As we work through the book of Ruth in our sermon series, I will be posting some devotional thoughts as I work through it with the help of the ESV Study Bible. The ESV Study Bible is a great resource and I hope that these weekly posts will help you as you process Ruth and grow in your devotional studies. I would highly recommend getting a copy of the ESVSB! I will be following their outline as I post these reflections.
Introduction: Naomi Bereft of Family (1:1-5)
This story happens in somewhat of a low point in the history of Israel. Verse 1 tells us that we are placing this story during the time “when the judges ruled.” This was a time that “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judg 2:11). While there are redemptive highlights to this era in history, the overarching theme of the time of the Judges is a downward spiral of unfaithfulness. There was a need for a godly king and leader for Israel. This was a time of “lacking.” We find in this first verse that it was not only a time of lacking spiritually and God’s people lacking a leader, but there was also a lack of food. There was a famine in the Land. Not the first time this had happened, and not the last.
Enter a man from Bethlehem. This man took his family, his wife and two boys, to Moab. He moved his family from northwest of the dead sea to southeast. He did more than move his family. When I think of moving, I don’t think about it like they did. I can remain connected to one place while physically being in another. The text says that this man “went to sojourn.” This family was heading to Moab to be “resident aliens.” That is what it means to sojourn. They were going to a place there they would not be seen as family, where they would not be seen as part of their culture. Not to mention that Moab was historically not a friend to Israel.
I am not sure why the author doesn’t identify the man or his family in this first verse. He immediately does so in the second. Perhaps there were many families to sojourned to other places, even Moab. Perhaps as an Israelite living in a world where David is king would have heard stories of their own family sojourning to other lands during times of famine. Could this story have been anyone’s story? In some ways it is our story.
In verse two we find that the man has a name, Elimelech. His wife has a name, Naomi. And even his sons have names, Mahlon and Chilion. We hear again that they were from Bethlehem and that they remained in Moab once they got there. This wasn’t just a vacation for them. Remember: resident aliens. Verse two also tells us that they were “Ephrathites.” Their clan was the Ephrathites, their city was Bethlahem and their tribal territory was Judah. The ESVSB points out that their clan, city and tribe were both “of the family of David and the family of the coming Messiah (See 1 Sam 17:12, Mic 5:2).” Even in these introductory verses there is this connection to redemptive history. We know coming into the book that Ruth will be a grandmother to David, all in the line of Christ. But was this a marker for the person reading this? Was this a BAM, we are seriously talking about our King’s family here? Would they have identified with this family and their struggles not just because they perhaps had family stories that were similar, but because this was their king’s family. I don’t want to make too much of it, but I think this verse is significant for the rest of the book. For the original reading audience – their present king has now been thrust to the front of their mind. For the modern audience – our present King should be thrust to the front of our mind.
Tragedy. The man who took his family to Moab to be resident aliens dies. He is described as, “the husband of Naomi.” It seems to me that at this point the story becomes about her. In the introduction in the ESVSB we are told that this is a feminine book. That it is told from a “woman’s viewpoint.” This description and tragedy would seem to affirm this claim. She is now a single mom. Left with two boys.
Further tragedy. Moabite wives and more death. The past relationships of God’s people to this false-god serving nation was cause for apprehension. Interestingly, Ruth was a moabite woman. And she is at the center of this story. Naomi’s sons then die. The scripture simply and devastatingly says, “the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”
Summary: These first five verses have established a couple of headlines for the book of Ruth. It will be interesting to see how they play out.
- Its a feminine book.
- Death is a huge part of the beginning of the book.
- These women are on their own. The ESVSB says, “A Childless widow was in a precarious position, lacking long-term financial support. Thus she needed community help.”
We are less without each other…