The book of ”Ruth” and ”Esther” are the only 2 books in the Bible named after women. Esther was the Hebrew woman who married a Gentile King, while Ruth was the Gentile woman who married a Hebrew man, whose father’s name Elimelech happened to mean ”God is my King”.
But God was far from being Elimelech’s King. In the face of a famine, Elimelech took his wife Naomi and his 2 sons Mahlon and Kilion away (Ruth 1:1) from God’s protection in Bethlehem (the ”House of Bread”) and lived in the country of Moab, considered enemy territory to the Jews. Moab was the incestuous son of Lot with his oldest daughter (Gen 19:37) and the father of the Moabites. During Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness, the Moabites refused to provide bread and water to Israel (Deut 23:3-6) and even hired Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel (Num 22:1-6).
At Moab, Elimelech’s 2 sons married Moabite women Orpah and Ruth. The men in the family subsequently died one after another, leaving the women as widows, without any protection in a foreign land.
Later, Naomi heard about the Lord’s hand and decided to return to Bethlehem. Orpah stayed behind in Moab while Ruth journeyed with Naomi to the House of Bread where eventually Ruth found protection in Naomi’s relative Boaz.
The story of Ruth reveals the beautiful story of God’s salvation for mankind. Let us see the gospel story unfold in the names of the characters.
”Elimelech” which means ”God is my King” There is a famine in our hearts, a spiritual bankruptcy which cries out for God. God wants us to come under His protection as our King. However, because of our rebellious nature, we move away from God. In so doing, we move away from His protection and expose our lives to danger living in the open country (wilderness) of the world. Interestingly, the same spirit of Moab (of selfishness and self-centeredness) was seen in Elimelech. He did not trust God but took matters into his own hands, thereby causing his whole family to suffer.
”Mahlon” which means ”Sickly”, ”Kilion” which means ”Finished or Failure” The names of Elimelech’s 2 sons reveal to us the cause of our rebellion. Our sinful nature make us sick and finished. The result of our sinfulness is death which is separation from God. Interestingly, some scholars felt that Mahlon and Kilion were not real names of Elimelech’s sons but attributes used by the author. Afterall, who would name their children like that!
Naomi’s name meant ”Pleasant” but she was so filled with bitterness that she asked to be called ”Mara” (Ruth 1:20) which meant bitter. Isn’t this the result of a life lived outside of God’s Lordship? Bitterness with God, bitterness with our situation in life, bitterness with ourselves, bitterness with everything and everyone.
”Boaz” which means ”Strength”
Like the beginning of the barley harvest in Ruth 1:22, there is hope. In Ruth 4:9, Boaz bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech. He took over all they had. Boaz is a type for the Lord Jesus who came to take us over completely from our sinful state and now make us His own. In Christ, we can now return home to our Bethlehem, to the God of Israel, under whose wings we have come to take refuge (Ruth 2:12).
”Orpah” which means ”Back of head”, ”Ruth” which means ”Friend, Companion, Beauty”
There are 2 responses we can make to God’s invitation to take over our lives. The word ”Orpah” is derived from 2 terms which mean ”the back of the head” and ”to turn away”. We can turn away and go back to Moab, the place of selfishness and self-centeredness or we can turn to God as our friend and our companion. Then we can experience the beauty of this sweet relationship with God.
We praise God that if we are willing to come to Him empty – empty of our pride, our selfishness, our self-love – and let him take over our lives He would become our Strength and our Friend.
Are you coming to Moab or to Bethlehem ?