I’m excited to dive into the Ruth series. I’m also hoping that God helps me learn to condense, there is a lot going on in some of these chapters, and as you can tell, I’ve already decided to break Chapter 1 into 2 parts! So here goes:
In the first verse of Chapter 1, verse 1, we learn the book of Ruth is set in the “days when the judges ruled”. Although I hate stopping before we get to the good part, we have to understand why this time period is crucial to understanding the book.
Now, if you were to flip two books before the book of Ruth you’d be in the book of Joshua. In this book, we read how Joshua takes over from Moses and is tasked with leading the Israelites over into the Promised Land of Canaan. Similar to the Red Sea, God stops the waters of the Jordan and helps them cross over into the land he has promised them, and since getting people to leave a land can be difficult, God promises he will help drive the Canaanite nations out of the land, if Israel obeys and follows him.
However, even though God is helping, the people of Israel sway between trusting in God, and trusting themselves. In some cases, we see God uses their pride to create teachable (and sometimes embarrassing) lessons. In other cases, we see he patiently helps them. So the book of Joshua is all about God’s consistency despite Israel’s inconsistency.
After the book of Joshua, we have the book of Judges where we see that after Joshua’s death, Israel’s faith waivered even more and despite many warnings this would happen, the people of Israel begin to worship the gods of the Canaanites and “did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Even though a collection of individuals (called Judges) led conquests to drive out these nations, they just couldn’t drive the Canaanites out completely, which led to more idol worship. So we see a pattern develop in the whole book of Judges : the people of Israel forsaking God, God sending these other nations to defeat them, the people crying out to God to deliver them, and then God raising another “Judge” to help deliver them.
Now we finally are back to the book of Ruth, which we see is set in the time period of Judges. In the first 5 verses we learn about a Israelite woman named Naomi, who is a wife with two sons. Due to a famine in Judah (likely due to Israel’s disobedience), we learn her husband decides to take the family of four on a little getaway to Moab. While there, her husband unexpectedly passes away, her two sons marry Moabite wives, and then 10 years later she loses these sons tragically as well.
After her sons pass away, Naomi is left with overwhelming emptiness. She now has no reason to stay in Moab. She has no grandchildren. She has two daughter-in-laws that are now also widowed, and she is not sure how she is going to survive. So she turns to her two daughter in-laws and tells them to return to their parents and try to get married again. That’s the only feasible solution for security for them in this day in time. For her? She’s going to return to Judah where God is now providing food.
We see in this first chapter several uses of the word “return”. In many ways, this is also symbolic with “repentance” for Naomi would be returning to her homeland and to her God. Even though Naomi can’t see through her own grief, we see God still calling her and guiding her in this time.