Are you ready for a little adventure? Good, so am I!
The Old Testament book of Ruth is often used as a women’s Bible study, and I can see why when it shows the amazing faith of a young widow named Ruth. Yet, I think it is even better as a study for men, since the male lead is a real man’s man: Boaz. Both characters show what faith looks like in action, both main characters demonstrate godly humility, devotion and service, and as I see it, the take away from the story is one that each one of us can learn from. What does a godly woman look like? Take a look at Ruth. What does a godly man look like? Take a look at Boaz… and guess what guys; Boaz didn’t have to turn in his “man card” to faithfully follow God.
The story begins in the days of the Judges, when God was the only King in Israel. While the text doesn’t say which one of the judges was in office at the time, scholars tend to think that it must have been early in that period, since our text does not say “when there was no king” (Ruth 1:1). In any case, it seems that there was a famine in the land that should have been flowing with milk and honey.
It is important for us to bear in mind that famines were not supposed to happen, and that if one did occur, there were more problems in the land than just a famine. In the Law, God linked His statutes with blessings and curses; there would be blessings when the people obeyed the Law, curses when they did not, and one of those curses was famine (Lev. 26:19). That there was a famine in the land is indicative of disobedience afoot. It would seem that the situation became so bad that people were leaving Bethlehem, headed for more favorable areas where they could find food.
In our story, we find a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Kilion. As most of you know, it is always a good idea to find out what Bible names mean, and this is especially true in the Old Testament, so let’s see… Elimelech means my God a King, Naomi means amiable or pleasant, and their sons’ names mean sickness and consumption. Perhaps the boys were sickly children, unlikely to live long lives; certainly, if I wanted to go “old school” with you, I’d say that the lesson is that out of an amiable and pleasant life comes sickness and consumption (the old name for tuberculosis) but when do I ever go “old school” here?
Off they go to Moab, the land of the Moabites just across the Jordan River, which isn’t really very far from Bethlehem, at least in terms of highway miles. Even so, it must have been night and day when it comes to the availability of food. Understand that for a Jew to leave the Promised Land to live among the gentile Moabites was a very big deal, and this family must have been very desperate to do this.
The family lived in Moab for 10 years. During this time, Elimelech died, and then the two sons married local Moabite women, and in turn each of the sons died leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters in law. No reasons are given for the deaths of the men, but one thing is very clear: These events were disastrous. For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble as our passage draws to a close. What will they do?