A Family Tragedy: Famine and Death
1 During the time of the judges there was a famine in the land of Judah. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah went to live as a resident foreigner in the region of Moab, along with his wife and two sons. 2 (Now the man’s name was Elimelech, his wife was Naomi, and his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were of the clan of Ephrath from Bethlehem in Judah.) They entered the region of Moab and settled there. 3 Sometime later Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, so she and her two sons were left alone. 4 So her sons married Moabite women. (One was named Orpah and the other Ruth.) And they continued to live there about ten years. 5 Then Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, also died. So the woman was left all alone – bereaved of her two children as well as her husband! 6 So she decided to return home from the region of Moab, accompanied by her daughters-in-law, because while she was living in Moab she had heard that the Lord had shown concern for his people, reversing the famine by providing abundant crops.
Ruth Returns with Naomi
7 Now as she and her two daughters-in-law began to leave the place where she had been living to return to the land of Judah, 8 Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Listen to me! Each of you should return to your mother’s home! May the Lord show you the same kind of devotion that you have shown to your deceased husbands and to me! 9 May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the home of a new husband!” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept loudly. 10 But they said to her, “No! We will return with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi replied, “Go back home, my daughters! There is no reason for you to return to Judah with me! I am no longer capable of giving birth to sons who might become your husbands! 12 Go back home, my daughters! For I am too old to get married again.Even if I thought that there was hope that I could get married tonight and conceive sons, 13 surely you would not want to wait until they were old enough to marry! Surely you would not remain unmarried all that time! No, my daughters, you must not return with me.For my intense suffering is too much for you to bear. For the Lord is afflicting me!”
14 Again they wept loudly. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung tightly to her. 15 So Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law back home!” 16 But Ruth replied,
“Stop urging me to abandon you!
For wherever you go, I will go.
Wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will become my people,
and your God will become my God.
17 Wherever you die, I will die – and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise!
Only death will be able to separate me from you!”
18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to dissuade her. 19 So the two of them journeyed together until they arrived in Bethlehem.
Naomi and Ruth Arrive in Bethlehem
When they entered Bethlehem, the whole village was excited about their arrival. The women of the village said, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 But she replied to them, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi’! Call me ‘Mara’ because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly. 21 I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me ‘Naomi,’ seeing that the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer?” 22 So Naomi returned, accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth, who came back with her from the region of Moab. (Now they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest).
C H Spurgeon
Ruth 1:1. Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth-lehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
That was a bad move on their part; Better poverty with the people of God, than plenty outside of the covenanted land.
Ruth 1:2. And the name of the man was Elimelech,—
“Elimelech? means, “my God is King.” A man with such a name as that ought not to have left the kingdom where his God was King; but some people are not worthy of the names they bear.
Ruth 1:2. And the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
That is generally what happens; those who go into the country of Moab continue there. If Christians go away from their separated life, they are very apt to continue in that condition. It may be easy to say, “I will step aside from the Christian path for just a little while;” but it is not so easy to return to it. Usually something or other hampers; the birdlime catches the birds of Paradise, and holds them fast.
Ruth 1:3-4. And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
Which was about ten years too long. Probably they did not intend to remain so long when they went there, they only meant to be in Moab for a little while, just as Christian people, when they fall into worldly conformity, only purpose to do it once, “just for the sake of the girls, to bring them out a little.” But it happens to them as it is written here: “and they dwelled there about ten years.”
Ruth 1:5. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
That seemed to be her great grief—that she was left. She would have been content to go with them, but she was left to mourn their loss.
Ruth 1:6. Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab:
It is often the case that, when our idols are broken, we turn back to our God. It is frequently the case that the loss of earthly good leads us to return to our first Husband, for we feel that then it was better with us than it is now. Naomi had also another inducement to return:—
Ruth 1:6. For she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.
Have any of you professors gone a long way off from God? I wish you knew what plenty there is in the Great Father’s house, and what a blessed feast there is for these who live with him. There is no famine in that land; there is plenty of gladness, plenty of comfort, plenty of everything that is joyful, to be found there. You need not go to Moab, and to her false goes, to find pleasure and satisfaction.
Ruth 1:7-9. Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. And Naomi said unto her two daughters-in-law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
Separation was painful to them, for they loved their mother-in-law, a most unselfish person who, even though it was a comfort to her to enjoy their company, thought it would be for their good, in a temporal sense, that they should abide in their own country.
Ruth 1:10-14. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also tonight, and should also bear sons; 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. And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her.
What a difference there often is between two persons who are under religious impressions at the same time! The one would like to follow Jesus, but the price is too much to pay; so there is a kiss somewhat like that of Judas, and Orpah goes back to her people, and to her idols. But how different was the other case! Ruth was, as it were, glued to Naomi; she “clave unto her,” Stuck to her, and could not be made to go back with her sister.
Ruth 1:15-17. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. And Ruth said, Entreat 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: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.
That was bravely spoken, and she meant it, too.
Ruth 1:18. When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
That is a striking expression, “When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her.” O you dear young friends who want to be Christians, how glad we are when we see that you are steadfastly minded to go with the people of God! There are so many who are quickly hot and quickly cold,—soon excited towards good things, and almost as speedily their ardour cools, and they go back into the world. Do ask the Lord to make you steadfastly minded. This is one of the best frames of mind for any of us to be in.
Ruth 1:19. So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
They seemed all to turn out of doors to have a look at these two strangers, and especially at Naomi, for she was so different from what she had been when she went away. “And they said, Is this Naomi? Some said, “Is this Naomi?” questioning. Others said it with surprise as a thing incredible, “This Naomi! How can she be the same woman?” It was very rude of them to turn out, just like people, without sympathy, do on Ramsgate pier, to see the sick passengers land. Nobody seems to have said, “Come into our house to lodge,” but all questioned, “Is this Naomi?”
Ruth 1:20. And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi,—
“Call me not pleasant.”
Ruth 1:20. Call me Mara:
That is, “bitter.”
Ruth 1:20. For the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
It was a pity for Naomi to say that; yet I fear that many of us have done the same; We have not borne such sweet testimony to the Lord as we might have done, but have sorrowfully moaned, as this poor woman did:—
Ruth 1:21. I went out full,—
Why, then, did you go out?
Ruth 1:21. And the LORD hath brought me home again empty:
Ah! but he has brought you home again. Oh, if she would but have noticed the mercy there was in it all, she might still have spoken like Naomi; but now she speaks like Mara,—bitterness. Her husband and her two boys—all her heart’s delight—were with her when she went out; and now that they are gone, she says:—
Ruth 1:21. Why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
Yet it is a sweet thing to be able to trace the hand of God in our affliction, for nothing can come from that hand towards one of his children but that which is good and right. If you will think of those hands of which the Lord says, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands,” you may rest assured that nothing can come from those hands but what infinite wisdom directs, and infinite love has ordained.
Ruth 1:22. So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
That is, at the time of the passover; let us hope that they received a blessing in observing the ordinances of that time, and that they were thus helped to get back to the only right and happy state of heart.