An Expositional Study Through: Ruth
Session 2: Prologue (Ruth 1:1-5)
Last week we were introduced to the book of Ruth and some foundational information for our study of this great story. Specifically, we examined the following areas by way of introduction: authorship, date/scope of events, the purpose for this book in the overall canon of scripture, and the covenantal implications of the book. This week we will begin examining the text by looking at the prologue for the main story, which is found in Ruth 1:1-5.
-Setting the Scene: As we covered last week, the scope of the events of Ruth’s story take place during the time of the Judges (1:1), but there is more to setting the scene. It is important that we properly understand these details in order to properly understand the unfolding drama of Ruth.
First, we need to understand the theology of the famine. In order to process this in the context of Ruth we must first consult Deuteronomy 28. It is my opinion that Deuteronomy 28 is perhaps the most significant chapter in all of the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 28 we are reminded of the covenantal blessings from God to those who will faithfully keep His law (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). By contrast, we are also reminded of the curses that will befall those who do not keep the law of God (Deuteronomy 28:15-68).
It is within this latter section that we need to focus right now. If we look at Deuteronomy 28:23-24 we see famine in the land is a curse brought about by YHWY for lack of fidelity to His law. This tells us that at the time the story of Ruth begins, God was judging His people for their failure to honor Him and obey His law. If we are to understand that Ruth is perhaps seen as an appendix to the book of Judges, this makes perfect sense.
Second, we need to understand the significance of Bethlehem in the story. The author of Ruth develops the Bethlehem motif from the end of Judges, specifically Judges 17-18 and Judges 19-21. In both these narratives, Bethlehem is not presented in good light on account of the events of the corresponding events. This presents us with an understanding that Bethlehem was not looked at fondly during the time of the events of Ruth.
Additionally, we need to track the development of Bethlehem through the entirety of the drama of Scripture. By that I mean, if we continue to follow the role Bethlehem plays throughout the Bible, we will see that the small town goes from being painted in poor light to being the birthplace of the covenantal king (David), and ultimately being the birth place of the Messiah (Jesus). This small and insignificant town from the wrong side of the tracks, develops into the birthplace of our blessed hope. Within this development it is important for us to recognize the sovereign plans of God being providentially worked out through the lives of His creation.
The last thing that is of importance to mention in regard to Bethlehem is the meaning of the name. Ancient names are rich in meaning, as we will soon see, and Bethlehem is no exception. Literally meaning “house of bread,” we must not miss this significance of this in our story. Elimelech leaves the house of bread during a time of famine. We will develop this concept further in just a moment.
Third, we need to identify the significance Moab plays in this story. The Moabites were the descendants of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-39). Additionally, Moab plays a significant part in the adulterous idolatry of Israel in Numbers 25:1-9 (context set in Numbers 22-24). More recent, we see God uses Ehud to put an end to the oppression of Israel at the hand of Eglon, the king of Moab (Judges 3:15-30).
It is of significance to mention, because the Moabites had hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24), the Moabites were not permitted into the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:3-6, notice the significance of verse 6 within the context of Ruth and the actions of Elimelech). Consider the ramifications of Deuteronomy 23:3 within the genealogy of Jesus. Quite literally, Jesus was in the line of an individual who was not permitted in the assembly of God’s people. We will discuss this in further detail later in the study, but it is important to be aware of this and understand His ways are not our ways. This is also a place to pause and consider the manifold graces of God.
-What’s in a Name: We have already considered the importance of the meaning of Bethlehem but let us now consider the importance of the other names presented in this prologue.
Elimelech: Elimelech is a compound name in Hebrew. Made up of the two words Elohim (אֱלֹהִים) and melech (מֶלֶךְ). Elohim is the generic Hebrew word for God (or god), and melech is the Hebrew word for king. Literally Elimelech means, God is my king. The irony is that in his decision to leave the land of blessing to a foreign land, Elimelech demonstrates a failure to trust God as his king. This presents us with the significant theme of the book: the faithfulness of God.
Naomi: Naomi literally means pleasantness, or pleasant one. This is seen as poignant because she insists on not being called Naomi at the end of chapter 1, but rather called Mara (bitter). Regardless of her disposition between chapter 1 and 2, God shows Himself to be the faithful king by the end of chapter 4 and she goes from being bitter to being blessed.
Mahlon: A son of Naomi, Mahlon means sickly.
Chilion: A son of Naomi, Chilion means frail.
It could be that the names of Naomi’s sons indicate the ongoing judgement of God in the life of Elimelech for his lack of faithfulness.
Orpah: A daughter-in-law of Naomi, Orpah means long neck or adorned with thick hair. This is perhaps an indicator of her beauty or even the seduction of the Moabite idolatry.
Ruth: A daughter-in-law of Naomi, Ruth means refreshment or friend. Either would be an accurate of her relationship to Naomi.
-Significance and Overall Theme: By the end of verse 5, we see Naomi widowed with no heir to her husband’s name. Apart from her daughters-in-law, she is alone in a foreign land with little hope of a future. She has followed the poor leadership of her husband, who failed to live up to his name sake, and finds herself outside the blessing of God.
Within the sojourning of this family, we see significant parallels to the sojourning of Abraham in Genesis 12. Notably, after entering into a covenant with God, he seemingly ignores the promised blessings and leaves for Egypt (also in a time of famine). In Egypt he lies to Pharaoh and potentially endangers both he and his wife. The similarities here are striking, but the significant take away and overall theme cannot be missed: God is faithful.
God is faithful even when we are not. God is gracious even though we do not deserve grace. God is merciful even though we deserve death. God is good. May we see the story of Ruth as far more than a drama in the text of Scripture. Rather, let us see this story as a glaring reminder of the faithfulness of God.
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