The Book of Ruth and Accountability for Leadership — Elimelech’s Fall

As we discussed yesterday, the Book of Ruth is one of my favorite books of the Bible mainly because of the account that follows Ruth herself.  She is a foreigner who through marriage is joined into the Children of Israel and through faith is adopted into Jesus’ very own family.  It is such a great story that we sometimes miss the lessons that God has for us in the other people involved in the book.  We dealt with the bitterness of Naomi and how it scarred her and caused one of the two women who were under her influence to walk away from the Lord.  Today we look at her husband, Elimelech and how his lack of trust in God leads to the downfall of his family, at least temporarily.

In the Book of Ruth, Elimelech is only around for three verses wherein its says that there is a famine in the land of Israel and as a result Elimelech took his wife, Naomi and his two sons and left Israel and went to Moab to live.  It passes by so quickly that it is easy to miss what transpires here — Elimelech is a Israelite, you know the people who God moved heaven and Earth in order to get into the Promised Land.  The same Promised Land that was their inheritance from God as the Children of Abraham and that defined them as a people.  Being in Israel as a Jew is a pretty big deal even today.  Back then it was everything.

A famine occurs which obviously is not a good thing.  But Elimelech is faced with the same decision as Naomi when she later faces hardship or Elijah when he is faced by the prophets of Baal – He can call on God and trust in his provision while staying within the lane of what he knows he should very clearly be doing, staying in Israel or Elimelech can rely on his own wisdom and disobey God because he reasons that he just has to in order to survive.  Like Elijah, God could have fed Elimilech and his family with a raven if He wanted to, but instead Elimelech sees the mortal enemies of the Jews, the Moabites prospering and decides to hitch his wagon to them.  Who cares about the promises of God, I am hungry.

Before you think that I am judging Elimelech harshly, the reason that I point this out is that this temptation that is common to man is very common to this man (me).  I look at my neighbor who is a fancy doctor who makes 10 times what I make and has multiple houses and my flesh yearns to leave behind the wonderful calling God has for me and throw myself into the ways of the world so I too can have a beach house that I never use!!  Sure, I would be abandoning the very clear call God has put on my life, but what other options do I have?  I am sure I am not alone in falling into this trap of Satan.  Rather than trust and rest in God’s promises, I look around and make decisions based upon what I want to happen and how I determine is the only way that it is going to happen.  If I go to Moab, I am going to get a beach house — sounds great, except for the mortal pagan worshipping enemies part.

Elimelech appears to make the same determination – I am supposed to stay in Israel but I need food so lets join with the Moabites.  As the leader of his family, his decisions do not just affect him, but ripple out and cover the whole family.  The consequences for his family are immediate and drastic.  His two sons who are supposed to marry Israelites marry Moabites — a terrible thing in that day.  It is through marriage to pagans that the wisest man in the world, Solomon is brought to utter destruction and Balaam is able to curse Israel in the Book of Numbers.  Being unequally yoked is one of the most difficult things in the world for a believer to remain faithful through.

Whats more, Elimelech and his two sons then die.  Whether this is related or not is not stated, but because of the decision of Elimelech to leave his wife and two daughters in law are now stranded in the middle of a hostile country with no means of support.  His decisions to not trust God places them in grave jeopardy.

When people talk about how leaders in the church or in God’s family need to be held accountable, I think we sometimes overlook the one who holds us accountable for everything we do – God – there are not even stray words that we will not have to give an account for.  When Elimelech steps out of Israel he is stepping out of the perfect will of God and when we do that as believers, we can almost guarantee that God is going to allow things to come that either nudge us back into line or often in my case clock me upside the head cause I did not listen to the nudge.  When we are in a position of leadership, it is all the more true as God is now nudging us for leading not only us but those following us out of line.  The consequences can be dire as God holds us accountable for the havoc we wreak.

Elimelech has led his family away from God and the land of God and there have been serious consequences.  If we stopped there it would be God treating us fairly for disobeying Him, right?  But God never leaves us, even when we try to leave Him.  A famine comes to Moab forcing Naomi back to Israel and leading Ruth into the arms of her kinsman redeemer, Boaz.  Boaz is a picture of who was to come — Jesus.  Famines often occur in our lives when we are consorting with Moabites or gotten ourselves in a great pickle to force our attention back onto the eternal kinsman redeemer Jesus.  Romans 8:28 –

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

So Elimelech may have turned from God and left the Promised Land God gave to him, but God never left him and his family and used even the consequences of his sin to bring about redemption.


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3 thoughts on “The Book of Ruth and Accountability for Leadership — Elimelech’s Fall
  1. Thanks, Tom. You draw out a good point about Elimilech’s lack of trust. Abraham did the same thing when he went to Egypt. As you point out, by going to Moab, Elimelech’s sons took for themselves pagan Moabite wives, a no-no.

    Then there’s Deut. 23:3:

    “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation.”

    Some commentators say Ruth was born AFTER the tenth generation had passed from the time Deut. 23:3 was written and the command was no longer in force. Others say the ten generations was a figure of speech indicating “forever,” but that Ruth was exempted from the command like the foreigner of Isaiah 56:1-8. The nearer kinsman may have become reluctant about taking on the responsibilites of being the kinsman-redeemer once he knew Ruth’s nationality, but Boaz had no such reservations. What are your thoughts on this Deut. 23:3 issue in regards to Ruth?

  2. Hey Tom,
    There are a couple of explanations that I think make sense and could apply.

    I don’t think that the ten generations passing covers it as it appears from the text that the generational requirement is continuing, you count from the Moabite who is attempting to join down — if that makes sense. Could be but it seems from reading that it would not work.

    I do think it could just be an exception like you stated as based upon the context of the latter chapters it is clear that even the townspeople accept Boaz and Ruth and then there is the lineage.

    Personally, I lean towards the reading that Deut 32:3 applies to males only and their lineage as this would deal with inheritance/land issues etc amongst the Jews etc.

    It is not one that I am dogmatic about, but context dictates that it was not a problem so I am ok with possible explanations.

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