In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi,and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Be assured. It was no picnic living in “the days when the judges ruled.” After the days of conquering the land under Joshua, but before the days of Israel’s kings (Saul, David, Solomon, etc.), God’s people lived in a bit of “no man’s land.” Yes, they had God’s Law and yes, they could have the priests teach them the law. Yet it appears from what we can read in Judges that most people — in the absence of a king’s leadership — “did what was right in his own eyes” (cf. Judg.21:15). It was too easy to make up your own rules.
Out of the cycles of (1) sinning, (2) the Lord’s judgment through oppressors, (3) repentance and deliverance by a “judge” (e.g., outlined in Judg.2:16-23), the next O.T. book is Ruth, set in this turbulent era. The story of Elimelech’s family, or what was left of it after he and his two sons died in Moab. Like Abram (cf. Gen.12:10-20) who left the land to which he had been called, Elimelech took his family to a place where Israel’s God was not worshipped. In disobedience to God’s law, his sons take “foreign” wives for themselves. It seems there was no clear cut commitment to righteousness or covenant faithfulness within Elimelech (unlike Job), which perhaps explains why it is no surprise difficult tragedy struck.
Quite suddenly, left alone, there are three grieving widows, an embittered mother-in-law and two younger, perhaps confused daughters-in-law. Now what? A bleak picture to be sure. Yet as we will see, simple faith in the Lord can produce fresh life, can move God’s gracious hand. There is a God who delights in anyone who will believe He is a rewarding God.