For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 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 of obedience.

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 for good.

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.

1:3.  “And 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 live.”

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;

1:4.  “And 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 Israel.              

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 Church itself.

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.

1:5.  “And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.”

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).

1:6.  “Then 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 discernment.

1:7.  “Wherefore 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 intentions.

1:8.  “And 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.

1:9.  “The 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.

1:10.  “And 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.

1:11.  “And 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?”

1:12.  “Turn 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:”

1:13.  “Would 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.

1:14.  “And 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.

1:15.  “And 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.

1:16.  “And 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:”

1:17.  “Where 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.

1:18.  “When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.”

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 Ruth’s conversion.

1:19.  “So 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.

1:20.  “And 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 disobedience.

1:22.  “So 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 harvest.”

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 obedience.

[Ruth 2]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough