We pick up the story in the midst of calamity for Naomi and her two daughters in law. All of their husbands have died and they have no way to earn a living in Moab without them and something must be done− and done quickly. Naomi resolves to return to Bethlehem, since she has heard that the famine has passed and the fields are once again producing in abundance. She announces to Orpah and Ruth that she intends to return home, and urges them to return to their families, in the hope that they will be taken in, but they protest. The text does not tell us exactly why they protested so much; what Naomi has urged upon them makes all the sense in the world; their only chance is to be reunited with their extended families… but will they have them back? Maybe Orpah and Ruth have just become so attached to Naomi that they can’t bear to part and would prefer to take their chances back in Bethlehem, where there are certainly no guarantees that they will be accepted, since they are not Israelites.
Naomi’s thinking is pretty simple; she is too old to marry again, and even if she did she may be past childbearing. Even so, if she could bear more sons, and found a man who would take her as a wife in his old age, Orpah and Ruth can’t wait around for years on end while the sons grew up. No, their only hope would be to return to their families and hope for another chance. Orpah finally sees reason and heads back to her clan, but Ruth, well that is another matter.
For whatever reason, Ruth declares her unyielding intention to stick by Naomi, to worship the God of Israel and to go where ever Naomi goes and to share her fate. Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi gives in and lets her travel with Naomi to Bethlehem and an uncertain fate.
What will happen to them when they return? Will the family take Naomi in after all these years of living among the Moabites? Without a doubt, many families would turn their backs on her at this point, particularly with a gentile in tow. When they arrive, the people in Bethlehem are amazed to see them. Naomi tells the women (for men did not normally speak to unattached women) that they should call her Mara from now on, which means bitter, for God had turned against her.
Interesting isn’t it? From Naomi, which means amiable or pleasant, to Mara which means bitter because of all the family calamity she had suffered. The chapter ends with the notice that they had arrived just as the barley harvest was beginning.