Elimelech and Naomi

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 6
It is a sad story to follow Elimelech (meaning “My God is King”) from the fields of Bethlehem (“The House of Bread”), out from the Land of Israel, to the land of Moab. It is sad indeed to see one of the people of God leave the place where He reigns, to take shelter under the rule of a stranger (Ruth 1:11Now 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 sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1)). But the verse before Ruth 1:11Now 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 sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1), reads: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” And it looks very much as though Elimelech, in spite of his name, was following the general custom of the country, and doing what was right in his own eyes.
Indeed, to take such a serious step, as to leave his native land, would seem to tell us it was not the first time that he had done what was right in his own eyes; and the names of his two sons, Mahlon meaning “Great Weakness”; and Chilion meaning “Pining, or Consuming, or Consumption”, would tell us that the fruit of his own way had brought weakness and sorrow into his family. His feeble sons, and now a famine in the land, should have made him stop, and “consider his ways”. But it was not so.
And so it came about that Elimelech forsook the land where God was at least supposed to rule, and went to the land where Balak once reigned, and where the prophet Balaam had once sought to curse Israel. It seems a strange place for one bearing the name of “My God is King”, Elimelech, to seek refuge; but where will we not go, when we do what is right in our own eyes? And the father should have remembered that it was not so many years since the daughters of Moab had been the means of bringing a terrible snare, and an awful destruction, on the people of God; one would have thought he would have hesitated to take his two sons to the spot where they would meet the daughters of Moab again.
But when once we set our hearts on doing what is right in our own eyes, the blessed stories and warnings of Scripture are easily swept aside, and we go forward boldly in the path of our choice. The inevitable result followed, both boys chose girls of Moab to be their wives; and the law of Israel was clear, the Moabite was not to enter the land of Israel, no, not to the tenth generation (Deut. 23:33An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: (Deuteronomy 23:3)). But the Word of God had lost all power in their souls, Elimelech had forgotten that God was his king, and their only thought was to do what was right in their own eyes.
Then Death comes. God has ways of speaking that will force us to listen, if we persist in turning away from the ‘still small voice’. May God grant that this dread Messenger may not be needed with you, my dear ones, in order that the Almighty may get your ear. The father, and both sons, are claimed by the King of Terrors, and Naomi is left, broken-hearted and alone. And yet not alone, for she has her two Moabite daughters-in-law. We know not how long the girls had lived with their Mother-in-law; probably some years, for the family had lived in Moab about ten years. But this we do know, that in those years they had learned to love this one who was a stranger in their land. Her chaste conversation had won the hearts of her daughters-in-law. (1 Peter 3:11Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; (1 Peter 3:1)). And when Naomi rises up to go back to her native land, both girls go with her; a sweet reward for a consistent life. God is not unrighteous to forget such a walk, even though it be in the land of strangers; nor will He ever turn away one, even a Moabite, who comes to Him in faith.
You know the story as well as I do, and I must not take space to tell it again, no matter how much we love it; but I cannot resist quoting Ruth’s magnificent answer to her Mother-in-law’s appeal to follow Orpah back “unto her people, and unto her gods.” (Oh, Naomi, how could you utter such words? How could you seek, and succeed in your efforts, to drive away one who was ready to follow you to the land where the true God reigns as King?) But Ruth would not be moved. The bonds of love were too strong, and the hearts of countless millions have stirred at her grand reply: “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.”
Glorious words! A rich reward for a quiet, consistent life at home, the true result of “chaste conversation”. How the Spirit of God delights to record such an utterance, coming from the lips of a Gentile stranger! What a cheer to Naomi’s heart! How that sad, broken heart must have thrilled to hear those words. “Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” Evidently the choice had never been made before, but now the gods of Moab are to be left behind forever, and the Lord God of Israel is to be her God to the end.
How this story comforts the hearts of parents who see with agony a son or daughter becoming enamored with one whom they well know is unsuited as a life-partner. How helpless is the parent in such a case. God is our only resource, and what relief to turn the whole matter to Him in prayer; and if, as may indeed be the case, this false step is only the fruit of sin and failure on the part of the parent; what comfort to turn to these holy pages and drink in such a story; and see how once again our gracious, loving, patient, Mighty God turns our failure to His Own glory, and makes the eater again yield meat, and the strong once more give sweetness.
There may indeed be an agony of remorse at such a time. Bitter sorrow may, and doubtless will, follow; so that the aged mother asks that her name “Naomi” meaning “Pleasant” be changed to “Marah” meaning “Bitter”. And can there be help in such a calamity? Yes, the story of Ruth brings back to the brokenhearted parent both faith and hope.
And grace crowns all; grace gives the young widow another husband: Boaz, “Strength”, in place of Mahlon, “Great Weakness”; a husband whose own Mother was a Gentile, and who can enter as none other could into all the innermost thoughts of her heart, and understand. Grace gives a little baby to that girl who so recently had been a poor, lonely, childless, hopeless, young widow; and Grace comforts the heart of the sad, lonely, bitter, old widow, also. And that little child is the grandfather of David, perhaps the brightest ornament of all Jewish history; until came “great David’s greater Son.”
Soft the voice of mercy sounded,
Sweet as music to the ear,
“Grace abounds, where sin abounded;”
This the word that soothed our fears.
Grace, the sweetest sound we know,
Grace to sinners here below.
Grace, we sing, God’s grace through Jesus;
Grace, the spring of peace to man;
Grace, that from each sorrow frees us;
Grace too high for thought to scan;
Grace, the theme of God’s own love;
Grace, the theme all themes above.
(T. Kelly)