As has been often stated, the story of Ruth is a very beautiful one. It teaches great lessons of redemption, romance, courage, loyalty, providence, and grace. These themes are seen largely in its main characters: Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. However, there are other characters that we often forget when we study the book of Ruth: Elimelech and his two sons, but mainly Elimelech. Even though he does not make it past the first three verses of Ruth, there is a lot we can learn from his role in this wonderful and true story. The following are some (but not all) of the verses that reference Elimelech. Together they help paint a picture of tragedy, redemption, and promise.
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.
So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”
Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.
The story of Ruth, as we know, begins very poorly for Ruth and Naomi. It is much more tragic for Elimelech. He leaves his home to die in a foreign land, leaving his wife and sons alone. If we were able to jump into the life of Naomi and Elimelech at his death bed what would we tell them? We could not tell them that Elimelech is going to get better. In fact if we did not know how the book ends we could not even tell them that there is a silver lining to the situation. This is important because so often when we comfort others we want to tell them that it will get better, when really we just do not know. For all we know it could have gotten worse. The truth is that the death of Elimelech and his sons is very tragic. Yet, as heartbreaking as it is, his tragedy was not meaningless and neither is yours.
As the story continues, Ruth and Naomi begin to see hope, but not only hope for themselves but also hope for their husbands. After Ruth meets Boaz and tells Naomi about him, Naomi makes a powerful exaltation of praise. She says in verse 20, “may he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi recognizes that the work God is going to do will not only save the living (Ruth and Naomi), but will also save the dead (Elimelech and his sons)! We see this come to fruition in chapter 4 where Boaz buys the land of Elimelech and his sons in order to continue on their name. Because of this, rather than the name of Elimelech fading into nothingness, it is carried along into the lineage of the great King David, and then on even further our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite the horrific ending of Elimelech, it brought about not just the saving of his wife and his country, but eventually the salvation of all who call on Christ as savior!
This same truth can be carried over to believers today. As an individual, Elimelech was not promised to live to a ripe old age and not suffer greatly. However, he was a partaker in the promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 that “all the world would be blessed” through the nation of Israel and Elimelech was a part of that. We are not promised long painless lives, but we have been given very precious promises that all those who trust in Christ share in:
Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Philippians 1:6 – being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:38-39 – For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
These promises reveal to us that though our lives may get very difficult and even tragic with no perceivable silver lining, our hurt is not meaningless. God is working and moving in the lives of those who love him, and though we may meet darkness in this life, we can know two things. First, that in the end those who trust Christ will have him for all eternity. And second, our pain was not wasted. Like Elimelech, all of our hurt is used for God’s good purpose. We, like Elimelech are not forsaken by the LORD. We are part of his great plan of salvation.