1Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.
2The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.
During the time period where Israel was ruled by judges (just after Joshua and before the period of the kings), there was a great famine. This led Elimelech of Bethlehem to travel with his wife and two sons to the land of Moab in hope that they could find food and stay alive. His wife’s name was Naomi, and his sons’ names were Mahlon and Chilion.
3Then Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left with her two sons.
4They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years.
5Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.
The family stayed in Moab, and eventually Elimelech died. Noami’s sons took Moabite women as their wives, Orpah and Ruth, and they lived there for ten more years. Then the husbands of both Ruth and Orpah died, and Noami had now lost her husband and two sons. This had to be extremely difficult and devastating to lose her entire family within this period of her life, particularly in a place not her homeland.
6Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the LORD had visited His people in giving them food.
7So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.
Word traveled to Moab that God had been good to Judah, providing food and thereby ending the famine. So she arose with Ruth and Orpah to go back to Judah.
8And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the LORD deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me.
9"May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband." Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
10And they said to her, "No, but we will surely return with you to your people."
As they were returning, Naomi said that her two daughters-in-law could return to their own families in Moab, for such was their homeland, not Judah. She acknowledged their kindness toward her, and she wished them well in their own lives in their own land as they would seek husbands there. She kissed them, and they wept. They did not want to leave her, for they cared for her and loved her deeply. It seems that she had become more of family to them than any that they had back in Moab. They wanted to go with her and return with her to her people in Judah.
11But Naomi said, "Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
12"Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons,
13would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me."
Naomi continued to encourage them to return to Moab, for it is not that she had anything to offer them in Judah. It is not that she was pregnant and could offer her sons to them once they were grown, as if that made much sense anyway. Even if she got married immediately and conceived immediately, her sons would always be too young for Ruth and Orpah to marry. Thus, Naomi wanted them to go where they could marry and bear children. Given that marrying and having children was a large part of security and dignity for women in this time, to risk not finding husbands was a serious issue and concern, and Naomi feared that this is exactly what would happen to her beloved daughters-in-law if they came with her to Judah, given that they were Moabitesses. Naomi, being much older, would have a far more difficult time of getting by, let alone being remarried. She acknowledged that God had, for whatever reason, allowed difficulties to come her way. She did not want Ruth and Orpah to suffer as a result of her suffering.
14And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15Then she said, "Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law."
16But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back 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.
17"Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me."
18When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
At this point, both Orpah and Ruth cry, but only Ruth clung to Naomi. Orpah decided to kiss Naomi good-bye and take her up on her advice to return to Moab. But Ruth refused to leave Naomi. She had great concern for her mother-in-law and would not accompany her sister-in-law back to Moab. Naomi was in great duress, and she didn’t feel that she could abandon her in her time of need. Ruth emphasized her commitment to Naomi. Though not a Jew, she would adopt Jewish customs and follow the God of the Jews. She would live with her, travel with her, and eventually die with her and be buried with her. Before the God of the Jews, she committed herself to stick with Naomi until death. Naomi, upon seeing this, didn’t encourage Ruth to leave her, but she kept quiet.
19So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, "Is this Naomi?"
20She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
21"I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"
22So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
Ruth and Naomi traveled to Bethlehem, and their arrival stirred the city. Many remembered Naomi from years ago, and it was remarkable to see her so many years later. She refers to herself as “bitter,” for God had allowed much difficulty to come her way. She had left for Moab with a husband and sons, and she returned with none. She understood that God was ultimately in control of these events, and that God does allow and appoint trials and afflictions for His people for our refinement and ultimate good (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:12, Psalm 119:71). If God does cause us grief, then He will also have compassion (Lamentations 3:32-33). He doesn’t “enjoy” watching us suffer, for He suffers with us (Colossians 1:24). In the life to come, He will see to it that there is no pain or grief (Revelation 21:4).