Food insecurity and political instability often go hand in hand. The Arab Spring began not as demands for democracy but as riots in Algeria and Tunisia over dramatic price increases in staples like sugar, oil, and flour. When people can’t be fed, political leaders will face mistrust at best and insurrection at worst.
Ruth’s story unfolds in the time of the judges—which, as we’ve seen, was a period of political, spiritual, and moral turmoil (v. 1). The nation of Israel had lacked the political will to drive the Canaanites out of the land. As we learned earlier in our study of Judges, the Israelites initially enjoyed a degree of military success; while they did not drive the Canaanites from the land, they did subject them to forced labor. But that compromise proved lethal. The tables of power eventually turned, and the Israelites were the ones enslaved by the Moabites, the Amorites, and the Philistines.
As Naomi is introduced in these opening verses, we learn that famine drove her from her hometown and into the arms of oppressors. Whatever Naomi’s dreams might have been for her two sons, they began to disintegrate the day each of them married a Moabite wife (v. 4). And if that betrayal of their Israelite identity weren’t tragedy enough, death claimed her husband, Elimelek, and both her sons, Mahlon and Kilson.
Naomi and her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, were vulnerable widows. Without husbands, these women had no financial security, no legal protection, no future—and it would seem, no hope. As Carolyn Custis James explains in The Gospel of Ruth, the Hebrew word for widow, almanah, comes from the root word, alem, which means “unable to speak.” But as we shall see demonstrated in tangible ways, if widows in ancient Israel were powerless, they were also loved by God.
Apply the Word
Because Ruth ends with a wedding and a baby announcement, it can be easily forgotten that such good news happened during such dark times. The book of Judges provides an important backdrop for the book of Ruth. It reminds us that even in our darkest valleys, we can have hope that God is working out His plan of salvation.