I was at the airport recently to bid farewell to an old classmate who was moving with his family to another country. Left without work for more than a year, he eventually found a job in a city known for its opposition to the Christian faith. But the pay was good, he reasoned, and his children only needed to be there for two years.
The story of Ruth starts with Elimelek making the difficult decision to relocate his family to Moab. It has become impossible to put food on the table because of a famine in the land (Ruth 1:1). Elimelek lives “in the days when the judges ruled” (1:1). We are not told when exactly this was within the 300-year period (about 1380–1050 BC) between the death of Joshua (Joshua 24:29) and the beginning of Saul’s reign as king (1 Samuel 13:1). But we know that this was a treacherous time. It was characterised by political instability, decadent immorality, and spiritual idolatry; it was a time when “everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). God’s people had turned from Him to worship idols (2:10–13; 3:5–6).
God had warned that if His people were unfaithful, He would discipline them by sending famine on the land (Deuteronomy 11:16–17). That “the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” later on (Ruth 1:6) hints that this famine was God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness (Leviticus 26:18–20; Amos 4:6–9).
Elimelek, whose name means “God is my king”, ironically does not acknowledge God as King. He has not accepted God’s disciplining hand through the famine. If he had, the appropriate response would have been repentance, not relocation (Deuteronomy 30:1–3). Instead of repenting, calling on God for mercy, and trusting Him to provide food in the Promised Land, Elimelek designs his own solution. Moving his whole family to Moab, however, will prove to be a poor decision.
How strange that there should be a famine in Bethlehem, for Bethlehem means “house of bread”. On the other hand, God called Moab “my washbasin” (Psalm 108:9). The residual filth from washing makes the washbasin an object of mockery and contempt. Metaphorically, Elimelek is leaving “the house of bread” for a wasteland, a garbage dump!
Major decisions in life cannot be based entirely on economic or financial considerations. Spiritual considerations are imperative. Moab may be a good place to put bread on the table, but it is not conducive to living a holy life or raising godly children. Moab may offer material sustenance, even worldly success, but it is a hindrance to spiritual growth, a threat to spiritual survival.
If you have to put food on the table, would you decide differently from Elimelek? What are some important considerations that would affect your decision?
Have you, like Elimelek, left Bethlehem (moved out of God’s will) to go to Moab, a dirty “washbasin” (Psalm 108:9)? Isn’t it time to return home?