v1-5: The introduction to this most delightful story. We meet the family of Elimelech, and we are linked with historical and geographical facts. The events occurred during the period of the Judges, which means that few really loved God. It was a time of spiritual declension.
v1: There was famine in the land, fulfilling Lev 26.18-20, for this was no accident or change. It was doubtless God's judgment upon a people that had turned from Him. It was ironic that Elimelech lived in Bethlehem, the house of bread.
In response to the situation, Elimelech moved his family to Moab. There is no reference to him praying. No doubt his intention was only to stay a short time, but they remained there for 10 years (v4).
v2: Elimelech was unwise to move away from Israel, the land of God's choosing. Taking Moabite wives would rob them of blessing, Deut 23.3; Neh 13.23-27.
It seems that the incident is but one among many, as other families sought safety and provision outside Israel. Yet these events all fit into God's overall plan to demonstrate His grave and mercy.
v3-4: During this time, Elimelech and his two sons, Mahlon and Kilion (or Chilion) died. Naomi was left with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.
v6-7: Having heard that there was now food in Israel, Naomi planned to return. Bethlehem was her home, and she should live there.
v8-9: Naomi's concern for the young girls; she advised them to return to their parent's homes, where there would be a welcome. She prayed that they would each find a husband.
The daughters-in-law protested, v10, wanting to return with Naomi. She urged them to return to Moab, v11-13. We cannot blame Orpah for following that advice, v14.
v14: Ruth clung to Naomi. She wanted to go further, and identify with God's people. Ruth was prepared to forsake the right of a family home, and of a Moabite husband. She was prepared to suffer hardship with Naomi.
v16-17: Ruth's declaration of faith; her loyalty to the God of Israel surpassed any sacrifice she would have to make; compare Matt 15.21-28, where the Syrophoenician woman was also determined to receive blessing from God; see v18; she was "determined".
v20: Naomi's testimony of suffering, through decision and circumstances; she had seen famine and death and exile; her pain was bitter. Naomi here pictures Christ, for He emptied Himself, and tasted bitterness; the result was fruitfulness (4.14-17). Naomi also pictures Israel, which had departed from the Lord, and would return to Him.