Ruth — Intro and Chapter 1
The story of Ruth is an exceptional example of Hebrew literature, almost certainly written during King David’s reign. The primary purpose was to document David’s pedigree. The story takes place perhaps a century after the Conquest, which offers difficulties to the traditional dating system. Standard genealogies make Boaz the direct son of Rahab of Jericho fame. Tradition says he was about 80 when he married Ruth, which does not allow much time for three generations to David’s birth, if the Exodus was approximately 1440 BC. It could well be the genealogy at the end of Ruth follows the more ancient Hebrew practice of skipping generations here and there in genealogies, listing only more well known figures, but it seems unlikely. We may never know the solution to this riddle, but we do know the story clarifies so very much the imagery for the Messiah as Redeemer.
The Period of Judges was quite chaotic. While we have a solid explanation of Israel’s mission as the primary vessel of direct revelation from God regarding His will for humanity, we are told by the prophets God knew Israel was by far the worst nation He could have chosen. Indeed, we are told no other nation would have struggled so hard to embrace the Covenant as Israel did. So it’s no surprise what should have been the beginning of a golden age for Israel very nearly saw her destroyed repeatedly, sometimes by her own hand with internal rivalries.
Yet, for everyday peasantry things were often more mundane. A famine strikes the Land of Israel, and families migrate to better opportunities. Elimelech took his wife Naomi and their two sons to neighboring Moab. It seems apparent whatever residual hostility from Israel passing through Moab on the way to Canaan Land was at low ebb. While there, Elimelech dies and his two sons marry local Moabite girls.
We have to understand, in pious Israeli families, these women would have been required to renounce their devotion to Moab’s deities, chiefly Chemosh, and embraced the God of Israel in order to marry into this family. The context of the narrative strongly supports the likelihood this was the case here. God made women capable of a certain flexibility about such things. In the random way of things, the two sons of Naomi also die, leaving only her and the daughters-in-law. At the same time, news of the famine abating in Israel gave Naomi cause to go home. She had no family ties, no means of support in Moab, and some small hope of survival through her husband’s title to land in Israel. Such claim was hardly relinquished by a sojourn away, though probably in care of some relative.
Naomi blessed the girls for wanting to stay with her, but encouraged them to remain there in Moab among their own people in hopes of marrying again. Orpah took her advice, but Ruth refused. The conversation as recorded indicates she was deeply attached to Naomi, but also deeply touched in her heart by the worship of Jehovah. It’s hard to imagine she did not accompany the men on their mandatory return to the Temple annually for the Passover observance, along with any other holy days they might have observed. They would hardly have been the only Israelis living in Moab, probably residing in enclaves scattered across the land of Moab, so it’s easy to imagine them traveling in a large group for such festivals as was the custom in those days. Ruth insists she will keep Jehovah as her God. It was the morals of this God which compeled Ruth to stay with Naomi and help her survive, trusting Him to make it work.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Naomi keeps the customs of the time. While receiving the welcome of her kin folks, she asserts her unfortunate status. Insofar as any charity is possible, she now qualifies for any outreach her kin can afford. It would not have been very much, it seems. But at least they have come during the grain harvest time, late March or early April of that year.