Notes on Ruth 1:1-5
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Ruth 1:1, KJV 1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
The time of the judges was roughly that period of Israel’s history between the death of Joshua and the days of Samuel. The Book of Judges gives information about Israel’s deliberate rejection of their God, the restoration to a state of stability, and the people God used to make that happen. As mentioned in this verse, the events in the Book of Ruth occurred during those days.
Moab was the nation descended from Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Genesis 19 has the story how Lot was basically dragged out of Sodom, his wife turned and became a pillar of salt, and his daughters got him drunk so that he would have relations with them. Moab was the name of the child born to Lot’s oldest daughter; Ben-Ammi, father of the Ammonites, was the son by his youngest daughter.
Israel’s relations with Moab were seldom peaceful. Balak, king of Moab, even hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24) but God overruled Balaam’s desire to honor Balak. During the time of the Judges, Moab was one of Israel’s first enemies (Judges 3) until God brought deliverance. We do not read of a famine in that era but because one is mentioned in this text, one assuredly took place.
These events may have taken place relatively early in the Judges era. Israel was not at war with Moab, in fact war is not even mentioned in this book. Boaz, son of Salmon of Judah and Rahab, the former harlot of Jericho, was still living but apparently quite a bit older than Ruth herself (see 3:10). At any rate, the story of Ruth begins with an Israelite
family moving to Moab and “sojourning” there.2 And the name of the man (was) Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
Moab was east of Israel on the other side of the Jordan River. To get there they would have had to find a suitable crossing or ford, otherwise they would have had to swim. Did ferry boats exist in those days?
Now notice the change: they started off to sojourn, perhaps to live temporarily; now they “continued” in the land of Moab. There is no record they ever sought God’s direction in any of this.3 And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
We are not told how long they had been in Moab before Elimelech died, nor the cause of his death. There is no need for speculation in regards to this matter.4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one (was) Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
This most likely means they became old enough to get married after their father died. One wonders why the family never returned to Israel before this. Intermarriage with foreign, pagan peoples was strictly forbidden under the Law (Exodus 34:16) but these two men clearly paid no heed. Did they plan on staying in Moab for the rest of their natural lives? 5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
Now Naomi was left in Moab with only her possessions and two daughters-in-law. What was going to happen to her after all this tragedy?
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).