It’s a heart-rending scene: Their husbands are dead. Their prospects in Moab are bleak. But a rumor stirs in the fields: The devastating famine that brought Naomi and her daughters-in-law from Bethlehem to Moab has ended. It’s time for Naomi to go home.
Naomi’s daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpah insist on returning with her to Judah, but Naomi urges them to remain with their families in Moab. Orpah tearfully follows Naomi’s wishes, but Ruth emphatically refuses. “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge,” she insists. “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law is beautiful and inspiring. But by remaining with Naomi, she makes a profound personal sacrifice. To really understand the tremendous risk Ruth took by sticking with Naomi, we need to understand the relationship between the people of Israel and Moab.
Why did Ruth stay with Naomi?
How might Ruth’s identity as a Moabite affect her experience in Judah? I can find the answer by studying other events involving the people and region of Moab—and the Factbook in Logos Bible Software helps me quickly find those passages. If you don’t have Logos, stick around—the insights I uncover here will help you grasp just how profound Ruth’s decision to stick with Naomi really was.
In Logos, I select “Factbook” from the Tools menu and then type “Moab” in the search bar. Logos pulls up media, library results, dictionary articles, and more from across my library. One of the results under the category “Events” catches my eye: Numbers 21–25 records numerous incidents involving Israel and Moab.
When I click on the hyperlinked text, the passages open in my preferred Bible translation. I read that Israel, while journeying to the promised land, defeated Sihon, the king of the Amorites (Num 21:21–31). Fearing a similar fate, the Moabite king Balak hired the prophet Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel (Num 22). But Balaam, confronted by the living God of the Israelites, instead declared favor on Israel before God, and in so doing infuriated Balak (Num 24:10). Deuteronomy 23:3 declares that the Moabites were forbidden from entering “the assembly of the Lord” because of the actions of Balak and Balaam. Clearly, this early incident overshadowed the relationship between these two nations.
I also discover that the Israelites intermarried with the Moabites and began worshiping Moabite gods. In Numbers 25, God commanded Moses to stamp out the Moabite influence: “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel” (Num 25:4). Surely such history would have caused any Moabite to hesitate at Israel’s borders.
As I continue to consult events from the Factbook and read corresponding biblical passages, I also discover that the Moabite king Eglon formed an alliance with the Ammonites and Amalekites in the period of the judges. Together, they rose up against Israel and subjected them to a humiliating defeat. God thwarted the Moabite menace through the judge Ehud, who assassinated Eglon (Judg 3).
These examples convince me that Moab and Israel had a troubled relationship. When I consult Factbook results from dictionaries, I find this to be true. The article “Moab, Moabites” in Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, for instance, confirms that the two nations warred off and on throughout their history, just as I suspected.
Understanding this tumultuous history puts Ruth’s words in Ruth 1:16–17 in context. Her devotion to Naomi came with a cost. She left her own people to live in another land where, at best, she would be considered an outsider—at worst, an enemy.
Think about that.
Ruth knew of the tumultuous history these nations shared, but she was willing to stick it out with Naomi anyway. Her determination to remain with Naomi tells us much about her character and her love for her mother-in-law.
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