In the map of Palestine in the day of the Judges, note the location of Bethlehem (below "Jebus" which is Jerusalem) in relation to Moab on the other side of the Dead Sea:
|Palestine in the Days of the Judges |
Logos Bible Atlas 2.0 and are Copyright © 1997 Logos Research Systems, Inc.
The famine in the land was probably God's act of judgement on erring Israel. During the time of the Judges, worship of the Canaanite gods, Baal and Ashtoreth, was common. Since the intercourse between these two gods was believed to give fertility to the earth, it would make sense that God would judge by making the land infertile.
Elimelech journeyed 50 miles east of Bethlehem (Ephrath is another name for it) to Moab in order to escape the famine. Jewish tradition regards the death of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Kilion as God's punishment for leaving the Promised Land and not trusting God for provision, but this is not stated in Scripture.
Ruth was a Moabitess. You might remember that Lot's two daughters got him drunk, and Moab and Ben-Ammi were the fruit of that union which led to Moabites and Ammonites (Genesis 19:30-38). These nations would often war with Israel (Judges 3:12ff). While friendly relations with the Moabites were not forbidden because they lived outside the Promised Land, the inhabitants of Moab were not part of the congregation of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Marriage to a Moabite was not forbidden in God's law like marrying those inside the promised land (Deuteronomy 7:3), but it was not encouraged either since they were worshippers of the god, Chemosh (Numbers 21:29). We will soon see that Solomon's downfall was serving the gods of his foreign wives, some of whom were Moabites (1 Kings 11:1-6; Malachi 2:11).
But good thing Mahlon married Ruth, for she was a woman who chose Israel's God (1:16) and exhibited ḥeseḏ, which is the Hebrew word for loyal lovingkindness, toward the dead and her mother-in-law (1:8). This Hebrew word is a key word in the book of Ruth (1:8; 2:20; 3:10). Ruth showed loyal lovingkindness to all, and the Lord showed his loyal lovingkindness (or covenantal love) to Ruth and Naomi. By the way, Orpah was not criticized for turning back to Moab. She simply obeyed her mother-in-law. (Yes, Oprah Winfrey's birth name was Orpah, but her family could never pronounce it correctly. Interesting to note that Oprah is in this spell check and Orpah is not, but I digress.)
Boaz was a prince of a man. I love my New Living Translation DVD because his voice sounds so gallant! In the margin of the New American Standard Bible, it says he was a "mighty, valiant man." The same Hebrew word also describes the Judges Gideon and Jephthah (Judges 6:12; 11:1). Boaz was a godly man also (2:4, 12). His actions toward Ruth in the fields proved his faith and character. The poor were allowed to reap (glean) the corner of the fields after the harvesters had left, but he allowed her to follow along with the reapers and drink with them. This was far beyond the requirements of the law (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22). Ruth received unexpected favor (ḥēn, "grace, favor, acceptance") from Boaz, but he had heard of her actions toward Naomi. Ruth responded to his kindness with humility. When Ruth reported all of this to her mother-in-law, Naomi's sorrow and suffering was turned into joy.
I love this story! Keep reading. We will wrap this up tomorrow.