A modern-day parable tells of a frog being slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if the frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out of harm’s way immediately. But if the frog is put into tepid water that is then slowly brought to a boil, it will not perceive the danger. The frog will acclimatise to the increasing temperature until it is cooked to death.
Not long after moving to Moab, Naomi becomes a widow (Ruth 1:3). Things have not turned out the way she hoped. Widowed and alone, she now has to raise her two boys in a foreign land all by herself. The logical solution is for her to return to the Promised Land immediately.
Instead of heading home, Naomi remains in Moab. Elimelek and Naomi intended to live in Moab “for a while” (1:1), but it turns out to be a substantial “ten years” (1:4). Their temporal sojourn has become permanent residency. Settled down in Moab, her two sons marry Moabite women (1:4; 4:10).
God had commanded the Jews not to marry people from the neighbouring nations: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your children away from following me to serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 7:3–4, see also Exodus 34:15–16). Moabite women were reputed to be immoral and idolatrous (Numbers 25:1–2). Imagine the spiritual and moral quagmire Naomi found herself in. Idolatrous and permissive, Moabite culture was not the environment to raise children in (Nehemiah 13:23–26). You take on the values of the culture you live in.
Ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, leaving Naomi “without her two sons and her husband” (Ruth 1:5). This signals the tragic end of the Elimelek family line. In ancient Jewish society, a woman’s sense of security and dignity was tied to her husband and sons. Naomi is now devoid of any descendants and thus security; an heirless widow is the epitome of the hopeless poor. She has no hope for the future of her family. If Elimelek’s family name is to carry on, there needs to be an heir.
As for the deaths of the three men, we can only surmise why they died, for the Bible does not tell us. Jewish tradition says their deaths were God’s punishment for their sins—Elimelek for leaving the Promised Land, and Mahlon and Kilion for marrying Moabites. That the two sons were married for 10 years without fathering any children also points to the disciplining hand of God. A barren womb is among the list of covenantal curses (Deuteronomy 28:15, 18).
The story begins with tragedy. This family makes a bad decision and exchanges one famine for three funerals. All that is left of the once-complete family are three widows—Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. But no male heir.
If you were Naomi, would you allow your children to marry people of a different ethnicity and culture? Would you stop them from marrying those of different religious affiliations (Ruth 1:4)? Why or why not?
What are the benefits and dangers of assimilating the values of the community we live in? How can we ensure that we adopt the good and avoid the bad?