In the days when the chieftains ruled, there was a famine in the land; and a man of Bethlehem in Judah, with his wife and two sons, went to reside in the country of Moab. Ruth 1:1 JPS
To reside – You were never intended to leave forever. That’s the idea behind lagur, “to reside temporarily, to sojourn.” Just like the ancestors before him, Elimelech does not plan to stay away from the Land forever. Abraham sojourned in Egypt. So did Jacob. Isaac spent time in Gerar. God even told him to temporarily live there (Genesis 26:3). Elimelech followed this pattern when he left Bethlehem. He planned to return.
But he died in Moab.
The tragedy of leaving is that we are not in control of returning. Life sometimes alters our well-laid plans to go back. Even John, Paul, George and Ringo recognized that getting back sometimes doesn’t happen. Sometimes death gets in the way.
Put yourself in Elimelech’s place. There is chaos in the land. There is hunger and strife. Perhaps it is best to leave. Perhaps safety and security can be found elsewhere. Perhaps Elimelech is like Hagar, running from his pain. “Where have you come from and where are you going?” asked the Angel of the Lord. Life’s two most important questions. Unfortunately, most of us can only answer the first one. We only know what we are leaving behind. It takes the Angel of the Lord to point us in the direction where we need to go, and most of the time that seems to be “Go back!”
Elimelech planned to go back. Elimelech hoped to go back. But he died away from home.
We don’t know anything about the circumstances of Elimelech’s death. Neither do we know anything about the death of his two sons. All we know is that journeying to Moab left three widows and even more tragedy than the family hoped to escape. Oh, yes. We know one more very important thing. God used these circumstances for His good. Dying away from home did not mean purposeless failure. God may not have intended Elimelech to move to Moab. God may have wanted Elimelech (“God is my King”) to act like a servant of the Most High right where he was. But Elimelech’s choice did not erase God’s reconstruction or restoration. In fact, one might argue that had Elimelech actually returned to Bethlehem, Ruth’s demonstration of hesed would not have been quite so poignant or revealing. God uses even the tragedy of death to bring about reconciliation.
If that last sentence sounds a bit like the description of Yeshua’s death, then you are connecting the dots. Do you suppose that Ruth is a foreshadowing of the role of the Messiah? Could it be that the story is repeated once more? And if that is true, can this story be a foreshadowing of your life too? Do you need to go back to where you once belonged?
Topical Index: Elimelech, lagur, sojourn, reside, go back, Ruth 1:1
Today is the 20th birthday of my daughter, Rachel. She is this day with the wing command of the flight squadrons of the John C. Stennis carrier on military exercises before she deploys again to the Persian Gulf for 8 months. Please offer a prayer for her. She is far from home and family. We miss her.