- Narrative Background
- Ruth refused to ‘turn back’
The Story of Ruth unfolds during the “days of the judges.” The specific location that is central to the narrative is in Bethlehem of Judah (“House of Bread”). The region that the central location is assigned to is called Ephratah (“Fruitfulness”). In those days there lived a man named Elimelech (My Mighty One is King) and his wife Naomi (My Delight).
They had two sons, Machlon (Weak & Sick) and Chilyon (Wasting Away).
The names of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi reflect the hardship of the time. Machlon comes from a verb (chalah) that means “to be sick.” In addition Chilyon comes from a verb (kalah) that means “wasting away,” and “destruction.” Such is our condition when we have in a time of difficulty (famine) wandered away from the ways of the Spirit and relocated ourselves in the non-spiritual ways of the Gentile world.
Ruth refused to ‘turn back:’
Because there was a famine in the land of Israel, Elimelech decided to lease out his land in Bethlehem and move his family to the adjacent land of Moab. After a short while in Moab Elimelech died and made Naomi a widow. The sons of the widow Naomi later married Moabite women. Chilyon married a Moabite woman named Orpah (Turn Back), whereas Machlon married Ruth (Female Friend, Companion). Tragically both of Naomi’s sons died childless. This left Naomi, Ruth and Orpah destitute without any men or their children to help them. Because of this tragic circumstance Naomi decided to turn-back to the land of Judah. For she had heard the famine in the land of Judah had ceased.
Initially both the daughters-in-law set out with Naomi on the way back to the land of Judah. Along the way, however, Orpah was persuaded to “turn back” to her home. Orpah’s name comes from a root that means to “turn the back of the neck” to someone. Orpah loved Naomi but not enough to permanently leave her own people and her own culture and go to live in Bethlehem. Ruth on the other hand, “clung” to her Jewess mother-in-law and refused to leave her side. After Naomi repeatedly tested Ruth’s motives, Ruth told Naomi:
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your G-d shall be my G-d. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Adonai do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Despite Naomi’s warning that Ruth would be regarded as an outcast in Bethlehem she refused to ‘turn back.’ Ruth loved her adopted mother, the daughter of Israel, Naomi. Only the love of Naomi was sufficient to draw her adopted gentile daughter Ruth into the truth of Adonai.
Therefore, once Naomi understood that Ruth’s heartfelt commitment to her included her embracing her faith in Adonai Eloheinu she gladly accepted Ruth’s decision. So the two women, now united in faith (as well as love) set out together toward Bethlehem. Or as the Hebrew meanings of the personal and place names would have it: “My Delight (Naomi) and her Companion (Ruth) arrived at the House of Bread (Bethlehem), in the region of Fruitful (Ephratah), in the land of Praise (Judah), in the time of the harvest of humility (barley).”