If I were to write someone’s story one of the first things I would do is create some context for that story…location, time period, history and characters.
One thing I appreciate about the author of Ruth is that they give me context for the book in the very first verse. Like any good biography this story without its context would lose some of it power. The context is found in verse 1:
Ruth 1:1 NIV
“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
‘In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land….’
We find ourselves in Bethlehem in the days of the Judges.
My first question is what were the days of the Judges like? What was life for an istratlie like during these times and what was Bethehm like as we step into this story and this time in history?
So I need to do a bit of digging.
Historians have placed this book as being written during the reign of King David but written to help listeners and readers understand a previous time in their history and more specifically David’s history and his genological story. It is written about a time long before Israel had any kings. So we have to go back in history to look at what that meant. If it was written in the time of the Judges it makes sense that the book has been placed alongside the Judges rather than near 1 and 2 Kings.
So what was Israel like during this time? It sounds like things were really bad. Judges 2 gives us some answers but it also gives us some insight into who God was, during these times.
16 Then the Lord raised up judges to rescue the Israelites from their attackers. 17 Yet Israel did not listen to the judges but prostituted themselves by worshiping other gods. How quickly they turned away from the path of their ancestors, who had walked in obedience to the Lord’s commands.
18 Whenever the Lord raised up a Judge over Israel, he was with that judge and rescued the people from their enemies throughout the judge’s lifetime. For the Lord took pity on his people, who were burdened by oppression and suffering. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to their corrupt ways, behaving worse than those who had lived before them. They went after other gods,serving and worshiping them. And they refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
20 So the Lord burned with anger against Israel. He said, “Because these people have violated my covenant, which I made with their ancestors, and have ignored my commands, 21 I will no longer drive out the nations that Joshua left unconquered when he died. 22 I did this to test Israel—to see whether or not they would follow the ways of the Lord as their ancestors did.” 23 That is why the Lord left those nations in place. He did not quickly drive them out or allow Joshua to conquer them all.
In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his eyes.
The times of the JUDGES was a time before Israel had kings and God was their KING and yet the people did not follow their king but rather did what seemed right in their own eyes.
Doesn’t that feel familiar?
That could be said of our current situation here in Australia..everyone did seemed right in his own eyes.
As I look at the book of Judges and the context which the story of Ruth is written, I can see how despite the times, God raises up significant men and women to show his grace and love for humanity just as he does today. The stories of Deborah, Gideon and now Ruth are a beautiful way of seeing that God is at work not because of his people doing good or bad but in spite of his people. The stories in Judges and Ruth are a reminder that God is gracious, incredibly patient and his providence in spite of what we do and what SEEMS to be right in our own eyes is a picture of what he is like with us. His story is always one of grace and redemption. I enjoy reading the book of Judges because you can see so much darkness yet feel overwhelmed by God’s love for his people and his willingness to keep following his plan.
Israel was not a great place to live….
Bethlehem was in a time of famine.
We have a farming community facing drought and lack.
We have a community of people sturggling to feed their families.
Elimilech is not making a decision that is based in his personal context. No one is doing well, no one is reaping a harvest and everyone is struggling.
As we meet the first character in this story, it is in a context of everyone doing what seems right in their own eyes. Elimilech is doing what everyone else is doing ..making decisions…based on what seems right.
He is doing what seems right in his own eyes but so is everyone else. Elimilech makes decisions on behalf of his family that seem right but God doesn’t really factor into it.
I have a feeling that if we were in the same predicament as Elimilech and given an opportunity to move away, we may well have made the same decision but this story is written for the generations that follow. It speaks to me thousands of years later and makes me think twice. I too can make decisions based on what SEEMS right in my own eyes.
Before we even meet the character of the story I am concerned about my tendency to make decisions based on what seems right. This is what we have been taught to do….we weigh things up in the natural and make decision based on on the facts but what may seem right may not be right.
I am also reminded that God is amazing and gracious. When I do what seems right but end up being completely wrong, God can take the outcomes and weave them back into his story of redemption. What we know of Elimilech is that he simply made a decision that seems right but in the end it lead to death. He looks at the famine and makes a decision based on his current reality. He has a family relying on him to provide for them. His story is one defined by reality and common sense not one of faith and hope and courage. The fruit of his decision is a family impacted by loss, grief and trauma. Imagine if he had turned to God in a time of famine and a time when no one else was seeking a God…but he didn’t. Imagine if he was known for being a God seeker in the time of famine. We don’t have a book in the bible called Elimilech because there is no story of faith here.
I want to allow his story to speak to me. Will I simply do what seems right in the context of circumstances, based on the facts and the information at hand. When everyone else is making common sense decisions I want to be one who seeks God and makes faith decisions …decisions that may not seem right but are righteous.
Proverbs 14:12 says ‘There is a way that seems right to man but in the end it leads to death.’
I don’t want to do what seems right but what is right. I want to do what leads to life.