We again look at a small family, who left the Promised Land of God’s old covenant people to seek an easier life. It wasn’t a far departure, but it was unnecessary and away from the people and worship of the true and living God. (Remember that under the old covenant, worship of God was closely connected with the place God had chosen for the tabernacle or temple.) What happened to that family?
First, Elimelech died. We must be cautious here, because the Holy Spirit does not say that his death was due to being in Moab or because he failed to return to the Promised Land. Physical suffering and death may come for a variety of reasons. You can be living for God’s glory and still suffer or die. But for Naomi, this was a great tragedy, regardless of its cause. For a woman in ancient times, like Naomi, the death of her husband had serious financial consequences. Most women had no job they could fall back on, and there was no insurance or social security or welfare system. A widow basically had three options: to return to her parent’s home (if she could), to beg, or to become a prostitute. In addition, Naomi and her sons are resident aliens, away from family and the people of God. All that Naomi can depend on, in a worldly sense, is support from her two sons.
Second, Mahlon and Kilion married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. This is to be expected in the circumstances. Young people tend to make friends and fall in love with available companions of the opposite sex. If there are not godly people available, they will be guided by mere physical and emotional attraction. Marriage to anyone from a Canaanite people group was forbidden by the law (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Although Moabites were not Canaanites, the Lord restricted them from entering the congregation of his people, even for ten generations (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Later in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, intermarriage with Moabites was considered to be a cause of guilt before the Lord (Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:1-3). The Lord wanted his people separate from those who worshiped idols. How much influence Naomi had over her sons at this point is unclear. Please do not blame either parents or children for the choices that the other generation makes! Parents and children are alike responsible to God for their choices. And do not expect God to bail you out of unwise marital choices! For every Ruth, there is also an Orpah. Now Naomi has to deal with the complications of having Moabite daughters-in-law. Seemingly, they got along well, and everything appears to be viable for Naomi.
Third, Naomi’s sons die by the time they had been in Moab for ten years. Again, the text does not say that her sons were being punished for sin. But it is a reminder that death can strike younger adults. Two of my best friends died around the age of thirty. Seek the Lord while you are young! Now Naomi is left without any provision in a foreign country. Picture her grief and fear as she stands beside three graves. Her hopelessness is accentuated in the story by not mentioning her name. In the Hebrew text (cf. ESV, NASV), she is now simply “the woman”; she has lost her family and with it her identity.
What hope was there for Naomi at this point? Was there any? She was living as a resident alien among an ungodly people and without the protection that God and his law covenant provided for the widow. Had this rushing river of tragedy proved that God has abandoned her? Before you rush to give a “spiritual sounding answer”, please stop and feel the horror of her situation! The Bible seems too good to some people, because they fail to read it as a story of real life. However, the story is filled with many stories of suffering and hardship for even the best of believers. Stop and read thoughtfully. Yet, the good news is that God calls wandering people back to him, regardless of the reasons and ways of their wandering. If you feel “alone in Moab” like Naomi, God welcomes you back home through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. He says, “Come home! Find friendship and joy with me and my people!” This good news can be yours today. Don’t let pride hinder you. Return to the true and living God today.
Grace and peace, David