What does Ruth 1:3 mean?
ESV: But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.
NIV: Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.
NASB: Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons.
CSB: Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons.
NLT: Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons.
KJV: And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
NKJV: Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons.
Verse Commentary:
An Israelite couple, Elimelech and Naomi, along with their two sons, have fled a famine in Bethlehem and settled in Moab (Ruth 1:1–2). At some point in their ten-year stay (Ruth 1:4), Elimelech dies. When, precisely, he passes away is not stated. The flow of the story suggests this happened soon after the move to Moab, likely before the two sons had married their wives. As is typical with ancient literature, the book of Ruth leaves out details Westerners would prefer to know. Also, among these mysteries are where in Moab they settle, what they do there, and how Naomi survives without her husband.

Scripture does tell us how, only a few generations before, the Israelites were traveling up the Jordan River toward the crossing by Jericho. There, the Moabites proved antagonistic toward their cousins. The Moabite king hired the prophet Balaam to curse the nation. When God prevented Balaam from uttering any word against the Israelites, Balaam suggested the Moabite women go down and seduce the Israelite men from their wives and their God (Numbers 22:1—25:5; 31:16).

The conditions of Elimelech's death are also a mystery. Bible scholars, of course, have theories, and they all seem to include divine judgment. One theory is that Elimelech disobeyed God by leaving the Promised Land and fleeing to the Israelites' enemy in Moab. Specifically, he sold his family inheritance, given by God, to live amongst idol-worshiping pagans.

A second is similar: that God condoned the family's move to Moab but that they should have returned sooner. Some think that God told Elimelech to return, but he refused. There's absolutely no evidence for this—in fact, the famine apparently won't be lifted until years after Elimelech's death (Ruth 1:6).

Scripture gives no reason for Elimelech's untimely demise. As far as the story of Ruth and Naomi is concerned, Elimelech is simply a character involved in the early plot, not a major character requiring detailed attention. The focus is on Naomi, his widow. Elimelech dies, leaving his wife alone with two sons, though not for long.
Verse Context:
Ruth 1:1–5 opens Naomi's story with a short but devastating account of tragedy. The era of the judges was a period of lawlessness and idolatry in Israel (Judges 2:16–19). In one response to Israel's sin, at least around Bethlehem, God sends a famine in judgment. Elimelech and Naomi take their two sons to Moab where the sons marry Moabite wives. Sadly, within ten years all three men are dead, leaving a Jewish woman and two Moabite daughters-in-law forced to fend for themselves.
Chapter Summary:
Ruth 1 depicts how a person can feel "starved" for things other than food. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, flee a famine in Bethlehem and settle in Moab where there is plenty of food and their sons find devoted wives. Within ten years, however, Naomi's husband and sons are dead. When she hears Judah has food again, she prepares to return as an old, bitter widow. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, insists on accompanying her. On the surface, a young Moabite widow in Israel would be the last person who could help, but God honors Ruth's lovingkindness and eventually uses her to restore Naomi's hope and future.
Chapter Context:
Ruth chapter 1 introduces the tumultuous life of a Jewish woman in the era of the judges (Judges 2:16–19). The Israelites have entered the Promised Land but have only half-heartedly pursued God's command to drive out the depraved Canaanites. Too often, they rejected God for foreign idols. God responds with war and famine. In the face of one such famine in Judah, Elimelech and Naomi take their two sons and flee to Moab. After ten years, when the famine is lifted, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with all that is left of her family: one daughter-in-law. They encounter Boaz, whose character is explained more in chapter 2.
Book Summary:
Though set in a time of violence and tragedy, the book of Ruth tells one of Scripture’s most uplifting stories. Naomi, an Israelite, leaves her home during a famine. While away, in Moab, her husband and sons die. Naomi convinces one of her Moabite daughters-in-law to leave her and seek a new life. The other, Ruth, refuses, declaring her love and loyalty to Naomi. When the pair return to Israel, they encounter Boaz. This man is both kind and moral; his treatment of Ruth secures Naomi’s future and becomes part of king David’s ancestry.
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