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:
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. Ruth 1:16,17
These words by Ruth are not only some of the most popular in the Bible, they are also amongst the most powerful. Nearly every reader of the Bible knows them, and they have impacted many Christians’ lives in a most powerful way.
What many of us do not know is the origin of these words. Where did Ruth get these words? They came from her heart, of course; but what caused her to say them?
God uses the most unlikely people to work out His purpose. I am not talking about Ruth here now; rather, I am referring to Elimelech and his family. The grace of God is revealed throughout the Bible in many different aspects, but one of the most prominent ways we come to notice God’s grace was in the way He used many improbable characters to fulfill His purpose.
Elimelech was such a man. He had run away from his land to escape famine. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, except that he left his fellow countrymen praying, trusting and waiting patiently on God to reveal His faithfulness. That was what we would have expected Elimelech to do also. He should not have left his people in a time of trouble. But it appears that Elimelech was not a very persevering man, and in a moment of weakness, he lost his nerve and bolted for safety.
Years later, long after Elimelech and his two sons had died in a foreign land, God would remember His nation Israel and visit His people “in giving them bread”, and his wife Naomi alone would go back to the home they had left behind.
God knows men’s hearts, however, and He is the best judge of our motives. God knew Elimelech. And through this nerveless man God would re-write history.
The Moabites were a nation that did not know or serve the true God. Their chief god was an idol they called Chemosh. As a result of worshipping this pagan god, they were a very ungodly nation and they lived very wicked lives in the sight of God. There is no way any nation (or person) can live a Godly lifestyle if they do not know the true God. Not, especially, when they are worshipping a demonic entity.
When Elimelech and his family settled in the land of Moab, no doubt they began telling the people there about the true God that they worshipped. But more importantly, they lived such a Godly lifestyle that when Ruth married into that family, through careful observation of their lifestyle, her tender heart was deeply touched.
She saw a kind of godly lifestyle that was not there in her own nation. She saw that the God that these people talked about was different from the gods she knew of in her land. He was a God who had many desirable attributes. He was a God of compassion, and a God of holiness. She heard many moving stories of the Israelite God, Jehovah, and she was profoundly touched.
More importantly, she observed how these people did not simply talk about their God, but she saw how their lives reflected the nature of the God they talked about. Her tender heart craved what she saw and heard.
That was why when Naomi besought her to go back to her gods and her people on the eve of Naomi’s return to Israel, Ruth was adamant: “Your people”, she told Naomi, “shall be my people, and your God my God”. She had found something she wanted, and she would pay for it with her life if it so required. What a powerful testimony to the kind of lifestyle that Naomi and the Elimelech family had lived in the midst of these people!
Neither Elimelech, nor any of his sons’ lifestyles is specified in the Bible, and some would argue that it was probably Naomi herself who lived the kind of lifestyle that attracted Ruth to her God. But I am sure that Elimelech himself and his sons also lived that kind of life. There is nothing to suggest that any of these men lived anything other than a perfect, Godly life in the land of Moab. Also, the Bible is a very keen Book, and it would never mention these men’s names without a particular reason.
Elimelech’s failing (if failing it was) in running away from his nation in a time of trouble fades into nothingness when compared to what he accomplished through his Godly lifestyle in the land of Moab.
Many Christians spend years, and possibly a lifetime, wringing their hands and wishing they were not the losers they are in life. But the Bible here shows us a bunch of losers who became one of the greatest winners in the Bible – The “Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah”. God, in fact, uses losers. If you consider yourself a loser, I encourage you to put on your dancing shoes right now, get out on the dance-floor of life and see what God can do with your life!
Now, we know that Elimelech and his sons died before they would even have an idea of the great wonder (Jesus) that would proceed from the seed they had planted through the Godly lifestyle they had lived in Moab. But the important thing is not that they lived or died. The important thing is what came out of their lives; the fruit that their lives bore.
Some folks are so taken up with living this life! How sad. We should be taken up with living the future life. I know that does not sound very appealing, particularly considering what the world has to offer. But the glory that comes out of living a hard, unpaid, but Godly life in this world could scarcely be compared with the flitting pleasures of this world.
Living this kind of life requires us, in fact, to die to this wordly life. How so contradictory! And yet… how so fascinatingly beautiful!
The Apostle Paul, observing how God works in ways so different from man’s thoughts and expectations, exclaimed, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen” (Rom. 11:33-36).
How amazing, indeed.
An interesting perspective. I actually thought you were leading up to say Elimelech left his people but not his God. The irony is that the foreigner Ruth took his place and adopted those people as hers. She left her people and her god to gain his God and his people. The twists and turns and irony and humour in the Bible are wonderful.
“The twists and turns and irony and humour in the Bible are wonderful.”
I love your insight! Thank you so much.