Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
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 Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.Ruth 1:4
We strain our eyes to know something of the long line of the purple hills of Moab, which form the background at once of the history and of the geography of Palestine. It is a satisfaction to feel that there is one tender association which unites them with the familiar history and scenery of Judaea—that from their recesses, across the deep gulf which separates the two regions, came the gentle ancestress of David and the Messiah.
References.—I. 6-22.—S. Cox, The Book of Ruth, p. 63. I. 8.—W. M. Statham, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 60.
Good dispositions love not to pleasure themselves with the disadvantage of others; and had rather be miserable alone, than to draw in partners to their sorrow.... As, contrarily, ill minds care not how many companions they have in misery; if themselves miscarry, they could be content if all the world were enwrapped with them in the same distress.
Perplexed Naomi, torn with contrary feelings; which tried her the more—Orpah who left her, or Ruth who remained? Orpah who was a pain, or Ruth who was a charge?
Orpah kissed Naomi and went back to the world. There was sorrow in the parting, but Naomi's sorrow was more for Orpah's sake than for her own. Pain there would be, but it was the pain of a wound, not the yearning regret of love. It was the pain we feel when friends disappoint us and fall in our esteem. That kiss of Orpah was no loving token; it was but the hollow profession of those who use smooth words, that they may part company with us, with least trouble and discomfort to themselves. Orpah's tears were but the dregs of affection; she clasped her mother-in-law once for all, that she might not cleave to her.
References.—I. 16.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2680. J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 185. I. 16, 17.—C. Bickersteth, The Shunammite, p. 47. I. 16-22.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, etc., p. 259.
I. As we read the simple Bible story, how does the beauty of the character of that Moabitish woman attract us? Her gentleness, love, faithfulness, courage, industry, patience, obedience—all stand out before us and win us. They were found in her in the various circumstances which drew them forth because she was 'steadfastly minded'.
II. 'Steadfastly minded,' there was the secret of her noble life. What a contrast with her sister Orpah, weeping, kissing, but going back, or with Saul, impatient, unable to wait God's time, breaking His commandment, and falling lower and lower into sin. 'Steadfastly minded,' you all recognize the importance of this in earthly things; you know that a man who enters upon any work, or business, or profession, with only half his heart in it, never really succeeds—is never really happy in it. Steadfastness leads to self-denial, energy, perseverance, effort, pressing on; and therefore in all earthly things we recognize its value and importance; and we know that certain failure sooner or later awaits those who lack it.
III. The things which concern your never-dying souls, on which such infinite, eternal destinies depend, surely here, above all, is it necessary that all should be steadfastly minded, and no less so, that there must be continual self-denial. We must take up our cross daily, and follow in the road that is so narrow, through the battle that is so hard, and the dangers that are so many, until we receive the crown that is so glorious.
—W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 167.
From Pleasure to Affliction
Ten years form a considerable portion of every man's life. Ten years in sharp conflict with the world, its labours, laws, and ways, will give a man a very different opinion of life to what he entertained in the days of his youth. When he took his departure into the far-off land to seek a place in the battle of life, he was carried along with the crowd of money-getters, pleasure-seekers, and ambition-hunters, and at the end of ten years, if not before, he will be ready to admit that affliction, barrenness, and want, underlie all its outward glory and tempting delight. Ten years will be enough to change its pleasant things into bitterness, to blunt the keen zest for life, and it may be, under God's grace, to bring back the soul from the land of bondage, and to fill it with a sense of the great importance of living for that which is beyond. Man goes away, God brings home. The departure into Moab is all our own, but the return is His with Whom we have to do.
'Call me not Naomi, call me Mara.' Call me not Naomi the pleasant one, but Mara the bitter one, 'for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty.'
I. Is not this the Cry of many a Heart?—Is not this the sad experience of thousands who have drunk deeply at life's fountain? The far-off land of worldliness in which I dwelt has yielded only barrenness and want. My years have been wasted, my opportunities lost, and that which seemed sweet and pleasant has turned to bitterness. I have mourning for mirth, dishonour for honour, sour for sweet. Oh, had I served my God with the zeal I served the world, I would not have to mourn a past that has been, as far as my eternal interests are concerned, a failure! 'Call me not Naomi, call me Mara.'
II. But after all, as Regards this Life, is it not better to be called Mara than Naomi?—Is there nothing good in this change of name? Does Mara bring more future blessedness than Naomi? Well, for life to be pleasant and sweet to a man he must have his own way. He must be at full liberty to select his studies, pursuits, pleasures, companions. He cannot endure to be disappointed, thwarted, foiled. He must enter the land of Moab and drink deeply of its snares and lusts and temptations. And what is the inevitable result? In his abundance he forgets the God Who giveth all, and Who intended all to be used in a different way, and for another purpose. But when disappointment, failure, affliction, confront him, then they reveal to him that life was never intended for him to have his own way. Naomi is changed into Mara, pleasant into bitter, and he beholds two wills in conflict, Divine and human, God's and his. He has been walking in the light of his own eyes, and not after the will of the Almighty. He sees that if he pursues this course the conflict must end, as far as he is concerned, in future and unutterable loss. Seeing the vanity and emptiness of earthly things, he comes to himself, he discovers that it is far better to submit his will to God's. There is a returning from the land of Moab unto his Father's house.
III. When the Change comes, when Naomi becomes Mara, what is our Work?—To come out of Moab. To leave the vain and empty surroundings, which in the past have proved such an attraction to us. For Naomi there was no rest, no comfort, no profit in Moab. Its sweetness had become bitter. Enjoyment had gone, wealth had vanished, and, like the prodigal of old, she came to herself, she remembered that there was enough and to spare in the Father's house, and so she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return. From sorrow to repentance, bitterness to decision. Moab had become distasteful, she will arise and depart to the old home of childhood and youth. Whereupon 'she went forth out of the place'. Thus, when God in His mercy wakens up in us a sense of the vanity and emptiness of life, turns its sweet into bitter, let us depart from that which holds us earthbound, and, while accepting the change in our lot with patience and resignation, let us struggle to rise from the lowness and deadness around us, to the earnestness and newness of life.
References.—I. 20.—C. Leach, Mothers of the Bible, p. 107. I. 20, 21.—T. Snape, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 33. II. 1-23.—S. Cox, The Book of Ruth, p. 83. II. 3, 4.—J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 346. II. 4.—F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. ii. p. 201. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. vi. p. 197.
And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
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 that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.
Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.
And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.
The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;
Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.
And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.
And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.
And Ruth said, 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.
When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.