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DEPARTURE BECAUSE OF FAMINE
A famine was in the land of Israel. Why? Because the literal famine was to draw attention to the spiritual famine that came before it, a famine for hearing the words of God. Though Israel suffered from the spiritual famine, they did not feel it. So God sent them something they would feel!
The famine was felt even in Bethlehem of Judah. Bethlehem means "the house of bread," where, of all places, there ought not to be a famine. But we too, though we are blessed with plenty in spiritual riches, fail to take advantage of these provisions and the saints of God experience times of spiritual famine. We complain about the lack of ministry, though, when it was available, we paid little attention to it.Bethlehem was in Judah, which means "praise."
But the man whose name was Elimelech left the place of bread and of praise, taking his wife, Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to go to the country of Moab (v. 1). He intended only to sojourn there, to spend a short time, but the end of verse 2 tells us they " remained there." What a picture is this of believers who leave God's place for them because their natural reasoning thinks another place might be better! Does this frequently happen? Sadly, yes indeed! Faith would stay with God in spite of famine. We need self-judgment rather than rationalizing judgment.
Elimelech's name means "my God is King," but Elimelech was not true to his name. If so, he would have been subject to God's authority rather than doing what was right in his own eyes. He and his wife give us a picture of Israel's departure from God as seen in the book of Judges. He intended to go back to Bethlehem, but found himself "stuck" in Moab, and never did return. The same is true in too many cases of the Lord's people giving in to their natural feelings. They think they can just get away from the Lord for a short time and then will return. But believers have no more power to restore themselves than they had before to save themselves. If God does not intervene, we shall be "stuck in the mud."
Naomi's name means "pleasant," so she was a fit wife for Elimelech -"my God is King." But their sons' names were Mahlon, meaning "sickness" and Chilion, which means "pining" or "consumption" (v. 2). If the couple had been true to their names, they surely would not have borne sick and pining sons. But in all of this is seen a picture of Israel in a backsliding state. Israel has been greatly blessed by God, but through self-indulgence they have become debilitated and prefer their own reasoning to God's Word.This has continued now for almost 2000 years since they rejected their true Messiah, the Lord Jesus.They have no power to recover themselves.But God is still a God of compassion who knows how to restore.
Then Elimelech died (v. 3).What a tragedy for Naomi! -- left in a strange country with her two sons.The character of Moab is told us in Jeremiah 48:11: "Moab has been at ease from his youth; he has settled on his dregs, and has not been emptied from vessel to vessel, nor has he gone into captivity. Therefore his taste remained in him, and his scent has not changed." Thus Moab pictures a lazy, easy-going religion that is without the exercise of troubles that might empty him from vessel to vessel.Elimelech and Naomi had been attracted by what promised to be an easier path.God may allow unbelievers to have such ease without much trouble, but if believers seek such a path, it will not work out for them in the way it seems to for the ungodly.Consider Psalms 73:1-28.
Even Elimelech's death did not impel Naomi to return to Israel. Instead, her two sons took Moabitish wives (v.4).What else could they do?They had been taken away from Israel.If believers go down to the level of the world, is it surprising if their children marry unbelievers?
There is not a word of Naomi finding any blessing in the land of Moab.Living there about ten years, she then faced another great sorrow.Both of her sons died! (v. 5). She was left desolate except for two daughters-in-law who were of a stranger-nation.Naomi is thus a striking picture of the nation Israel reduced to a desolate condition as a virtual widow because she has lost the marriage relationship she once enjoyed in recognizing God as King (which Elimelech symbolizes).The Book of Hosea shows that this condition of alienation and desolation would continue for many years before God in great mercy will eventually restore her.
NAOMI DRAWN BACK TO ISRAEL
The decision was made by Naomi to return to her land (v. 6).It was not repentance that moved her as much as it was the news that the Lord had given the blessing of plenty of food in Israel. Thus often God will draw by His mercy rather than drive by reproofs, for it is the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4).Naomi began the journey with her two daughters-in-law, who were evidently attached to her (v. 7).
But the poor woman was apparently thinking that there would be nothing in Israel for these two Moabitish widows.In fact, a Moabite was not to be allowed in the congregation of Israel even to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3), so that it seemed a hopeless prospect for either Ruth or Orpah.Naomi therefore urged them to return to their mothers' houses (v. 8), desiring that the Lord would deal kindly with them and they might find husbands with whom to be content (v. 9).
She kissed them, but both of them wept and told her they wanted to return with her to her people (v. 10). When Naomi saw this concern on their part, was it faith for her to discourage them?No, it was not.But she was like so many believers who get away from the Lord.They do not encourage others to come to where the Lord is because they think there is nothing there to attract them!They are thinking of the circumstances rather than of the Lord Himself.Can He not satisfy the hungry soul? Naomi said she was too old to have a husband and bear sons who might marry these widows (v. 12).Did she think she must be their only resource in Israel?But faith becomes extremely weak when one has backslidden.
She was grieved that the hand of the Lord had gone out against her (v. 13), but she did not realize that in all her trials, the heart of the Lord was for her. Eventually she did learn this, that it was really her own lack of faith that was against her.
Weeping again, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, accepting Naomi's advice to remain in Moab (v. 14). But Ruth clung to her and would not be dissuaded in spite of Naomi's further urging, telling her that Orpah was going back to her people and her gods, and that she should do the same (v. 15).Can believers be so lacking in faith as to advise unbelievers to choose idol worship rather than the worship of the true God?
However, in spite of Naomi having become so weak in faith, Ruth discerned in her something that she wanted.Just so, a believer today, having been born again, possesses that life that must express itself in spite of the weakness and inconsistency of his testimony.It is evident that God was working in the heart of Ruth when she responded to Naomi, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death part you and me" (vv. 16-17).
Thus Ruth's decision was firm and beautiful.She was not interested in Moab's "gods." She wanted the God of Naomi. There was no one in Moab to attract her heart like Naomi did, and she evidently discerned that this was because of Naomi's God.As well as this, she would be content to dwell with a people who had the same God.This was unusual for a Moabitish woman, but God knows how to produce unusual cases.
Naomi and Ruth therefore journeyed together to Bethlehem.All the city was aroused at their arrival, people asking, "Is this Naomi?"So long a time had elapsed since her departure that her return was a surprise to them.But she told them not to call her Naomi ("pleasant"), but Mara ("bitter"), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me (vv.19-20).She went out full, but the Lord brought her back again empty (v.21).Notice, the Lord did not take her out, but He brought her home again.At least, though empty, she was brought back home -- a wonderful mercy, though she did not realize this at the time.
Naomi pictures the desolate condition of Israel following her sad departure from the Lord for centuries.The Lord will also bring His hurting people back to the land, though in a desolate state, just as He brought Naomi back. But Ruth is a picture of the fresh, reawakened faith in the remnant of Israel, in spite of her being a Gentile. For Israel has sunk to such a state of disobedience that God calls her "not my people," thus reduced to the same status as Gentiles, therefore to be objects of mercy.
Fittingly, a Gentile woman was used by God as a picture of Israel's future reawakening. Thus it takes the two women, Naomi and Ruth, to give a picture of Israel's failure and desolation on the one hand, and Israel's reviving and blessing on the other hand. Wonderful indeed are the thoughts and ways of God!To understand this does not take from the personal application of this history to the backsliding and restoration of a believer, but on the contrary, makes the whole view more interesting and profitable.It is added in verse 22 that Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.The cutting down and threshing of the barley (or other grains) at harvest time is symbolical of God's producing fruit for His own glory by means of suffering.The harvest of the earth will take place at the time of the great tribulation.The Book of Ruth does not emphasize the sufferings through which Israel will pass at that time, but it does emphasize the wonderful results of great blessing that God will bring forth by means of the great tribulation.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Ruth 1". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany