The story of Ruth starts in approximately 1312 BC. This time is between the Exodus of Israel from Egypt and the establishment of the system of Kings in the time of Samuel. We are told that there was a famine in the land of Israel. The presence of famine indicates the absence of the presence of the Holy Spirit and indicates that Israel had gone into rebellion against God. I Kings 8:35-36. Then a certain man named Elimelech (My God is King) and his wife Naomi (My Pleasantness) went to live in the land of Moab. They brought their two sons with them Mahlon (Sickness) and Chilion (Pining, or Destruction). They went to Moab because there was food there and there they would wait until the time of famine passed and God would have restored water and Spirit to the land.
While they waited in Moab Elimelech dies and Naomi is left to the care of her two sons. While in Moab the two sons took wives, the one son took Orpah (Youthful) as a wife and the other son married Ruth (Friendship). They all lived together in Moab for about ten years. Then Naomi experienced even more heartache when both of her sons died in the land of Moab.
Then Naomi heard that the Lord had visited His people and forgiven them their sins and restored to them the blessing of rain and thus there would be a harvest and some bread. Naomi decided to return to Israel and to her house and land. The house would always be available to the land owner for this was a part of the social guidelines laid out by God when Israel settled into Canaan. When she left Moab her two daughters-in-law went with her. When they chose to follow Naomi she encouraged them both to return to their mother’s homes and try to reestablish themselves in the Moabite lands and perhaps find another husband.
Both of the women wept as the idea of being separated from Naomi. But Naomi continued to encourage them to go back home. She also explained to them that in Israel that a mother in law can have additional children and if the woman will wait until the man is matured then the wife of the dead husband can marry the now mature son and continue on with the family. See Genesis 38:1-14. But Naomi explained to them that she was so old that it was not likely that she would have another husband and then she confronted them with whether they would even be willing to wait for another child to come along and go that long without a husband? Then Naomi states her thought that she thinks that God is against her because of the death of her husband and two sons and she says “…it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.” Ruth 1:13 This thought shows that Naomi is missing a truth about God and feels that all sadness and disaster is coming from God, rather than from the adversary Satan.
After all of this encouragement to return to Moab, Orpah made the decision and went back to her mother’s house. Naomi reports to Ruth that Orpah had made the decision not only to return to Moab but to return to Moab’s gods and unto her people. But Ruth decided to stay attached to Naomi. She did not want to go back but testifies that she wants to be with Naomi. Her song is as follows: “And she (Ruth) said, Entreat 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; where 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.” Ruth 1:16-18. This testimony is the evidence of the change of Ruth’s mind from that of being a Moabite to that of being a Jew. She claimed the God of Israel as her God, and God’s people would be her people, and God’s peoples lands would be her lands, and Canaan would be her burial place. She made this declaration, and the story of Ruth shows that God accepted her testimony and blessed her with being the great great grandmother of the Messiah.
When Naomi saw that there was not going to be any way for her to dissuade Ruth she did not encourage her to go back any more but accepted her as part of her family. Then the two of them continued their journey back to Israel and to Bethlehem of Judah.
When they arrived at Bethlehem the entire town came out to meet them. They city had not seen Naomi for ten years and she did not look as she had looked when they have left many years before. They asked if she was indeed their Naomi. Naomi protested and said for them not to call her Naomi (Pleasantness) but to call her Mara (Bitterness) because she had one out full but had returned empty. This statement was a claim that the loving God of heaven had dealt bitterly with her and that God had afflicted her. She did not understand yet that God was using her to accomplish a great work through her daughter in law.
Finally, when they returned to Israel God’s providence had directed them to be there in the beginning of Barley Harvest – approximately in March-April about the time of early spring. The great festival of Israel would indicate that the times of Barley harvest would be between Passover and Pentecost. This would be the time that the early rains were completing their work and the time of harvest, ingathering would occur. This story then is an Old Testament rendition of the harvest to come in the time of Pentecost for not only a harvest of grain but a harvest of people. Acts 2:37-41 It is in this setting that the first chapter of Ruth comes to a close.