These small group studies of Ruth contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, teaching points, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Ruth 1 Inductive Bible Study – A Lesson on Returning to God
Ruth 1 Video Bible Study
Ruth 1 Audio Bible Study
I. The background (1-5)
II. Orpah leaves, but Ruth stays (6-15)
III. Ruth expresses her loyalty (16-18)
IV. Noami is bitter (19-21)
I. The background (1-5)
- What was Israel like when the judges ruled?
- On what basis did the people generally make decisions (Judges 21:25)?
- How do we see this same decision making process with Elimelech?
- Do you think it was the right choice for them to move to Moab? Why or why not?
- What kind of temptations might they face in this foreign country?
- What was their motivation to leave? Is this reasonable?
- How should a person ascertain God’s will?
- What was the result of this decision for the family? Considering they left because of the famine (for health reasons), was their decision effective?
Judges 21:25 – In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Exodus 6:8 – ‘I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD.'””
Numbers 14:8 – “If the LORD is pleased with us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us–a land which flows with milk and honey.
Deuteronomy 23:3-6 – No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. However, the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. 6 Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.
Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.
James 4:13-15 – Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
1. It came about in the days when the judges governed – In Israel this was a lawless time. There was no central authority. They had no king and no government. A circle of deliverance followed by disobedience and oppression repeated itself over and over. Generally speaking the people had a short memory for following after God. Tribes were loosely connected. And most telling, Judges in several places repeats the phrase that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The last few chapters of Judges depict several terrible examples of what happens when people make decisions based on their own morality and understanding rather than on God’s will.
2. Elimelech and his family fell into this same trap of making a decision based on what was right in their own eyes. A famine descends on the land. So they decide to leave and go to Moab. Moab was only about 50 miles (80km) away from Bethlehem on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. It would have been a decent trip, but could be completed in a few days of good paced walking.
We see the cause for the family to leave Bethlehem is famine. However, we do not see that they prayed or really considered God’s will. While it is not impossible that they may have at least on the surface attempted to ascertain God’s will, the evidence points in the direction that this decision was made in the flesh. In other words, they weighed the alternatives and according to their own understanding decided to leave and go to Moab. Here are some factors that they should have considered:
A. God had led the people of Israel to the Promised Land. He had also promised to bless them in the land with all kinds of rich blessings if they obeyed Him (See Deuteronomy 28:1-14.) In the Old Testament physical blessings tended to follow obedience and discipline/oppression tended to follow disobedience. Therefore the solution to a famine was for the people to repent of whatever sins they were engaged in and call upon the Lord for mercy. It was a spiritual problem primarily and not a geographical one. Elimelech should have looked to God for deliverance from the famine and not to Moab, which had aligned itself against God on more than one occasion.
B. God had repeatedly warned Israel about idolatry and also the dangers of marrying foreign women who were idol worshipers. Elimelech was leading his family into temptation to take them into the heart of an idol worshiping culture and far away from the tabernacle of God. One very likely consequence was that his sons, who were evidently of marrying age, would intermarry with Moabites. While this was not strictly forbidden (it was forbidden to intermarry with the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 7), a Moabite and his/her descendants to the 10th generation could not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation.
3. How can we discern the will of God? – Here is one very important and common question. Many times even believers leave God out of their decision making process, much as it appears Elimelech did. As James describes in James 4:13-15 people see a business opportunity and make a plan, all without even attempting to consult the Lord or ascertain His will. Therefore the first step must be that we WANT to know God’s will. If a person really wants to know God’s will, it is generally not that hard to find it out. Generally speaking there are five aspects to consider when searching for God’s will:
- The Bible – What does God’s Word say?
- Prayer – Have you prayed? Are you submitting yourself to God’s plans or merely asking Him to bless your own?
- Counsel – Have you asked other godly believers their opinion? It is easy to ask people you know will support you. It is beneficial to ask people you know will give you the truth, even when it is hard to accept.
- Circumstances – Has God so ordained circumstances as to give a clear “no?” Circumstances should not generally be viewed as a positive indicator, but can be used by God to close the door for believers who are genuinely seeking His will.
- Freedom in Christ – If you have carefully sought God’s will in each of the four areas above, then you can pursue what you believe God is leading you to do and if you are sincerely seeking after His will He will shut the door if He indeed does not want you to go in that direction.
Application: Whenever you face an important decision, follow the five step process above. God should be first, middle, and last as you consider what to do. Meanwhile, if you go outside of God’s revealed will and act on your own initiative, you should not be surprised when bad consequences manifest themselves.
4. Mahlon and Chilion – The meaning of these names are “puny” and “pining” or “weak” and “sickly.” Evidently even from a young age, these boys struggled with bad health.
5. Naomi’s husband and sons both died – While the text does not give us the exact cause of death, the entire story indicates that this was God’s discipline on a family that did not seek Him first. Naomi herself concluded that God was afflicting her. The entire book of Ruth as written could be viewed to teach us an important lesson:
When you act on your own initiative and stray from God’s will, then bad things happen. And when you return to His will again, you will be blessed.
It is interesting to note that Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” They left the House of Bread and looked to the world to satisfy their needs.
In a similar way, Jesus is our source. He is our Bread of Life. If we leave Him to go our own way we will not be satisfied.
The fact is that when the family left the Promised Land and went into an idol worshiping land, disaster struck. When Naomi finally returned, God’s favor returned to her.
II. Orpah leaves, but Ruth stays (6-15)
- What was Naomi’s reason for returning?
- What types of things may have discouraged her from returning? Was this a good decision? Why or why not?
- What do we learn in this passage about Naomi? Orpah?
- What evidences can we see that shows Naomi still believed in the Lord?
- What motivated Naomi to suggest that they stay in Moab?
- Why do you think Orpah listened to her and left, but Ruth stayed?
- Do you agree with Naomi that the “hand of the Lord has gone” against her?
- If so, for what motive would God deal with her in that way?
- What do we learn from this passage about discipline?
- Do you ever feel like God’s hand is against you?
- When you feel like that, how should you respond?
1. Naomi did finally decide to return to the land. Although her faith was somewhat “running on low” it was not gone. She “heard that the Lord had visited” (verse 6) and so she “arose” (verse 6) and she returned to the House of Bread empty at the time of the harvest (21-22).
Naomi made a difficult decision to leave Moab and return to Bethlehem. Several factors could have discouraged her from returning including:
- She could have been afraid to face her people back in Bethlehem and perhaps receive their criticism or disapproval.
- It is generally easier to stay where one is than move. Doing nothing is easier than doing something.
- Leaving Moab meant leaving behind whatever they had built there such as house, farm, and friends. It also ended up meaning leaving Orpah.
It should be noted that Naomi was completely committed to returning to Israel. Even when she believed it would cost her both of her daughters-in-law (all her remaining family), she still was strong in her resolve to return.
Application: If you are feeling empty and lost, then you may need to return to your source. Perhaps you have taken it upon yourself to make some decision such as moving to a certain city or taking a certain job. It could be you are looking to the world to satisfy some need. You cannot get filled with worldly things. They will never satisfy. Come to the Lord with your heart and say, “Fill me up Lord. I need you. Only you can satisfy.” He is the Bread of Life. He can strengthen you and sustain you. You may need to leave your current place or current job. Come even empty handed and He can fill you up. Hosea 10:12.
2. Lesson from Orpah – Orpah seems to be a very good daughter-in-law. She seems to be willing to go with Naomi. In verse 7 she departed together with Naomi. And even after Naomi tried to persuade her to stay, she still insisted to go with her (verse 10). Only after Naomi convinced her a second time did she return to the land.
I believe that Orpah was torn. She did have an attachment to Naomi. But this was not strong enough to cause her to leave everything she knew. In the end it was easier for her to revert to the mean, to revert everything she knew and was familiar with. In short, her love was not agape love. It was phileo love. She felt tenderly for Naomi, but still did not love her unconditionally. How could she? She had not been converted to true belief in YHWH (see verse 15) and certainly her gods did not teach unconditional love.
From this we can learn that a person can only love unconditionally if he/she has a relationship with God. Unless God has transformed us we will still finally choose self over others when everything is on the line.
3. God disciplines those He loves. And He disciplines them in order to restore them to Himself. In this passage it appears that Naomi and her family faced the discipline of God in Moab. In the end, it was still intended for good. The ultimate purpose was restoration. See Hebrews 4:4-11.
III. Ruth expresses her loyalty (16-18)
- What do we learn from these verses about Ruth’s character?
- If following Naomi most likely meant a life of poverty without a husband, why would Ruth choose it?
- What can we learn from her statement about what love is? Loyalty?
- To whom should we have similar levels of loyalty and commitment?
- Compare and contrast Ruth and Orpah.
1. In these verses we see one of the best expressions of commitment anywhere in the Bible. We see Ruth’s loyalty toward Naomi. Even deeper than that, we see her belief in and conversion by the Lord. In verse 17 she invokes the name of YHWH. This was the covenant name He used to reveal Himself to His people, the Israelites. It was unusual for non-Jews to refer to God by this special covenant name. Instead they often used a more general name for God or a descriptor like the kings in Daniel who call Him the “God of heaven.”
Ruth’s use of this name suggests that she has not only committed herself to Naomi, but she has also committed herself to the Lord. In verse 16 she also states this saying that your God shall be my God. Naomi was not perfect, but it is still clear her life and example had a big impact on Ruth.
A short side lesson from this is that God can use even imperfect sinners to draw others to Himself.
These verses show so many beautiful character qualities of Ruth that we should aspire to:
- Good communicator
2. Ruth’s key quality seen her is unconditional love. Although the word “love” itself is not mentioned these verses are a clear description of it. Her love for Naomi is a decision. It is an action. It is forever. It is unconditional. And she follows through. There is a reason that many wedding vows use these words.
Application: There are a lot of people that we should show commitment and unconditional love to. Our spouse and our children top the list. Too many people make a vow of commitment and then break it because it is inconvenient to follow through. See Psalm 15:4. God wants us to honor our commitments and vows, even if circumstances or emotions change.
IV. Noami is bitter (19-21)
- What can you see in verse 19 about small towns at this time?
- How would you describe Naomi’s attitude?
- How well was she responding to the affliction/trials/discipline in her life?
- Did she really come back empty? What does this statement teach us about normal human nature?
1. In small villages news travels fast. It didn’t take long before all the people in Bethlehem knew that Naomi was back. Fear of criticism from such people who probably were not above being busy-bodies could have discouraged Naomi from returning, but she came back anyway.
2. Naomi returned, but her attitude was still not right – She changed her name to Mara, which means bitter. Rather than turning back to the Lord with a sweet spirit, she was still holding on to some bitter things about what had happened. A person cannot truly be restored to the Lord and be filled until they deal with and repent of the wrong emotions inside of them.
Application: Examine your own attitudes and emotions. If you have become bitter or resentful toward a person or toward God, then before you can be filled spiritually you must deal with that bitterness.
3. It is human nature to look at the bad side of things. Naomi stated that she came back “empty.” In fact, the women of Bethlehem said that Ruth was better to her than seven sons (Ruth 4:15). While her life was far from empty, she pessimistically looked at the negative side and took Ruth for granted.
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