In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5, ESV)
We are introduced to Naomi’s immediate family in this section. The meanings of their names are in parentheses.
- Elimelech (My God is King); the father of the family
- Naomi (Pleasant); the mother of the family
- Mahlon (Sickness); a son of Elimelech & Naomi
- Ruth (Friend); wife of Mahlon, from Moab
- Chilion (Declining); a son of Elimelech & Naomi
- Orpah (Fawn); wife of Chilion, from Moab
In this section we see Elimelech moving his family away from Bethlehem because of a famine in Bethlehem (which means the ‘House of Bread’). In the Bible God often used famines as a means of judgement to warn, correct or punish the people. So Elimelech rather than looking into why God would send a famine decided that he would leave Bethlehem and go to Moab where there was food. It’s rather ironic the a man with the name meaning ‘My God is King’ leaves the ‘House of Bread’ because of a famine and doesn’t appear to consider why there even was a famine in the first place.
As the patriarch of the family and its leader he decides to take his family into Moab. Moab was anywhere from 30-60 miles away and may have taken 7-10 days to travel to because of the rugged terrain. It was a fairly significant move from Bethlehem. The beginnings of Moab take place in Genesis 19. Lot and his 2 daughters are living in a cave outside of Zoar because he is afraid. The 2 daughters are worried that they will not have any children, so they devise a plan to get their father drunk and sleep with him in order that they can have children. Out of that incestuous relationship Moab is born. In Moab there was the worshiping of false Gods such as Chemosh the fish god (it could also mean destroyer or subduer; but I like fish god). There is evidence in 2 Kings 3 that human sacrifices were offered to Chemosh as well. As well in Psalm 108 God refers to Moab as his washbasin.
We see a progression in this section: they sojourned, they remained and then they lived in Moab. It started out as what would seem to be a temporary thing that soon escalated into a permanent one. This is a practical aspect for us; we can tamper with sin, and before we know it we live in it. We can get so comfortable in our sin and then all of the sudden were living in it. So take from this story an example of what not to do.
The next step in this move is that Mahlon & Chilion, the two sons, start going out with Moabite women and then they get married. Which is of course no surprise. Marrying Moabites was not something that Israelites were supposed to do and so another practical lesson we can learn is that where you make your life is often where your children will make theirs. If it is in sin; theirs likely will be too. The father’s influence on the family is tremendous, often what the father values are what the children value. Elimelech seems to have died before the boys were married so Elimelech may not have been able to tell them that what they were doing was a bad idea. They would’ve been looking at their father’s actions as a guide to what they should do; sometimes its our actions that are the most influential.
All the men die. It’s rather ironic that they left Bethlehem because they were afraid of dying and then they all die. This reminds me of the first part of Romans 6:23; ‘the wages of sin is death.’ That’s the result of sin every time; there doesn’t always seem to be immediate consequences but in the long run it always leads to death.
So after 10 or so years in Moab the only part of the family that is left is Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws, Ruth and Orpah. There doesn’t appear to be any children in the picture either. So the tenure in Moab resulted in 2 Moabites entering into the family and all the men are dead.