Naomi and her husband had left the promised land during a famine to find food in Moab. Her two sons married Moabite women. This was not an ideal marriage for a good Jewish boy. Moab was a descendant of Lot. Fleeing from the destruction coming to Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his two daughters hid in a cave. According to the Rabbis, Lot had four daughters, two of whom were married and two betrothed. The two married daughters and their husbands, along with the two future bridegrooms, remained in Sodom and perished, leaving Lot with only two daughters after the destruction of the city. Ancient rabbis disagreed on the exact nature of the incest involved with the birth of two sons, Moab and Ammon. Some blame Lot for having lewd desires, as seen in his choice to live in Sodom. Further, in the Genesis account, Lot was willing to give up his daughters to be raped and possibly murdered by the crowds in Sodom. Regardless of how one might interpret the event in the cave outside of Sodom, we know that the Moabites were descendants of Lot’s daughter and progeny of incest. In today’s culture, that is a good reason for abortion. This might explain why Naomi wants to leave her daughter-in-law in Moab. Ruth 1:7-8 tells us, “So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two 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.”

It’s strange that Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to return to their “mothers’” house. The normal reference in Israel would have been the “fathers’” house. Waard says, “Stay with your mothers involves a rather surprising Hebrew expression referring to the mother’s house’; that is to say, each daughter-in-law was instructed to return to her mother’s house, not to the home of her father, which one would normally expect (see, for example, Gen 38:11; Lev 22:13; Num 30:16; Deut 22:21; Judges 19:2, 3).”[1] Moab did not have the best of reputations for sexual purity, and many of the ancient commentaries note that men of Moab would have more than one wife. They would keep them in separate houses and maintain two households. Thus, Naomi suggests that the two widows would be better off serving their own mothers rather than the mother of their dead husbands. There seems to have been an emotional bond established between Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah. All three were widows, and they had taken care of each other after the death of their spouses. Since Naomi was set to return to her own homeland, she felt it was necessary to let the two younger women stay with their families in Moab.

Naomi blesses her daughters-in-law with the hope that “God will deal kindly with them” as they have “dealt kindly with her and her dead sons.” The term that is translated as “deal kindly” is “hesed.” It is used 246 times in the Old Testament, and over half of its uses are in the book of Psalms, referring to the “loving-kindness” that God shows to mankind. Van Gemeren says that this kind of loving-kindness is what is shown “by one who is able to render assistance to the needy party who in the circumstances is unable to help him or herself.”[2] God is ready to show kindness to those who realize they cannot help themselves. Jesus did not come for the healthy but for the sick. He did not come to save the righteous but sinners. This is the main ingredient of repentance.

 [1] Waard, Jan de, and Eugene Albert Nida. 1991. A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Ruth. 2nd ed. UBS Handbook Series. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] VanGemeren, Willem, ed. 1997. In New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 2:212. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.