Read Ruth 1, Ezekiel 11, and Acts 28.
This devotional is about Ruth 1.
The book of Judges was a difficult, depressing account of how Israel failed to follow the Lord and the results of that failure. The events recorded here in the book of Ruth took place in the same time period as the book of Judges, according to Ruth 1:1. As was often the case in the book of Judges, Israel was suffering; this time it was due to a famine (v. 1b). Worried about feeding his family, a man from Bethlehem named Elimelek took his wife Naomi and his sons Orpah and Ruth to Moab (v. 1c).
A famine like this one was not supposed to happen in Israel. If God’s people worshiped the Lord and obeyed his word, God had promised prosperity for them. What is ironic in this passage is that “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” yet Elimelek left the house of bread because of famine. A famine in the house of bread is like IHOP being out of pancakes. But the wickedness of Israel brought God’s discipline on them through this famine.
Elimelek was not supposed to leave the land of Israel, nor were he sons supposed to find wives among the Moabites, but both things happened. Elimelek died in Moab (v. 3) and his sons, who married Moabite women (v. 4), also died ten years after the family came to Moab (v. 5). Was this an act of judgment for leaving the land and marrying foreign wives? The author of Ruth does not say. Maybe this was just part of God’s providence; maybe it was the consequence of their actions. The truth is, however, that it is never safe nor wise to choose disobedience, no matter how dire your circumstances are.
Meanwhile, God lifted the drought that caused the famine and there was bread again in Bethlehem. Naomi, the widow of Elimelek, determined to return to her homeland (vv. 6-7). Her daughters-in-law pledged themselves to return with her. Maybe that was expected in their culture. Maybe Ruth and Orpah felt bad for Naomi or were uncertain about their prospects for remarriage. Naomi, however, graciously released them from any obligation to come to Israel (vv. 6-13). Orpah took this exit ramp and returned home (v. 14a) but according to verse 14b, “Ruth clung to her.” After another attempt to get Ruth to return home (v. 15), Ruth delivered to Naomi this beautiful statement of faith in verses 16-17: “…Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
It must have been a great comfort to Naomi to have Ruth with her, but it did not make the situation any easier to manage. This first chapter of Ruth ended with Naomi returning home, but with a bitterness in her soul (vv. 19-22). It is hard to blame Naomi for feeling the way she did. No one wants to lose a spouse prematurely, but to bury both of your sons as well must have been a particularly painful experience. Not only was she bereft of their love and companionship, she now had no visible means of support. Women in this era who did not have a husband or a son to provide for them had to beg or, in some cases, turn to prostitution for survival.
And, yet, despite all that God had brought into Naomi’s life and how painful it was for her, Ruth saw the one true God in her mother-in-law. As weak as Naomi’s faith may have been in that moment, she still held on to God as the source of her hope. Ruth, then, became not only a convert to the Lord but, as we’ll see in the chapters to come, Ruth would be an unexpected means of grace in the life of her mother-in-law. This should encourage us to know that, no matter how imperfect our faith, God can and will still use the flickering light of our faith to show others the truth about God and draw them to faith in him.