“In the days when the judges ruled….” Right away, this little book of Ruth begins with a whole lot of trouble. In the days when the judges ruled, there was a lot of trouble in the land of Israel. After Joshua died, another generation grew up after him, who did not know the Lord or the work that the Lord had done for Israel. (Judges 2:10) From chapter 2 of Judges onward, the phrase, “the Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”, is repeated over and over again. And each time, the Lord raised up a judge who would deliver them; but the people did not listen to the judges, for they lusted after other gods and bowed down to them. (2:17) The book of Judges ends with, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
Not only does the story of Ruth begin in the time when the judges ruled, but it also begins with a famine in the land of Bethlehem. There are people doing whatever is right in their own eyes, and there is no food in Bethlehem, Beth-lechem, which means the “house of bread”. There is no bread in the town named “The House of Bread.”
And as if that weren’t enough trouble–people doing their own thing, no bread in the house of bread–we find out that “a certain man went to live in the country of Moab with his wife and his 2 sons.” For the hearers of the story, the country Moab would have set off alarm bells. For those schooled in the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, Moab does not have good connotations. They would have been familiar with the teachings in Dt. 23:3-6: “No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on your journey out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam son of Beor, from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you…You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.”
It must have been really bad in Bethlehem for an Israelite to travel to a land that is not admitted into the assembly of the Lord. Living among a people excluded from their fellowship must have been better than starving to death. And that’s just verse 1! Wow, there’s a lot of trouble packed into one tiny little verse, at the beginning of a seemingly insignificant little book! By the end of verse 5, we have no living males, and 3 widows, women with no means to provide for themselves, no protection and no status. There’s a lot of trouble packed into these first 5 verses.
- Ruth 1:1 - 22