Sometimes we make one decision that changes our lives forever. That's what Ruth did, and God blessed her. There was a girl 3000 years ago and made a decision so momentous it not only secured her place in history but also the future of mankind-including yours and mine. She probably never knew the significance of her choice on that ordinary day on the road to Judah.
She grew up in Moab, east of Israel and the Dead Sea, where Jordan lies today. The Moabites worshiped Chemosh, an evil god of their own invention and to whom they sacrificed their children in a religion that traded on human depravity, corruption, and fear. Into this culture was born Ruth. Did she sleep securely at night? Or did she lie on her little pallet, fearfully envisioning a favorite cousin screaming or a playmate being torn from her mother and offered to Chemosh? Was a sibling of hers taken for a sacrifice? As she matured, did she witness anything to make her question the belief system of her people?
We will never know, of course. But this was the pagan culture of Ruth's youth. She was a Moabitess who likely knew no other way to live.
As time passed, four people entered her world. They had traveled to Moab from Bethlehem Ephrathah in Israel to escape the famine that was ravaging the land. The family consisted of Elimelech and his wife, naomi, and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Elimelech may have been a devout believer in Yahweh, and Naomi may have been pleasant and fun because their names mean "my God is King" and "pleasant," respectively.
After a while, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi alone with her two sons (Ruth 1:3). If t heir names characterized them, Mahlon was sickly because his name meant "sick," and Chilion was a complainer because his name meant "pining." Yet Ruth and Orpah married them. Ruth wed Mahlon, Orpad wed Chilion, and pleasant Naomi became their mother-in-law.
During the 10 years her sons were married, Naomi may have treated her daughters-in-law to fascinating accounts about her homeland and her God, the One who created the universe in six days and made a dry path through the Red Sea so her people could flee from slavery in Egypt. Perhaps she told them how God had fed the Israelites with manna from heaven and made water gush from a rock. Or how God made the walls of Jericho, on the other side of the Dead Sea, collapse in a heap.
Naomi worshiped the God who provided commandments designed to help people and keep them from hurting one another. Chemosh, on the other hand, didn't provide anything. All he did was received the charred bodies of innocent children. Then tragedy struck. Mahlon and Chilion died. Now each of the women stood by a grave in Moab. Alone, with no one to support them, they faced destitution.
In the ensuing days, Naomi heard the Lord had visited his people with bread. The famine was over. God was blessing her homeland, and she wanted to return to Bethlehem. Ruth and Orpah no doubt loved their mother-in-law and immediately agreed to accompany her. Naomi was touched. She apparently loved these girls, as well. However, if they left Moab, they would become the foreigners. How could she wish that situation on them? "Go, return each to her mother's house," she implored. "The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me" (Ruth 1:8).
Naomi was telling them to turn around and go back to their childhood homes. He wish was for them to remarry and for the God of Israel to grant them rest. She kissed them tenderly, "and they lifted up t heir voices and wept" (v.9).