A STORY BEHIND THE STORY IN THE BOOK OF RUTH
by Barry Setterfield
In Old Testament Israel, and elsewhere, names were given in two ways. First was the name given at birth. Later on, as the child developed and their character was revealed, there was a name given as a description of the person's character. For others it was a title. For this reason, there is often a story hidden within the names of characters in the Bible as will be seen by the Book of Ruth below. As an illustration of what happens with names, the word David initially meant "Commander." Thus the name "David" probably came from his troop commanding days [See The Bible as History, by W. Keller, p.192]. But David was also beloved by his troops, as indicated by the incident where his men risked their lives to get water for him from the well at Bethlehem (2 Sam. 23:15). He was also beloved of God (1 Kings 15:4-5 etc). As a result, the word "David" probably became synonymous with "Beloved" which is what David means in Hebrew today. Remember, too, that when we get to Heaven we are given a new name which is unique to us as an individual describing completely our character as a Christian, just as Christ also has a new name [Rev. 2:17; 19:12].
The story opens with a man of Bethlehem-Judah named Elimelech, meaning "My God is King". However, this man, for whom "My God is King", married Naomi, "Pleasure", and left the Promised Land. Of that unfortunate wedlock there was born Mahlon, "Sickness", and Chilion, "Pining" or "Failing". In the process of time, Elimelech died, Mahlon died, Chilion died; for sin reigns until death. Naomi then took her two daughters-in-Law, Orpah and Ruth, and set out for Bethlehem, the place of new beginnings. But Orpah was "Stiffnecked" and refused to go all the way with them. In contrast, Ruth, Naomi's "Friend", said "Intreat me not to leave you or from following after you. For your people will be my people; your God, my God; where you die, I will die and there will I be buried." This is the language of a true "Friend." She was prepared to go all the way to Bethlehem with her new-found God. She was on the road to becoming a "Friend of God."
When they arrived at Bethlehem, the whole town was moved; "Is this the Naomi that Elimelech married?" She said, call me not Naomi, call me Marah, "Bitterness", for when My God is King stoops to marry Pleasure, pleasure is turned into bitterness. And then, almost by chance it seemed, Ruth encountered the one who could buy her back, her Redeemer, Boaz, a mighty man of valor whose name means "Strength." And of that beautiful union there was born Obed, which means "Worship or Service." For when Ruth, the friend, marries the Redeemer, she becomes a friend of God and the house is filled with worship and the service of the Almighty.