Advent: O Little Town of Bethlehem (Ruth 1)

O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on

This is the time of year when our hearts and minds return to the little town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem is approximately 6 miles south of Jerusalem. Bethlehem means “House of Bread”. Though small in size, it is a significant town. It is where Rachel died and was buried (Gen 35:19) and was the birthplace of King David (1 Sam 16:1). Bethlehem is most significant because it is the birthplace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and it is for this reason our hearts and minds return to Bethlehem each year. This year we shall return to Bethlehem but will do so approximately 1,200 years before Jesus’ birth. Over the next four weeks we shall study the Book of Ruth. Why Ruth? In Matthew 1:5 we read that Jesus descended from Ruth who gave birth to King David’s grandfather (Obed). In Ruth, we see redemption in Bethlehem and the birth of a baby who brings comfort and joy.

Depravity in the House of Israel

The book of Ruth occurs “when the judges judged” Israel. The judges judged Israel after Joshua’s death (Judges 2:8) up to the reign of King Saul (1 Sam 9). The first judge was Othniel and the last judge was Samuel. The setting of Judges is significant because the book of Judges shows a contrast between the unfaithfulness of Israel and the faithfulness of God. It also shows us, in sometimes graphic detail, what happens when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The cycle of sin in Judges is summarized as follows: 

  1. The people disobey the Lord, 
  2. The people cry out to the Lord for help 
  3. The Lord raises up a judge to deliver the people, 
  4. The judge delivers the people, 
  5. The people obey God, 
  6. The judge dies, then
  7. The people disobey the Lord. 

The setting of Judges is significant because the book of Judges shows a contrast between the unfaithfulness of Israel and the faithfulness of God.

Deprivation in the House of Bread (Bethlehem)

In Ruth 1:1-2, we are introduced to “a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah” who “went to sojourn in the fields of Moab with his wife and his two sons.” They left Bethlehem for Moab because “there was a famine in the land.” The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife was Naomi and his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. Our story begins under difficult circumstances for the people of Bethlehem and all of Judah. We are not sure why the famine occurred, but we know the time of the judges was a hard time for the Jewish people. It is interesting that they went to Moab to sojourn. Moab was an enemy of the Jewish people since they opposed their conquest of Canaan.

Death in the Home of Elimelech

In verses 3-6, Elimelech died leaving Naomi and her two sons. The two sons married Moabite women and then the two sons died leaving Naomi “without her two children and her husband.” This was devastating for Naomi and her two daughters-in-law because they did not have any means of income and protection. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem because “she had heard…that the Lord had visited His people to give them food.”

Depending on the Hope of the Lord

In verses 7-17, we see hope in the Lord. Noami, Orpah, and Ruth left Moab and went to Bethlehem. Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Orpah left Naomi, “but Ruth clung to her.” Ruth said:

Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death separate you and me.

Ruth 1:16-17

Ruth could have gone back with Orpah, but she clung closely to Naomi. Ruth loved Naomi and also loved Naomi’s God: Yahweh. Naomi and Ruth are hurting but trusting.

Disappointment in the Heart of Naomi

In verses 18-22, Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Bethlehem and cause a great stir. The women of Bethlehem 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 out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” Naomi, whose name means pleasantness, did not feel pleasant. She felt that God had dealt with her bitterly. She left Bethlehem full (e.g., a husband and two sons); she arrived back in Bethlehem empty. 

There is, however, a ray of hope at the end of chapter 1. Remember that Naomi came back to Bethlehem because she heard that the famine was over. Ruth 1:22 says, “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” Barley harvest was most likely in April/May. The Lord had once again shown mercy to His people and blessed them with rain. The little town of Bethlehem is once again becoming vibrant. As we study the book of Ruth this Advent season, let us see God’s sovereign care for His people, in spite of their overall disobedience to Him. In Ruth, we have a message of hope during a dark and difficult day. 

In Ruth, we have a message of hope during a dark and difficult day. 

Take time this week to prayerfully examine your heart. Have you ever felt bitter towards God? Have you ever felt that God has dealt with you bitterly? When you have times in which you struggle to understand what God is doing and/or allowing to happen in your life, remember that He is good and knows exactly what He is doing. Trust Him. Rest in faith knowing that God will bring about His plan at His time.

Published by First Baptist Church of Scott City, MO

Bringing the love of Christ to a hurting world.

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