This famine isn't recorded anywhere else so we can't really use it to determine the exact time of the life of Naomi and Elimelech. This could have been a local famine or something more widespread in the land. It's interesting that Bethlehem means 'house of bread' when there was no bread in the house. Since the people were under the judgment of God for their apostasy in the time of judges, this famine may have been God correcting His people.
Elimelech means God is king or God is my king. This man's name says one thing but his actions betray him. It appears that he was running from the hand of the Lord. Moab was a constant enemy of Israel, some times more so then others. The Moabites were the offspring of Lot's incestuous relationship with his daughter. The Moabites worshiped other gods, one of these gods was Chemosh. It is very telling that this Jewish man would leave the Promised Land and go to Moab. One of the meanings of Moab is 'waste' or 'nothingness'. In Psalm 60:8 God calls Moab His washpot. It seems Elimelech took his family from the Promised Land to a place of nothingness. In running from God's hand we often run from our discomfort and find ourselves in a place of hopelessness.
The Ephrathites show up several times in Judges; none of which are in a good light. They seemed to be characterized as men who wanted to lead but not have any responsibility or accountability. They appear prideful and not faithful.
It's an interesting note that Mahlon means sickly; Chillion means wasting away. Names were meaningful in those days. We have to wonder why anyone would name their kids 'sickly' and 'wasting away'. However, that's what their names and their father took them and his wife to Moab.
Naomi means pleasant; beautiful and full of grace. After some time, Elimelech dies. And we see a little about Naomi in that she didn't go back to Israel. She stayed in the Moab with her sons. It's clear they are not living like Jews in this land because her sons marry Moabite women. Orpah means double minded while Ruth means beautiful, friendship. Ten more years of time pass and the two sons die.
Naomi lived there ten years past when her husband had died. It's hard to imagine a famine lasting anywhere near that long and not being mentioned elsewhere. These three women were alone with no man. Their ability to take care of themselves alone in this time was severely limited. This would be especially true in these foreign lands. Naomi seems to make the right decision to return home, but she makes it for the wrong reason. She was returning for food and not returning to the Lord. Naomi heard that things were better at home. She even acknowledges that God sent bread to His people. It seems that her understanding was that God had withheld bread in judgment.
Both daughters begin the trip back to Judah with their mother in law. Naomi encouraged both of them to return to their own home. She was grieved and probably for several different reasons. She had to know that these Moabite women would not be well received in Israel. In fact, it could affect her ability to live among the other Jews. These women were also a testament to the unfaithfulness of the family. The law forbade taking these women for wives. They were also a constant reminder of Elimelech's lacking faith when he took them to Moab.
Naomi says the hand of the Lord has gone out against her. She essentially is blaming God for what has gone wrong in her life. While it is true the Lord is sovereign and everything happens within God's sight, Naomi doesn't mention the unfaithfulness of herself and Elimelech. We can certainly see this attitude in the time of judges and in the Ephraimites. However, this is also just natural thinking within our sinfallen nature.
At first, both ladies spoke of returning with their mother in law.
Orpah heeds the advice of her mother in law. Her words made sense. She said her good byes and decided to stay in Moab in hopes of finding a husband and living happily ever after. We see Orpah's double mindedness; she turns back to what she knows, to here comfort zone.
In our typologies we can see worldliness in Orpah that resembles the double mindedness so prevalent today. She turned back to her people and to her gods. If she even started the trip with Naomi to the Promised Land and a return to the God of Israel, she didn't finish it.
Ruth on the other hand won't turn back. In Ruth we see a commitment to follow Naomi all the way, no matter what. Ruth chose to live where Naomi lived, as she lived, as one of her people; and taking Naomi's God as her God. In making this statement, she was also turning away from the Moabite people, the Moabite ways and the Moabite gods. Ruth put her life in the hands of Naomi's God, willing to live and die in this land.
You get the feeling Naomi wasn't holding out much hope for life getting better. She had grown bitter and she blamed this on the Lord giving her a hard life. The whole town was excited and surprised at her return; more so than she was. The question "Is this Naomi?" suggest that she had changed, maybe in appearance and demeanor. Pleasant and beautiful Naomi was bitter and beat down from her time in the wasteland.
Read Hebrews 12:11; Psalm 9:10; Romans 8:31
©2015 Doug Ford