As was explained, Elimelech and Naomi did wrong in removing to the country of Moab on account of there being a famine in the land. Rather than remain under the rod of God in contrition of heart, as confessing that he, too, deserved God’s strokes, and as urging his brethren to repent in order that God might be feared and the plague be lifted, he chose to eat his bread to the full with the heathen. As was explained, the Lord laid His hand upon them also there in Moab. First Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. The Lord had spoken, but Naomi failed to be instructed, for she prolonged her residence in Moab and even allowed her sons to take them wives of the women of Moab. These were forbidden marriages. ”Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.”. That Ruth was won for Christ, does not make Chilion’s marrying her right. God was displeased with this marriage, necessarily so as it clashed with His moral will as indicated in His law. And the death of Ruth’s husband may be taken as the manifestation of the divine displeasure. It is always wicked to marry unbelievers. The argument that the unbelieving spouse may be an elect, and if so will be brought into the Kingdom of grace through the good confession of the believing mate and that therefore the marriage, though contrary to God’s revealed will, is nevertheless pleasing in his sight is as foolish as it is carnal. Whether the unbelieving mate is an elect is known only to God. Then, certainly, it is not God’s will that His people marry unbelievers in order to bring them the gospel. This can be done out of wedlock as well as in it. Here the Scripture applies, “The secret things—in this case the election or reprobation of the unbelieving spouse— belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed—here, the will of God to the effect that his people refrain from marrying unbelievers—belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of the law,”may do also that word of the law that prohibits believers to be unequally yoked with unbelievers also in marriage, to be sure. Let all those who contemplate such forbidden marriages, consider that what impels them is not the fervent desire to save an unbeliever but carnal lust. God’s people need not be troubled about the salvation of the elect in the sense that they allow the thought to take root in their souls that they must marry unbelievers with a view to saving them, if possible.
Naomi, as was observed, refused to be instructed, when the Lord slew her husband. Though a God-fearing woman—we cannot judge otherwise—she lingered, after the marriage of her sons, ten more years in that heathen land. So the Lord spoke again. He slew her two sons. “And she was left alone of her two sons and her husband.” Then she spiritually discerned that the Lord had testified against her. For we read, “Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab. The sacred narrator adds, “for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread.” Doubtless these tidings came to her before the death of her sons. But she had refused to bestir herself in that, though as to the heart of her dispositions a true believer, she was still carnal. Perhaps she had also been restrained by the reluctance of her sons and daughters-in-law to leave Moab. But now a worse calamity befell her in the death of her sons. As applied to her heart by God’s Spirit, it brought her under the conviction of sin, and she resolved to return, having heard also that the plague of the famine had been lifted and that the favor of God again was upon her people. That was an added inducement. The state of Naomi’s mind and heart, at this juncture may be known from the complaint that was drawn out of her by the expression of astonishment on the part of Bethlehem on her return to that city. We read, “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?” To this she replied, “Call me not Naomi (the lovely, the gracious one. Such is the meaning of this name), call me Mara (the bitter one): for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord caused me to return empty: why then call me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” She had concluded that the name “Naomi” did not become her, considering her present plight. There was a great hurt in her soul, a piercing pain, galling and cutting, the awareness of which was bitter indeed. So they had better call her “bitter” now.
The sensation of anguish and pain that the Scriptures call bitterness of heart is not peculiar to unjust men. God’s people, too, know bitterness of heart. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord and wept sore—prayed for a man-child,. Hannah, though she prayed in bitterness of soul, was not angry with God. Nor was Naomi angry with God. She was never more spiritual than when she gave expression to that lamentation. “The Lord hath dealt bitterly with me. The Almighty hath afflicted me.” This is an acknowledgement that the calamity that had befallen her in the country of Moab was God’s work. The wicked say that health and sickness, prosperity and adversity come by chance. Except when God lays His hand upon them. Then in their wrath they curse God and thereby confess, despite themselves, that. God is, and that He is the author of their troubles. But Naomi’s lamentation was the language of faith. Consider this expression occurring in it. “The Lord hath testified against me.” That precisely was her great sorrow, and not that she had to bury her kin in Moab, or, as she expressed it, that “I went out full—full of family happiness and of joy in her sons—and the Lord hath caused me to return empty”—empty now of all these. That, too, tore at her heart. How could it be otherwise. But it was not her primary grief. She made mention of it solely because she stood firmly in the faith that it was a divine affliction through which Jehovah had testified against her. It was not necessary that she say what He had testified, as it was evident from the grief that had been her portion in Moab that His testimony to her was to the effect that her migration to that country to escape the rod of God was a grievous sin. That this speech of God was not only manifested in her but sanctified unto her heart as well, so that she received it as truth, truly repented and was now bewailing her sin before God is evident. She brought forth fruit worthy of repentance. Firstly, she forsook Moab, and returned to God and His church, to His sanctuary, priests and altars. Her return was a good work of God in her. This she also acknowledged and gave God the glory. Said she, “I went out full,” that was her evil doing, “but the Lord brought me home again empty.” Had not He had mercy upon her, she would have remained in Moab. Soon after her arrival there, she must have developed a strong liking for that country. Her husband died, and she was lonely, still her thoughts turned not to Canaan, and this though her sons had attained a marriageable age. The result was that they married Moabitish women. From this point of view of nature, what was there to induce her to return after their death? Doubtless she lived well in Moab. She was beloved by her daughters-in-law. The Moabites were friendly. In Moab was buried her kin. In Canaan so far as she could know, her possessions were permanently lost to her so that nothing but poverty and reproaches was awaiting her there. It is plain that, if she was to leave Moab, the Lord would have to bring her home again. And He did so. But He had to resort to the extremist measures to get her out of that country. So rooted was she to its soil. That she finally did leave as a true penitent is also evident from the following. When they were come to Bethlehem all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? What they said—Is this Naomi?—is an exclamation of astonishment. It belongs in the category of expressions that escapes men’s lips when their souls are agitated by what the eye sees as well as by what the ear hears.
Naomi had been gone for ten years. During that time her appearance had changed. The bitterness of her heart had left its marks upon her person. It had extinguished the light in her countenance and paled her brow. Her head was bowed. It had added years to her life so that she had grown old before her time. They remembered how she had looked at the time of her departure. And they saw that the contrast was startlingly great. Seeing her and knowing her sad story, they were moved about her, and they said, “Is this Naomi?” But they were moved about her and the doleful issues of her sin, while they should have been troubled for God’s sake about the forbidden way in which she all those years had walked. Their spiritual callousness vexed her soul. She was that spiritually sensitive at the time. If they would weep for her, let them try to understand the character of her grief. The Lord testified against her. God was against her. She had fallen from His grace yet not really. He, who was the light of her countenance, now hid His face from her. For she had sinned and was being crushed by the weight thereof. She wanted God, His witness that she was forgiven. But God kept silence. That was her primary grief. She wanted them to know all that. So she replied to their whisperings. Call me not Naomi. . . . call me Mara. For Jehovah hath testified against me. The Almighty hath afflicted me. So did she justify God and abase self in the hearing of them all. She was spiritually consistent in every part of her reply. She says, I went, me hath God afflicted; not, My husband and sons went, and I followed as in duty bound. She utters not a word of accusation against her husband, but speaks as though the conception of the undertaking had originated in her. She makes no mention of the death of her husband and the withering away of her sons except in a Kind of veiled speech.
She was in a word, a true penitent. She was not yet praising God and thanking God for the pam of her afflictions, for the sorrow gendered by the memory of the death of her husband and sons. Yet she was disposed to praise, though she wept, and to smile through her tears. For she was truly penitent. The character of her primary grief was such that it worked in her a peaceable fruit of righteousness and therefore at bottom it was praise. She soon did praise in love. For the Lord manifested in her that she was forgiven. He gave her “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for heaviness.” To see this we must follow our story a little farther. Naomi with Ruth, her faithful companion, came to Bethlehem. How and where they found shelter against the elements is not stated. The sacred narrator selects only such details from the life of these two as are needful to him for bringing his story to its rightful conclusion. So he tells us that they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest, and thereupon introduces his readers to Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi’s deceased husband. Boaz was a “valiant hero” strong and capable in peace and in war like Gideon and Jephthah. And he possessed much wealth and property. Naomi was in dire, need, for she was now one of the poor in the land, who lived on the bounty of the rich, according to a right guaranteed them by a divine ordinance in Israel that receives statement atin this language, “When thou cuttest down thine harvest in thine field, and hast forgot a sheaf in the field, thou shalt not go again to fetch it: for it shall before the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow: that the Lord thy God may bless thee in all the works of thine hands. When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless and for the widow. When thou gatherest the grapes of thy vineyard, thou shalt not glean it afterward: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.” There were still other restrictions, “Thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thine harvest,” . But Ruth seems to have been ignorant of these laws. For she seeks and gains permission of her mother-in-law to go to the field and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight she should find grace. At least she seems not to have expected the observance of these ordinances by anyone. The Lord directed the feet of Ruth to the field of Boaz. This is the correct way of stating the matter as the Hebrew text reads, “And her lot met her on the field of Boaz.” Without knowing it she entered his field. As the day wore on, Boaz appeared on the scene of industry. The exchange of greeting between employer and employees is remarkable. “The Lord be with you,” said he to them, to which they replied, “The Lord bless thee.” According to the form of the words of these greetings, the master blessed his servants and the servants blessed their master. The master meant to do just that and likewise the servants, If not, they were guilty of taking the Lord’s name in vain. But Boaz feared God. And the servants, too, feared God, we like to believe. The fear of God operative in the hearts of master and servants! This is the only solution of the class struggle between capital and labor. Boaz surveyed his people and the labor and also the poor who gleaned in his field. Among the latter he noticed a strange maiden. It was Ruth. Turning to the overseer at his side, he said, “Whose damsel is this?” The overseer replied, “It is the Moabitish damsel, that came back with Naomi, out of the country of Moab.” The overseer knew Ruth, for the return of Naomi had been much talked about. And he praised her remarkable Industry. “She came and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house.” The overseer need tell him no more. If the handmaiden that stood before him was Ruth, the Moabitess, he knew all about her, since it had been fully shown him by others. He knew all that she had done unto Naomi, since the death of the latter’s husband. And he showed her such kindness, solely because of her spiritual excellence, that she could return to her mother-in-law with an ephah of barley. Having heard Ruth’s report of her experiences of the day in the field of Boaz, Naomi exclaims, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” This exclamation of Naomi is worthy of most careful attention. It shows that she was aware of having come into the possession of certain evidence that God was once more gracious unto her and has pardoned her sin. The Lord made Ruth find a friend in Boaz, the rich relative of her husband. God’s goodness manifested itself that conspicuously, that His anger must come to an end not only against her but even against her dear departed ones.