The short book of Ruth introduces us to a family from Bethlehem who moved to Moab due to a famine in Israel.
“During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the fields of Moab and settled there. Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband” (Ruth 1:1-5 CSB).
Although they initially went to Moab to escape the famine, it would seem that they ended up settling there, possibly due to the two sons marrying women there. During the ten years they were there Elimelech died and later his two sons also died, leaving Naomi a widow with no family.
As she was a foreigner, Naomi decided to return home to Bethlehem. It is touching that her two daughters-in-law also decided to remain with her. Even after Naomi urged the two women to return to their homes, they both replied: “We insist on returning with you to your people” (Ruth 1:10). Such was the love and devotion they had for their mother-in-law.
To Naomi, this wasn’t practical. The normal practice was for other brothers to take their brother’s widow as their wife, but Naomi had no more sons – and she was too old to have any more. She once again urged them, “Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband…my life is much too bitter for you to share” (Ruth 1:11-13).
Both daughters-in-law wept at the thought of leaving Naomi but Orpah saw the wisdom in what her mother-in-law said, kissed her, and returned home. But Ruth would not leave. She told her mother-in-law:
“For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).
As we read the rest of this short book we learn that after returning to Bethlehem, Ruth met a distant relative who was able to claim her as his wife. And they seem to have lived “happily ever after.”
But why is this lovely account in the Bible? There is a hint at the end: through the son that she and her new husband Boaz had, eventually David was born. That is important enough to deserve a mention. But there is more.
Matthew began his writings with Jesus’ genealogy. Notice who we find: “Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered King David” (Matthew 1:5-6). Not only was Rahab in Jesus’ ancestry, but it would appear she was the mother of Boaz who married Ruth!
So we find two foreign, Gentile women in the ancestry of the Messiah. Although foreigners, they both embraced the God of Israel and were devoted to him, bringing up their children to also follow God.
Ruth is a great example for us in her love, devotion, and care for her mother-in-law, but she is a greater example in her faithfulness to God.
Readings for next week:
6 August – 1 Chronicles 7
7 August – Ruth 1-2
8 August – Ruth 3-4
9 August – 1 Samuel 1
10 August – 1 Samuel 2