The Book of Ruth: Naomi—the Prodigal Daughter
The Book of Ruth is many times referred to as the "The Romance of Redemption" by many authors who have expounded on this four-chapter vignette in the Bible.
Most modern ideas of romance include the central theme of a damsel in distress being swept off her feet and rescued by a handsome prince from some impossible plight. The Ruth narrative does include this romantic element, but there is a significantly different scenario. In contrast, modern depictions of romance invite us to see ourselves as victims and rarely require anything of us. We will, instead, see in the story of Ruth that cooperation, sacrifice, faith, and loyalty are all hallmark features that make straight a path for this "romance" to take place.
“Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God."
— Isaiah 40:3
This study will include some allegorical interpretations. Although the places, events, and characters of this story are literal, they also symbolize deeper spiritual truths that are relevant and applicable to our Christian journey.
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they (the Old Testament events) were written for our admonition
— I Corinthians 10:11
Just a bit of background history before we get started. The book of Ruth takes place at the "time of the Judges," and according to the Life Application Bible notes:
"Perversion and moral depravity were the rule, not the exception"
A.B Simpson called the time of the judges "the dark ages of the Old Testament" There was no king in Israel at this time, and "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6) Which has relevance to the very first sentence in Ruth.
Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.
— Ruth 1:1
According to "Holman Bible Dictionary"
"the productiveness of the earth is related to people's obedience to God"
Fuchsia Pickett writes in her book "The Prophetic Romance."
"We can expect to experience famine of the blessing of God if we turn from worshiping the living God, replacing Him with the worship of idolatrous things . . .
The Bible confirms this reality.
If you are willing and you are obedient, you shall eat the good of the land
— Isaiah 1:19
A Famine of Another Kind
How this relates to our spiritual journey is found in the book of Amos. Amos was a shepherd and farmer who was asked of the Lord to deliver a message to His people. It was at this time that both Judah and Israel were peaking in prosperity but lacking in their devotion to God.
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord.
— Amos 8:11
It is so easy and tempting to become distracted and entangled with the things of this world to the neglect our spiritual lives. A description of this neglect is given in Jesus' parable of the soils concerning "those who were sown among thorns."
. . . ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
— Mark 4:18-19
Surprisingly, this can be most problematic when we are the most prosperous, as is recounted in Revelation chapter three when Jesus confronted the lukewarm church of Laodicea.
. . . you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
— Revelation 3:17
In a search for the meaning of the word Laodicea, I came across a reply on a forum that I thought was so fitting concerning this topic. Keep in mind that these are people who had no king and did what was right in their own eyes yet called themselves by His name.
"Laos" means “people”, and "dicea" means “principle, decision”.
Christ showed that Laodiceans trust in their ability to rule themselves, judging and deciding matters to the exclusion of Christ’s rule within His Church. God’s government only exists in His one true Church (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). Jesus is the Head of the Church and the One True Mediator. He is fully God and fully man, the only one who is able to bridge man to God. He is the True High Priest.
The first chapter of Ruth begins with the introduction of the family of Elimelech, whose name means "my God is King." They are from the city of Bethlehem, which means "house of bread" in the land of Judah, meaning "praise." The story notes that they were Ephrathites. Ephratah was the ancient name of Bethlehem and means "fruitful." These names will be significant in a moment.
The narrative also tells us that Elimelech and Naomi had two sons named Mahlon, meaning "weak" and "unhealthy," and Chilion, which means "failing" and "wasting away." It could be assumed that these children were born a product of famine, as described by their names.
Studies suggest that famine during pregnancy affects the size and health of the baby, and according to Pubmed, famine can be the origin of many adult diseases and conditions, which may be why they both died young. The effects of famine illustrate for us how a famine of the Word can affect our spiritual lives and the fruit we produce.
If we pull together the meanings of the above names, we might be able to see how the characters and places in this story depict what happens to us when we live by the dictates of our desire and reasoning rather than making God our ruler and King. When we don't abide in the vine and remain in the "house of bread," we become fruitless.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
— John 15:4
His Words are Life
Elimelech and his family leave the "house of bread." Bread in Scripture is a symbol of God's Word that the Bible quotes to be essential to our spiritual life and growth.
. . . man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.
— Deuteronomy 8:3
"We may indeed read the scriptures as men cultivate the earth simply to find food to support the life which God has given."
— Andrew Jukes
The Word of God is the only life-sustaining food for our spiritual lives. Hearing from the Lord is both relevant and essential.
The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.
— John 6:63
Do we consider His Word irrelevant, uninteresting, or unworthy of our time and attention? Are we seeking God's counsel and will concerning our lives and decisions? The answers to these questions may be a clue as to where we are at in our relationship with the Lord. Our responses may indicate that we have made our own thoughts opinions and wishes the King and Lord of our lives. God asks us very similar questions in a portion of Scripture known as the "Gospel of Isaiah."
Why do you spend money for what is not bread . . . Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. . . Let the wicked forsake his way,And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon . . . For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth.
The wife of Elimelech was Naomi, and her name means pleasant and delightful. Delight is shown, in the portion of Scripture above, as being associated with listening to God, consuming, and digesting what He says and is imaged by eating what is right and satisfying. We will see later in this story a picture of how our lives can quickly become bitter rather than pleasant as the result of God not being our Lord and King. When we leave the house of bread (Bethlehem), we inevitably end up inhabiting the land of compromise and complaint rather than the land of praise (Judah) resulting, in unfruitful lives.
"I need to watch lest, in a busy age, the Scripture should cease to be the constant nourishment of the my higher life; lest I hurry off to my business in the morning, too pressed for time to study it, and come in at night, too tired to do it; and lest all kinds of literature eagerly read should destroy my relish for it, and so my soul should starve, even with God's rich bread within my reach."
— G.H Knight "In the Secret of His Presence."
The Grass is Not Always Greener
The family of Elimelech went to the land of Moab because of the famine, possibly believing that the grass was greener on the other side, as we many times do.
And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country (field) of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.
— Ruth 1:1
The Hebrew word translated "country" in the above verse is the word for "field." Why this is significant is because when viewing this word through the lens of its first occurrences, we can see a connection with being on the outside of God's "good" provision.
The field was considered the outer court of God's sanctuary of creation. Adam was exiled from the garden to the field. The field was associated with sustenance through toil and hardship, and, from a spiritual application, it illustrates life in the flesh apart from God's provision and power.
The field connection, therefore, starts the narrative with the understanding that they weren't supposed to go. Elimelech and his family left the land of promise to seek sustenance in the field, doubting God's provision, much like when Adam and Eve found themselves outside the garden. Both Naomi and Eve, subsequently lose two sons in the field.
Moab descended from the incestuous relations of Lot and his oldest daughter. Lot and his family were once residents of the depraved city of Sodom, which was destroyed because of its unrecoverable immorality.
The Bible does not tell us if Lot and his family were influenced by the godless culture in which they lived. Still, it could be considered from their behaviors, as well as their becoming worshipers of the pagan god "Chemosh," that it was a strong possibility.
The worship of Chemosh was a religion that included human/child sacrifice and, much like all other false gods and religions of that period, included sexual immorality. II Kings 3:27 records that King Mesha of Moab offered his son as a burnt offering on the city wall in an attempt to appease this god whom he thought would help him in his rebellion.
Many times Moab in the scriptures is depicted as an enemy of Israel. Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel during their wilderness journeyings, to which he was unsuccessful. Not to mention at this particular point in history, when the story takes place, it is believed to have been around the time that Eglon king of Moab was oppressing Israel and had them in a position of servitude for 18 years.
Isn't it amazing the places we will go when there is a famine in the land, and it looks like we will never get what we think we want or need? As despicable as the lifestyles seem on the west side of the Jordan when there is a famine in the land, we consider going there not concerning ourselves that we venture into enemy territory.
A satisfied soul loathes the honeycomb, But to a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.
— Proverbs 27:7
"It is an evidence of a discontented, distrustful, unstable spirit, to be weary of the place in which God has set us, and to be for leaving it immediately whenever we meet with any uneasiness or inconvenience in it."
— Matthew Henry
It is also noted in Ruth 1:2 that "they remained there . . ." verse 4 says for ten years. Isn't that how it goes when we only intend to leave the house of bread for just a little while and we find ourselves stuck in a God-forsaken place and losing everything.
. . . the woman was left without her two sons and without her husband
— Ruth 1:5
"Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay."
Noaomi the Prodigal Daughter
Moab's location is significant, in that, it is on the east side of the Jordan. It was the last place the children of Israel camped before crossing over the Jordan to enter the promised land. Going back this way is a picture of backsliding or going backward.
they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts (self on the throne), and went backward and not forward.
— Jeremiah 7:24
My people are bent on backsliding from Me. Though they call to the Most High, None at all exalt Him.
— Hosea 11:7
The Hebrew word for backsliding contains the concept of defecting to enemy territory and is associated with unfaithfulness. As it relates to this verse in Hosea, it is interesting to note that the people are calling God the "Most High," but they are not exalting Him. He is not holding the rank and position in their hearts that He ought to have.
Naomi's husband died as well as her two sons, who married local girls. One of the son's wives was named Orpah meaning "back of the neck" and related to a verb meaning to turn one's back.
Now do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord
— II Chronicles 30:8
Ruth's name means "Friend" in the sense of the expression of loyalty.
. . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother
— Proverbs 18:24
Naomi learns that the Lord had visited His people with bread.
"Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moabthe Lord had visited His people by giving them bread"
— Ruth 1:6
She, then, determines to return to her homeland. According to the IVP Bible Commentary, the Hebrew verb used in this verse for "return" is the same verb used for "repent."
Naomi has been sometimes referred to as the Prodigal daughter of the Old Testament by some scholars, and Fuchsia Pickett notes in her book The Romance of Redemption that it was a hunger for fresh bread that motivated the prodigal's return to his Father's house.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
— Luke 15:17
Naomi then arises with her daughters-in-law to go back to the land of Judah (praise). We might wonder why her daughters-in-law would go with her, but in ancient times it was customary for a bride to leave her family of origin and join her husband's family. This concept is depicted in Psalm 45, titled "The King's marriage" in reference to the bride.
Forget your own people also, and your father’s house . . .
— Psalm 45:10
It is a vibrant symbolic image of us leaving our original family of sin to be brought into a new family of righteousness in Christ never to return to our old life again.
"Ruth received the divine promises of restoration because she chose to follow the living God at the cost of breaking earthly ties and enduring uncertainty of an unknown future foreign land"
— Fuchsia Pickett
Charles Spurgeon also writes in his book The Treasury of David.
"To renounce the world is not easy, but it must be done by all who are affianced to the Great King, for a divided heart He cannot endure . . . the house of our nativity is the house of sin"
— Charles Spurgeon
Naomi kindly dismisses both women from this obligation to remain with her. It is touching that both women wept over this and committed to staying with her, that is until Naomi makes it abundantly clear that she has nothing to offer them in terms of "this life" happiness. Orpah turns back, but Naomi sincerely stays.
. . . the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
— II Corinthians 7:10
This scene draws, for us, a vivid picture of the call of Christ to eternal life with Him. In Luke chapter 14:25-33, Jesus makes it abundantly clear that to follow Him is not an invitation to "this world" comfort. He explains that to follow Him means risking the closest of relationships to do so, and a complete end of the self-life. God makes no bones about explaining that if its worldly comfort and acceptance we are looking for—He, like Naomi, has nothing to offer. In light of this, He asks us to count the cost.
In John chapter six, at the end of the chapter, Jesus is teaching a difficult lesson. He uses the metaphors of eating His flesh and drinking His blood. I think this invitation refers to a sacrificial life. He was about to example and was calling His disciples to follow in the same path of suffering and self-denial.
From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.
— John 6:66
He asks the twelve that remain
“Do you also want to go away?”
— John 6:67
Peter's loyal reply
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (bread).Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
— John 6:68-69
Stiff-Necked Versus Loyal
Orpah (one whose neck is bent on turning back) kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth (loyal friend) clung to her.
— Ruth 1:14
We are to cling to the Lord as desperately, and loyally as did Ruth to Naomi and Naomi's God. According to The One Volume Bible Commentary, the ancients believed that a god and his people were inseparable. What if that is what we believed?
. . . love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days.
— Deuteronomy 30:20
Orpah's neck was bent on "this world" happiness and went back to her gods, but Ruth loyally declares much like Peter . . .
“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. 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.”
— Ruth 1:16-17
Ruth makes a decision not based on circumstance or possibly present feelings. Had her comfort dictated this decision, she more than likely would have turned back to what was comfortable and familiar, like her sister-in-law.
According to the commentary in The Worlds Bible Handbook, Ruth turned her back on family, custom, and religion.
What Ruth may have realized is suggested by Fuchsia Pickett.
"Home is wherever the will of God is for our lives. That is where we enjoy the comfort and security of the presence of God."
Ruth depicts the type of loyalty and faithfulness the Lover of our souls is looking for in us.
“Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away."
— Song of Solomon 2;10
Returning To the House of Bread
Chapter One ends with the two women returning to the "house of bread."
. . . when they had come to Bethlehem . . . all the city was excited because of them.
— Ruth 1:19
This excitement gives us an illustration of the joy of a sinner who hears the Gospel and turns from sin to God.
there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
— Luke 15:10
Naomi (a pleasant one) finds it difficult to rejoice considering all that she has lost and renames herself, Mara, meaning "bitter." Yet, she understands and accepts that the hand of El Shaddai, the God who gives fruitfulness and increase, is in control of it all. I recall upon my return from prodigal living when God opened my eyes to all that I had lost and the damage that was done how bitterly remorseful I was and sometimes can still be, but this I know, and the rest of this story will report
. . . I know that my Redeemer lives . . .
— Job 19:25
"Nothing contributes more to satisfy a gracious soul in affliction than the consideration of the hand of God in it. He who empties us of the creature knows how to fill us with Himself."
— Matthew Henry
For more on Ruth's qualities and characteristics, please visit "The Book of Ruth: Faithfulness, Loyalty, and Humility.
"Drifter" by December Radio
Credits and Sources
note on Laodicea comment: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110602232728AA0otLm
Article on the effects of children born to women who were pregnant during famine http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15590994
Christ in the Bible Commentary" A.B. Simpson Copyright 2009 by Zur Ltd.
Holman Bible Dictionary
The Prophetic Romance by Fuschia Pickett copyright 1996 published by Creation House
Matthew Henry commentary copyright 1992 by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
IVP New Bible Commentary copyright 1994 published by Intervarsity Press
Bible History by Alfred Edersheim copyright 1995 by Hendrickson Publishers Inc.
Life Application Bible Commentary
© 2013 Tamarajo