- CHAPTER 1
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim
2000 James Melough
1:1. “Now it
came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.
And a certain man of Bethlehem-Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab,
he, and his wife, and his two sons.”
In the departure of Elimelech and his family into the land
of Moab we have a triple typological picture: one, of Adam leading the human family
away from God; two, of the dispersal of Israel amongst the Gentiles during this
present Church age; and three, of the departure of a professed believer from the path
Relative to the era of the Judges it is written, “In those
days there was no king in Israel: but every man did that which was right in his own
eyes,” see, for example, Jg 17:6; 21:25; and as has been discussed in Judges
Verse by Verse, the period of the Judges foreshadows the Church age.
It too is an epoch in which men act as though Jesus Christ weren’t Lord, and
in which every man does what is right in his own eyes.
The world today is ruled by the equivalent of the “judges” rather than by
God’s anointed King, the Lord Jesus Christ. And
every man does what is right in his own eyes.
Small wonder therefore that there was a famine in the land
in those days! God will not bless
disobedience in any age. We miss the
message, however, if we fail to realize that every Scriptural mention of literal
famine is pointing to the spiritual equivalent: scarcity of spiritual food, caused by
lack of gifted men to teach, and by lack of ability on the part of the majority of
believers to understand spiritual truth - that lack resulting from disobedience which
quenches and grieves the Holy Spirit and cuts off His ministry of enlightenment.
No spiritual mind will fail to realize that the equivalent of the famine in
the days of Elimelech holds an apostate church and a godless world in its withering
grip today. And as it was Israel’s
disobedience that caused God to send the famine as chastisement, so is it also the
disobedience of professed believers, and of the unconverted world, that has brought
the present spiritual famine upon the earth.
Bethlehem means house of bread; and Judah, he
shall be praised, the combined name meaning house of bread and praise.
Bethlehem-Judah therefore is a typological picture of what the Church should
be, for when the Church is walking in obedience she is the true house of bread and
praise; but again, the type finds its fulfillment even in the true Church, the
disobedience of genuine believers having brought God’s hand in chastisement upon
His house. Who will deny that there is a
famine of both “bread” and worship in the Church today?
We should note incidentally that feeding on God’s Word is a prerequisite of
worship, for feeding on the written Word implies obedience, and only the obedient can
worship in Spirit and in truth as God requires.
The result of the famine was that “a certain man of
Bethlehem-Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab....” and this in spite of
the assurance given by God, “Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in
the land, and verily thou shalt be fed” (Ps 37:3), for though that assurance was
given to David centuries after the days of Elimelech, it is the expression of an
abiding principle governing God’s dealing with His people in every age.
They will be blessed only as they abide in the place of His appointment: that
is, as long as they walk in obedience.
Moab, meaning from father: what father? was the son
incestuously fathered by Lot through his elder daughter.
The Moabites were his descendants, and are generally recognized as
representing religious profession linked with the lusts of the flesh.
Scripture presents them as the inveterate foes of God’s people, failing to
destroy Israel by war, but bringing the judgment of God upon them by enticing them
into the worship of the Moabite false gods, and into immoral relationships with the
Moabite women, see Nu 25:1-9. Elimelech’s
going to Moab portrays the disobedience of a believer in leaving a scripturally
ordered assembly to associate himself with a religious body, which under the guise of
religion, simply caters to the lusts of the flesh.
Many of Christendom’s so-called churches are nothing more
than religious social clubs.
When sin has brought famine upon an assembly the remedy is
not for believers to go “to sojourn in the country of Moab,” but to remain,
confess and put away the sin that has brought the chastisement, and depend upon the
Holy Spirit to give them “bread” out of the Book even when elders and teachers
may have become derelict in doing the work of feeding God’s flock.
It is to be noted that in every famine in Israel the godly who remained in the
land were fed, while those who left invariably fared ill, for famine served a double
purpose: while it chastised disobedience, it tested genuine faith.
We would therefore do well to examine seeming adversity, and seek to learn
whether it is chastisement of sin or the testing of faith.
“... he, and his wife, and his two sons.”
No man is an island living only unto himself.
We influence others, and our constant care should be that we influence them
1:2. “And the
name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his
two sons Mahlon, and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah.
And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.”
Elimelech means my God is King. As noted already he is a figure or type of Adam, of Israel, and
also of a genuine believer walking in disobedience. His wife’s name Naomi means my pleasantness, and as a
godly wife she represents the expression of the believer’s spiritual life.
Everything indicates that it was Elimelech who led the family out of Canaan
and into Moab, reminding us that the believer’s new life, represented here by
Naomi, is often compelled by the flesh in the believer, to be in places and
circumstances which grieve it.
Children represent the fruit of the spiritual life, sons
portraying what results from the activity of the will; and daughters, what is
produced by the submission of the will. In
the well balanced Christian life the two are found in equal measure.
It is significant therefore that Elimelech had no daughters, a lack which is
the symbolic declaration of the truth that there was no submission of his will to
God’s, and it is of further ominous significance that Mahlon means sickness;
and Chilion consumption. The
activity of Elimelech’s will was “sick,” eventually bringing death to him and
his two sons. And how could it be otherwise?
If the will is not submissive to God, the activity of that will can only be
evil. In the Corinthian assembly there
were those of whom Paul had to write with sorrow, “Many are weak and sickly among
you, and many sleep” (1 Cor 11:30). There was no question as to the reality of their faith, but God
found it necessary to call them home to heaven rather than leave them on earth to
continue dishonoring His name, and marring the testimony of the assembly.
They were spiritual “Elimelechs.”
“... Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah.” Ephrath, (sometimes spelled Ephratah or Ephratha), and meaning ashiness:
fruitfulness, was another name for Bethlehem, and appropriately so, for
fruitfulness must always be the accompaniment of the spiritual richness and worship
of which Bethlehem speaks. Incidentally,
there is no contradiction between the two meanings ashiness and fruitfulness,
for spiritual fruitfulness is always in direct proportion to the degree that we are
willing to consign to the “ash heap” the things that would hold us back in the
heavenly race. Sadly, Elimelech never fulfilled the expectations suggested by his
being an “Ephrathite of Bethlehem-Judah.”
“And they came into the country of Moab, and continued
there.” As noted already, Moab
represents profession and indulgence of the flesh, and their continuing there
declares that the believer represented by Elimelech is one whose indulgence of the
flesh is not accidental and regretted, but rather continual and relished.
Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.”
That Elimelech died should surprise no one in view of what
is written in Ro 8, particularly verse 13, “For if ye live after the flesh, ye
shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall
Inasmuch as Naomi represents true spiritual life, her having
been Elimelech’s wife, and her continuing to live after his death reminds us that
God’s having to terminate the earthly life of a disobedient believer should not
lead to the inference that the man was really an unbeliever.
Elimelech represents, not a false professor, but a carnal believer.
Those who were called home from the Corinthian assembly were believers, not
false professors. We may not judge by
outward appearances. Only God knows the
true state of each man’s heart. For
example, the fornicator in the Corinthian church might easily have been adjudged an
unbeliever, but he proved, in fact, to be a genuine convert.
On the other hand, while we are not to judge the reality of a man’s
profession, we are to judge his fitness to occupy a place in the fellowship of
the local church. The two matters should
not be confused.
The fact that the two sons continued to live for some time
after the death of their father is the symbolic announcement of the truth that the
results of the activity of a man’s will, good or bad, may continue after his death.
From the prophetic perspective the death of Elimelech
represents the present dead state of Israel, but the assurance of the nation’s
ultimate resurrection is foreshadowed in the fact that Naomi, symbol of Elimelech’s
spiritual life, continued to live, but as a widow, that state being the very one used
in Scripture to picture Israel’s present relationship to God, see, for example, Isa
54:5; La 1:1;
they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the
name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.”
While the Moabites are not included in the list of people in
Dt 7:1-4 whom God forbade the Israelites to marry, Ezra 9:2 and Ne 13:23 make it
clear that they were those with whom He forbade His people to intermarry. It
seems in fact that Elimelech’s sons continued to follow the example set by their
father: that is, symbolically they continued to gratify the lusts of the flesh, but
in even greater measure than he. He lived
amongst the Moabites: his sons married them. The
practical lesson for us is of the need to set our children a good example, while the
symbolic picture relative to Adam (of whom Elimelech is a type), is that his
disobedience has been proliferated by his descendants.
We must note, however, that God’s grace is greater than
the law, for though His law forbade the marriage of His people with the Canaanites,
His grace permitted Rahab, not only a Canaanite, but also a harlot, to become the
wife of an Israelite and the ancestress of Boaz, and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
To stress, as some have done, that because God didn’t specifically forbid
marriage with the Moabites, the marriage of Boaz and Ruth was a matter of divine
permission rather than of grace, is to diminish the magnitude of grace.
It was grace, and grace alone that made Ruth the wife of Boaz, and ancestress
of the Lord Himself.
Orpah means her neck: neckiness, and it is
instructive to note that the neck is frequently associated in Scripture with
self-will and pride, for example rebel Israel is described as being stiffnecked, see
Ex 32:9; Ac 7:51; and in Isa 3:16 God declares that “the daughters of Zion are
haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes.” It isn’t difficult therefore to see in Orpah a type of apostate
Ruth on the other hand, meaning satisfied, is very
clearly a type of a true believer in any age, but in the present context, of a
believer in this present Church age; and from the broader perspective, a type of the
Since ten is the number of God in government, their dwelling
in Moab for about ten years prepares us to recognize that while He is of great
patience His patience isn’t infinite. He
will give men space in which to repent, but when repentance is not forthcoming, He
will exercise His divine prerogative and impose His will in government.
Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and
The death of Elimelech should have been a warning to his two
sons, but obviously they failed to heed the warning, with the result that they too
died. God’s patience with them had
come to an end, and he is a fool who fails to read the lesson being taught in this.
God will not permit rebellion in saint or sinner to continue for ever, as it
is written, “My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Ge 6:3); “He, that
being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that
without remedy” (Pr 29:1).
she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab:
for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in
giving them bread.”
Since Naomi, as already noted, represents true spiritual
life, her determination to return to the land of Canaan is the symbolic announcement
of the truth that the new life will not willingly dwell outside the realm of God’s
will. The fact that both daughters in
law were willing to return with her indicates that she must have been a woman of
outstanding character; but beyond that literal fact lies a more important spiritual
truth: the spiritual life which she represents is recognized even by unbelievers as
being far superior to anything the natural man can produce, the evidence of its
superiority being disclosed in the fact that the natural man will try to emulate the
conduct it produces in the life of the obedient believer.
It is instructive to note that she hadn’t just heard that
the famine was over, but rather, “that the Lord had visited his people in giving
them bread.” What to the natural man
is nothing more than a chance activity of nature, is recognized by the new spiritual
life, which Naomi represents, as being an act of God.
Only the man who possesses that spiritual life is endowed with the same
she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her:
and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.”
Three set out for the land of Judah, but only Naomi and Ruth
arrived there. A good resolve is
worthless unless carried out. The
prodigal son would have died in the far country had he not acted on his resolve to
return to his father. In Ge 11:31-32 we
read that, “Terah took Abram his son ... and they went forth ... to go into the
land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there ... and Terah died in Haran.”
In spite of his good resolve to leave Ur and go to Canaan, Terah failed to
carry out his resolve, with the result that he never entered the promised land.
Someone has wisely commented that the way to hell is paved with good
Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house:
the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.”
It may at first seem strange that she who represents true
spiritual life should have given such advice to her daughters in law, but since Naomi
does represent spiritual life, then we must look for an explanation in harmony
with that fact, and that explanation is easily discovered.
Faith must be tested, for if it can’t survive the testings it encounters on
earth, it is spurious. The Lord Himself
assured His own, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (Jn 16:33).
Naomi would have Orpah and Ruth make their choices only after weighing
carefully the cost of going with her. It
is necessary when presenting the Gospel, not only to warn sinners of the need to save
themselves from hell and the lake of fire, but to warn them also of what conversion
will cost them here on earth. Naomi would have her daughters in law consider well what it would
mean to leave the familiar environs of their homes in Moab.
Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.
Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.”
Next, she would have them consider carefully their prospects
in Moab compared to what they might be in the land of Judah, especially in view of
God’s command that a Moabite wasn’t to be received into the congregation of
Israel even unto the tenth generation, see De 23:3. Sinners also should be warned to consider well how conversion may
affect their prospects in this world. Their
decision to trust Christ must be on the basis of knowing what it may cost them here
on earth. Young people particularly need
to be warned that God not only forbids a believer to marry an unbeliever, but that He
also forbids any alliance between faith and unbelief.
Her kissing them teaches that the preaching of the Gospel is to be prompted by
genuine concern for men’s souls.
they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.”
This seems to indicate that nothing would persuade them to
part company with Naomi, but as the sequel reveals, Orpah did in fact return to her
own people the Moabites, and the reason may be discovered in the closing words of
verse nine, “they lifted up their voice and wept.” Mere emotion may produce tears, but emotion is not to be trusted
when the salvation of the soul is involved. It
is to be feared that many a false profession has been produced by stirred emotions
rather than a convicted conscience.
Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more
sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?”
again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband.
If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also tonight, and
should also bear sons:”
ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands?
nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord
is gone out against me.”
However much she might have desired to have these daughters
in law with her (and everything indicates that there was indeed an unusual bond
between the three of them) Naomi didn’t fail to make it clear that such a step held
out little for them in the way of worldly prospects.
This continues to emphasize the need of presenting the unconverted with an
unvarnished Gospel which leaves them in no doubt that the life of faith has little to
offer in the way of worldly advancement.
Her being grieved because God’s hand had gone out against
her must be understood in the context of her being a type of genuine spiritual life.
That life is always grieved when the believer obeys the impulses of the flesh
rather than those of the Holy Spirit, and then has to suffer the consequences.
they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed here mother in law; but
Ruth clave unto her.”
Orpah’s weeping represents the response of the sinner
whose emotions are touched by the Gospel, but not his conscience.
Ruth’s tears, however, represent the genuine repentance of the one in whom
the Gospel has worked conviction resulting in salvation.
she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods:
return thou after thy sister in law.”
This continues to be the symbolic demonstration of the truth
that the presentation of the Gospel must be such as will ensure that the salvation of
the convert rests on the firm foundation of his being fully aware of the fact that he
who would win heaven must be prepared to give up the world.
Ruth was not induced by false hopes to follow Naomi, nor should sinners be
enticed to make a profession of faith on the basis of similar false hopes relative to
the pathway of faith. In all too many
cases that is exactly what today’s watered down so-called gospel, does do: it
presents Christ as the Panacea for life’s ills rather than as the One Who saves men
from hell and fits them for heaven.
Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for
whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall
be my people, and thy God my God:”
thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more
also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
This is the language of saving faith. He who would possess that spiritual life which Naomi represents,
must cling to that life with the same steadfastness. As Ruth was determined to permit nothing to separate her from
Naomi, so must the believer resolve to permit nothing to separate him from faith in
Christ as Savior. It is to be noted also
that her resolve was unto death. The
faith that saves is likewise unto death.
she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto
It is only when we see the same steadfastness in the
attitude of those to whom we present the Gospel that we should be satisfied with
their profession of faith in Christ. This
parting of Naomi and Ruth from Orpah appears to be typologically the moment of
they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And
it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about
them, and they said, Is this Naomi?”
Bethlehem meaning house of bread, in the present
context represents a local church, and the obvious lesson is that as Naomi led Ruth
there, so will the spiritual life which Naomi portrays, lead the genuine believer to
seek fellowship in a scripturally ordered assembly.
As discussed already, Naomi, taken from Bethlehem to Moab by
her husband Elimelech, is a portrait of a believer’s new life
carried into an undesirable state by the believer’s
disobedience. But now, returned to
Bethlehem, her rightful place, she is welcomed back by her friends and neighbors.
she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very
bitterly with me.”
In considering the spiritual significance of this verse,
account must be taken of the fact that when God had to chastise the rebellious
majority of the nation Israel, the obedient remnant also suffered, as for example,
when He sent famine, the godly felt the effects just the same as the ungodly.
It is the same in the Church. The
consequences of the rebellion of the majority are felt also by the obedient minority,
the principle being declared by Paul, “For as the body is one, and hath many
members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is
Christ ... for the body is not one member, but many ... and whether one member
suffer, all the members suffer with it ... Now ye are the body of Christ” (1 Cor
12:12-27). Naomi’s experience is the
typological demonstration of that principle at work.
She, as a wife in subjection to her husband, had to go with him where she
herself would not have gone voluntarily. The
husband-wife relationship incidentally illustrates the relationship between the
believer and his new spiritual life. The husband corresponds to the believer: the wife, to the
expression of his new spiritual life, and as the wife is under the husband’s
control, so is the new life under the believer’s control: it will never overrule
the believer’s will, hence the command of Paul not to grieve or quench the Holy
Spirit, Eph 4:30; 1 Th 5:19.
The harm which disobedience produces in our spiritual lives
is disclosed in Naomi’s lament, “Call me not Naomi pleasantness, call me
Mara he was arrogant: bitterness. Her
return to the place of departure teaches the further lesson that there is no
spiritual progress during time spent in departure from God’s revealed will.
This same truth is also illustrated in the experience of Abram during his time
in Egypt. When he eventually returned it
was to the place from which he had departed, “And Abram went up out of Egypt ...
even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning” (Ge
13:1-3), cp., Ge 12:8-10.
1:21. “I went
out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi,
seeing the Lord hath testified against me?”
Her impoverished state declares the truth that departure
from God’s revealed will brings spiritual penury, and emphasizes the imperative of
walking after the Spirit, as it is written, “There is therefore now no condemnation
to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit
.... That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after
the flesh, but after the Spirit. For
they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are
after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit” Ro 8:1-5).
The inseparable union existing between the believer and his
new spiritual life is declared in Naomi’s further statement, “the Lord hath
testified against me.” Since there is
nothing to indicate that her going to Moab had been for any reason other than
subjection to her husband, the Lord’s having testified against her continues to
emphasize that the believer’s spiritual life also suffers the consequences of his
Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned
out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley
Naomi may have lost a husband and two sons - apparently as a
result of their disobedience - but she didn’t return empty handed: she had with her
Ruth the Moabitess. The spiritual life
which Naomi represents never returns “empty handed.”
Even out of adversity it brings something for God’s glory.
The obedience of Ruth is the antithesis of Elimelech’s disobedience.
She obeyed every suggestion made by Naomi, and the happy results of that
obedience declare the blessedness that accompanies obedience to the promptings of the
new life which is the life of the Holy Spirit. Elimelech’s disobedience took him and his family away from
Bethlehem house of bread. Ruth’s
obedience brought her to it. His
disobedience brought death; hers brought life, and life moreover which eventually
culminated in the birth of Christ, for Obed serving, the child born to her and
Boaz, became the grandfather of David the king, from whom Christ ultimately came.
As a careful study of Scripture reveals, each link in that
genealogical line which produced Christ, portrays some characteristic of Him,
reminding us that however faintly we may portray Him in our lives here on earth, the
day is coming when we will stand in heaven perfectly conformed to His image.
In 4:15 Naomi’s neighbors said, “thy daughter in law,
which loveth thee ... is better than seven sons,” and when we consider the
enrichment brought to Naomi and Ruth through Ruth’s obedience we learn the truth
that the believer and his spiritual life both prosper when he obeys God.
It is to be remembered that since Naomi represents the principle of true
spiritual life, she represents Ruth’s spiritual life just as surely as she did
Elimelech’s. Her instructing Ruth behind the scenes as it were, is a very
accurate portrait of the relationship between the believer and his new life.
It too instructs him, but leaves with him the decision whether to obey those
instructions. He is a wise man who does obey the promptings of the Spirit.
Their coming to Bethlehem “in the beginning of barley
harvest” is a portent of enrichment to come, and it is instructive to note that
while Ruth began to glean in the barley harvest (barley was the food of animals and
of the poor), she finished gleaning in the wheat harvest (wheat is the richest of the
grains), and finally became the wife of Boaz the “mighty man of wealth.”
There is great gain in