Going The Wrong Direction
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 dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1, NKJV)
The setting of this book is toward the end of the time when the Judges ruled in Israel. It was a time when:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 17:6)
These were dark days for Israel. They were mostly estranged from their God. Many followed after pagan gods of the surrounding cultures. Not altogether different from the days in which we live.
This is before the time of the Kings of Israel. The nation would lapse into abject sin and idol worship. God would leave them to their own devices and anarchy would reign. They would cry out to the Lord. God would hear their cries and raise up a deliverer who would rescue the country for a time. Then the process would be repeated. A dark time indeed.
In those days, a man from Bethlehem left the land of Israel to sojourn in the country of Moab, because of famine. Bethlehem was a rich agricultural area (the city name means “House of Bread”), but times were tough, so he went to the pagan land of Moab.
In order to do so, he had to hike through the desolate Jericho pass, through the Judean wilderness near the Dead Sea, going across the Jordan River, into the land of Moab. This was a definite departure from the Promised Land of Israel, and a return towards the wilderness from which God had delivered Israel hundreds of years before. He was clearly going in the wrong direction.
God specifically promised there would always be plenty in the land if Israel was obedient. Therefore, a famine in the land meant that Israel, as a nation, was not obedient to the Lord. In Deuteronomy, God instructed the Israelites:
And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.’ “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the Lord’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:13-17)
Went to sojourn means he left with the intention to return. The next verse tells us the name of the man was Elimelech and his intention of short visit turned into ten, tragedy-filled years. Elimelech never returned to Israel. The name Elimelech means “God is king.” But he did not really live as if God was his king.
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