- Joining the Family
- Naomi's Perspective
- Ruth's Determination
- Relating to Today
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
The first chapter of Ruth gives us the backstory of how Ruth ends up in Israel gleaning fields, which centers around a family from Bethlehem-judah, who leave Israel during a famine. This family consists of Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. It is through this family that Ruth winds up in the land of Judah.
Joining the Family
During the famine in the land of Judah, Elimelech moves his family to Moab. After his death, Elimelech's sons take wives amongst the Moabite women. Chilion marries a woman named Orpah and Mahlon marries Ruth. The families are together for 10 years before Mahlon and Chilion join their father in death. This leaves all three women (Orpah, Ruth, and Naomi) as widows.
Naomi hears that the Lord has returned to Israel and is giving the Israelites "bread" to end the famine. This was the word spreading in Moab about the magnificence of Israel's God who was delivering them from famine. This inspires Naomi to return to her home. She suggests her daughter-in-laws return to their respective homes as well.
The love for their mother-in-law shows in that both women weep when she tries to bid them farewell. We see that this must have been a tightly knit family from the reactions. Initially both Orpah and Ruth declare that they will return to Judah with Naomi. It does not seem like many of the families today, who would go through extreme lengths to get rid of their in-laws. When we marry and acquire in-laws, we should be willing to stick it out with them the same way Ruth and Orpah were with Naomi.
Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.
Naomi, however, was against the two women joining her. Knowing that the Israelites were not supposed to marry Moabites, Naomi blames the deaths and her fate on the fact that she allowed her sons to marry Moabite women and suggests that God is against her. It is possible Naomi expected the Israelites in Judah to ostracize the two women and was looking out for their best interest in refusing their offer.
Another reason Naomi lists is their prospects for husbands. Levirate marriages were popular during this time period, but Naomi didn't have any more sons for the women to marry. Note that if the women were 20 years old when they married Naomi's sons, which is probably a bit old for the time period, they would have been 30 at the time of their husband's death. It was much more likely that Ruth and Orpah were teens at the time of their marriage and in their mid to late 20's at the time of their husband's deaths. We also see a possible reason for the closeness of these women to Naomi; she would have been like a real mother to them if they had been teenagers when they married into the family. Either way, this is quite young to be a widow or single for the rest of your life, hence Naomi's urging that they go back to their own homes and find new husbands.
Orpah is eventually persuaded to return to her family, but Ruth is determined to stay with Naomi. Ruth boldly declares that she will not leave Naomi; her declaration is so powerful that Naomi simply stops talking—she can't argue with Ruth's vow. Unable to deter Ruth, Naomi sets out for her hometown of Bethlehem with company. The two women return to the city during the barley harvest, which explains why later on we see Ruth gleaning barley.
16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
Upon their arrival, the people recognize Naomi and call her by name. Naomi shuns her name, however, and asks that the people call her Mara. The name Naomi means "pleasant," something Naomi certainly was not feeling. Instead she wishes to be called a name that means "bitter," what she actually feels.
Relating to Today
In this chapter we see a great contrast between the two women. Naomi is quite sullen and bitter; her outlook on the world is negative. Ruth on the other hand is much younger and still views the world with optimism. Each of us goes through trials in life and we each have the option to react like Naomi or like Ruth. The older we become, the easier it is to react the way Naomi did.
A personal example is in the similar issue of finding a spouse. When I was in middle school and high school, I had an abundance of hope that (1) I would become popular and (2) new students (specifically male students) would pop up at my school so that (3) I would find that special someone. While my attitude had changed slightly in college, I still felt very hopeful that "the one" was lurking around the corner. The peak of this optimism came sometime during my Master's degree. Since the age of 25 it has become much easier to fall into Naomi's rut and believe I won't meet anyone.
Fortunately, we are not doomed to stay in a bitter mood forever; even Naomi cheers up by the end of the book. What we need is the ability to recognize this slump and pull ourselves out of it. Whether we are down about potential mates or our job or something else all together, we know that God has promised to take care of us, to provide for us, and to be our rock. Why then should we allow bitterness to cloud our view of the future? The story of Ruth proves that when one door closes, God opens another door for us.
References and Footnotes
- Ruth 1:4
- Ruth 4:10
- West, Jim. "Ancient Israelite Marriage Customs". Quartz Hill School of Theology. 2016
- Lemos, Tracey M. "Weddings and Marriage Traditions in Ancient Israel". Society of Biblical Literature. 2016
- Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 460. 2016
- Levirate marriage is when the brother or next kinsman of a man was obliged to marry his widow (particularly if she had not borne children yet).