Some of your daily choices may not drastically change your life or result in long-term consequences because we can learn from our mistakes, revise our actions and can keep moving forward in a positive direction. Other life choices and decisions are more consequential and should not be based merely on common sense but on our value system, our convictions. Unfortunately, many people make choices based merely on intuition and strictly on circumstances and then hope for a positive outcome.
In reality, our deep-seated values and convictions determine how we will make our decisions.
We see the outcome of people’s choices throughout the Bible and will see the various outcomes of choices as we begin our study in the book of Ruth.
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlonand Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband (Ruth 1:1-5)
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me.
9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” (Ruth 1:6-10)
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.
17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her (Ruth 1:11-18)
19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning (Ruth 1:19-22).
Ruth was written after the time of Joshua in 1160 BC, when Israel had no leader, no king. These were dark days, full of suffering brought about by the nation’s moral and spiritual decay. The people were looking out for themselves and everyone did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25). The result was chaos. The book of Ruth focuses on the providential working of God in the life of an ordinary family living in Bethlehem during this era. This family had made some difficult choices in the midst of a severe famine.
We can observe at least three things simultaneously at work in the life this family in Ruth Chapter 1:
Choices and Consequences
God’s Plan of Restoration
Choices and Consequences
In this first chapter, we read the story of a family of Ephrathites from Bethlehem, from the tribe of Judah. Ironically, the name “Bethlehem,” is translated, “as the house of bread.” Bethlehem was known for its fertile ground. Yet even in this fruitful district of the country of Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. The story is an account of a man named Elimelech which means “God is my King” and his wife Naomi which means “delight, sweetness.” The names of their two sons were Mahlon, which means “sick” and Kilion which is translated as “pining away.”
Alfred Leeds Hunt said:
Sometimes the names parents gave had significance: sometimes they expressed their hopes or their sorrows; sometimes they were intended to describe the appearance or circumstances of the child. Here they seem to have been given by reason of the sad state of the land at the time of their birth.
It was in these difficult days of severe famine that Elimelech left Bethlehem to look for food in the country of Moab. The Jews did not look favorably on the nation of Moab for several reasons.
Firstly, their relationship was marked by constant hostility. During the time of the judges, there was a period of 18 years in which Israel’s bitter enemies, the Moabites, had oppressed and enslaved them.
Secondly, the Moabites worshipped a god called Chemosh who demanded human sacrifices. Because of this and other evil practices, God had told the nation of Israel not to allow the Moabites into the temple nor to have any dealings with them (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). It was the Moabites who had asked Balaam to curse Israel.
There has been a lot of speculation about Elimlich’s decision to take his family to Moab. Was it the right decision, was it the will of God? There is no record in the writings that Elimelech ever asked God what he should do in the situation.
Obviously, he was under pressure to provide for his family and moved to a place that seemed to have enough to meet their physical needs. However, Moab was not a healthy place for them spiritually. So why would he move there? Because it seemed like the logical and reasonable choice? Even though Elimelech’s name meant “God is my King,” it seems he doubted and wavered in his faith, and then made a choice solely based on the circumstances.
Many claim God is their king but you see who or what is really king by your choices, especially when under pressure.
Often we are tempted to find the easiest way out, look for greener pastures, instead of praying and waiting on God for His solution for the situation. Not every open door or promotion is the will of God, especially if it takes you and your family far from your relationship to God.
Initially Elimelech’s family had been planning to stay for a short time until the famine was over. They could have moved back at any time but for some reason they had settled in Moab for 10 years (Ruth 1:2).
Woodrow Kroll observed:
Sometimes we intend for situations to be only temporary. We think, “Just as soon as the kids are through college, we'll start tithing again. Or perhaps you reason, "As soon as I get through this busy period at work, I'll get back to having a daily quiet time, I’ll get back to church with my family." But days turn into weeks, weeks into months and before you know it, circumstances that were only going to be temporary have become a way of life.
Have you allowed something that was intended as temporary or transient to become a permanent fixture in your life?
During those 10 years in Moab, Naomi’s husband died, her two sons married Moabite women and both died at a young age. It is interesting that there is no direct explanation for why her husband and sons died but some scholars suggest it had to do with the consequence of their choices. One cannot be certain. As a result, Naomi and her daughters-in-law all became widows - they had no income, no protection, they were in an utterly hopeless, desperate situation. Even in the midst of all these negative consequences we see...
God’s Providence Was At Work Even In The Darkest Times
In verse 6, we read that while Naomi was in Moab, she heard that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. God was providing for their needs and so she decided to return. The word “return” gives us a picture of repentance.
John Walvoord states:
Naomi reversed the direction she and her husband had taken. She turned away from Moab and the errors of the past and headed back to Judah, her homeland.
Even though her daughters-in-law were willing to go with her, Naomi told them three times to go home to their own families and to their gods. She knew she would not marry again, wouldn’t have any more sons, and so they had no future prospects for marriage if they followed her home.
Naomi thought she would be making the journey home alone but little did she know that God was working in Ruth’s heart. Her daughter-in-law Ruth had also suffered loss. She had lost her father-in-law, her brother-in-law, and her own husband. She couldn’t control her life, but she could control her decisions. She made redemptive choices in the midst of her loss.
Ruth could have gone to her home, she could have gone back to her gods, but she made a choice to follow Naomi to a land that was foreign to her. She did not care if she found a husband or not, she made a choice to identify with God’s people over her own national identity and to trust in the God of Israel and forsake her own idols. Ruth chose to stay with her in spite of an apparently hopeless future of widowhood and childlessness. Yet Naomi was so miserable, empty, broken and full of bitterness towards God, that she couldn’t see God’s goodness, His grace or mercy.
Naomi did what most of us tend to do. She judged God in light of her circumstances. She believed God had made her life very bitter, that He caused her to suffer, sent tragedy to her, and was against her.
Naomi did not realize that this chastisement was:
God’s Plan For Restoration
God did allow suffering and tragedy to come into Naomi’s life but it caused her to return to her homeland and to Him. In His mercy God fulfilled His redemptive plan and purpose for her life.
After all she had been through, little did she know or expect that God was going to greatly bless her during the latter years of her life or that the future Messiah of the world would come through her lineage.
Like the prodigal son who set out on his own, finding his own path apart from God, his choices ultimately brought him poverty, moral failure, isolation, and misery. After he came to his senses, and remembered that in His father’s house there was plenty of bread, he made the redemptive choice to return home. And once he made that decision, he was not only received with great joy by his father but fully restored as a son.
Can you imagine that kind of grace? In the same way, Naomi, had experienced the consequences of staying in Moab, she was left with almost nothing. But when she heard that God had once again blessed her home, she made the redemptive choice to return to Israel, to her God and to her people. The Almighty God sovereignly brought her back to where she was supposed to be.
Warren Wiersbe asserts,
When trouble comes to our lives, we can do one of three things: endure it, escape it, or embrace it. If we only endure our trials, then trials become our master, and we have a tendency to become hard and bitter. If we try to escape our trials, then we will probably miss the purposes God wants to achieve in our lives. But if we learn to embrace God in our trials, they will become our servants instead of our masters and do a work in us; and God will work all things together for our good and His glory.
It was God’s affliction, His hand of correction that caused her to return, so He could restore her back to Himself.
God uses afflictions and difficulties to get our attention, to wake us up, to bring us to him. Sometimes God uses life’s circumstances to turn us to him, other times it is to get us to return to Him.