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The Book of Ruth: Naomi—Prodigal Daughter

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Tamara is a Bible student who loves mining the treasures in God's Word and sharing its teachings and applications with others.

ruth-and-the-kinsman-redeemer

Introduction

The Book of Ruth is often referred to as the "The Romance of Redemption" by many authors and commentaries who have expounded on this four-chapter vignette in the Bible.

Most modern ideas of romance include the central theme of a damsel in distress being swept off her feet and rescued by a handsome prince from some impossible plight. The Ruth narrative includes this romantic element but also develops a significantly different scenario. In contrast, contemporary depictions of romance invite us to see ourselves as victims and rarely require anything of us. Instead, we will see in the story of Ruth that cooperation, sacrifice, faith, and loyalty are all hallmark features that make a straight path for this love story to take place.

“Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

— Isaiah 40:3

This study will include some allegorical interpretations. Although this story's places, events, and characters are literal, they also symbolize deeper spiritual truths relevant to our Christian journey.

Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they (the Old Testament events) were written for our admonition

— I Corinthians 10:11

Pelikana

Pelikana

The Backdrop

The book of Ruth takes place at the "time of the Judges," and according to the Life Application Bible notes, "Perversion and moral depravity were the rule, not the exception."

A.B Simpson called the time of the judges "the dark ages of the Old Testament" There was no king in Israel at this time, and "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6), Which has relevance to the very first sentence in Ruth.

Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.

— Ruth 1:1

According to Holman Bible Dictionary, there was a connection between moral depravity and the experience of famine in the Ruth story.

"the productiveness of the earth is related to people's obedience to God"

Fuchsia Pickett provides a life application of this principle in her book about Ruth called The Prophetic Romance.

"We can expect to experience famine of the blessing of God if we turn from worshiping the living God, replacing Him with the worship of idolatrous things . . .

The Bible confirms this reality.

If you are willing and you are obedient, you shall eat the good of the land

— Isaiah 1:19

Our Lord favours us with a famine in the land that it may make us seek after himself the more ~ Charles Spurgeon

Our Lord favours us with a famine in the land that it may make us seek after himself the more ~ Charles Spurgeon

A Famine of Another Kind

How this relates to our spiritual journey is discovered in the book of Amos. Amos was a shepherd and farmer asked by the Lord to deliver a message to His wayward people. At this time, both Judah and Israel were peaking in prosperity but lacking in their devotion to God.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord.

— Amos 8:11

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It is so easy and tempting to become distracted and entangled with this world's offerings and neglect our spiritual lives. Jesus' parable of the soils illustrates this thought through the seed sown among thorns.

. . . these are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.

— Mark 4:18-19

Surprisingly, this can be most problematic when we are the most prosperous, as Revelation chapter three recounts, when Jesus confronted Laodicea's lukewarm church.

. . . you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.

— Revelation 3:17

In searching for the meaning of Laodicea, I found a reply on a forum that defines it in terms of Christ's application. By definition, Laodicea's abundance led to self-reliance to the exclusion of Christ.

"Laos" means “people”, and "dicea" means “principle, decision”.

Christ showed that Laodiceans trusted in their ability to rule themselves, judging and deciding matters to the exclusion of Christ’s rule within His Church.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, God warns His people of the possible pitfalls of plentiousness.

“So it shall be, when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full— beware, lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

— Deuteronomy 6:10-12

Bethlehem, the house of bread.

Bethlehem, the house of bread.

The House of Bread

The first chapter of Ruth begins by introducing Elimelech's family. Elimelech's name means "my God is King." They are from Bethlehem, which means "house of bread" in the land of Judah, meaning "praise." The story notes that they were Ephrathites. Ephratah was the ancient name of Bethlehem and means "fruitful."

The narrative also tells us that Elimelech and Naomi had two sons named Mahlon, meaning "weak" and "unhealthy," and Chilion, which means "failing" and "wasting away." It could be assumed that these children were born a product of famine, as described by their names.

Studies suggest that famine during pregnancy affects the size and health of the baby, and according to Pubmed, famine can be the origin of many adult diseases and conditions, which may be why they both died young. The effects of famine illustrate how a famine of the Word can affect our spiritual lives and the fruit we produce.

In the next section, we will pull the names together and see how the characters and places in this story depict what happens to us when we live by the dictates of our desire and reasoning rather than making God our ruler and King. When we don't abide in the vine and remain in the "house of bread," we become fruitless.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.

— John 15:4

His Words are Life

Elimelech and his family left the "house of bread." Bread in Scripture symbolizes God's Word, which the Bible quotes as essential to our spiritual life and growth.

. . . man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

— Deuteronomy 8:3

1800s Theologian Andrew Jukes puts it another way in the following quote.

"We may indeed read the scriptures as men cultivate the earth simply to find food to support the life which God has given."

— Andrew Jukes

The Word of God is the only life-sustaining food for our spiritual lives. According to Jesus, as recorded in John, hearing from the Lord is both relevant and essential.

The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.

— John 6:63

Do we consider His Word irrelevant, uninteresting, or unworthy of our time and attention? Are we seeking God's counsel and will concerning our lives and decisions? The answers to these questions may be a clue as to where we are in our relationship with the Lord. Our responses may indicate that we have made our own thoughts, opinions, and wishes the King and Lord of our lives. God asks us very similar questions in a portion of Scripture known as the "Gospel of Isaiah."

Why do you spend money for what is not bread . . . Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. . . Let the wicked forsake his way,And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon . . . For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth.

—Isaiah 55:2,7-11a

The wife of Elimelech was Naomi, and her name means pleasant and delightful. In the portion of Scripture above, Delight is associated with listening to God, consuming and digesting what He says, and is imaged by eating what is good and satisfying. Later in this story, we will see an example of how our lives can quickly become bitter rather than pleasant as the result of God not being our Lord and King. When we leave the "house of bread" (Bethlehem), we inevitably end up inhabiting the land of compromise and complaint rather than the land of praise (Judah), resulting in unfruitful lives.

"I need to watch lest, in a busy age, the Scripture should cease to be the constant nourishment of the my higher life; lest I hurry off to my business in the morning, too pressed for time to study it, and come in at night, too tired to do it; and lest all kinds of literature eagerly read should destroy my relish for it, and so my soul should starve, even with God's rich bread within my reach."

— G.H Knight "In the Secret of His Presence."

The Grass is Not Always Greener

Elimelech's family went to the land of Moab because of the famine, possibly believing that the grass was greener on the other side, as we often do.

And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country (field) of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.

— Ruth 1:1

The Hebrew word translated as "country" in the above verse is also the word for "field." When viewing this word through the lens of its first occurrences, we can see a connection with being outside God's "good" provision.

The field was considered the outer court of God's sanctuary of creation. Adam was exiled from the garden to the field. The field was associated with sustenance through toil and hardship, and, from a spiritual application, it illustrates life in the flesh apart from God's provision and power.

Therefore, the field connection starts the narrative by understanding that they weren't supposed to go. Elimelech and his family left the land of promise to seek sustenance in the field, doubting God's provision, much like when Adam and Eve found themselves outside the garden. Both Naomi and Eve subsequently lost two sons in the field.

Moab descended from the incestuous relations of Lot and his oldest daughter. Lot and his family were once residents of the depraved city of Sodom, which was destroyed because of its unrecoverable state of immorality.

The Bible does not tell us if Lot and his family were influenced by the godless culture in which they lived. Still, it could be considered from their behaviors and becoming worshipers of the pagan god "Chemosh" that it was a strong possibility.

The worship of Chemosh was a religion that included sexual immorality and human/child sacrifice. II Kings 3:27 records that King Mesha of Moab offered his son as a burnt offering on the city wall in an attempt to appease this god whom he thought would help him in his rebellion.

Many times Moab in Scripture is depicted as an enemy of Israel. Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel during their wilderness journeyings, to which he was unsuccessful. In the time of the Judges, when the story of Ruth takes place, it is believed to have been around the time that Eglon, king of Moab, was oppressing Israel and had them in a position of servitude for 18 years.

Isn't it amazing the places we will go when there is a famine in the land, and it looks like we will never get what we think we want or need? As despicable as the lifestyles seem on the west side of the Jordan when there is a famine in the land, we consider going there not concerning ourselves that we venture into enemy territory.

A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.

— Proverbs 27:7

Matthew Henry, a late 1600s theologian, adds some sobering thoughts to this scene.

"It is an evidence of a discontented, distrustful, unstable spirit, to be weary of the place in which God has set us, and to be for leaving it immediately whenever we meet with any uneasiness or inconvenience in it."

— Matthew Henry

ruth-and-the-kinsman-redeemer-part-one

It is also noted in Ruth 1:2 that "they remained there . . ." verse 4 says for ten years. Isn't that how it goes when we only intend to leave the house of bread for a little while and find ourselves stuck in a God-forsaken place and losing everything?

. . . the woman was left without her two sons and without her husband

— Ruth 1:5

"Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay."

— unknown

Noaomi the Prodigal Daughter

Moab's location is significant because it is on the east side of the Jordan river. It was the last place the children of Israel camped before crossing west over the Jordan to enter the promised land after their exodus from Egypt and 40 years of wilderness wandering. Going back this way is a picture of backsliding or going backward.

. . . they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts (self on the throne), and went backward and not forward.

— Jeremiah 7:24

My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, None at all exalt Him.

Hosea 11:7

The Hebrew word for backsliding contains the concept of defecting to enemy territory and is associated with unfaithfulness. As it relates to this verse in Hosea, it is interesting to note that the people call God the "Most High," but they are not exalting Him. He is not holding the rank and position in their hearts that He ought to have.

Naomi's husband died as well as her two sons, who married local girls. One of the son's wives was named Orpah meaning "back of the neck" and related to a verb meaning to turn one's back.

The writer of Chronicles discusses being stiff-necked in terms of stubbornness and rebellion.

Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord.

— II Chronicles 30:8

Ruth's name means "Friend." Loyalty is included in this definition.

. . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother

— Proverbs 18:24

Naomi learns that the Lord had visited His people with bread.

"Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moabthe Lord had visited His people by giving them bread"

— Ruth 1:6

She then determines to return to her homeland. According to the IVP Bible Commentary, the Hebrew verb used in this verse for "return" is the same verb used for "repent."

Naomi has been sometimes referred to as the Prodigal daughter of the Old Testament by some scholars. In her book The Romance of Redemption, Fuchsia Pickett notes that hunger for fresh bread motivated the prodigal's return to his Father's house.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

— Luke 15:17

Naomi then arises with her daughters-in-law to return to the land of Judah (praise). We might wonder why her daughters-in-law would go with her, but it was customary in ancient times for a bride to leave her family of origin and join her husband's family. This concept concerning the bride is depicted in Psalm 45, titled "The King's marriage," in the New King James Bible.

Forget your own people also, and your father’s house . . .

— Psalm 45:10

It is a vibrant symbolic image of us leaving our original family of sin to be brought into a new family of righteousness in Christ, never to return to our old life again.

"Ruth received the divine promises of restoration because she chose to follow the living God at the cost of breaking earthly ties and enduring uncertainty of an unknown future foreign land"

— Fuchsia Pickett

Charles Spurgeon writes the following related idea in his book The Treasury of David.

"To renounce the world is not easy, but it must be done by all who are affianced to the Great King, for a divided heart He cannot endure . . . the house of our nativity is the house of sin"

— Charles Spurgeon

Naomi kindly dismisses both women from this obligation to remain with her. It is touching that both women wept and committed to staying with her until Naomi made it abundantly clear that she had nothing to offer them in terms of "this life" happiness. Orpah turns back, but Naomi sincerely stays.

Paul talks about two types of sorrow in his second letter to the Corinthian church. One sorrow centered on genuine repentance, including regret, and the other was a worldly sorrow that produced death.

. . . the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

— II Corinthians 7:10

This scene draws, for us, a vivid picture of the call of Christ to eternal life with Him. In Luke chapter 14:25-33, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that to follow Him is not an invitation to "this world" comfort. He explains that to follow Him means risking the closest of relationships and a complete end of the self-life. God makes no bones about explaining that if it's worldly comfort and acceptance we are looking for—God, like Naomi, has nothing to offer. In light of this, He asks us to count the cost.

In John chapter six, at the end of the chapter, after a discourse about Himself being the bread of life, Jesus is teaching His followers a difficult lesson. He uses the metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood in His discussion to typify partaking of suffering with Him.

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever." . . . From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.

—John 6:53-66

He asked the twelve that remained the following question.

“Do you also want to go away?”

— John 6:67

Peter loyally replied the following.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (bread).Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

— John 6:68-69

Stiff-Necked Versus Loyal

Orpah (one whose neck is bent on turning back) kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth (loyal friend) clung to her.

— Ruth 1:14

We are to cling to the Lord as desperately and loyally as Ruth to Naomi and Naomi's God. According to The One Volume Bible Commentary, the ancients believed that a god and his people were inseparable. What if that is what we believe also?

. . . love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.

— Deuteronomy 30:20

Orpah's neck was bent on "this world" happiness and went back to her gods, but Ruth loyally declares, much like Peter . . .

“Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”

— Ruth 1:16-17

Ruth makes a decision not based on circumstance or possibly present feelings. Had her comfort dictated this decision, she likely would have turned back to what was comfortable and familiar, like her sister-in-law.

According to the commentary in The Worlds Bible Handbook, Ruth turned her back on family, customs, and religion.

What Ruth may have realized is suggested by Fuchsia Pickett.

"Home is wherever the will of God is for our lives. That is where we enjoy the comfort and security of the presence of God."

Ruth depicts the type of loyalty and faithfulness the Lover of our souls is looking for in us.

“Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away."

— Song of Solomon 2;10

ruth-and-the-kinsman-redeemer-part-one

Returning To the House of Bread

Chapter One ends with the two women returning to the "house of bread."

. . . when they had come to Bethlehem . . . all the city was excited because of them.

— Ruth 1:19

This excitement illustrates the joy of a sinner who hears the Gospel and turns from sin to God.

. . . there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

— Luke 15:10

Conclusion

Naomi (a pleasant one) finds it difficult to rejoice considering all that she has lost and renames herself, Mara, meaning "bitter." Yet, she understands and accepts that the hand of El Shaddai, the God who gives fruitfulness and increase, is in control of it all. I recall upon my return from prodigal living when God opened my eyes to all that I had lost and the damage that was done, how bitterly remorseful I was and sometimes can still be, but this I know, and the rest of this story will report

. . . I know that my Redeemer lives . . .

— Job 19:25

"Nothing contributes more to satisfy a gracious soul in affliction than the consideration of the hand of God in it. He who empties us of the creature knows how to fill us with Himself."

— Matthew Henry

"Drifter" by December Radio

Credits and Sources

Sources:

note on Laodicea comment: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110602232728AA0otLm

Article on the effects of children born to women who were pregnant during famine http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15590994

Christ in the Bible Commentary" A.B. Simpson Copyright 2009 by Zur Ltd.

Holman Bible Dictionary

The Prophetic Romance by Fuschia Pickett copyright 1996 published by Creation House

Matthew Henry commentary copyright 1992 by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.

IVP New Bible Commentary copyright 1994 published by Intervarsity Press

Bible History by Alfred Edersheim copyright 1995 by Hendrickson Publishers Inc.

Life Application Bible Commentary

© 2013 Tamarajo

Comments

Tamarajo (author) on March 15, 2014:

Sorry Bob,

I missed this comment somehow...Agreed that Ruth's spiritual strength and faithfulness are what are the truly attractive features of her life as so it should be with us. She could have made so many excuses to not have stayed and how richly God blessed her for her loyalty a rare quality in the modern world. I so desperately want to be like Ruth!

Thank you Bob for reading and commenting.

Robert E Smith from Rochester, New York on March 01, 2014:

Ruth captures my respect in that there was no one making her stay with Naomi, no one arranging the contract of marriage, and then committing herself to marry a man very much older than she. So many things about this account that makes her spiritual strength so attractive. Great article Tam. Bob.

Tamarajo (author) on December 30, 2013:

Hi DeBorrah, So glad to read that you enjoyed the insights and wisdom gleaned from this, as you well stated "Beautiful" book. When we give ourselves to Him and His Word It's like He opens up the treasure chest and shows us "Mighty things we did not know" I am learning much from studying this tiny little book of the Bible that is packed with such rich and powerful imagery and lessons.

Thank you for stopping by DeBorrah. I'm always grateful for your visit and supportive commentary. God Bless you!!

Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on December 30, 2013:

Tamarajo, Beautiful! Ruth is a wonderful book full of spiritual wisdom! This narrative is well researched, informative, insightful as well as enlightening!

As you so marvelously stated: "The Word of God is the only life sustaining food for our spirits and lives. Hearing from the Lord is both relevant and essential." Amen!

Thank you for sharing, In HIS Love, Grace, Joy, Peace & Blessings!

Tamarajo (author) on December 03, 2013:

Hi lifegate. My greatest joy in the studies and research is for us to understand His Word in greater depth as well as capture its personal and spiritual applications. I learn so much myself in the studies as they contain lessons I need to learn myself. It means much that they are of benefit to you as well. You are also correct that it takes time to develop the points and themes of the text and the truths they contain.

Thank you for your support and encouragement.

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on December 03, 2013:

Hi TJ,

I guess the proper length of a hub is subjective. I thought it was just fine. it takes time to develop the thoughts and organize it into something worth reading. Your material is always worth reading and I learn much from your material and research. Thank you.

Tamarajo (author) on December 03, 2013:

Hi BlossomSB. You are correct that the article is long as will be the remaining 4 parts and this point was considered in its preparation but I preferred not to break up the themes of each part in separate posts. I do realize that may discourage some from reading it but I was more concerned about the flow of the content for those really interested in the subject matter.

I appreciate your input and observations and encouragement. Thank you for being patient with the length and reading.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on December 03, 2013:

Well researched and well written, but may I suggest that we're more likely to read a hub if it's not too long.

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