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During the time of the Judges, when there was a famine in the land of Israel, Elimelech and Naomi of Bethlehem, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, went across the Jordan into Moab in the hope of making a living.
"In the days when The Judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah [see also Two Bethlehems] 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; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there." (Ruth 1:1-2 RSV)
While there, Naomi became a widow. Her two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth, but they too became widows after a few years. When Naomi heard that the famine was over in Israel, she decided to return home.
"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 bereft of her two sons and her husband."
Naomi urged her two daughters in law to remain in Moab, their own homeland, rather than go with her to Judah, which was Naomi's homeland. Orpah did so, but Ruth remained with Naomi.
"Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her." (Ruth 1:14 RSV)
Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem to a sympathetic welcome. Although they had endured much tragedy, it was The Lord who was guiding them back to a small town that would become world famous as the birthplace of the Messiah, with Ruth herself one of His human ancestors (see the Fact Finder question below).
"So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, "Is this Naomi?" She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and The Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when The Lord has afflicted me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?"
Ruth Chapter 2
Boaz, a relative of Naomi's dead husband, was a wealthy man of Bethlehem. It was during the early grain (see Corn) harvest, when, along with the regular harvesters, the poor were allowed, according to The Lord's law, to harvest what they needed for food for themselves. Ruth went.
"Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me go to the field, and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor." And she said to her, "Go, my daughter." So she set forth and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech." (Ruth 2:1-3 RSV)
Boaz had heard of the tragedy that had befallen Naomi and Ruth and urged Ruth to remain safely on his property, which she did - until the end of the barley and wheat harvests.
"Then Boaz said to Ruth, "Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my maidens. Let your eyes be upon the field which they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to molest you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn." (Ruth 2:8-9 RSV)
Ruth Chapter 3
With the harvest time nearly over, Naomi sought to find a permanent home for the foreign-born Ruth in the land of Judah. Righteous Boaz was obviously the best choice.
"Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, should I not seek a home for you, that it may be well with you? Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maidens you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do." And she replied, "All that you say I will do." (Ruth 3:1-5 RSV)
Boaz accepted the proposal, but according to law, he had to wait until a formal consultation was made with those nearer of legal kinship.
"At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, "Who are you?"