It could have been a different story. Times were hard; there was no food. The man worried for his family. The tale could have gone: “He prayed and the Lord provided.”
But that’s not how this true story unfolded…
Times were definitely tough - for everybody. Everything had dried up: crops, hopes, dreams. No one knows if the man turned to God in the crisis. It was never told if he did. But as it happened, the man grew tired of waiting. Of worrying. Of not providing. Taking matters into his own hands, he loaded his family and left his homeland.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s happened before in the mountains. Decades ago, locals migrated to Michigan and Ohio finding work in the automobile industry. (One of my great-grandfathers went north in the 1940’s.) Over the years here, the coal mines shut down or laid off leading countless families to re-locate. Most recently, COVID caused the loss of numerous jobs. My family has been there. Years ago, my husband was laid off from Leslie Mining Company (what would become Sidney Coal). My kids and I were all furloughed during COVID. Desperate circumstances make people desperate. Many has been the time when my family was in need and we prayed for God to provide. I’ve heard stories of missionaries who have done the same.
The man’s name was Elimelech. His life is read in only a few verses in the first chapter of Ruth. There was a famine in the land with no end in sight. Elimelech led his wife, Naomi, and sons-Mahlon and Chilion, from their home in Bethlehem to Moab-a place he knew they should not go.
Israel had a history with Moab and it wasn’t a good one (Numbers 22). In Deuteronomy 23:3-4, God decreed that no Moabite was even allowed to enter the assembly of the LORD-to the 10th generation. Elimelech would have heard the stories. Surely there were other places he could have gone. Still, he forged ahead, setting up house in an ungodly land. When we cross the border from God’s will/God’s instruction, heartache will soon follow. Such was the case of Elimelech. In this unholy place, he died.
Ruth 1:1 tells us that Elimelech only planned to live in Moab “for a while.”. He hadn’t planned to be there forever, just for a bit. Yet, that “while” ended up being his last days.
The story of Elimelech is one we can all relate to. When times get tough, the tough can want to get going, but that’s not always the best move. Prayer, waiting and then following God’s leading is the wisest way. His directions will always be in agreement with His Word.
I’m not judging Elimelech. My heart hurts for him. His decisions affected his family. He set a precedent for being out of God’s will. While in Moab, his boys married Moabite women - another thing God had discouraged (Exodus 34:15-16). Ten years passed and they too went the way of their father.
Elimelech left behind a widow, as did Mahlon and Chilion. It was the time of decision…again. And so begins the book of Ruth.
Precious Father, when life is hard, help us to trust You and never plan to be out of Your will even for “a while.”