There's Meaning in a Name
By Annette Agnello
Words have great meaning and this is especially true in the Bible where nothing is by accident and every name or number is there for a reason. Let's examine some names of places and people in the book of Ruth to see how they enrich the story of Ruth, the Moabite, who became an ancestor to our Savior, Jesus.
The book of Judges ends with, "...in the days the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. In those days there was no king in Israel: everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25 NKJV).
The book of Ruth begins with a family leaving the land of promise because of the famine they saw around them. The name Bethlehem means a "place of food" which points to the fact that "the Bread of Life," Jesus, was born in the "house of bread". Now Bethlehem was in the province of Judah, which means, "praise". So in a time of famine, this little family left a place of food and a place of praise, to go to the country of Moab, which means, "water of a father." If you recall the Country of Moab was started by an incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters (Gen 19:30-38). At the time Elimelech moved his family to Moab there was hostility between the two nations and marrying a Moabite would have been frowned on at the very least.
Now letís look at who left the "place of food", during a famine, to go to a foreign land. There was Elimelech, "God is king", and his wife Naomi, "pleasant", with their two sons, Mahlon, "mild", and Chilion, "pining". (It does make one question why anyone would give their children such names). One son married Orpah, "youthful freshness", and the other married Ruth, "friendship".
Now after ten years, when all the men of the family had died, the women were left as widows. In that day and age there were few things a respectable woman could do to survive and widows were usually supported by their children; however, without children, they could be in trouble. With no real prospects in Moab, Naomi decided to go home to Israel, "prince of God". Both daughters-in-law started out with her but "youthful freshness" turned back at the slightest urging, content to look out for herself. "Friendship", however, was steadfast and made the impassioned declaration that we all know so well, "Entreat me not to leave you ... For wherever you go, I will go; I will live where you live and your people and your God shall be mine" (Ruth 1:16-17, NKJV). It was a lifelong promise and Ruth had spoken passionately about her devotion. Because of this Naomi allowed her to come with her.
At their arrival in Bethlehem, you can see how the people at that time looked at names. Naomi obviously knew what her name meant (pleasant) and asked people to call her Mara, "bitterness" instead (Ruth 1:20-21). She freely admitted that she was bitter, but was blaming God for her troubles.
It is interesting to note that there appears to be no mention in Scripture of God having been consulted regarding the original decision to move to Moab. God was not to blame for Naomiís troubles. Elimelech had freely chosen to leave the land of promise, and settle in Moab. It appears that they were the only ones to leave because on her return there were people who had known her ten years before. The land itself had recovered from famine and now there were fields of grain needing to be harvested. Some of these fields belonged to Boaz, "fullness, strength".
In Ruth 2:6 in spite of her request to be called "bitterness", we see that they are still calling Naomi, "pleasant".
Boaz was a wealthy relative and God's answer for Naomi and Ruth. In her passionate plea to come with Naomi, Ruth has vowed to worship Naomi's God as her own. Of all the fields in Bethlehem do you think it was a mere coincidence Ruth ended up on Boaz's property? He was one of only two men with the right to redeem Mahlon's land by marrying Ruth. One of only two men who could rescue Naomi and her daughter-in-law from poverty.
As Abraham told Isaac in Genesis, "God will provide". He gave Ruth security in the place of poverty, the joy of a family in the place of mourning, a place in His own family in place of being a despised alien from an enemy land. For God had determined that Ruth and Boaz would be the parents of Obed, who would be the grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:17) and from the line of David would come our Savior and Lord.
(All definitions of names taken from: "A Dictionary of Scripture Proper Names" by J. B. Jackson or "Young's Analytical Concordance of the Bible" by Robert Young)