Yesterday I read the whole book of Ruth, (it is only 4 short chapters). Last night while mentally reviewing the book of Ruth, I started wondering about Naomi's husband Elimelech. He was an Ephrathite of Bethlehem. The injunction, directly from Jehovah, was that Israelites have no dealings with foreigners. The Moabites were singled out even though they were ancestrally related through Abraham and Lot. (Lot was Abraham’s nephew and one of Lot’s daughters was the mother of a child named Moab who became the people (nation) of the Moabites.)
So why would an Israelite man move to a foreign land that didn’t worship the true God? Again, it was famine that drove his decision, but did he consider the long-range effects? Could he have expected that his sons would become old enough to marry Moabite women -- something forbidden by Jehovah? Elimelech was already dead by the time his sons married, so his wife was left to deal with the fallout of his decision. There is also no mention of Naomi taking the dead bodies of her husband and sons back to the land of Israel for a rightful burial. Also not mentioned is how the men died. Moabites were known to be contentious with Israel. Did Moabite men attack Elimelech and later his two sons? Did they die of some disease? That latter option seems unlikely because it would have infected the women as well.
The fact is, the first chapter of Ruth makes no judgmental (editorial) remarks on how God felt. It merely states the facts of the event. We really don’t know the type of person Elimelech was. We do however see the shining conviction and determination of both Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth.
Coming back to Deuteronomy 23:3, this was a non-negotiable verdict against anyone from Moab coming Into the “congregation of Jehovah" and was without exception. Yet Ruth was a Moabite. And not only was she accepted but she came to be in the ancestral line leading to Jesus. This is yet more evidence of how exceptional faith is noticed and rewarded by the true God.
Lessons: I’ve gleaned two lessons. First (and probably foremost) is that no matter how bad things are, we shouldn’t allow circumstances to separate us from God. Elimelech moved to Moab probably because food was available. But look what he gave up. Look how he made circumstances ripe for his sons to marry foreign wives, thus disobeying Jehovah. Okay, so he needed to move, but his choice of where to move may have demonstrated a lack of trust in his God. Second lesson is a valuable one for those who feel worthless. Likely Ruth knew how God felt about Moabites, yet her admiration and love for her mother-in-law was so strong, she didn’t care about her own needs. She cared about her noble mother-in-law to the point of being full heartedly willing to serve Jehovah, abandoning her foreign ways. Likewise, those whose experiences have lead them to believe their own life is without hope can take courage in Ruth. She never expected such a rich reward by trusting in Jehovah. It is noteworthy that for all the books of the Bible that are named after a specific person, her’s is the only one named in memory of a non-Israelite.