Meditations in Ruth : 2. Know who you are
Ruth 1:2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
So we have considered the fact that the players in this little story have been motivated to leave Israel and flee to Moab because of a famine in the land. We considered that a famine is a trial that tests the people of God, as well as being an indication of the removal of the Lord’s hand of blessing from the land. We also suggested that spiritually this was a barren time for Israel, these early days of the judges.
But let’s consider who these people are. Now names were very important in the Hebrew culture and a parent would give a child a name in the light of the present circumstances or of what they hoped for the child. Now Elimelech means “(My) God is King”. Now that is a powerful statement of testimony which suggests that years earlier when this man was born his parents wanted to make this bold affirmation of faith and belief in God’s sovereignty. With a name like that this man should have turned to the Lord and declared, “You are king, you are ruler of all things so, Lord, what are you doing? Why is this happening to us?” Instead he simply fled the land and there is no record of him having sought the Lord.
Naomi’s name simply means ‘pleasant’ (see v.20 and footnote). That is nice but someone neutral. No high expectations in her parents perhaps. In what follows we will see the man with the name declaring God’s sovereignty forgetting that, and the woman who is pleasant getting swept along by circumstances and yet winning the affection of another woman. She must indeed have been pleasant.
Now Mahlon simply means sick or sickly which suggests that the boy born to this couple already had a weak disposition. Kilion (or Chilion) appears to mean ‘pining’ again a somewhat negative meaning that could possibly be stretched to wonder if it meant the mother or father pined for something better for the land. Whatever the meaning, neither of these boys had been given names of faith; that had been the state of the parents some years earlier at least. (So from one generation that declared “God is king” the wheel has turned and the nation drifted so that weak names or names of little faith are given in the next generation.)
Now there is one more irony in the names in this verse. The land around Bethlehem was known as Ephrathah, and hence they are called Ephrathites, but the crucial information is that the name Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’. So here they are, the chosen people of God with a heritage that says God is king, and they live in a place that speaks of provision – and there is none, there is only famine. Now of course it is quite possible that they felt similarly to Gideon who lived in this same period of the judges and who, when challenged by an angel, asked, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us.” (Jud 6:13)
But there is a problem to that supposition, because they fled to Moab. It had been “Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time”, who had “sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor.” (Num 22:4,5) in order to call down curses on Israel and had eventually led them astray by their women. No, Moab was no friend of Israel. Admittedly it had been the place where Moses died (Deut 34:5) but that in itself speaks of it as a place of death and discipline. No Moab is not a good place to go to!
So ultimately why did this family go there? They went because there was a famine in Judah. No, it is more than that! They went because they did not believe who they were. They were the people of God and God had promised blessings on them if they followed him. This family, even if the rest didn’t, could have turned to God and sought Him, but they didn’t.
For a classic example of someone who, by contrast, did know who he was, we have to go a few generations on from this family to David who, when he heard about a Philistine giant frightening the army of God, asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) Observe the langue: “this uncircumcised Philistine.” That is David’s way of saying, this man who has no relationship with the living God. Everything about David in that episode indicates that he knew who he was and because of who he was, the Lord would be with him and the Lord would defeat this giant.
Now this man and his family face another sort of ‘giant’, something that threatens their very lives, a famine. Yes, there is a genuine threat, but we the people of God must learn what Abraham learnt, that God will be our Provider (Gen 22;14) and if He isn’t (as Gideon pointed out) then there is a reason and the remedy almost certainly is in our hands – and it is repentance. Is the Lord providing for His church today? Are we able to stand with David’s certainty, or will we turn away to the world’s provision and find it is an empty cistern (Jer 2:13)