not only as the absolute sovereign El Shaddai, she knew him also as the covenant God of his people, Yahweh. She declared it was the covenant God who brought her home again, albeit empty.

D. potential v.21-22

returning empty – what does that say about God? and about Ruth?

Naomi had some lessons to learn: her most valuable possession was the one whom she credited for causing her affliction. God was the one who would fill her life and her arms in ways that she could never imagine. Perhaps it is significant that the name she used for God – El Shaddai – is used 31 times in the book of Job (48 total OT). True, Job experienced much adversity at the hand of El Shaddai; but he also received much more by way of blessing. The same would ultimately be true for Naomi

the second lesson: Ruth was her second most valuable possession. In God’s perfect plan for Naomi’s future, Ruth would be the conduit of his blessing. Family, financial resources, food and shelter, all came to Naomi through Ruth and the plan that God had ordained for Ruth’s life. It is often God’s way to use that which we overlook as the means by which he purposes to bless us.

the third lesson: empty means ready to be filled. In her grief Naomi could only see her emptiness as a liability, not a possibility. She wasn’t ready to see that when she became empty God could fill her with that which was far superior: Himself, a future, a place in the royal line of Messiah. Nor did Naomi recognize that God used her difficult circumstances in part to bring Ruth into the family.

Ruth is portrayed in all of this as the silent bystander. Judicious silence is a characteristic of the virtuous woman; knowing when to be quiet is often as important as knowing when to speak. Ruth’s opportunity would come but what Naomi needed at that moment was simply the knowledge that Ruth would honor her commitment, that she would not run off to greener pastures once Naomi was back among friends.

p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }a:link { }

Act 2: Bethlehem – Bitterness or Blessing?

Ruth 1:19-22

Having decided to remain within her comfort zone, Orpah took her leave of Naomi and Ruth. Ruth, committed in the strongest possible terms to following God and caring for her mother-in-law, began the difficult journey to Bethlehem with Naomi. It is good to think of their situations in terms of a journey rather than a trip. A trip usually has the destination in primary view, giving much less attention to the process of reaching it. For both Naomi and Ruth, what they experienced along their journey is quite probably more significant than the actual walk itself. Not that travel was easy, quick and safe in those days. Far from it!

The journey for two women apparently alone was long and toilsome, and not free from danger. Two rivers, Arnon and Jordan, had to be forded or otherwise crossed; and the distance of actual journeying cannot have been less than fifty miles. Thus, weary and travel-stained, they reach Bethlehem, and neighbours, doubtless never looking to see Naomi again, are all astir with excitement. It would seem that though the news of the end of the famine had reached Naomi in Moab, news of her had not reached Bethlehem. OTC for English Readers, Ellicott

If it truly were a journey of fifty miles, that would mean almost certainly at least one overnight stop with its associated issues – how, where, what cost, with whom. On major trade routes there were places where travelers could find food and shelter for the night. But, they would be patronized almost exclusively by men engaged in some type of business activity, not necessarily hospitable in a good way to single women. Then there was the rigor of the walk itself, the weight of all their possessions, the looks and comments that were directed their way by other travelers. But of greater importance yet was the journey each experienced in their innermost being along that dusty road.

A. pondering v.19a

thoughts

Their journey was definitely planned, not a heat-of-the-moment kind of departure. Details of packing, travel route, supplies for the journey, particular destination, all likely were considered. Many unknowns, though, that would have occupied thoughts of both Naomi and Ruth as they walked along.

Ruth: much new and potentially exciting – places, people, customs. At the same time intimidating – would she be accepted, could she learn quickly enough, would she be able to carry out her vow to Naomi, what about the different ways of worship she had heard about.

Naomi: how would the old neighborhood look, how will I bear the pain, who was still there, how will I bear the pain, how well had Elimelech’s inheritance been cared for, how will I bear the pain, what kinds of questions would people ask, how will I bear the pain, how would or should she respond, how will I bear the pain, how could she explain Ruth’s presence

emotions

The author is a master of understatement: “Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem.” It stands to reason that this was an emotional journey in both senses for Naomi and Ruth – a trip colored by strong and wide-ranging emotions, a journey from one place to another in their emotional perspective.

Loss for both women was recent, they were still very much in the grieving process. From what follows in the story, it seems Naomi was stuck, not having fully accepted the death of Elimelech more than ten years prior. To that was added the grief of the death of both sons. It was the magnitude of her loss that occupied her thoughts and emotions, viewing herself as emptied out of all that had significance.

Naomi’s overwhelming grief added to Ruth’s burden of responsibility. It also meant that if she were to effectively guide and guard her mother-in-law, Ruth’s grieving and emotions would have to wait. Yeah, right. Maybe to outward appearances, but not on the inside. Somehow God enabled Ruth to do her own grieving and help Naomi through the process at the same time. Perhaps her eyes of faith were not clouded with tears the same as Naomi; perhaps she could recognize God’s hand in their circumstances for good, something Naomi was unable to do at that time.

B. pity v.19b

can this possibly be…?

Word of their imminent arrival reached Bethlehem, all the ladies of town were waiting to greet Naomi. Elimelech’s family was a prominent one in town, their leaving years before would have attracted great attention as did Naomi’s return. The language of the passage could be taken numerous ways; given how women of town conducted themselves at the time of Obed’s birth, we’ll presume they were genuinely concerned for Naomi’s well-being.

But something was wrong, terribly wrong. This couldn’t be Naomi yet it sort of resembled her. Was it possible? She was so different from how they remembered her. It truly was Naomi, but what could possibly have brought about such astounding change in her? Everything about her seemed somehow different though recognizable.

she left with so much…

Naomi had a complete family when she left; true, the boys weren’t in the greatest health. But they had the means to move to a better situation and continue prospering. It was the sort of situation that should have meant no worries for the future. Guaranteed security whether in Bethlehem or Moab, given the Midianites didn’t destroy everything.

she has so little… she looks so…

What’s this? Naomi could carry all her earthly goods by herself! And where are the men? She had no one to care for her, to provide for her material needs. She certainly wouldn’t look like that if she still had means. How old was she really? The adversity she had experienced was evident in her face, her demeanor, her voice. You can almost hear the excitement fade away, the conversations trickle off into silence as Naomi’s friends and former neighbors realize her joyless condition.

C. perspective v.20-21

bitter, not pleasant

Perhaps Naomi visibly winced each time someone called out her name. Immersed in her grief she couldn’t bear to be reminded that her name meant pleasant, once descriptive of her character and circumstances. Just as unresolved guilt can lead to depression, so, too, can unresolved grief. Slowly but surely Naomi had gone down that spiral of despondency as she limited her focus to what she had lost. All she could think about was what she had lost, all that had gone wrong in her life, all the plans and dreams she shared with Elimelech that had come to nothing.

the object of God’s displeasure and judgment – El Shaddai

Naomi acknowledged God’s hand in her circumstances but only in a harsh and punishing way. She referred to him as El Shaddai, the Almighty or Sovereign One, the one who has the power to do as he pleases. She believed that her circumstances were the result of God’s actions but she couldn’t get beyond the hurt, the pain of profound loss, to see how any good might come of it.

bereft of what she valued – Yahweh

What Naomi valued the most went with her on her journey from Bethlehem to Moab. What she valued the most stayed in Moab, buried in three graves. Naomi knew God, at least by name; in fact, she knew him not only as the absolute sovereign El Shaddai, she knew him also as the covenant God of his people, Yahweh. She declared it was the covenant God who brought her home again, albeit empty.

D. potential v.21-22

returning empty – what does that say about God? and about Ruth?

Naomi had some lessons to learn: her most valuable possession was the one whom she credited for causing her affliction. God was the one who would fill her life and her arms in ways that she could never imagine. Perhaps it is significant that the name she used for God – El Shaddai – is used 31 times in the book of Job (48 total OT). True, Job experienced much adversity at the hand of El Shaddai; but he also received much more by way of blessing. The same would ultimately be true for Naomi

the second lesson: Ruth was her second most valuable possession. In God’s perfect plan for Naomi’s future, Ruth would be the conduit of his blessing. Family, financial resources, food and shelter, all came to Naomi through Ruth and the plan that God had ordained for Ruth’s life. It is often God’s way to use that which we overlook as the means by which he purposes to bless us.

the third lesson: empty means ready to be filled. In her grief Naomi could only see her emptiness as a liability, not a possibility. She wasn’t ready to see that when she became empty God could fill her with that which was far superior: Himself, a future, a place in the royal line of Messiah. Nor did Naomi recognize that God used her difficult circumstances in part to bring Ruth into the family.

Ruth is portrayed in all of this as the silent bystander. Judicious silence is a characteristic of the virtuous woman; knowing when to be quiet is often as important as knowing when to speak. Ruth’s opportunity would come but what Naomi needed at that moment was simply the knowledge that Ruth would honor her commitment, that she would not run off to greener pastures once Naomi was back among friends.

p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }a:link { }

Act 2: Bethlehem – Bitterness or Blessing?

Ruth 1:19-22

Having decided to remain within her comfort zone, Orpah took her leave of Naomi and Ruth. Ruth, committed in the strongest possible terms to following God and caring for her mother-in-law, began the difficult journey to Bethlehem with Naomi. It is good to think of their situations in terms of a journey rather than a trip. A trip usually has the destination in primary view, giving much less attention to the process of reaching it. For both Naomi and Ruth, what they experienced along their journey is quite probably more significant than the actual walk itself. Not that travel was easy, quick and safe in those days. Far from it!

The journey for two women apparently alone was long and toilsome, and not free from danger. Two rivers, Arnon and Jordan, had to be forded or otherwise crossed; and the distance of actual journeying cannot have been less than fifty miles. Thus, weary and travel-stained, they reach Bethlehem, and neighbours, doubtless never looking to see Naomi again, are all astir with excitement. It would seem that though the news of the end of the famine had reached Naomi in Moab, news of her had not reached Bethlehem. OTC for English Readers, Ellicott

If it truly were a journey of fifty miles, that would mean almost certainly at least one overnight stop with its associated issues – how, where, what cost, with whom. On major trade routes there were places where travelers could find food and shelter for the night. But, they would be patronized almost exclusively by men engaged in some type of business activity, not necessarily hospitable in a good way to single women. Then there was the rigor of the walk itself, the weight of all their possessions, the looks and comments that were directed their way by other travelers. But of greater importance yet was the journey each experienced in their innermost being along that dusty road.

A. pondering v.19a

thoughts

Their journey was definitely planned, not a heat-of-the-moment kind of departure. Details of packing, travel route, supplies for the journey, particular destination, all likely were considered. Many unknowns, though, that would have occupied thoughts of both Naomi and Ruth as they walked along.

Ruth: much new and potentially exciting – places, people, customs. At the same time intimidating – would she be accepted, could she learn quickly enough, would she be able to carry out her vow to Naomi, what about the different ways of worship she had heard about.

Naomi: how would the old neighborhood look, how will I bear the pain, who was still there, how will I bear the pain, how well had Elimelech’s inheritance been cared for, how will I bear the pain, what kinds of questions would people ask, how will I bear the pain, how would or should she respond, how will I bear the pain, how could she explain Ruth’s presence

emotions

The author is a master of understatement: “Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem.” It stands to reason that this was an emotional journey in both senses for Naomi and Ruth – a trip colored by strong and wide-ranging emotions, a journey from one place to another in their emotional perspective.

Loss for both women was recent, they were still very much in the grieving process. From what follows in the story, it seems Naomi was stuck, not having fully accepted the death of Elimelech more than ten years prior. To that was added the grief of the death of both sons. It was the magnitude of her loss that occupied her thoughts and emotions, viewing herself as emptied out of all that had significance.

Naomi’s overwhelming grief added to Ruth’s burden of responsibility. It also meant that if she were to effectively guide and guard her mother-in-law, Ruth’s grieving and emotions would have to wait. Yeah, right. Maybe to outward appearances, but not on the inside. Somehow God enabled Ruth to do her own grieving and help Naomi through the process at the same time. Perhaps her eyes of faith were not clouded with tears the same as Naomi; perhaps she could recognize God’s hand in their circumstances for good, something Naomi was unable to do at that time.

B. pity v.19b

can this possibly be…?

Word of their imminent arrival reached Bethlehem, all the ladies of town were waiting to greet Naomi. Elimelech’s family was a prominent one in town, their leaving years before would have attracted great attention as did Naomi’s return. The language of the passage could be taken numerous ways; given how women of town conducted themselves at the time of Obed’s birth, we’ll presume they were genuinely concerned for Naomi’s well-being.

But something was wrong, terribly wrong. This couldn’t be Naomi yet it sort of resembled her. Was it possible? She was so different from how they remembered her. It truly was Naomi, but what could possibly have brought about such astounding change in her? Everything about her seemed somehow different though recognizable.

she left with so much…

Naomi had a complete family when she left; true, the boys weren’t in the greatest health. But they had the means to move to a better situation and continue prospering. It was the sort of situation that should have meant no worries for the future. Guaranteed security whether in Bethlehem or Moab, given the Midianites didn’t destroy everything.

she has so little… she looks so…

What’s this? Naomi could carry all her earthly goods by herself! And where are the men? She had no one to care for her, to provide for her material needs. She certainly wouldn’t look like that if she still had means. How old was she really? The adversity she had experienced was evident in her face, her demeanor, her voice. You can almost hear the excitement fade away, the conversations trickle off into silence as Naomi’s friends and former neighbors realize her joyless condition.

C. perspective v.20-21

bitter, not pleasant

Perhaps Naomi visibly winced each time someone called out her name. Immersed in her grief she couldn’t bear to be reminded that her name meant pleasant, once descriptive of her character and circumstances. Just as unresolved guilt can lead to depression, so, too, can unresolved grief. Slowly but surely Naomi had gone down that spiral of despondency as she limited her focus to what she had lost. All she could think about was what she had lost, all that had gone wrong in her life, all the plans and dreams she shared with Elimelech that had come to nothing.

the object of God’s displeasure and judgment – El Shaddai

Naomi acknowledged God’s hand in her circumstances but only in a harsh and punishing way. She referred to him as El Shaddai, the Almighty or Sovereign One, the one who has the power to do as he pleases. She believed that her circumstances were the result of God’s actions but she couldn’t get beyond the hurt, the pain of profound loss, to see how any good might come of it.

bereft of what she valued – Yahweh

What Naomi valued the most went with her on her journey from Bethlehem to Moab. What she valued the most stayed in Moab, buried in three graves. Naomi knew God, at least by name; in fact, she knew him not only as the absolute sovereign El Shaddai, she knew him also as the covenant God of his people, Yahweh. She declared it was the covenant God who brought her home again, albeit empty.

D. potential v.21-22

returning empty – what does that say about God? and about Ruth?

Naomi had some lessons to learn: her most valuable possession was the one whom she credited for causing her affliction. God was the one who would fill her life and her arms in ways that she could never imagine. Perhaps it is significant that the name she used for God – El Shaddai – is used 31 times in the book of Job (48 total OT). True, Job experienced much adversity at the hand of El Shaddai; but he also received much more by way of blessing. The same would ultimately be true for Naomi

the second lesson: Ruth was her second most valuable possession. In God’s perfect plan for Naomi’s future, Ruth would be the conduit of his blessing. Family, financial resources, food and shelter, all came to Naomi through Ruth and the plan that God had ordained for Ruth’s life. It is often God’s way to use that which we overlook as the means by which he purposes to bless us.

the third lesson: empty means ready to be filled. In her grief Naomi could only see her emptiness as a liability, not a possibility. She wasn’t ready to see that when she became empty God could fill her with that which was far superior: Himself, a future, a place in the royal line of Messiah. Nor did Naomi recognize that God used her difficult circumstances in part to bring Ruth into the family.

Ruth is portrayed in all of this as the silent bystander. Judicious silence is a characteristic of the virtuous woman; knowing when to be quiet is often as important as knowing when to speak. Ruth’s opportunity would come but what Naomi needed at that moment was simply the knowledge that Ruth would honor her commitment, that she would not run off to greener pastures once Naomi was back among friends.

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Act 2: Bethlehem – Bitterness or Blessing?

Ruth 1:19-22

Having decided to remain within her comfort zone, Orpah took her leave of Naomi and Ruth. Ruth, committed in the strongest possible terms to following God and caring for her mother-in-law, began the difficult journey to Bethlehem with Naomi. It is good to think of their situations in terms of a journey rather than a trip. A trip usually has the destination in primary view, giving much less attention to the process of reaching it. For both Naomi and Ruth, what they experienced along their journey is quite probably more significant than the actual walk itself. Not that travel was easy, quick and safe in those days. Far from it!

The journey for two women apparently alone was long and toilsome, and not free from danger. Two rivers, Arnon and Jordan, had to be forded or otherwise crossed; and the distance of actual journeying cannot have been less than fifty miles. Thus, weary and travel-stained, they reach Bethlehem, and neighbours, doubtless never looking to see Naomi again, are all astir with excitement. It would seem that though the news of the end of the famine had reached Naomi in Moab, news of her had not reached Bethlehem. OTC for English Readers, Ellicott

If it truly were a journey of fifty miles, that would mean almost certainly at least one overnight stop with its associated issues – how, where, what cost, with whom. On major trade routes there were places where travelers could find food and shelter for the night. But, they would be patronized almost exclusively by men engaged in some type of business activity, not necessarily hospitable in a good way to single women. Then there was the rigor of the walk itself, the weight of all their possessions, the looks and comments that were directed their way by other travelers. But of greater importance yet was the journey each experienced in their innermost being along that dusty road.

A. pondering v.19a

thoughts

Their journey was definitely planned, not a heat-of-the-moment kind of departure. Details of packing, travel route, supplies for the journey, particular destination, all likely were considered. Many unknowns, though, that would have occupied thoughts of both Naomi and Ruth as they walked along.

Ruth: much new and potentially exciting – places, people, customs. At the same time intimidating – would she be accepted, could she learn quickly enough, would she be able to carry out her vow to Naomi, what about the different ways of worship she had heard about.

Naomi: how would the old neighborhood look, how will I bear the pain, who was still there, how will I bear the pain, how well had Elimelech’s inheritance been cared for, how will I bear the pain, what kinds of questions would people ask, how will I bear the pain, how would or should she respond, how will I bear the pain, how could she explain Ruth’s presence

emotions

The author is a master of understatement: “Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem.” It stands to reason that this was an emotional journey in both senses for Naomi and Ruth – a trip colored by strong and wide-ranging emotions, a journey from one place to another in their emotional perspective.

Loss for both women was recent, they were still very much in the grieving process. From what follows in the story, it seems Naomi was stuck, not having fully accepted the death of Elimelech more than ten years prior. To that was added the grief of the death of both sons. It was the magnitude of her loss that occupied her thoughts and emotions, viewing herself as emptied out of all that had significance.

Naomi’s overwhelming grief added to Ruth’s burden of responsibility. It also meant that if she were to effectively guide and guard her mother-in-law, Ruth’s grieving and emotions would have to wait. Yeah, right. Maybe to outward appearances, but not on the inside. Somehow God enabled Ruth to do her own grieving and help Naomi through the process at the same time. Perhaps her eyes of faith were not clouded with tears the same as Naomi; perhaps she could recognize God’s hand in their circumstances for good, something Naomi was unable to do at that time.

B. pity v.19b

can this possibly be…?

Word of their imminent arrival reached Bethlehem, all the ladies of town were waiting to greet Naomi. Elimelech’s family was a prominent one in town, their leaving years before would have attracted great attention as did Naomi’s return. The language of the passage could be taken numerous ways; given how women of town conducted themselves at the time of Obed’s birth, we’ll presume they were genuinely concerned for Naomi’s well-being.

But something was wrong, terribly wrong. This couldn’t be Naomi yet it sort of resembled her. Was it possible? She was so different from how they remembered her. It truly was Naomi, but what could possibly have brought about such astounding change in her? Everything about her seemed somehow different though recognizable.

she left with so much…

Naomi had a complete family when she left; true, the boys weren’t in the greatest health. But they had the means to move to a better situation and continue prospering. It was the sort of situation that should have meant no worries for the future. Guaranteed security whether in Bethlehem or Moab, given the Midianites didn’t destroy everything.

she has so little… she looks so…

What’s this? Naomi could carry all her earthly goods by herself! And where are the men? She had no one to care for her, to provide for her material needs. She certainly wouldn’t look like that if she still had means. How old was she really? The adversity she had experienced was evident in her face, her demeanor, her voice. You can almost hear the excitement fade away, the conversations trickle off into silence as Naomi’s friends and former neighbors realize her joyless condition.

C. perspective v.20-21

bitter, not pleasant

Perhaps Naomi visibly winced each time someone called out her name. Immersed in her grief she couldn’t bear to be reminded that her name meant pleasant, once descriptive of her character and circumstances. Just as unresolved guilt can lead to depression, so, too, can unresolved grief. Slowly but surely Naomi had gone down that spiral of despondency as she limited her focus to what she had lost. All she could think about was what she had lost, all that had gone wrong in her life, all the plans and dreams she shared with Elimelech that had come to nothing.

the object of God’s displeasure and judgment – El Shaddai

Naomi acknowledged God’s hand in her circumstances but only in a harsh and punishing way. She referred to him as El Shaddai, the Almighty or Sovereign One, the one who has the power to do as he pleases. She believed that her circumstances were the result of God’s actions but she couldn’t get beyond the hurt, the pain of profound loss, to see how any good might come of it.

bereft of what she valued – Yahweh

What Naomi valued the most went with her on her journey from Bethlehem to Moab. What she valued the most stayed in Moab, buried in three graves. Naomi knew God, at least by name; in fact, she knew him not only as the absolute sovereign El Shaddai, she knew him also as the covenant God of his people, Yahweh. She declared it was the covenant God who brought her home again, albeit empty.

D. potential v.21-22

returning empty – what does that say about God? and about Ruth?

Naomi had some lessons to learn: her most valuable possession was the one whom she credited for causing her affliction. God was the one who would fill her life and her arms in ways that she could never imagine. Perhaps it is significant that the name she used for God – El Shaddai – is used 31 times in the book of Job (48 total OT). True, Job experienced much adversity at the hand of El Shaddai; but he also received much more by way of blessing. The same would ultimately be true for Naomi

the second lesson: Ruth was her second most valuable possession. In God’s perfect plan for Naomi’s future, Ruth would be the conduit of his blessing. Family, financial resources, food and shelter, all came to Naomi through Ruth and the plan that God had ordained for Ruth’s life. It is often God’s way to use that which we overlook as the means by which he purposes to bless us.

the third lesson: empty means ready to be filled. In her grief Naomi could only see her emptiness as a liability, not a possibility. She wasn’t ready to see that when she became empty God could fill her with that which was far superior: Himself, a future, a place in the royal line of Messiah. Nor did Naomi recognize that God used her difficult circumstances in part to bring Ruth into the family.

Ruth is portrayed in all of this as the silent bystander. Judicious silence is a characteristic of the virtuous woman; knowing when to be quiet is often as important as knowing when to speak. Ruth’s opportunity would come but what Naomi needed at that moment was simply the knowledge that Ruth would honor her commitment, that she would not run off to greener pastures once Naomi was back among friends.

Act 1: The Exodus – To Leave or Not to Leave

Ruth 1:6-18

On the receiving end of a 1-2-3 punch, Naomi found herself in an unenviable and very tenuous position; you might even call it a serious predicament. It seems from how the story develops that during her ten-plus years of living as a resident alien in Moab, Naomi made no strong personal connections with anyone. Except perhaps Ruth. But Ruth had the same problem Naomi did – widowhood. Being a widow and alone during the Iron Age in ancient Israel or surrounding countries was almost always equivalent to poverty. It was the rare widow who possessed sufficient resources to live independently and well.

While Elimelech had sufficient resources to get his family to Moab and see them established there, those resources had been used up. The only thing Naomi had left was the right to redeem the portion of land Elimelech had inherited and then sold to fund their trip. But the field was near Bethlehem and Naomi needed some assurance she could survive long enough to get there and settle her future. Time was running out; she had no income, only expenses and two daughters-in-law who needed provision as well.

Naomi had to make a decision – would she stay in Moab and hope against hope for a miracle, that Orpah or Ruth would remarry (soon) and provide a home for her also? Or would she risk returning to Bethlehem, an area that had suffered much at the hands of Midianite raiders, a place not necessarily hospitable to someone in great need? To leave or not to leave, that was the question! As the drama unfolds, the next thing we see is three women, walking up the road, carrying all their earthly possessions. Homeless, bag ladies, faces marked by obvious signs of grief, comforting one another as they travel.

A. departure v.6-10

reason for hope 6-7

word had traveled to Moab – the famine had ended, there would be a harvest, God had relaxed his hand of discipline

reason for which Elimelech and Naomi had left home no longer existed, at least the stated reason; given behavior by Mahlon & Chilion, early deaths of the three men, perhaps they were running from God as much as from hardship – would be consistent with Naomi’s take on the situation per v.13 & 21, that God reached out even to Moab to express his displeasure with their sinful behavior – lack of trust, following their own ideas for a solution to their dilemma, marrying outside the covenant community

If God was no longer angry with his people in a national sense, perhaps there was hope for Naomi also, that she could manage to live out her days surrounded by familiar faces and places and with minimal hardship

kind benediction 8-9a

Thinking the best counsel she could give would be to encourage Orpah and Ruth to return to their mothers rather than stay with their mother-in-law, Naomi offers them a blessing: May Yahweh return the kindness you have showed to us; may he show that kindness by providing each with a husband. Naomi believed the best hope, the surest security for daughters-in-law would be found in Moab, happily married again with new husbands.

Naomi’s benediction given from temporal perspective only; at this point in time and grieving process, Naomi not much of an “evangelist”, didn’t seem to recognize spiritual benefit for Orpah & Ruth to go with her to Bethlehem; didn’t understand that for her benediction to be fully realized, would require godly husbands, right belief and worship. Naomi didn’t seem to get the connection – if God’s blessing on his people would be good/advantageous for her, likewise or even more so for Orpah and Ruth.

fond parting (attempted) 9b-10

Author’s understanding of human nature, relationship between Naomi and daughters-in-law shows in these verses. All other things aside, at level of human affection, very strong bond between Naomi, Ruth & Orpah. Two younger women genuinely loved mother-in-law, got really emotional at thought of permanent separation.

Initial response to idea of parting – No way! We’ll never do that. Response powered mainly by emotions without further thought given to all the consequences. It’s an absolutely predictable human way of dealing with this sort of situation – having already experienced separation from husband, the thought of further separation was too much to bear.

B. dissuasion v.11-13

Even though Naomi had experienced by far the greatest loss, her experience and maturity meant she could keep a clearer head. She also had benefit of knowing from her own past just how big a deal immigration would be for Orpah and Ruth. Culture, spoken accent, food, traditions, religion, ethnic tension, shame of singleness and perhaps barrenness, national holidays, family practice – all would be significantly different and require great effort to “fit in” and be accepted. But in seeking to dissuade Orpah and Ruth, what came first to Naomi’s mind was their mutual loss and consequent mutual need – husbands.

practical reasons 11-13a

Naomi’s inability – from her point of view, was too old and had experienced too much hardship to attract a husband. Having already had two sons who suffered from poor health, she didn’t have great hopes of future success, especially given her age. These sorts of ideas are often self-fulfilling; starting out defeated often rules out any opportunity for success. If she thought herself undesirable and hopeless, Naomi would be likely to act in a way consistent with that and not respond positively even if a fellow were genuinely interested.

Orpah and Ruth’s impatience – the biological clock was ticking for all three women. A primary reason for marriage was inheritance – not friendship or convenience or simply pleasure but the need for a son who would carry on the family name and be responsible for the family inheritance. Orpah and Ruth’s chances for happy married life were directly proportional to their being viewed as good potential mothers. Waiting 20 years for Naomi to produce two more sons, even if that were possible, was out of the question.

spiritual reasons 13b

the Lord had turned against her – Naomi saved the best and strongest argument for last. Practical reasons were important, probably they were sufficient from human perspective for Orpah and Ruth to stay in Moab. Plus, how can you argue with “God is against me”? If God truly were against Naomi, who in their right mind would want to be around her? Any of her close associates risked God’s displeasure as well, simply by their connection with her and whatever it was that God didn’t like.

At this point in her history (and to some degree never) Naomi could not understand the specifics of how and for what purpose God was moving among his people. Knowing how the rest of the story turns out, it seems God at this time was not against Naomi in a punitive way but rather in a directive way. His purpose was to move Naomi along with Ruth from Moab to Bethlehem so the next act in this divine drama would begin. It still remains true, however, that while Naomi may not have gotten the specifics right, she was correct in seeing God as the unseen Mover behind her circumstances.

C. decision v.14-18

Having heard Naomi’s argument, some sort of reply from Orpah and Ruth was in order. As we see from the text, Naomi received

two responses

return to former life 14-15

too much change, too big a risk, too difficult a commitment – we don’t know which it was that prompted Orpah’s decision to remain in Moab. It is safe to see in her decision a rejection of Jewish customs and religion and a return to her former pagan way of life and worship. While Naomi was talking, Orpah likely considered all that it would mean for her to immigrate and concluded that, as fond as she was of her mother-in-law, staying in Moab would be her best choice.

commitment to change 16-18

Like Orpah, Ruth was strongly attached to Naomi by an affection that had developed during her marriage to Mahlon. But there was more happening here than simply affection for her mother-in-law; changes were in progress on the spiritual front as well. Where Ruth was in her understanding and acceptance of truth about Yahweh is not clear from the text. Yet a few things are plain.

After expressing her undying loyalty to Naomi and commitment to Naomi’s culture and way of life, Ruth makes some powerful statements. “Your people shall be my people”, “Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried” – contrary to her sister-in-law, Ruth by these declarations affirms her complete rejection of Moabite culture and heritage. “Your God will be my God”, “Yahweh do so to me” further indicate Ruth’s rejection of pagan idol-worship and acknowledgment of Yahweh as the true God, her God. To bind herself by an oath in this way was the strongest possible declaration of Ruth’s intent to remain loyal to Naomi and faithful to Yahweh.

Here we see some attributes of the virtuous woman in Ruth’s character:

loyalty – expressed both toward Naomi and toward God, a determination to remain true regardless of what happens

beginnings of piety – a genuine faith even though probably immature; while Naomi’s perspective of God at that time was predominantly negative, Ruth understood enough to trust her future and her life to his care.

Naomi had prayed that both Orpah and Ruth would experience God’s blessing and find security; judging by how they each responded, it is apparent that Ruth had already begun to experience blessing. As her story continues to unfold, the hand of God will be evident in how she and her mother-in-law both find the security for which Naomi prayed.

 

So Much Sorrow

Ruth 1:1-5

As a literary work, Ruth is a multi-layered composition with several themes which alternately come to the forefront and then recede from prominence as the story progresses. Despair followed by hope, romance, true biblical masculinity and femininity, God’s providence, racial issues, risk-taking followed by reward intertwine in the story of Redemption. Before Israel had a king like other nations, God was at work getting the people of his choosing into place; the very ancestry of our Redeemer demonstrated how in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile but only saints saved by grace.

Closer to Ruth’s day, there were probably questions about the legitimacy of David as king for Israel. After all, his great-grandmother was a Moabitess! However it is clear from her story that God knew what he was doing, that he did indeed intend for his anointed king to have a Gentile ancestor. Set in the time of the judges when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) including some of the key figures in our story, Ruth plainly shows how God sovereignly superintended events in the life of one particular family.

We know how the story turns out – Ruth and Naomi blessed beyond imagination. As the events were unfolding, Ruth and Naomi didn’t have any way of predicting the outcome. And God threw some hard stuff their way, what we would rightly call great tragedy as necessary elements in his sovereign plan. Through it all, as recorded by the inspired writer, Ruth acted the part of a model virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11), displaying many of the traits found in the ideal of Proverbs 31.

A. the circumstances v.1

during the time of the judges – time when Israelites in large numbers were unfaithful to God, practicing idolatry, doing all sorts of evil. See Judges 2:11-19.

wrongdoing – started with a generation who didn’t know God, who followed the ways of the Canaanites left behind during the conquest of Canaan. Practiced idolatry and immorality in direct defiance of God’s commands.

retribution – to cause the people to turn back to him God sent predators, invaders from neighboring areas to harass and cause hardship. The Israelites lost in military engagements, their animals were stolen, weapons and metal tools taken away, crops destroyed.

rescue – when things got tough enough that people saw God as their only hope. God sent leaders, judges, who had his blessing and guidance. Would prevail over their harassers, experience a time of peace and prosperity so long as the judge lived.

relapse – once leader had died, people returned to former patterns of bad behavior starting cycle over again. Evidently conformity to God’s expectations only external and not backed up by repentant hearts. Throughout 350 year period God had his remnant of faithful followers in spite of overwhelming majority who had abandoned him.

more specifically – during one of the times of severe extended hardship; famine induced by their enemies sent by God, not drought or plague. Since it was a result of God’s corrective judgment, would not have affected surrounding areas. Perhaps occurred during Midianite invasion recorded in Judges 6 and immediately prior to tenure of Gideon, when we’re told that they devoured all the crops leaving nothing for the Israelites to eat.

B. the cast v.2, 4

Elimelech & Naomi – dad and mom

“my God is king” and “pleasantness” or “delight”

names are significant; later in narrative Naomi draws attention to the irony of her own name given present circumstances. She emphasizes that her treatment at the hand of God is anything but pleasant. By the end of the account her view changes but much occurred in the intervening period that Naomi could not anticipate.

Elimelech’s name gives voice to prominent theme of the book: because God is king, he has the right and ability to ordain man of his choice as king over his people. Looking to the long view: God is king over all nations, not just Israel, and exercises his dominion through the reign of that son of David, King Jesus.

Elimelech did not live up to his name in at least some areas of life – made choices regarding family that put sons at risk during vulnerable period of their lives. Elimelech not fully responsible for the actual choices they made after his death; was responsible to the degree he set them up to do wrong. He also took his family from place where God was worshiped rightly at least some of the time and settled in a land known for its worship of Chemosh, a god who required human sacrifice (2Ki 3:27).

Mahlon & Kilion – two sons

“sickly” and “piney”

casualties perhaps of the poor pre-natal and early childhood conditions of hardship. Had names that indicated less than robust health; the fact they were able to find wives shows they weren’t total losers. Further evidenced by character of Ruth displayed throughout the rest of the book – is not portrayed as one who would be likely to marry a deadbeat. We know from Ruth 4:10 that she was married to Mahlon, consequently Orpah to Kilion. If Mahlon were the elder son, could explain in part the sense of responsibility Ruth had toward Naomi and caring for her mother-in-law.

Orpah & Ruth – two daughters-in-law

“gazelle” and “friend” or “companion”

Moabite women, not resident aliens like Elimelech and family but actual members of people group that had hired Balaam to prophesy against Israel as they were passing by Moab on their way to Canaan. Were a people under the curse of God for their treatment of the Israelites. May not have been military or political enemies of Israel at that time but certainly were ideological opponents. Israelites not forbidden by law to marry Moabites but because of differing worldviews/belief systems it certainly wasn’t a good idea.

Both Orpah and Naomi saw something in the two Jewish boys that got their attention, enough so to marry them. Like mother- and father-in law, they had no way to anticipate the future and its surprises, to prepare for God’s activity in their lives.

C. the calamity v.3-5

Elimelech had the audacity to die. And his sons not on their own yet: “she was left, and her two sons”. They still had some big decisions to make AND had a mother to support. They didn’t do so well with their choice of wives, perhaps complicated by grief over losing Dad. Israel wasn’t that far away, they could have gone back there to find wives and then take them home to Moab; Abraham did that for his son Isaac. Mahlon and Kilion could have relied on extended family to help them with their selection.

Instead they chose local girls who may or may not have professed conversion to Judaism. It’s quite possible Orpah and Ruth simply added Yahweh to Chemosh on their god-shelf and worshiped both to keep peace in the family. We’re not told how long Mahlon and Kilion were married but it’s apparent that neither of them had any children, another way in which God was involved in the details of their lives (see Ruth 4:13). Then they both had the audacity to die.

Sorrow upon sorrow upon sorrow. First Elimelech, then Mahlon and Kilion died, leaving three widows with no one to provide for them and no children to take responsibility for the family inheritance. Is it any wonder that Naomi would think that God was being mean to her? That her circumstances were the result of God’s chastising? Yet there was no way she could discern the blessing God had in store for her and for Ruth, too, after the sorrow.

If Naomi believed God was displeased with choices men of the family had made (and she had gone along with), she would not expect God to bring good from trying circumstances. Certainly knowing that God can use evil for his own purposes, for good (see Joseph) never justifies wrongdoing. It is testimony to his grace that God often does use hard providences to bring major blessings to his children.

We expect loss, that loved ones will die, eventually, after we have already gone on to our reward. We don’t expect or prepare for getting ganged up on, experiencing such profound and far-reaching loss in a relatively short time as Naomi did. When we’re in the middle of tough stuff, we can maybe see that God is doing something, but we rarely if ever can figure out what it is that he’s up to. It is only when we’re through it, looking back on it from the end of the journey, that it becomes apparent how God has led us every step of the way.