Ruth 1:1-5

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
(Ruth 1:1-5 NIV)

Today we begin the study of the book of Ruth.

The author does not identify himself but provides a context for understanding a bit more of the story.  Chronologically, verse 1 tells us the story of Ruth occurred during the days of the Judges of Israel.  This was the time period after Joshua had led the people of Israel into the Promised Land, and before the Israelites had asked God for a king (Saul).

Verse 1 also tells us that there was a famine in the land of Israel.  We don’t have another Biblical cross-reference to the famine that was taking place.  We only know that famine in an arid land like Israel is severe and life-threatening.

We do know that Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, the land dripping with milk and honey, and now there was a nation-wide famine.  God had warned Moses and Joshua that the Israelites would disobey God and there would be consequences, including but not limited to famine (Deuteronomy 31 and 32).  We can only surmise that the Israelites had abandoned God and were suffering His wrath for their disobedience.

One of the Israelites, a man named Elimelek, decided to move his family (himself, his wife Naomi, and their two sons) from their home in Bethlehem to a place east of the Dead Sea.  This new temporary location was a land called Moab, part of what we know today as the country of Jordan.

From subsequent records in the book of Ruth, we know that Elimelek and his family did not abandon their faith and worship of the true God of Israel, as some had done.  But a famine made life extremely difficult and Elimelek decided that temporarily enduring the disdain and persecution of the Moabites would be better than starving to death in Israel.

Some scholars are pretty tough on Elimelek, saying he should have stuck out living in Israel instead of abandoning ship and moving to the cursed land of Moab.  I don’t know that we can make that judgment based on the Scriptural text at hand – it does not say either way.  We do know that God has cursed Moab because of its unwillingness to follow the God of Israel and that the Moabites were hostile toward the Israelites.

The text says in the course of ten years Elimelek died, their two boys married Moabite women, and the both boys died before having any children.  Naomi was now a widow with two daughters-in-law and no means of support, living in a foreign land hostile to her faith and to her as a person.

What Elimelek intended to be a temporary respite from the famine in Israel turned out to be Naomi’s worst nightmare.  All she had left were shattered dreams, a broken heart, and ten years’ of a seemingly wasted life.

What seems like the end is only the beginning.  Let’s pick up the story the next time and see what God is up to.