Setting the scene (Ruth 1:1–1:5)

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab. He went with his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech. The name of his wife was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died. She was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives. The name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”

This is a nice simple story that focuses on a single family, not the grand theme of a country or nation. The setting for this romantic story is the time of the judges before the kings came to be, sometime over a thousand years before Christ. This book was probably written a few hundred years later after this oral story was repeated over and over again, maybe even written by a woman. The famine was a common theme in the Bible as Abraham, Jacob, and many others experienced this lack of food. Naomi and her husband with their two sons were from Bethlehem in the tribe of Judah, about five miles south of Jerusalem. They went to Moab, which is east of the Jordan, the place where the Israelites were not treated well. The Israelites believed that the Moabites could trace their origin to Lot, the nephew of Abraham, in Genesis, chapter 39, since Lot had an incestuous relationship with his daughter that led to the birth of Moab. The Moab territory had a mixed relationship in Israelite history as the Moabite women had enticed the Israelites to follow them in worship. Although Elimelech and Naomi were from the tribe of Judah, they were also descendants from Ephraim, as Ephrathites. The two son’s names have a meaning of weak and consumption. In this story all the men, Naomi’s husband and two sons, die.

 

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