Two poor widows, (at the time when the judges ruled), Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi returned across the River Jordan from Moab to Bethlehem.
The Book of Judges recorded that Eglon, king of Moab, invaded Canaan as far as Jericho and subjugated the Israelites for eighteen years before being assassinated by Ehud the Benjamite (1302-1204BC). The time of the judges displayed repeated cycles of peace and oppressions, brought about great apostasy in Israel. The nation underwent political and religious turmoil. The tribes fought among themselves. The people rebelled against God through idolatry and unbelief, and brought judgement upon themselves through foreign oppressions. God then raised up a deliverer/judge, and the people repented and turned back to God and had peace for their nation.
During a famine, Israelite Naomi left Bethlehem with her husband and two sons and migrated to their enemy’s country, Moab (c.1294BC) and stayed there for ten years. Her husband died and her two sons were killed (possibly at war between Moab and Israel). Naomi was widowed with her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem after the famine was over. She dissuaded them from following her. Orpah finally agreed. But Ruth persisted in her decision to follow Naomi.
Here is a quote of the related Bible verses:
Ruth 1:15 And she (Naomi) said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said:
“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.
17 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.”
18 When she (Naomi) saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.
The journey was illustrated in the above map.
Although the war had ceased, there was still great risk for two vulnerable women to walk through difficult and dangerous terrain, during a time threatened by lawlessness, bandits and wild animals. They had to walk on uneven ground and climb slope as steep as 2000 foot. Crossing the Jordan River at the time of the first grain-Barley harvest when the river was full from snow melting at early spring was another tough challenge.
Ruth was obviously an attractive and pleasing young woman because Naomi twice expressed her confidence that Ruth could still marry to a good man and had children. There was no rational reason for Ruth to insist on following her mother-in-law to the enemy’s country and live among aliens with no other social support. Why did Ruth make this seemingly foolish (in the eyes of her countrymen) choice? We can find some answers in the Book of Ruth from her interactions with her mother-in-law and her future husband, Boaz.
Ruth’s character: a caring, loyal, trusting and obedient daughter-in-law, a hard working woman, a humble and unassuming person.
Relationship between the two women: More like mother and daughter.
Conversion and discipleship: Despite the general apostasy of her nation, Naomi had taught Ruth her religious belief and very likely had set a good example in her own faith in God.
Ruth’s faith: Most significantly, we note that Ruth really believed in the God of Israel. Her faith in God made her align with the great destiny God had prepared for her.
“And your God, my God.” Ruth declared. This is the ultimate reason why she was later exalted by God from a poor foreign widow to the highly honored and respected position as the legal wife of one of the richest men in Bethlehem and together they became the ancestors of David, from whose lineage Joseph and Mary derived.
If Ruth had followed her own race, culture and parental religion, she would have missed out her illustrious destiny. If Naomi had not kept her own religion and belief in God regardless of her circumstances, she would not have been able to influence and converted Ruth to the right belief and right way.
Naomi had a strong character. She was able to ask the right questions, analyze, size up the situation and reached the right conclusion. She took charge and made the right decisions. She instructed Ruth with authority and confidence. But if Naomi had not obeyed her husband’s decision and moved to Moab with him, stayed there for ten years until her two sons died, she would not have brought back Ruth and Ruth would not have appeared in the lineage of David, Joseph and Mary too. Naomi too would not have been instrumental in fulfilling a great destiny.
Thus, both women’s belief, faith in God and their willingness to humble and submit themselves to God, had contributed to Ruth choosing rightly and thus fulfilled God’s marvelous plan for their lives!