In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)
In this brief introduction to the family of Elimelech, we see a few key things that must be pointed out before getting into the full story of Ruth. First, we start with an Israelite family of four... a father, mother, and two sons. (Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon and Kilion) A family who initially lived in God's Promised Land in the town of Bethlehem during a very dark time in Israel's history (the days when judges ruled). But why these times were considered dark is not because God turned from His people. Rather, the children of Israel began to turn from God. They began adopting pagan ways and bowing down to varying idols while practicing all forms of corruption. Of course, such blatant sin brings consequences. For a perfect God cannot tolerate sin.
Scripture tells us that Elimelech's family lived in a time where Israel was faced with famine. So, what did they decide to do? They left. They were frightened and dissatisfied by their circumstances and fled to the greener grasses of Moab. Moab - a place that God referred to in Psalm 108:9 as His "washbasin." Why a washbasin? To answer this question, we must go back to the birth of Moab in Genesis 19. Moab is the son of Lot (Abraham's nephew). You remember Lot, right? He's the guy we who ended up living in the wicked city of Sodom... the guy who thought so little of his two daughters that he offered them up for gang rape to distract the evil men of Sodom from defiling God's messengers. Read about Lot in Genesis 19, and you will see how God mercifully saves him from annihilation before destroying Sodom. You will see His disobedient wife turn to a pillar of salt. You will see his two scheming daughters later get Lot intoxicatingly drunk so that they could sleep with Him in order to conceive children of their own. Yuck! All that said, Moab is the resulted child from Lot's oldest daughter. In fact, the Hebrew meaning of Moab means "from father." Pretty disturbing family, huh?
Anyway, the Moabites grew to be an arrogant people who did not follow God. Yet, they were linked to Abraham through his nephew, Lot. So, God allowed them to survive but basically speaks of them as an outcast people with a very sordid and sorry beginning. To paraphrase, God viewed Moab as His place to wash, launder, and dispose of dirt and grime... a garbage can or toilet, if you will. So, clearly Moab was no place for this Israelite family to be running to, despite a famine or anything else.
And let's talk about that famine. Every time famine is brought up in God's Word, it is during a time of judgement and teaching from God. Rather than trusting God through the trial and allowing Him the opportunity to bless and provide for his family in "the House of Bread and Praise," Elimelech takes matters into his own hands and runs off with his wife and sons to the land of Moab. The act is similar to the prodigal son running away from his father's house, isn't it?
Elimelech selfishly leaves the place that God intended for him to be and treks fifty miles southeast to a pagan land known for worshipping false gods (enemies of the one true God) - a foolish place for a believer to sojourn, don't you think? And why does Elimelech do this... because the grass appeared greener where God was not. Oh, how easy it is to fall into this trap of the enemy. How simpler it can seem to not trust God through the consequences that result from our own sin. Rather than be still and obey our Master, we are prone to run into more sin. This act is seen today when singles fall prey to premarital sex. Or when we watch marriages fall apart as husbands/wives run away from their spouses into the arms of another lover or another life. We see parents abandon and sometimes even murder their own children in order to avoid responsibility. Or how about people charging up their credit cards and riding the roller coaster of serious debt, rather than readjusting their spending to live modestly and in honor of their King? Where is the trust that He will provide? Where is the faith that He is able to help us overcome our sinfulness and all that entails? Yes, there are so many ways to run away to the greener grasses of Moab rather than to turn from our sin and faithfully abide in God, trusting Him to restore us in our darkest days.
Elimelech chose to run away and led his household away from God's House of Bread and Praise. He abandoned God's promised land and went to live in the land of God's enemies. And what happened? Shortly thereafter we are reading Elimelech's obituary. Survived by his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion.
What happens to children when the ways of the world become more familiar than the ways of the Lord? What happens to children when they are allowed to partake in harmful, evil pleasures? News flash - they sin! Without the presence of God, and without parents nurturing righteousness and leading as godly examples, children are easily enticed by the enemy to follow wrong over right. Their selfishness is fed. Their focus is ungodly. So ultimately, these children grow into adulthood and choose worldly practices over what is biblical. This was the case for Elimelech's boys. Both at marrying age... both surrounded in the customs of paganism... they ended up rejecting God's way and marrying Moabites. They broke Mosaic Law and took wives of the women of Moab.
Then, without explanation, Mahlon and Kilion, the only children of Elimelech and Naomi, also die suddenly in our text. We don't know why. For scripture does not share further details. However, their names may give us a clue. Mahlon means "unhealthy" and Kilion means "puny." Perhaps these boys were sickly from birth? Either way, I do find it ironic that the very reason this prodigal family originally left Bethlehem was to escape the uncomfortableness of God's teaching and judgement? Yet, death had now overtaken 75 percent of their original group - leaving no heir to carry on the family name. I guess the grass outside of God's will is not greener after all, huh?
Ladies, this is an important lesson. For when we choose our own path - the opposite direction of God's plan, there can be only one outcome... death. Clearly, this proved true for Elimelech and his family. Don't let it prove true for you. Let's return to our Father's house, dear prodigal. Let's return and enjoy His many blessings and eternal reward. There is no trial on earth that He cannot see us through. Life can only be found in His healthy presence. So trust and obey, dear believer. There really is no other Way.
So, now we are left with mother Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. All widows. All scared. All wondering what to do next. This is where we will stop our study today - with three lost and helpless widows. Three women, surrounded by sinful pagan customs, unprotected, and without a hope or foreseen future. I wonder what God has in store for these women? I wonder what could possibly happen next?
Until tomorrow, ladies! XOXOXOX ~Victoria
Blog Posting Written By Victoria Anderson