Another year with no rain meant no crop. The food stored from the last good harvest could not last until the next growing season. Elimelech had to find a way to feed his wife Naomi and his two growing sons, Mahlon and Chilion. Because the land of Moab was outside the famine areas, he decided to leave his land inheritance and move his family to live among the Moabites.
When the rains fell again on Israel and crops could begin to grow again, they could move back. He could not know that he would never see his home again; He died in Moab. Naomi was now a widow with two sons near the age of marriage. They chose to marry local girls, Orpah and Ruth. Ten years went by and both of Naomi's sons also died.
Naomi's grief was so deep; her loss so complete that she defined herself as sorrow. (Ruth 1:20-21) She wanted to go home. She and her daughters-in-law began the trip to the land of Judah. But Naomi came up out of the fog of her inner pain to consider the welfare of Orpah and Ruth. She loved them as if they were her flesh and blood daughters. Her resources were non-existent; she had no way to provide for her sons' wives. She urged them to return to their families who would provide for them and arrange a marriage for each of them. (Ruth 1:7-13) Naomi also knew from experience the difficulty of adjusting to life in an unfamiliar culture. She was afraid that Orpah and Ruth would be looked down on in Israel the way she had been looked down on as a foreigner in Moab.
Orpah decided to stay with the familiar. Her love for Naomi was not strong enough to override her fear of a new life in a different country. But Ruth, with her arms wrapped tightly around her mother-in-law, declared her commitment to Naomi, her people, and the God Naomi worshipped. Their tears of mutual grief and loss mingled on their cheeks and dampened their traveling clothes. Then they moved into their future to face it together, for better or for worse.
Naomi never lost sight of the sovereignty of God over her life. She accepted her loss as the will of God for her. (Ruth 1:13, 21) She could not bring back her husband and sons, or hope away the grief that consumed her; but she did change what she could. She could walk back to her husband's land inheritance in Bethlehem of Judah. (Ruth 1:18-22) She could renew her family and community ties.
They arrived in time for the barley harvest. Ruth went out to glean in the fields as allowed by God's law. (Leviticus 23:22) Naomi provided advice for Ruth about coping with life in her adopted land. (Ruth 2:2, 22; 3:1-5, 16-18) Ruth trusted Naomi enough to follow it.
Naomi began to hope again as she saw God's kindness and provision in the barley Ruth had gleaned from the fields of her relative Boaz. She was quick to realize that God was giving them, widows without a means of support, an opportunity to be saved out of a life of poverty . (Ruth 3:1, 18) Naomi had left Judah full of hope for a better life in Moab and returned empty of hope for even grandchildren. But God refilled her life. He provided a kinsman-redeemer. (Leviticus 25:25-28) Her neighbors reminded her that her daughter-in-law loved her and treated her better than a household of sons would have. God provided through Ruth a child to raise. (Ruth 4:13-17)
The story of Naomi is a story of hope restored. She thought she had lost everything including the favor of God. But she was wrong. She had not lost everything, especially the favor of God. Ruth was the grace of God for Naomi in their time of grief. The support they gave each other sustained them both as God worked to restore and rebuild their family. Boaz was God's grace to them as the redeemer through whom he restored them. Their family became a blessing to Israel through Ruth's descendant David and a blessing to all people out of every nation through the ultimate Redeemer, Jesus.
For the Scripture References and related Bible Study Guide, go to Bible Study Guide: Hope Not Yet Seen