Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Ruth 1:14-22

Perhaps the women were sitting together and weeping loudly at the thought of adding the loss of their close friendship upon their already devastated lives as Naomi continues to persuade her daughters-in-law to return to their families in Moab rather than journey with her for an uncertain future in Bethlehem. Orpah chose the ordinary course of reasonable action and returned to her home in hopes of perhaps again falling in love, remarrying, and starting her life over.

But Ruth chose the extraordinary course of faith in what was likely her conversion moment. In her first recorded words in the book, Ruth responded with a faith perhaps even greater than Abraham’s. Like Abraham, she in faith left her family and homeland for an uncertain future. But, unlike Abraham, God never spoke to her and she trusted in the providence of God as a brand-new believer who had never been with God’s people or in God’s presence in Israel.

Ruth professed her loyalty to God as one of only three non-Hebrews who do so in the entire Old Testament (the other two are Rahab the converted prostitute in Joshua 2:11 and Naaman the healed leper in 2 Kings 5:15–17). Furthermore, she vowed herself to Naomi even in death, thereby pledging a life in which her geography, theology, and genealogy would be fully entrusted to the providential hand of God. All of this occurred despite the fact that she was a Moabite who was likely to face racism in Israel and constant danger with only the help of an old, broke, lonely, and bitter woman. In Ruth’s decision, we see that in the new birth of conversion we are given a second family among God’s people that, despite their faults and flaws, is sometimes more precious and helpful than our family of birth.

The first chapter concludes with few details of Ruth and Naomi’s roughly 50-mile journey from Moab to Bethlehem, a place pregnant with meaning, as it is where Jesus would later be born as promised (Micah 5:2). They arrived in late spring or early summer, perhaps in April, during a season of hope, bounty, and joy as the famine was over and the hesed of God had come.

Upon their arrival, the women in town who hadn’t seen Naomi for many years were abuzz and curious to know how she had fared. Naomi informed them that though her name meant pleasant or sweet, God’s providential hand had made her life hard and her disposition Mara, or bitter. Many have criticized Naomi’s bitterness and stood at a distance to criticize her emotional state. But, if we’re honest, we must confess that at varying seasons of our life we can sympathize with the emotional state of Naomi. She married a fool who led her to Moab where she had no family, friends, or fellowship. She hadn’t been to a worship service with God’s people or gotten much if any Bible teaching in a decade. Her husband died, her sons married godless women, and then her sons died as well, leaving her without a single grandchild. Naomi had descended from an affluent woman to a devastated old woman with no chance of remarriage, children, or job skills to even put food on her table—a picture of desperation and loss rivaling Job.

Nonetheless, Naomi is to be admired for her brutal honesty. Unlike so many religious types whose religiosity doesn’t allow them to accept reality, Naomi spoke frankly and truthfully about her heart. Furthermore, she did so publicly in hopes of being helped and healed by the hesed of God’s people and presence. In Naomi, we see that although we each will likely arrive at a place of bitterness because of our brokenness, God invites us to be honest with Him and others if there is to be any hope of our lives being healed so that our future has the hope of not repeating our past.

  • Naomi and Ruth went to great effort to be with God’s people. What sacrifices and changes need to be made in your life so you can be with God’s people?
  • Naomi was bitter against God when Elimelech was largely responsible for her situation. Are you at all bitter against God for something that someone else did? In your past or present? How might you heal up from that hurt as Naomi did? Oftentimes our view of God can be distorted by experiences with sinful people. This is especially true in regard to fathers and husbands. This question is intended to begin to uncover if there is any bitterness toward God or lack of trust in God’s goodness because of painful personal experience.