Commentators seem to think that the book of Ruth took place at the time of Gideon in the book of Judges. We don’t know for sure. The first verse says, “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.” The period of the Judges was a dark time in many ways with repeated cycles of sin, judgment, repentance, and deliverance. Each cycle ended with deliverance but then it would start all over again. Several times judgment on the land took the form of a famine so the opening verse of Ruth is consistent with the circumstances in Israel. This is much like me and my diet and exercise program. I’d eat so much and become so lethargic that I’d make myself sick. I lay in bed and repent and pray for help and then I’d get back to living healthier for a little while but sooner or later I’d eat myself sick again!! As I look back over my life that cycle has repeated itself numerous times, so I have some sympathy for the children of Israel in the days of the judges. But, in the book of Ruth, we see the overwhelming grace of God to keep his promise of sending the ultimate redeemer who will save his people from their crippling cycles of sin once and for all. “Bethlehem was about five miles south of Jerusalem. Later Obed, son of Ruth and Boaz, was born in Bethlehem and Obed’s grandson David was born in Bethlehem (Ruth 4:18–21; 1 Sam. 17:58). Bethlehem, of course, would also be the birthplace of David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 2:4–7).”[1]

Moab is a very strange place for the story to take place because the Moabites were recognized enemies of the Israelites. It was very inhospitable when Israel wanted to cross their lands on their way to the promised land according to Deuteronomy. This should catch the attention of any biblical student right from the start. Ruth is a strange character to find in the genealogy of Jesus as well. She comes from the incestuous relationship of Lot with his daughter. Ruth’s history does not bode well for her! But God didn’t care about that. I’m already comforted by that truth.

God uses famines in our lives for several reasons. It appears that they often come because of failure to stay faithful to God’s direction for happy living. Moses reminded them of curses and blessings in the book of Deuteronomy.  The blessings of obedience brought Israel houses they didn’t build, water from wells they didn’t dig, and food from crops they didn’t plant. Indeed, Israel was blessed with a land flowing with milk and honey. Jeremiah explains the famine in his day by saying in Jeremiah 5:25, “Your sins have kept good from you.” But God also uses famines in our lives to test us. I think that was the case with Abraham. Just stay where you are in the will of God no matter what trouble comes your way. For Abraham, the famine was not a test of personal morality or corporate responsibility, but to remain in the land that God had given him.  He failed in this.  A famine in the land weakened Abram’s faith, and he went with Sarai into Egypt in search of food. You might ask yourself in times of famine whether you brought the drought on yourself or is God testing your faith.

[1] Reed, John W. 1985. “Ruth.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, 1:419. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.