Disobedience Carries Consequences – Ruth 1:1-5

Today’s lesson begins a study on the book of Ruth, a fascinating and unique book in the Old Testament. Before digging into the first passage to discuss, let’s set the stage with some background information.

Title: Although the book is titled “Ruth,” she is not the main character and, when considering her background, it is amazing that the book is named after her. She was a Moabite and not an Israelite. This is the only book in the Old Testament named after a non-Israelite. Of the three main characters, Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth, Ruth speaks the least, and her narratives are the shortest.

Placement: Appearing right after Judges, which is a welcome relief after the continuous downward spiral in Israel’s disobedient behavior. In contrast to such individuals as Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson, all of the main characters in Ruth display authentic faith and covenant faithfulness. Ruth is also one of the five scrolls that are regularly read at Jewish festivals.

Author: The author is unknown, as well as the date of writing – scholarly views on the date range from the reign of David to the post-exilic period.

Theme: The book develops the theme of “from emptiness to fullness.” It is also possible that the author had a goal in this book, the exaltation of David by telling the incredible story of his roots.

Theology: The author presents five theological lessons in this book.

  • God will not let His promises to Israel, Judah, and David die.
  • God works in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform, and His goals to achieve.
  • In all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
  • Genuine piety is expressed primarily in devotion, sensitivity, grace, and kindness toward others, and openness to the working of God.
  • God’s grace knows no boundaries. Even a despised Moabitess is incorporated into the nation of Israel. In fact, the royal and Messianic line has Moabite blood in its veins.

Now, let’s look at today’s lesson.

1 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 live in the land 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 land 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. (HCSB)

First, we’ll concentrate on verses 1-2 as that sets the foundation and contrast for the entire book.

1 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 live in the land 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 land of Moab and settled there.

The phrase “during the time of the judges” is understood as the period when the Lord’s people forsook the Lord, rebelled against His rule, suffered the consequences, and needed someone to rescue them.

  • Judges 2:10-13 10 That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors. After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. 11 The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals 12 and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They infuriated the Lord, 13 for they abandoned Him and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths.
    • This shows that the faithfulness of one generation can’t secure the faithfulness of the next.
    • This is true for a family, church, or nation. They may “play” the role for a while, but their true nature is revealed sooner or later.
  • Judges 2:14-15  14 The Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and He handed them over to marauders who raided them. He sold them to the enemies around them, and they could no longer resist their enemies. 15 Whenever the Israelites went out, the Lord was against them and brought disaster on them, just as He had promised and sworn to them. So they suffered greatly.
    • The consequences of disobedience are set.
    • God hands them over to their enemies.
    • The role of the judges is set in Judges 2:16.

The opening verses of Ruth illustrate and help to understand three significant truths about living in a world where the Lord and His rule are ignored.

  • The Lord’s warning of punishment is no idle threat. Reflect on verse 1, “there was a famine in the land.”
    • This was the land Yahweh promised to give to Abraham in Genesis 12:7 and 13:14-17.
    • It was the land Yahweh promised to give to His people when He rescued them from slavery in Egypt in Exodus 3:8.
    • It was the land “flowing with milk and honey.”
    • It was the promised land where food was abundant, and Yahweh’s people could enjoy the good life Yahweh had prepared for them.
  • Ignoring the Lord’s rule is something to be taken seriously.
    • Elimelech’s name means “God is my King.”
    • Naomi’s name means “pleasant.”
    • They had two sons.
    • They lived in a prosperous area, Bethlehem.
    • They belonged to the tribe of Judah.
    • Moab was the opposite of Bethlehem.
      • No God-fearing Israelite would choose to take their family there.
      • Moabites were the descendants of Lot.
      • The relationship between Moab and Israel was not good.
      • Balak, king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel in Numbers 22-24.
      • Moabite women seduced Israelite men to sexual immorality and to worship their gods.
      • Before entering the promised land, they were commanded not to make a treaty with the Moabites in Deuteronomy 23:3-6.
    • The names of their children may also be significant.
      • Mahlon means “to be sick.”
      • Kilion means “failing or pining.”
      • Both may have been frail children.
    • Both children would never have married Moabite women unless Elimelech had taken the family there.
      • Decisions by parents can have repercussions for their children.
      • Scripture commanded the Israelites not to marry outside their own people.
  • Tasting the Lord’s bitter pill prepares the way for experiences of His kindness. But how do we understand that concept?
    • Naomi correctly understands that Yahweh was in control.
    • Often tasting the Lord’s bitter pill is the necessary step for an undeserving people to experience His kindness.
      • In the time of Joseph, Yahweh used the famine to bring salvation to the sons of Jacob.
      • In the time of Elijah, Yahweh uses a famine to turn His people back to Himself.
      • In the parable of the prodigal son, a severe famine was the vehicle that drove the son to humble himself and return to his father.
    • The Lord can and does use bitter experiences to drive us back to Him, where we can experience His undeserved kindness.

Verses 3-5

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.

We don’t know how long they had lived in Moab before Elimelech dies. However, verse two sheds some light on it by using the phrase “for a while.” This left Naomi without her provider, a dangerous situation for a woman at that time. During this time, the two sons marry Moabite women. Let’s look at several factors surrounding these marriages.

  • The Hebrew term used means “to lift/carry a woman” instead of the typical phrase “to take a woman.” This difference creates a negative connotation surrounding the marriages.
    • The term is used only nine times in the Old Testament.
    • In Judges 21:23, it talks about marriage by abduction.
    • Most marriages by abduction were outside the clan and were considered illegitimate.
  • These marriages should be interpreted in light of Mosaic prohibitions against marriage with pagans.
    • Deuteronomy 7:3-4  Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, because they will turn your sons away from Me to worship other gods. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and He will swiftly destroy you.
    • As the head of the household after Elimelech’s passing, Naomi should have prevented these marriages.
  • According to covenant curses, marriages to foreigners in the land of exile was considered the judgment of God.  Deuteronomy 28:32  Your sons and daughters will be given to another people, while your eyes grow weary looking for them every day. But you will be powerless to do anything.
  • Naomi’s sons lived in a married state for approximately ten years without either having any children.
    • The barrenness of both Ruth and Orpah must be interpreted as evidence of Yahweh’s hand against them.
    • Deuteronomy 28:18 Your descendants  will be cursed, and your land’s produce, the young of your herds, and the newborn of your flocks.
    • Later, in Ruth 4:13, it would take Yahweh’s intervention to allow Ruth to have a child.
  • Both sons die, leaving Naomi with no male family members.

Applications

  • Am I submitting to the rule of Christ, or do I act as I see fit?
  • When trials come, and I experience the consequences of living in a society which has forsaken God, what do I do? Do I try and come up with my own escape plan, or do I submit the will of God?
  • The decisions Elimelech made affected his entire family. When I make decisions that can affect those close to me, what principles do I follow? Do I act in fear, or do I act in faith?
  • Ignoring the Lord’s rule is something to be taken seriously. It can have bitter consequences for those who ignore His rule and those around us who are impacted by our godless choices.

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