Are you ready to "camp out" for a while, in the book of Ruth? I'm a-warnin' ya, because there's so much here for us! Married or single, we ladies can learn lots from this book (gents, too, if you are reading with us again) . . . I'd like to give you a "homework" assignment to read the book at your own pace. This won't take long, for there are only four chapters! But it will be awesome, because then it will be familiar to you as we go. (Grin)
Many people point to the book of Ruth as the most beautiful short story ever written. Many call it their favorite "love" story. The Jewish people especially find it significant, as it is a huge part of their Shavuot festival, and is read (and sung) aloud as part of the festivities.
Lots of folks have used it as part of their marriage ceremonies; they repeat the lines to their prospective mate:
(It's lovely in the King James, isn't it?)
So, it's a story of love and commitment, on many different levels. And because it is our Bible, it's more than just a story of romance!
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide, we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)Paul was referring specifically to the Old Testament, including our focus, the book of Ruth. We'll be taught; we'll be empowered to endure rough situations; and we'll be encouraged, too.
Let's lay some foundation for our studies this week, and in the following week, too. Ready?
The story takes place during the time that the judges ruled in Israel. This was a pretty rough time for the people of Israel, and they seemed to go from the frying pan (disobedience) into the fire (defeat). As the Bible tells us, everyone was doing what was right in his or her own eyes. There was lots of sin, and lots of sinful people who had hardened their hearts and had quit listening to their consciences, too.
Now, as a result of all this, there was a pretty bad famine in Bethlehem. It's easy to see that the famine was the direct consequence of the people's sins:
But that didn't seem to occur to them, did it? They just looked around, some of them did, and figured out where to go. Where was the grass greener? Well, they didn't have smartphones to look at, but they must have heard that the land of Moab had rich soil, and more importantly, had been experiencing lovely rains that made crops grow. So, Elimelech packed up all his stuff, and his wife Naomi packed up hers, and their two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) toddled along, too. Now, if you look at a map, you see that this was no easy trip -- they needed to go north and then cross the Jordan at the fords. It would have been about one hundred miles, and that's about a week or more of travel, in those days.
Oh, Elimelech! What are you thinking? Moab was a long-time enemy of Israel. Back in Numbers we can read that the Moabites were truly bad boys and influenced their Israelite neighbors to slide into sexual immorality and even pagan worship. And in Deuteronomy, we read this:
As if it's not bad enough that Elimelech is trying to flee from God's chastening, now he is really pushing it, going to live among the Moabites. And his two sons are going to marry Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth.
Well, Elimelech passed away in Moab, and then about ten years later, his sons die. Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth are all widows now. No means of survival, and no real status. They hear, however, that the famine in Bethlehem is ended.
Naomi has been a good example for these Moabite women for all the years she has lived there. It appears that she has been faithful to her God, as we studied some weeks ago. Ruth has seen the difference that faith makes, and even though Orpah turns back, Ruth is committed to returning with Naomi.
Remember now, there are no "coincidences" here. We see the providential will of God in these events -- a man flees the famine and goes to Moab, where his son marries a Moabitess. The man's wife teaches the Moabitess bride the things of God; then both women return to the promised land, where their adventure in faith continues.
I hope you will join us next time! I believe you will enjoy our study!