The book of Ruth is a beautiful story. The events in it happened over 3000 years ago. Because it is about ordinary people, this story can help us today. This story is about an ordinary family whose members suffered many losses but God went on looking after them. Then he gave them new gifts to make them glad.
We do not know who wrote Ruth. Perhaps it was a familiar story that a *scribe wrote down after King David’s death. In chapter 4 verses 18-22, there is a list of people who were born into Ruth’s family. This includes King David. He was a very great king, an *ancestor of Jesus.
v1 There was a *famine in the country. It happened in the days when the *judges ruled the people. A man from Bethlehem in Judah went to stay in the country called Moab. His wife and his two sons went with him. v2 The man’s name was Elimelech and his wife’s name was Naomi. His two sons’ names were Mahlon and Kilion. They were all *Ephrathites. They went from Bethlehem in Judah and they came to live in Moab.
Verses 1-2 These verses introduce the story. The events happened in the time of the *judges, before there was a king ruling Israel’s people. Judah was an area in the south and west of Israel. Moab was on the opposite side of the Dead Sea and was a separate state.
Bethlehem was a large town. The local area usually produced plenty of food. Then there was a *famine (a time when crops did not grow well and so there was not enough food). Elimelech and his family wanted security. They left home to look for food elsewhere. They came to a country where the people did not *worship God.
Elimelech was from Ephrath. This probably meant that he belonged to one of the chief families in Bethlehem. (‘Ephrath’ is an old name for Bethlehem – see Micah 5:2.) He took his wife Naomi and his two sons Mahlon and Kilion. They planned to stay in Moab only for a short time.
The names in this story are important. Elimelech means ‘My God is king’. Naomi means ‘pleasant’. What had happened in Naomi’s life did not match her name. In Ruth 1:20, Naomi realised that. Mahlon and Kilion seem to come from two other words. Those words mean to be sick and to become weak and die. These names show the sad events to come.
v3 But Elimelech died. He was Naomi’s husband. Naomi and her two sons remained. v4 The two sons married women from Moab. The name of one was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. Naomi’s family stayed there for about 10 years. v5 Then Mahlon and Kilion died also. The woman now remained without her children or her husband.
Verse 3 Elimelech died. We do not know his age or the cause of his death. Naomi still had two sons who could provide for her.
Verses 4-5 The two sons married local girls, Orpah and Ruth. They were from Moab. (The name of their god was Chemosh – see 2 Kings 23:13.) After 10 years, the girls became widows too. They had been married but they had no sons. Naomi was now without any man from her family to look after her, and she was in a foreign country.
v6 Then she heard in Moab that the *LORD had given his people help. He was giving food to them. So, she started to go home from Moab. Her sons’ wives went with her. v7 She left the place where she lived. She and her two sons’ wives went on the road to return to the place called Judah.
Verses 6-7 Naomi heard that God had helped his people. News came from Judah. God had provided food there. She still trusted that he looked after his people. She wanted to go back home. Orpah and Ruth started the journey with her. They loved her and they wanted to stay together.
v8 Then Naomi said to her two sons’ wives, ‘Go; return home to your own mothers. You gave kind love to me and to those that died. So I hope that the *LORD gives you his kind love. v9 I hope that the *LORD will give you rest in the home of a husband.’ Then Naomi kissed them. But they cried.
Verses 8-9 But Orpah and Ruth were from Moab. They were young and they could marry again. Their people would look after them. Naomi was grateful for their kindness and she blessed them. This showed that she trusted God. And she spoke about him. She prayed to him to look after Ruth and Orpah too.
v10 They said to Naomi, ‘No, we will not go home. We will go with you to your people.’ v11 But Naomi said, ‘My daughters, go home. Why are you coming with me? I will not have more sons to become your husbands. v12 Go, my daughters, go home. I am too old to have a husband. I could say that there is hope for me. I could say, “I will have a husband tonight and I will have sons.” v13 But even so would you wait until they were men? Would you not have husbands until then? No, my daughters. What the *LORD has done is more bitter for me than for you. The *LORD is against me.’ v14 Then they cried aloud again. Orpah kissed her husband’s mother, but Ruth held on to Naomi.
Verses 10-14 Both Ruth and Orpah still wanted to stay with Naomi. But Naomi wanted what was best for them. She could not give them new husbands. They needed to marry for security. So, Naomi tried to persuade them to go back to their families in Moab. At last, Orpah agreed, although it made her sad.
v15 ‘Look’, said Naomi, ‘your *sister-in-law is going back to her family and to her gods. Go back with her.’
v16–17 But Ruth said,
Do not ask me to leave you or not to follow you.
Where you go, I will go. And where you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people and your God will be my God.
Where you die, I will die. And there they will bury me.
I want the *LORD to hurt me if anything except death makes us separate.
v18 Then Naomi knew that Ruth wanted to go with her. So, she did not argue any more.
Verses 15-18 Ruth understood the practical wisdom of Naomi’s advice. However, her love for Naomi and her wish to obey God made her strong. She would be loyal to him and to Naomi. She was ready to give up everything else. ‘Where you go, I will go. And where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God’, she said. Ruth chose to belong to Naomi’s people and to *worship Naomi’s God. The book now becomes Ruth’s story.
v19 The two women went to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, all the people in the town started to talk about them. The women asked, ‘Is this really Naomi?’ v20 But Naomi said to them, ‘Do not call me Naomi. Call me *Mara, because *The Almighty has made life very bitter for me. v21 I went away full. The *LORD has brought me back empty. So do not call me Naomi. The *LORD has spoken against me. *The Almighty has done bad things to me.’ v22 So Naomi came home. Ruth, her son’s wife, came with her from the country called Moab. They reached Bethlehem at the beginning of the *barley harvest.
Verses 19-22 Ruth and Naomi travelled together. They arrived at Bethlehem when the men were beginning to harvest the *barley. The women from the town recognised Naomi. They were surprised at how she appeared. She explained her circumstances. She thought that her name should now be Mara. Mara means ‘bitter’. She was without a husband or sons. She had nothing. She thought that God was against her. Only Ruth, the young woman from Moab, remained with her. But in all that she had suffered, Naomi did not stop believing God. She did not understand why her life was sad. She only knew that God was in command.