Study Notes

Ruth 1:1-22


After having spent ten weeks smelling the stink of sin in Judges, the book of Ruth is a breath of fresh air, a glorious opportunity to be reminded that even during times of national apostasy, individuals can commit to follow the Lord.

In its outward simplicity, Ruth is a wonderful love story. It tells the tale of how Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, meets and falls in love with Boaz, David's great-grandfather.

The book of Ruth is also a story of how God arranges circumstances that seem hopeless and terrible, and orders them into His perfect plan. It will encourage us to have faith that, regardless of how out of control the situation seems, God is in control.

It is a historically significant book, because it educates us about the Hebrew culture of that day - how the law of God factored into everyday life for the Jews. From their welfare system and the laws of real estate, to romance and marriage, God's law permeated their culture.

And lastly, Ruth is a prophetically significant book, because it paints a prophetic picture. Of how Israel's dire straits brought the Church to her husband Jesus Christ, and as a result, has her own land restored to her by the same man - her great Kinsman Redeemer.

This four chapter book reads very much like a play with four acts, each taking place in a different setting. Tonight, we will examine chapter one...

1:1 When The Judges Governed

The events in the book of Ruth take place during the period of time that the book of Judges covers - about 400 years in totality, from 1400 BC to 1000 BC.

As we've seen in our studies, God's judgments came upon Israel when they rebelled against Him. As they fell into idolatry and immorality, God would bring judgment upon them, so that they would repent.

Famine In The Land

At this point in time, the land is stricken with famine. Indeed, the Lord had promised them before they entered the land,

Deut. 28:15-17 "But it shall come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed {shall} you {be} in the city, and cursed {shall} you {be} in the country. Cursed {shall be} your basket and your kneading bowl.

Deut. 28:23-24 "And the heaven which is over your head shall be bronze, and the earth which is under you, iron. The LORD will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed."

The people of Israel had sinned against God, forsaken God, and followed after strange gods. So the Lord is keeping His promise - there is famine in the land.

Now the Scripture declares that God told Solomon what we should already know:

2Chr. 7:13-14 "If I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or if I command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among My people, and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Famine is finished when we face the Father. Rain is restored when we repent. Pestilence passes away when we pray. When God sends affliction, it is not for us to run away from, but to turn to God and humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from our wicked ways.

Bethlehem In Judah

This is the same Bethlehem that will be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, Christ was born in Bethlehem because this man leaving was from Bethlehem! This will make more sense to you as we continue studying Ruth.


The Moabites were the descendants of a terrible union. After Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, Lot was afraid to stay in the city of Zoar. So he headed up to the mountains and stayed with his two daughters in a cave.

Thinking that this was their only chance to continue the family line, Lot's daughters got him drunk and conceived children with him.

Gen. 19:37 And the first-born bore a son, and called his name Moab; he is the father of the Moabites to this day.

This is where the Moabites came from. Later, when the nation of Israel camped next to the land of the Moabites and the Midianites, they tried to get Balaam to curse the Jews. When he was unable, they listened to his plan for causing Israel to stumble, by tempting them into idolatry and immorality with their women.

Under the rule of King Eg-LAWN, they oppressed the Israelites for 18 years back in Judges 3. That oppression ended when the judge Ay-HOOD, the left-handed Benjamite, killed the hugely fat king. Apparently, the events of the book of Ruth occurred some time after this oppression.


Instead of being part of the solution by repenting, this man sells his property in Bethlehem and takes off. He brings his wife and two sons to Moab to wait out the famine - it was supposed to be a temporary stay.

Whenever we leave God's place and venture into the world, we always tell ourselves that it's only temporary. But rarely is that the case. Once in the world, we find excuse after excuse for staying in it.

It is only when we, like the prodigal son, hit rock bottom that we come back in repentance.

Luke 15:11-17 And He said, "A certain man had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' And he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need. And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving {anything} to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!"

There's always the temptation to go and sojourn in the world, and there we squander everything and live loosely. We get to the bottom of the barrel. But the faithfulness of God is wonderful. If you are truly one of God's children, He will arrange it so that you're so miserable, you will come to your senses and return to your heavenly Father. What a good God we serve!

1:2 Family Names

The man's name was El-ee-MEH-lek, which means "God is king." His wife Naomi's name is "sweetness." And I think we learn something about the condition of their sons Makh-LONE and Kil-YONE at birth. Makh-LONE means "sick," and Kil-YONE means "pining, wasting away, declining." They must not have been healthy, strapping boys.

1:3-4 Dad Dies, Sons Marry

Apparently, the boys inherited their weak constitutions from their father, for El-ee-MEL-lek died an early death. Remaining in Moab, the two boys married Moabite women: Or-PAW and Ruth.

Now if you're reading the NIV Study Bible, you will see a footnote that says "Marriage with Moabite women was not forbidden..." But I strongly disagree with that statement. The law of God said to Israel regarding the other nations,

Deut. 7:3 "Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.

Plus, there was a specific forbiddance regarding the Moabites:

Deut. 23:3 "No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; none of their {descendants,} even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the LORD"

Later, when Nehemiah came to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem, he wrote,

Neh. 13:23-27 In those days I also saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, {and} Moab. As for their children, half spoke in the language of Ashdod, and none of them was able to speak the language of Judah, but the language of his own people. So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, "You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin regarding these things? Yet among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless the foreign women caused even him to sin. Do we then hear about you that you have committed all this great evil by acting unfaithfully against our God by marrying foreign women?"

Clearly, marrying Moabites was against the law of God. And like sinful compromise in our own lives, this compromise turned their short stay into a long-term residency. Originally they were to sojourn temporarily - now they dwell there for ten years.

1:5 Three Widows

When Makh-LONE and Kil-YONE also die prematurely, suddenly they are a house of three widows.

Understand that these were different times than we are now living in. Today, a woman can find a job, support herself, and provide for her own needs. But back then, widows had to depend on the kindness of others to support them. It was a miserable existence - especially for an Israelite living in the land of Moab.

1:6-13 Back To Bethlehem

Word had gotten to Naomi that the famine was over in Bethlehem. As the three of them head off towards Israel, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to go on home to their parents' houses. This was so that they would be able to marry again.

But they obviously both loved her. They wept and said, "No, we want to go to Israel with you."

According to the law of God, the women would have to marry a brother of their husbands.

Deut. 25:5 "When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be {married} outside {the family} to a strange man. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband's brother to her.

But Naomi knew they had no chance of marrying any more of her sons - because she didn't have any more! She tells them,

Ruth 1:13 ..."it is harder for me than for you..."

In other words, they have a better chance of finding husbands than she does! If they go with her, they'll have to wait for her to find a husband, conceive children, and wait for them to grow up before they can get married!

1:14-18 The Daughters' Decisions

Or-PAW decides that she should return home, but Ruth sticks with Naomi. She makes a pledge of devotion that is beautiful:

Ruth 1:16 "...where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God."

Thus, Naomi and Ruth traveled to Bethlehem together.

1:19-22 Call Me Mara

Naomi came to Bethlehem after ten years in Moab. Ten years that had consisted of famine, the loss of her husband's land, a move to an idolatrous nation, the death of her husband, the death of a son, then the death of another son. She had lost everything, and it seemed that things couldn't get any worse. She was angry and bitter. She felt that the Lord had given her a raw deal. She said, "Don't call me Naomi. Call me Maw-RAW. Don't call me Sweetness anymore. Call me Bitter." When difficulty came, her trust in God left. When things got bad, she got bitter.

This is where we must stop and reflect. We must pause for some perspective. God had not forsaken Naomi. At the risk of giving away the story, God has nothing but good in His heart toward her. He has plans to restore her husband's land to her. To bless her abundantly, and to continue her family name to King David and ultimately to Jesus Christ. But these were the steps that the Lord had to take to bring this about.

Maybe today you're feeling like a Maw-RAW. You're angry because God allowed someone you loved to die. You're upset because He allowed you to enter into financial difficulty. You're mad at God because things haven't happened the way you'd hoped. You're bitter because it seems that the very hand of God is against you, and nothing is going right. As if you've not been blessed, but cursed.

Let me assure you,

Rom. 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to {His} purpose.

If you are a Christian today, then regardless of how the situation seems, of how the circumstances stand, God is working this out for your blessing.

Jer. 29:11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'

These difficulties are where your faith is tested. Do you really believe what God says? That He loves you passionately? That He's working these things for good? That He's in control?

Even Job, in the midst of his affliction, said,

Job 13:15 "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him..."

Without faith, you will become bitter. But with the eyes of faith, you will be better.

Go to next study

Go to previous study