Grades 3-6 Sunday School Lesson
Ruth, Part 1: Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty
Author’s Notes: This week, we’ll meet the last of our Old Testament heroines. The Bible tells us of many great women who were full of faith, courage, and conviction. We’ve already studied several of them – Deborah, Esther, Rahab, and Abigail; and discovered great examples of what God is looking for in His servants, even today. This week and next, we’ll be looking at the courage and loyalty of Ruth, who was willing to go above and beyond the call of duty, in putting aside her own comforts and desires to help another in need. May we all be willing to live as these Bible heroines did, to please the Lord!
Coloring Page for Young Visitors
In the United States, the highest honor a military hero can receive is called “The Medal of Honor.” It is given for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty…”* That means that the person who receives this honor did something very heroic to help someone else; and went beyond what they were required to do, at the risk of their own life. The Medal of Honor is such a great honor that the President of the United States is the one who presents it on behalf of a grateful nation.
The most recent American soldier given this honor was a marine named Dakota Meyer, whose team was surrounded by the enemy. And rather than stay in his safe position, he rode right into the middle of the enemy lines, not once, but five times, killing eight enemy soldiers, and drawing away enemy fire so his fellow soldiers could escape. He is credited with saving 36 lives during that battle!**
The Old Testament heroine that we’re going to be learning about today had those same qualities that are seen in Medal of Honor recipients. She went far beyond what her culture required of her; and because of her great loyalty and courage, put her own life and welfare at risk to help save another. Her name was Ruth. And she was the great-grandmother of King David. But long before that happened, Ruth was just a simple Moabite woman who was faced with a choice: to go back home to her old ways, or go a new way, a heroic way that would please God.
We’ll find out in a moment what Ruth did that makes her this week’s Old Testament heroine. But before we read her story, let’s learn this week’s verse. They are the words of Ruth, herself; given to us by God. And they sum up the choice that she made.
Memory verse: (Have the children repeat this verse with you several times, until they are able to say it themselves. And encourage them to repeat it to others several times during the week, so that it’ll have a place in their hearts.)
“And Ruth said, … whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” Ruth 1:16
Opening prayer: Lord, thank You for each student who’s here, today. And thank You for Your Word, The Bible, where we can learn new truths about You, and Your plans for us. Help each one of us here, today, to be attentive to what You would have us learn. Give us open ears and hearts, ready to listen to Your words. Amen.
This Week’s Lesson: Ruth- Going Above and Beyond the Call of Duty (Ruth 1)
Let’s start right off at the beginning of the book of Ruth, where we meet a family in a desperate situation.
1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
What was happening in Israel that made this family want to leave, and go to another country? There was a famine. And this family was hungry! They were hungry enough that they felt like their only way to survive was to leave all their friends and family behind to go to another country where there was more food available.
So Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons headed to Moab; a country just to the east of Israel, on the other side of the Dead Sea. (If you have a map, show the students where Elimelech’s family lived in Bethlehem; and where they went – to Moab. You may like to remind them, too, of another famous person from Bethlehem…Jesus!)
Elimelech’s family may very well have found the food they were looking for in Moab. But tragedy soon stuck the family.
3 And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
What happened to Naomi’s husband? He died. We are not told how old her sons were, at that time. But it seems they were old enough to take over as heads of the household. In fact, they both decided to get married… to Moabite women. Was that something Israelites were supposed to do? No! God had told the people of Israel very clearly that they were not to marry outside of their own nation. That’s because other nations worshipped other gods. And that would have been true of the wives Mahlon and Chilion chose.
4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
What happened after Naomi and her sons had been in Moab for ten years? Both of the sons died. Poor Naomi! She came to Moab hoping to find a better life. But instead she lost everyone dear to her. In the Jewish culture, if there had been more sons in the family, those sons would have then married the widows their brothers had left behind. So the women would remain in that family. But Naomi didn’t have any more sons. She had only her daughters-in-law, and they weren’t even Jewish.
In her great sense of loss, Naomi found herself missing home, missing Bethlehem. And she heard that there was good reason to go back.
6 Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.
7 Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.
What news had Naomi heard about the conditions back home? The famine was over, and the Lord was again providing food for Israel. So Naomi realized it was time to go home. What did her daughters-in-law intend to do? They planned on going with her, back to Bethlehem.
But Naomi knew it would be hard for them. The culture was different. The land was different. They served different gods. And she had no more sons left to marry them. From what Naomi could see, there was really no reason for Ruth and Orpah to make the long and sometimes dangerous trip back to Bethlehem with her. So even though she loved them, she encouraged them to stay in Moab, where they could find new husbands from their own people.
And after a very tearful goodbye, Orpah did as Naomi suggested, and headed back to Moab. But Ruth carefully considered the situation, and decided that she wanted something better than her old life in Moab. She wanted a new home with new people, and most of all, a new God. It must be that she had heard Naomi and her family talk of the God they worshipped. And even though He had allowed Naomi’s family to suffer a great deal of loss, Ruth could see that He was a God worthy of her worship, too.
So these are the words Ruth said to Naomi, even as she watched her sister-in-law, Orpah, turn to leave. These words should sound familiar. They are this week’s memory verse.
16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
These are the words of a true hero. Ruth was willing to put aside all that she knew - all that felt like home, all that felt safe. Traveling could be very dangerous in those days. And she could very well lose her life along the way. Or she might arrive in Israel only to find that the famine wasn’t really over; leaving Ruth and Naomi to starve to death, with no husbands to support them and take care of them.
But Ruth wasn’t thinking of herself. Who was she thinking of, instead? Her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi had lost everything in Moab. And Ruth, in her great love and loyalty to Naomi, couldn’t let her go back to Bethlehem all alone.
Ruth was still a young woman. She could easily have returned to Moab, and found another husband to care for her. She really had no guarantees about anything in going to Bethlehem. She and Naomi would not have known what to expect upon returning. Would Naomi’s old home still be there? Would other family members still be alive? Would the people of Bethlehem welcome Naomi back home after her family had chosen to go live in a pagan land?
Those questions wouldn’t be answered until they stepped back on Israelite soil. So Ruth was taking a big chance in deciding to leave with Naomi. But her mind was set. She would stay with Naomi, and go with her to a new country.
And God protected them, as they journeyed back.
19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
21 I went out full and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
How was Naomi treated as she returned back home, to the city of Bethlehem? It sounds like the whole city was surprised to see her back, and were moved with compassion, when they saw that she was alone. And we need to know something about Jewish names to understand Naomi’s response to those who were there to greet her. As they called her by name, Naomi, she said she wanted them to refer to her by another name. What was the new name she wanted? “Mara” was the new name. And it means “bitter.” It seems like Naomi returned to Bethlehem a very sad and broken woman. Her sons were probably her pride and joy. And no doubt her husband would have been well known in the city.
Now, Naomi was back from years spent living in a pagan country. Her husband was gone. Her sons were gone. And the only thing she had left was a daughter-in-law who might well be rejected in Israel, since she was from Moab. Naomi’s name meant “pleasant.” But she hadn’t felt that way in quite some time. She couldn’t even bear to hear the word spoken of her. So, instead, she wished only to say that she was “bitter.”
How do you suppose it might have made Ruth feel, to hear those words coming from this woman she had now chosen to give her very life to? It must have been hurtful to hear Naomi say that the Lord had left her empty. What about Ruth? Could Naomi not see that in her love and loyalty, she was a gift from God? It seems like Naomi’s bitterness, and maybe embarrassment, at coming back home with nothing had clouded her vision. At that point, she wasn’t able to see just how truly blessed she way.
And by the way, the name “Ruth” means “friendship.” God may have allowed Naomi to lose those she loved most. But He also gave her the gift of true and loyal friendship, in Ruth.
God also gave her one more gift, too. He had brought Naomi home just as He was ready to bless Bethlehem with a bountiful harvest. And while we’re on the subject of names, “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” God brought Naomi to the perfect place where He could provide for her needs. She would only need to trust Him, and teach Ruth to do the same.
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
Do you think leaving Moab was an easy decision for Ruth to make? It was probably the hardest thing she had ever done in her life. It took a great deal of courage for her to leave behind those she loved, and the home she had always known, to head out into the unfamiliar and perhaps even dangerous places she didn’t know.
But Ruth was a young woman of great courage. Her loyalty to Naomi, along with the courage to do the right thing in taking care of her mother-in-law make her a woman to truly admire and learn from. She was a heroine for her bravery in facing the unknown to protect the one she loved.
Would you be willing to do that? To give up your own comfortable way of living or doing things to help someone else? Perhaps this week, you may find yourself with a difficult choice to make; one that might cost you something to do the right thing. If you do, remember the example of Ruth; and how she chose to follow Naomi, and trust in God. God will lead you to do the right thing. And He will always be there to help you through it. So don’t get discouraged. Don’t get bitter. Trust the Lord to help you be courageous!
Next week we’ll finish our study of Ruth, and of our Old Testament heroines. We’re going to see that Ruth’s faithfulness and courage didn’t end with the trip back to Bethlehem. That was only the beginning.
Closing Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Ruth, and her courage to do the right thing, even when it wasn’t easy. Help us, too, to be like Ruth – willing to risk our own comfort to help meet the needs of others. For we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Activity: (Review Questions)
Fill in the Blanks
True or False
1. Elimelech and his family moved to Moab to escape a drought. (true)
2. Naomi’s sons went back to Bethlehem to find wives. (false – they married women from Moab)
3. Naomi tried to convince her daughters-in-law to go back to Bethlehem with her. (false – she tried to convince them to stay in Moab)
4. Naomi returned to Bethlehem as a happy woman. (false – she asked them to call her “Mara” which means “bitter”)
5. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem because she had heard the famine ended. (true)
Lisa DeVinney, July, 2017