Chapter
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Verse

Ruth chapter 1

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6Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread. 7Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. 8And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. 9The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. 10And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. 11And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; 13Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me. 14And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. 15And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. 16And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 17Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. 18When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.

What does Ruth chapter 1 mean?

It is the time of the judges, and the Israelites live in a volatile cycle of their own making (Judges 2:16–19). Times of peace are followed by a loss of zeal for God and a turn to pagan idols. God responds with famine and conquering enemies. When the people reach their limit of suffering, they cry out in repentance and beg for mercy. God sends a judge, like Deborah (Judges 4:4–5), Gideon (Judges 6:11), or Samson (Judges 13:24–25), to beat back the conquerors and return the rebel hearts to their God. But with peace brings complacency, and the people have short memories.

Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion find themselves in a season of judgment. The territory of Judah around Bethlehem is in such a severe famine the family flees to Moab. This was a nation founded by a man conceived through an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter (Genesis 19:30–38). Moab was the culture which hired a prophet to curse the non-threatening Israelites; when that failed, Moab sent its women to seduce the men into adultery and idolatry (Numbers 22—24; 25:1–5; 31:16). Elimelech and Naomi's time in Moab is no kinder; within ten years, Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion are dead, and Naomi is left with two Moabite daughters-in-law (Ruth 1:1–5).

Meanwhile, God has blessed Bethlehem again. Naomi hears the famine is over. She would rather live out her heartbroken and destitute days among her own people than in Moab, so she plans to return home. Her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, insist on coming with her, showing a level of love and faithfulness uncommon even in Israel. Naomi cannot bear it. She can give the two women nothing in Israel. In Moab, at least they have a chance to find new husbands and new lives. Orpah reluctantly agrees and returns home. Ruth refuses to leave Naomi's side (Ruth 1:6–14).

Naomi tries to persuade her stubborn daughter-in-law, but Ruth will have none of it. Naomi is her family, so the Israelites must be her people and the Israelite God must be her God. Despite Naomi's inconsolable bitterness, Ruth sees something in her that makes leaving everything behind an easy decision. Only their deaths will separate them (Ruth 1:15–18).

When the women reach Bethlehem, Naomi's old friends are delighted to see her. Naomi cannot reciprocate. She left Bethlehem empty of food but full of family. She returns empty of everything that matters. She insists the women call her "Mara," or "Bitterness." As she sees it, no one whom God has cursed should be called "Pleasant" (Ruth 1:19–21).

The skilled narrator ends the chapter with a hint of things to come: the famine is over and the barley is ripe (Ruth 1:22).

Ruth will use this to her advantage as she goes to a field and requests permission to scavenge after the harvesters are done with their work (Ruth 2:1–2). It so happens the landowner, Boaz, is one of Elimelech's kinsman-redeemers who is obliged to buy Elimelech's land which will give Naomi a living. Yet Naomi has grander plans; if Boaz can give them money to live on, why can't he give her an heir—and provide security for Ruth, as well (Ruth 3:1)?
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