That the famine in Ruth 1 was triggered by bad theology might come as a surprise to some of you. Famines in our era are not usually the result of a nation worshipping the wrong god(s), but then, we’re not God’s covenant nation of Israel navigating the polytheistic agricultural gods of the Ancient Near East (ANE).
In the ANE, if a nation’s fertility gods didn’t give them rain, their crops would fail, and they would die. So, each nation had their own family of gods that was believed to be in charge of rain and weather, and it was to these gods that they looked to for life, victory and protection. Deities in the ANE were tied to individual nations and their respective geographical space. The Philistines on the Mediterranean coast worshipped Dagon, the people in Moab worshiped Chemosh. Meanwhile, the people across the Jordan river in Canaan worshipped Baal, whom they believed gave them fertility, victory and protection.
The reason that famine in Israel’s experience was theological was that Israel had fallen into the trap of worshipping Canaan’s gods of fertility (Baal and others). In spite of all the powerful signs in the Exodus out of Egypt, they turned from YHWH to the local and national gods that the Canaanites believed would give them life, victory and protection. God took offense. And he introduced a fertility famine.
Hosea records God’s response;
For she (Israel) said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ 6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns…
8 And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. 9 Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax…
POINT? Because God’s people of Israel thought of Baal as the source of their rain, grain and wine – God would introduce a famine and shut off the rain, grain and wine to guide them back to Himself.
God is a jealous God. Anytime we turn from Him and seek life in another god/idol, we can expect His intervention. And that’s usually not pleasant. But it’s always good.
So, for Israelite's, famines were theological and resulted when they sought life, victory and protection in other gods above YHWH. But, for us, is it the same? Are famines today god’s judgement? What about other disasters, like the building that collapsed in China on May 3, 2022 killing several people? Was that God’s anger for them worshipping the wrong gods?
Such things could be divine discipline, it doesn’t seem wise to attribute each and every disaster to God’s anger or discipline. Sometimes accidents happen and are not directly connected to bad theology or bad behavior. Jesus states this in Luke 13:4,
“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Key question: Where are you looking for life, victory and protection?
As David said, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).
Don’t be fooled by a cultural counterfeit. Life, victory and protection are only found in the presence of God.