During the time when the judges ruled in Israel (see the book of Judges), a big famine swept across the land of Judah which caused many people to leave their homes to find food for their families (1:1a). One of those families departing from Judah in search of food was a couple whose names were Naomi and Elimelech who also had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion (1:1b-2). This family settled in the country of Moab, but soon after Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, died and she was left alone with her two sons (1:3). Being in an unfamiliar place without a husband was a very challenging situation for Naomi and her children; however, soon both of Naomi’s sons took wives from the women of Moab and their names were Orpah and Ruth (1:4). After ten years of dwelling in the country of Moab, Naomi once again experienced a time of extreme grief when both of her sons died (1:5a). The Scriptures provide no explanation of their deaths. Naomi was now left completely alone having survived both her husband and two sons (1:5b).
Naomi decided to return to Judah because she had heard that there was now food there in her home country (1:6), but instead of forcing her dead sons’ wives to return with her, she told them to return to their homes and remarry (1:7-9). Both Orpah and Ruth said, “Surely we will return with you to your people” (1:10), but Naomi insisted that they return to their homes (1:11-13). When the women heard the response of Naomi, Orpah decided to return home but Ruth was determined to go to Judah with Naomi (1:14). Naomi pleaded with Ruth one more time to stay in Moab (1:15), but Ruth spoke these words to her mother-in-law, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” (1:16-17, NLT). These words of Ruth evidenced a deep love and commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and also served as her confession of faith in the one, true God. Having been raised in Moab, Ruth would have worshiped the false god, Chemosh, but she was declaring that her faith was now in the God of Israel.
When Naomi and Ruth finally arrived in Bethlehem (1:22), the people celebrated Naomi’s return and said, “Is this Naomi?” (1:17-18). Naomi answered their question by asking the people of Bethlehem not to call her Naomi but Mara, which means bitter (1:19-20). The death of her husband and two sons had brought Naomi into a deep despondency and she felt as if God had dealt harshly with her (1:21). Although Naomi faced tremendous hurt and tragedy, God’s plan was beginning to unfold and He would bring her great blessing through her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Even though tragedy may cause us to doubt God’s goodness, He is always at work and will be faithful to those He loves.
Dear God, when tragedy strikes, I pray that You would help me see Your blessings unfold in my life.