Ruth chapter 1

Naomi’s husband dies. Naomi’s two sons-in-law die. Naomi and Ruth return to Judah. They arrive in Bethlehem.





VERSE 1. In the days when the judges judged, there was a famine in the land. A certain man of Bethlehem Judah went to live in the country of Moab with his wife and his two sons.

NAB translation. Once in the time of the judges there was a famine in the land; so a man from Bethlehem of Judah departed with his wife and two sons to reside on the plateau of Moab.

when the judges judged. These events took place during the era of the judges.

When was this? Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert. Joshua led them across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land.

After that, the people fell into religious apostasy and social degradation. They were oppressed by their enemies. When they repented, a Judge arose to deliver them.

Some people think the Book of Ruth takes place during the era of Judge Gideon.

During the fallen era of the judges, many Israelites worshipped the Canaanite god Baal.

there was a famine in the land. This triggers everything that follows in the Book of Ruth.

The Canaanite god Baal was believed to be the owner of the land and to control its fertility. So a famine demonstrates that Baal is powerless.

A certain man. This man read the signs of the times. He was concerned for his wife and his two sons.

Things were not getting better. In fact, they were getting worse. Much worse.  The time to leave had arrived.

If he were to stay, things would not stay the same. Things would only get worse.

But moving implied risk. It was to step out into uncertainty. He couldn’t predict what would happen, wherever they would go.

This man from Bethlehem was courageous. He wasn’t willing to simply maintain the status quo. He wasn’t willing to live in misery.

He led his wife and two sons out of the area. They moved to a place that would hopefully be better. They moved to the Plateau of Moab.

of Bethlehem. In the years that follow, Bethlehem will be the birthplace of three great figures:

  • Obed son of Ruth and Boaz
  • King David
  • The Lord Jesus Christ

went to live in the country of Moab. Moab was about 50 miles east of Bethlehem, across the Dead Sea. It was located on a plateau 3,000 feet in elevation.

The people of Moab spoke a different language. The language had some similarities to Hebrew, but people from Bethlehem would have sounded like they had a foreign accent. They would have sounded like foreigners. They wouldn’t have fit in.

More, the food would have seemed strange to them. The customs would have been different.

In our own lives, sometimes it’s time to move on.

The people of Moab worshipped a god named Chemosh.


VERSE 2. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem Judah. They came into the country of Moab and lived there.

Elimelech. This name is a combination of two Hebrew words:

  1. The first word is Eli, which means “my God”
  2. The second word is Melech, which means, “king”

Any time anybody said Elimelech’s name, they would have been saying, “My God and King.” They would have been reminded of the greatness of God.

Naomi. Naomi is the central figure of this chapter. Her name has a meaning as well. It means pleasant. It means agreeable.

Any time anybody said Naomi’s name, they would have been saying, “Pleasant! Agreeable!” Hers is a very uplifting name!

Unfortunately, Elimelech and Naomi did not use uplifting words to name their two children:

Mahlon. His name means “sickness.”

Chilion. His name means “wasting.”

In our day, some people call others by unpleasant nicknames.

By the words we name people, we have the ability to transform their lives. We can discourage people and tear them down. Or we can transform and uplift people.

Ephrathites. “Ephrathah”might be an older name for Bethlehem. The prophet Micah, in fact, called the city Bethlehem-Ephrathah:

Micah 5:2. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, being small among the clans of Judah, out of you one will come out to me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings out are from of old, from ancient times.

The word Ephrathah means “fruitful.” The newer word Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Both words seem to denote abundance.

But the unfortunate reality faced by Elimelech and Naomi is that Ephrathah is a place of famine.


VERSE 3. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons.


VERSE 4. They took for themselves wives of the women of Moab. The name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other was Ruth. They lived there about ten years.

wives of the women of Moab. Naomi’s sons inter-married with non-Jewish women.

At first glance, it might seem this was forbidden. However, it was not.

The Law did indeed prohibit Israelites from marrying Canaanites:

Deuteronomy 7:3. You shall not make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to his son, nor shall you take his daughter for your son.

But the Law did NOT prohibit Israelites from marrying Moabites.

Orpah. This is the name of first daughter-in-law. It means mane, or gazelle. It is from the root word for back of the neck.

Ruth. This is our first encounter with this great hero of the faith. Her name means friendship.




VERSE 5. Mahlon and Chilion both died, and the woman was bereaved of her two children and of her husband.

Mahlon and Chilion both died. Some people say they died due to divine wrath over leaving Bethlehem.

However, the text does not indicate such thing.

And countless other Jewish people have left Bethlehem without being struck dead.




VERSE 6. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, that she might return from the country of Moab; for she had heard in the country of Moab how the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.

the LORD. When rendered in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, “LORD” or “GOD” is the translation of God’s Proper Name.

giving them bread. This probably means the famine had ended. It probably does not mean manna is falling from the sky.


VERSE 7. She went out of the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her. They went on the way to return to the land of Judah.


VERSE 8. Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.

return each of you. Naomi tries to send her two daughters-in-law back to their families of origin.

There, they would be provided for.

May the LORD deal kindly with you. The Hebrew word rendered as “kindness” is khesed.

It is an important word in the Book of Ruth and throughout the Old Testament. It speaks of the LORD God’s covenant loyalty to His people.


VERSE 9. May The LORD grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices, and wept.


VERSE 10. They said to her, “No, but we will return with you to your people.”


VERSE 11. Naomi said, “Go back, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?

Do I still have sons in my womb. Naomi is referring to the Levirate custom in Israel.

A man was obliged to marry his deceased brother’s wife in order for her to conceive a son That will perpetuate his brother’s name and inheritance.

Genesis 38:8. Judah said to Onan, “Go in to your brother’s wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and raise up offspring for your brother.”

Deuteronomy 25:5. If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her, and take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.


VERSE 12. Go back, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say, ‘I have hope,’ if I should even have a husband tonight, and should also bear sons,


VERSE 13. would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from having husbands? No, my daughters, for it grieves me seriously for your sakes, for the LORD’s hand has gone out against me.”

for the LORD’s hand has gone out against me. Naomi interprets her misfortune as divine disfavor.

However, it is not. Rather, it is the natural calamity of a famine.

In our day, when they experience misfortune, many Christians interpret their misfortune as divine disfavor.

However, in many cases, it is not.


VERSE 14. They lifted up their voices and wept again; then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her.


VERSE 15. She said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law.”

Behold. This is from the Hebrew word הִנֵּה, which means look at, take notice, observe, see, or gaze at. It is often used as an interjection.


VERSE 16. Ruth said, “Don’t urge me to leave you, and to return from following you, for where you go, I will go; and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.

NIV translation. But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.

This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from the Book of Ruth and from the entire Bible.

Ruth said. What Ruth says is probably the greatest statement of loyalty that anybody has ever said.

Question. Would people say you are loyal to them?

Ruth fulfills her statement of loyalty to Naomi. But when Peter made a similar pledge of loyalty to Jesus, he failed miserably.

your God my God. Ruth abandons her nation and its gods. She becomes a believer in the One God of Israel.

The Old Testament foresee Gentiles coming to faith in the One God of Israel and bringing gifts to Jerusalem. Here are the key Bible verses about this »


VERSE 17. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”

NIV translation. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried with you. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

This verse is fantastic! Would you consider memorizing it? More great verses to memorize from the Book of Ruth and from the entire Bible.

Though Ruth was a non-Israelite, she has fully converted to faith in the LORD God of Israel.


VERSE 18. When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.




VERSE 19. So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. When they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was excited about them, and they asked, “Is this Naomi?”


VERSE 20. She said to them, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.

Naomi. This Hebrew word  means “pleasant.”

Mara. This Hebrew word means “bitter.”

Naomi continues to believe the Almighty has made her life very bitter.


VERSE 21. I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

the LORD has brought me home again empty. Years ago, Naomi had left Bethlehem because of a food famine.

Now she returns with a famine in her soul.


VERSE 22. So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.

the beginning of barley harvest. This would have been early April.


next chapter »

« previous chapter


CHAPTERS: 01, 02, 03, 04

RESOURCES: Summary, Outline, Memorize

Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.


Author: todd

At Explore the Faith, I share insights into the Bible and theological writings. If you like what I write, become my partner by donating. Help me reach the world for the Lord Jesus Christ.