The book of Ruth was written around 1010-970 BC, and is the only book in the Old Testament named after someone not Jewish. Verse 1 starts, "In the days when the judges ruled", which speaks of a very dark time in history. There was no national government and Israel was a collection of tribes. It was a period filled with violence, idolatry, moral depravity, and civil war. This period lasted about 300 years and was the setting for the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. It is in this dark season that the providence of God shines.
Verse 1 goes on to say, "there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons." Theologically, the famine may be explained as a judgmental act of God. If Yahweh's people would go after other gods and persist in rebelling against their covenant Lord, he would respond not only by sending in enemies to destroy their crops and occupy the land, but also by cutting off the rains and sending famine.
Geographically, the story begins in Bethlehem of Judah. The irony of crisis is apparent. Bethlehem, which means "house of bread," has no food for this family. According to Deuteronomy, if the people would repent, Yahweh would withdraw his anger and lift the famine. It seems, however, that Elimelech (Naomi's husband) designed his own solution instead of calling on God for mercy and repenting of the sins that plagued the nation during the dark days of the judges.
Elimelech took his family to Moab:
- The Moabites' origin came from an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter (Gen 19:30-38) The fruit of their incest were Moab and Ben-Ammi, the founders of the Moabites and the Ammonites, two nations that were always at odds with Israel.
- The Moabites' resisted Israel's passage throughout their territory when they came from Egypt (Numbers 22-24).
- The Moabite women used seduction to lure the Israelites and the Israelites were punished because of it (Num 25:1-9)
- Israel excluded Moab from the assembly of the Lord (Deut 23:3-6)
- The Israelites were oppressed by King Eglon of Moab (Judges 3:15-30)
- The Moabites worshipped Chemosh, a fierce god who demanded child sacrifice.
Instead of mourning over the sin of the land and asking God to restore things, Elimelech leaves Israel. He acted like the people of the day and did what was right in his own eyes. He felt more at home in the land of compromise than the land of promise.
Verse 3 says, "But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons." The weight of the ownership transfers from husband to wife. His sons marry, and then both sons died. This meant Naomi had no hope. A widow without any sons meant no heirs. This meant she had absolutely nothing. She was utterly hopeless.
When life feels utterly hopeless, choose to put your hope in the One who is utterly faithful.
In the end, we will see that the book of Ruth is also the only book in the Old Testament named after an ancestor of Jesus. (Matthew 1:5-6; 16). We must remember that He has a plan bigger than we can see. We must be careful that don't compromise by following our own understanding and by looking at the culture. Instead, we must remember God's promises and follow His plan as it (often) slowly unfolds.