Should Elimelech have gone to Moab?

7 May 2013

The book of Ruth starts with these words:

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.

As a recently self-employed husband and father I can relate to Elimelech’s desire to provide for his family, which takes him to Moab. Also, there is nowhere in the text of Ruth (or elsewhere in the Bible) that explicitly condemns Elimelech’s actions, and so we ought to be careful in jumping to assumptions.

However, I think it is helpful to consider the evidence against the venture before coming to your own conclusion:

  • Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’, which should have served as a reminder to it’s residence of God’s faithfulness in provision.
  • Elimelech chooses to give his sons pagan Canaanite names – Mahlon and Chilion.
  • Moab was not in God’s promised land that He had set apart for the Israelites to live in.
  • The Moabites were historically enemies of Israel. You can read the amusing story of how the Moabites tried to enlist Balaam in Numbers.
  • Israelites were discouraged from marrying Moabites, because of the temptation to be led astray by their ‘gods’.
  • Elimelech may have only planned a short stay in Moab but the family stays for at least ten years. There seems to be a progression in the passage from ‘sojourn’ (v1) to ‘lived’ (v4).

In my own mind, all of these things combined seem to paint a picture of a man who is more concerned with material wellbeing than being faithful to Yahweh and so distinct from the surrounding pagan nations. However, you can draw you own conclusions.

You can follow and listen to TCC’s sermon series on the book of Ruth here.

This blog post was written by Dave Hewer.