Ruth Chapter 1: A Sinner in Need of a Savior
Read Ruth 1 before reading this blog.
If you have heard of the Book of Ruth, you've probably heard it called the "love story" of The Bible. You may have even been taught that it is a love story between a man and a woman: Boaz and Ruth. But as we journey through the chapters, I want to give you a new perspective: look at it as a love story between you and God. Put yourself in the shoes of every Bible character you come across and always check for parallels between this story and Jesus: every Book you read in the Bible can point to the Gospel. Let the Book of Ruth point you to the love of the Father.
"In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband. Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”" Ruth 1:1, 3-6, 20-21 NLT
Unpack the Bag
You may have read Ruth 1 in a couple minutes given it is only twenty-two verses. And you may have thought, why is Naomi being so dramatic? Or, on the other hand, why is The Lord punishing her so greatly? Chapter 1 is jam-packed with narrative that takes a lot of unpacking to understand the depth of what’s going on. So let me explain a bit of what’s going on here.
In the Days when the Judges Ruled
Let’s look here at the first half of verse 1, which puts this Book into a very descriptive setting. This one sentence explains a lot,
“In the days when the Judges ruled" (Ruth 1:1a).
If you flip just one page back in your Bible from Ruth, you will land in the Book of Judges. This Book was written in a time period ranging about three hundred years, during this time is when Ruth lived and breathed. In this setting, the Israelites had just stepped into the Promised Land and they had vowed to serve God, to raise up their children in His ways, and to honor Him as Lord over all areas of their life. And God promised to always be their God.
"So, the Israelites had vowed to follow the Law of Moses that was given specifically for them. I brought you out of Egypt into this land that I swore to give your ancestors, and I said I would never break my covenant with you." (Judges 2:1)
In this Promised Land they had now inhabited, they had no King, no centralized government, and no monarchy, God alone was their King. (Naomi’s husband is named Elimelech, which I believe could’ve been a very common name back in the day because his name meant, “My God is King”). But since the Israelites felt they had no leadership, they fell into a dangerous cycle of sin, often dismissing God. This caused God to raise up judges to turn His people back to Him and honor Him again as the True King over their land. Understanding that this is the time period of which Naomi and Ruth live, helps us to understand the redemption of God on a whole new level.
They Left For Moab
Later in verse 1, we read
“So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him.” (Ruth 1:1b)
This land of Moab was not a land that was God-honoring by any means. To put things into perspective, this land was a modern Las Vegas. It was a very sinful and pagan land. The Moabites prostituted themselves to many false gods and did not honor Israel's God as their own God. Although Elimelech means "My God is King," he forsakes his own name by moving to Moab to live in a culture that has different gods and different kings, partaking in activities that are strongly against God's commandments. This land was so detestable to God, that in the Law of Moses, God had actually cursed this land. Check out the Book of Nehemiah:
“On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly.” Nehemiah 13:1-3
Yet this God-cursing land is the land that Naomi and Elimelech fled to in times of need and in times of fear. Instead of turning to God and having faith in His promises, they ran from Him to a place He cursed.
Sinking to Their Ways
As they sought out refuge in Moab, Naomi and her sons had gotten comfortable with the country’s pagan nature. Let’s look at Ruth 1:4,
“The two sons married Moabite women.” (Ruth 1:4)
Intermarriage with pagan women is quoted from the Law of Moses many times in the Bible as a terrible sin, even the great King Solomon fell into this sin which greatly affected his leadership!
“About the same time I realized that some of the men of Judah had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. So I confronted them and called down curses on them. I beat some of them and pulled out their hair. I made them swear in the name of God that they would not let their children intermarry with the pagan people of the land. “Wasn’t this exactly what led King Solomon of Israel into sin?” I demanded. “There was no king from any nation who could compare to him, and God loved him and made him king over all Israel. But even he was led into sin by his foreign wives. How could you even think of committing this sinful deed and acting unfaithfully toward God by marrying foreign women?” Nehemiah 13:23,2 5-27 NLT
When these things had been done, the Jewish leaders came to me and said, “Many of the people of Israel, and even some of the priests and Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the other peoples living in the land. They have taken up the detestable practices of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians, and Amorites. For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” Ezra 9:1-2
Who you marry has great influence on your spiritual life and as you see in these passages, there is a reason why God was against it in His Law. He did not want his men and his men’s children to be swayed by a pagan wife, by a pagan mother. Yet in Ruth 1 we read that Naomi forsook the Law by giving her two sons away in pagan marriage to Moabite women.
The One Thing They Were Trying to Avoid
See, the very thing Elimelech and Naomi were trying to avoid came upon them. That one thing? Death. They thought that going outside of the will of God would keep them safe, that they knew better than God, that they knew what to do to keep their lives. But going outside the will of God and falling into sin was the very thing that made their fears come true.
A Sinner in Need of a Savior
The beauty of all of this is that even through the sin of Naomi's family, through her trials, and through her distress, God was working up a redemption plan. God was going to provide Naomi food, provide her family, and provide her community if she would simply turn back to Him and come back home.
Just because Naomi felt like God dealt bitterly with her
"Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me." Ruth 1:20
it didn’t mean this was permanent, nor necessarily true. God never left her but it was she who turned her back on Him. The moment Naomi decides to turn back to God however we are reminded by Who God is. His love is unfailing and His grace is enduring, His arms are always open to us. Not to kill us with a lightning bolt when we sin, but to have His arms gently open to us when we repent. That is the nature of God that never changes.
“When we look at Naomi and everything she experienced, if we don’t fully understand, we could miss the evidence of God’s love woven throughout her story and take her momentary perspective as fact of who God is. But how many of us know that our momentary perspectives are not always fact or reality? (Laney Rene, Live Original)”
The current feelings we may be experiencing, either that of loss, distress, or abandonment, they are not indicative of God’s Truth and His permanent nature. Even though Naomi felt as though God had dealt bitterly with her, God was right there creating a redemption plan. Not only for her and for her family, but for the entire world for generations to come. We must never forget that God’s Word is True. That when He says “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” this is true! Although you may have turned your back from God, He is always waiting for you to come back and call upon Him as your Savior.
“Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:13-19 NKJV