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Bible Commentaries

Hamilton Smith's Writings

Ruth 1

 

 

Verses 1-22

RUTH THE STRANGER

Ruth 1

"The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down. . . The LORD preserveth the strangers; He relieveth the fatherless and the widow." ( Psalm 146:8; Psalm 146:9)

From the opening verse we learn that the Book of Ruth deals with events that "came to pass in the days when the judges ruled." From the last verse of the preceding Book we learn that the days of the judges were marked by two things. First, "in those days there was no king in Israel." Second, "every man did that which was right in his own eyes."

Serious indeed is the condition of any country that has given up kingship involving, as it must, a people without a directing head or governing authority. Where such is the case it follows that every man does that which is right in his own eyes ending in nothing being right that is done.

The loss of kingship involves the rise of democracy leading to the reign of self-will, the flinging aside of all restraint and the indulgence of every kind of license. To such a condition were the people of God reduced in the days of the judges. Alas! in very many respects this low condition finds its counterpart in the world of our day and amongst the professing people of God. The same principles are at work producing the same results. The self-will of Prayer of Manasseh , impatient of all restraint, is increasingly casting off authority. Kingship is fading before the will of the people every man seeking to do that which is right in his own eyes. Democracy is sapping authority in every department of life. The people are seeking to rule in place of the King and his representatives: men are seeking to rule in place of masters, and children in place of parents. The result being that the whole world system is being demoralised and fast falling into ruin and chaos.

But alas! the same principles that are bringing confusion into the world, are at work amongst the people of God, with the same sorrowful results. Hence we see they too are divided and scattered, and the work of disintegration still goes on. The exercise of self-will shuts out the authority of the Lord and the direction of the Head. Like the world the mass of Christians do that which is right in their own eyes. These principles were at work even in the days of the Apostle Paul, for he has to warn the saints that they were in danger of not holding the Head, and confesses with sorrow that "all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ"s."

The instant we cease to draw all our supplies from Christ, the ascended Head of His Body the Church: the moment we cease to act under the direction of the Lord and the control of the Spirit, we commence to do that which is right in our own eyes. It may not be that we do anything morally wrong in the eyes of the world, indeed we may be very active in work, and perfectly sincere; but if in our activities the claims of the Lord, and the direction of the Head, are ignored, it will simply be our own wills doing what is right in our own eyes.

The sorrowful result of the low condition of Israel is portrayed in the opening verse of this first chapter. It brought about a "famine in the land." In the land that should have been the place of plenty in this world a land flowing with milk and honey- there was not enough to supply the needs of the people of God.

Alas! the same evils have brought about a similar result in Christendom. Christians, no longer holding the Head, and not giving the Lord His place of authority, have done what they consider best in their own eyes, forming numberless sects in which the people of God are starving for lack of spiritual food. The House of God which should have been a place of plenty, has become in the hands of men, a place of famine.

1.

The time of famine becomes a time of testing for the individual believer. The famine tests our faith. Elimelech was in the land of God"s appointment for Israel. The tabernacle was there; the priests were there; the altar was there, but, in the governmental ways of God with His people, the famine was there; and the test for Elimelech was this, could he trust God in the famine and remain in God"s appointed path in spite of the famine? Alas, this man of Bethlehem was not equal to the test. He was willing enough to dwell in the land of God"s appointment in separation from surrounding nations in the time of plenty, but he abandons the land under the pressure of the famine.

So in the history of the Church many were content to be connected with the people of God, and the testimony of the Lord, when thousands were being converted, when all that believed were of one heart and one soul, and when "great power" and "great grace" was upon all. But when the professing Christians commenced to do that which was right in their own eyes, when all sought their own things, and Paul the great Apostle was in prison, and the gospel in affliction, then indeed the famine set in. And with the famine came the testing time, and under the test the faith of many broke down, for Paul has to say "All they which are in Asia be turned away from me," and again, "all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ"s."

Nor do we escape the testing of the famine in our day. God in His mercy has once again enlightened many as to the true ground on which His people can meet together, and many attracted by the ministry of the word have gladly accepted the path of separation. But when the test comes, when the numbers are few, when the outward weakness is manifest, and there is but little ministry then they find the place too straight for them, the weakness too trying, the conflict too severe. Under the pressure of circumstances they abandon the position and wander into some place of their own choosing in which they hope to find a way of escape from trial, and rest from conflict.

Thus it was with Elimelech. Very significantly his name means, "Whose God is King." It may be that his parents were pious people who, recognising that there was no king in Israel, desired that God should be King to their son. But alas! as so often is the case, we are not true to our names. When the test came Elimelech fails in rendering obedience to the King. If God is King He can sustain in days of famine as well as in days of plenty; but Elimelech"s faith was not up to the profession of his name, and so was not equal to the pressure of circumstances. Thus it comes to pass he takes the path of the backslider, and not only Song of Solomon , others are turned aside by his lack of faith. His wife and two sons very naturally follow him.

Having abandoned the land of Jehovah, he wanders into a place of his own choosing. And worse still, having arrived in the land of Moab, he "continued there." It is easier to continue in a false position than to abide in a true one. The place that he chooses is significant. The countries that surround the promised land, doubtless typify the world in different forms. Egypt represents the world with its treasures of wealth and pleasures of sin; and moreover the bondage of Satan that the pursuit of pleasure must always bring. Babylon sets forth the world in its religious corruption. Moab too presents a different phase of the world. Its spiritual significance is indicated by the prophet Jeremiah when he says, "Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been poured from vessel to vessel." ( Jeremiah 48:11). Moab stands for a life of ease in which one seeks quiet retirement from all distraction, where there is little movement, and life flows along without much change. To use the prophet"s figure there is no emptying from vessel to vessel.

Egypt with its gross pleasures, and Babylon with its corrupt religion had no attraction for Elimelech. But Moab with its ease, and retirement, made a strong appeal as a way of escape from conflict and trial. And in the presence of the famine Moab is still the great snare for those who have once accepted God"s ground for His people. In the presence of the famine such may find the conflict in maintaining the separate path too painful, the constant movement in that path too testing, and they are tempted to give up the good fight of faith and quietly settle down in some retired valley of Moab, no longer to be poured from vessel to vessel, but to stagnate in their own things. But like Elimelech we have to learn, often by painful experience, the bitter result of backsliding.

As we have seen, not only Elimelech came to Moab, with his wife and two sons, but they "continued there." For Elimelech there was no recovery. For him the land of Moab became the valley of the shadow of death. He sought to escape death by famine in the land of Judah, he walked straight into the arms of death in the land of Moab. The very step he took to avoid death brought him into death. A wrong step taken to avoid trouble leads into the trouble we seek to avoid. Moreover to seek rest in this world, even in things in which there is nothing morally wrong, is to seek rest in things which death can take from us, or from which we can be taken by death. Over earth"s fairest scenes there is the shadow of death. But Christ is risen, death hath no more dominion over Him, and far better to be with the risen Christ in a famine, than surrounded with this world"s plenty in company with death.

Elimelech dies. The sad effects of his false step, however, are not confined to himself. Naomi- his wife, and his two sons had followed him into Moab. The two sons form alliances with the women of Moab, contrary to the law of Jehovah. Ten years pass and then death claims the two sons, and Naomi, bereft of husband and sons, is left a lonely and childless widow in a strange land. The Lord has indeed stripped her and brought her to desolation, but He has not forsaken her. The hand that smote this sore stricken woman was moved by a heart that loved her. The chastening of the Lord prepares the way for her restoration.

2.

If in Elimelech we see the path of the backslider, in Naomi we see the way of restoration. Away from Jehovah"s land ten long years she had sought ease in the land of Moab and found only sorrow. But at last the chastening of the Lord had effected its work for we read, "She arose with her daughters-in-law, that she might return from the country of Moab" (v6). What moved her to return? Was it the sorrows she had endured and the losses she had sustained? Ah no! it was the good news of the Lord"s grace that drew her back. It was when "she had heard . . . how that the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread" that "she arose . . . that she might return" (v6). Sorrows will not move us to return to the Lord, though they may teach us how bitter it is to wander, and so prepare the heart to listen to the good news concerning the Lord and His grace to His people. It was not the misery and the want, the bitter bondage, the husks and hunger of the far country, that turned the prodigal homeward, but the remembrance of the plenty of the Father"s home and the grace of the Father"s heart that led him to say, "I will arise and go to my Father." It was not the misery of the far country that drove him back, but the grace of the Father"s heart that drew him back. So with Naomi, in the land of Moab where all had been taken from her, she hears of the land of Judah where the Lord is "giving" to His people. And with the Lord before her she is lifted above all her failure and arose to return. As we sometimes sing, it is

"the thought of Jesus" love

Lifts our poor hearts this weary world above."

Her first step in the homeward path was to get entirely clear of the false associations of Moab. "She went forth out of the place where she was" (v7). And this very practical step had an immediate effect upon others. Her two daughters-in-law went "with her." To witness against a false position and yet remain in it, will produce no effect on others. If the place is wrong the first step must be to separate from the false position.

Thus it came to pass in the case of Naomi. She went forth and her two daughters-in-law with her. They leave their wrong associations and they have the right place before them for "they went on their way to return unto the land of Judah."

3.

Alas! separation from a fallen position, and having a right one in view, will not necessarily prove the reality of all who thus act. Of these three women Naomi was a backsliding saint in the way of restoration; Ruth a witness of the sovereign grace of God, marked by faith and devoted affection, and Orpah a fair but empty professor who will never reach the promised land.

Both Ruth and Orpah make a profession of devotedness to Naomi. Both profess to leave the land of their fathers, and both have their faces towards the land of Jehovah. But, as ever, profession is put to the test. Naomi says, "Go, each return to her mother"s house" (v8). They have opportunity given to return. This will bring to light whether the thought of their minds is in accord with their outward profession. It they are "mindful"" of that country from whence they came out they have opportunity to return ( Hebrews 11:15). At once the mind of Orpah is revealed. Her heart clings to the land of her birth. Ruth as we shall see desires "a better country."" None the less, Orpah makes a fair profession, but only profession. Her feelings were deeply moved, for she lifted Up her voice and wept (v9): her affections were stirred for she ""kissed her mother-in-law" (v14): and her words were fair for she said, "Surely we will return with thee to thy people"". (v10). It Isaiah , however, significant that Ruth makes mention of Naomi"s God, but with Orpah it is only Naomi, and Naomi"s people. Thus it came to pass in spite of her words, her tears, and her kisses, she turns her back in Naomi, and Naomi"s God, and the land of blessing and returns to "her people," "her gods," and the land of the shadow of death.

4.

How different the history of Ruth; she becomes the witness of the grace of God. Ruth also makes a good profession; she too utters fair words; she too is deeply moved, for, like Orpah, she lifted up her voice and wept. But with Ruth there is more, for with her are found the "things that accompany salvation," faith, love and hope ( Hebrews 6:9-12).

With Orpah there was only the outward expression of love. She could kiss and leave Naomi, even as, at a later date, Judas could kiss and betray the Lord. Of Ruth it is never actually said that she kissed Naomi; but if there was no outward expression of love there was the reality of love, for we read Ruth "clave unto her" (v14). Love if real, cannot give up its loved object, and must be in the company of the one that is loved, and hence Ruth adds, "Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee."

Moreover her faith is equal to her affection. In the energy of faith she overcomes the attraction of the land of her birth, the home of her mother, her people, and her gods. She accepts the pilgrim path, for she says, "Whither thou goest, I will go." She embraces the lot of a stranger, for she says, "Where thou lodgest, I will lodge." She identifies herself with the people of God, "Thy people shall be my people." Above all she puts her trust in the true God, for, she not only says, "Thy people shall be my people," but she adds, "Thy God my God." Death itself cannot turn her back, for she can say, "Where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried." In life, and in death, she wholly identifies herself with Naomi, and henceforth claims Naomi"s people as her people, and Naomi"s God as her God. And all this at a moment when, for sight, she had nothing before her but an old broken-down woman; for as one has said, she casts in her lot "with Naomi in the hour of her widowhood, her strangership and her poverty."

To the prudent man of the world Ruth"s choice looks very foolish. To leave the ease of Moab, the comforts of home, and the land of her birth, and take a wilderness journey of which she knows nothing, to a land that she has never seen, in company with a poverty stricken widow, looks indeed the very height of folly. This however, is only the beginning of the story, the end is not yet. It doth not yet appear what she shall be. Faith may take its first step in circumstances of poverty and weakness, but in the end faith will be justified, and have its bright reward, in circumstances of power and glory. At the beginning of the story Ruth is whole-heartedly identified with an aged and desolate widow; in the end she is displayed as the bride of the mighty and wealthy Boaz; and yet more, her name is handed down to all generations enshrined in the genealogy of the Lord.

Moses in his day with every advantage that nature could confer, with all the glory of this world within his grasp, became a shining example of like faith. Turning his back on the pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, he forsook the world and all its glories to find himself in a wilderness scene in company with a poor and suffering people. What utter folly in the eyes of the world! But in his day faith might truly have said, "It doth not yet appear what he shall be." Faith must wait sixteen centuries before it begins to appear what he shall be; then we are permitted to see Moses appearing in glory on the Mount of Transfiguration in company with the Son of Man the passing vision of a glory that will never pass away. And when at last Moses enters into the coming kingdom glories in company with the King of kings, it will be manifest that the glories of this world which he refused, were small indeed compared with the eternal weight of glory that he gained.

Nor is it otherwise in our day. The path of faith may seem in the sight of this world the very height of folly. To refuse this world"s glory to identify oneself with the poor and despised people of God, to go forth unto Christ without the camp bearing His reproach- may appear to human reason, and natural sight, sheer madness. But faith still replies, "It doth not yet appear what we shall be." Faith judges that "our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." And faith will have its bright reward; for when at last the day of glory dawns, and faith is changed to sight- when the great day of the marriage of the Lamb is come- then His poor and despised saints will appear with Him, and like Him, as "the Bride, the Lamb"s wife."

Moreover, if the things that accompany salvation- faith, love and hope- are in exercise it will result in purpose of heart. It was thus with Ruth; she had no respect to the country she was leaving, no vain regrets, but "was stedfastly minded to go." And thus it came to pass, "they two went until they came to Bethlehem." Good for us if we too, animated by faith, love and hope, forget the things that are behind, reach out to the things that are before, and pursue looking towards the goal for the prize of the calling on high of God in Christ Jesus.

5.

This portion of the story of Ruth closes very naturally with the reception of a restored soul. We have seen the bitterness of the path of the backslider and traced the Lord"s gracious way of restoration. We have now to learn that the true answer to the Lord"s restoration is found in reception among the Lord"s people. With their faces towards God"s land, and God"s people, the restored saint, and the newly converted soul, press on "until they came to Bethlehem." And it came to pass when they came to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them." Alas! we have to admit there is little power for restoration today, and may it not be it is because there is so little compassion for those who fail? Saints fail, and the evil may be refused, and the evildoer rightly dealt with, but we are very little "moved about them," and hence how seldom the backslider finds his way back to the people of God. The world is full of sad hearts and broken hearts, and wandering saints, and so seldom are they restored, and so little are we moved about them!

Nothing will so complete the work of restoration m a soul, as the compassion of the saints for the soul. It was so with Naomi. The loving reception that she received, opens her heart and draws forth a beautiful confession that attests the reality of her restoration.

1. She owns that however much she had failed the Lord had not given her up. Speaking of the days of her wandering she owns, "The Almighty hath dealt . . . with me." We may cease to have dealings with Him, but He loves us too much to cease dealing with us. And well that it is Song of Solomon , for, says the Apostle, "If ye endure chastening God dealeth with you as with sons . . . But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons." ( Hebrews 12:7; Hebrews 12:8).

2. Naomi confesses that if the Lord deals with us in our backslidings, these dealings will be very bitter, so she has to add that the Lord dealt with her "very bitterly." So too the Apostle reminds us that "no chastening at the time seemeth to be joyous but grievous" ( Hebrews 12:11).

3. Naomi very beautifully takes all the blame for her wanderings. She says, "I went out." In the story we read it was "a certain man went to sojourn in the country of Moab," but she breathes no word against her husband. She does not blame others, and she does not excuse herself.

4. If Naomi takes all the blame for her backsliding, she rightly gives the Lord all the credit of her restoration. She can say, "The Lord hath brought me back." I did the going out and the Lord did the bringing back. And in like spirit, David can say, "He restoreth my soul" ( Psalm 23:3). We may think in our moments of self-confidence, and self-sufficiency that we can return to the Lord when we think well, but no backslider would ever return to the Lord unless the Lord restored. The Lord"s prayer for Peter before he failed, and the Lord"s look when he had failed, broke Peter"s heart and led to his restoration. Peter followed afar off, and Peter failed, but it was the Lord that brought him back.

5. Moreover, Naomi does not simply say the Lord brought me back, but "The Lord hath brought me home." When the Lord brings back it is into all the warmth and love of the home circle. When the Shepherd picked up His lost sheep He brought it to His own home. He seems to say, "Nothing less than my home will do for my sheep."

6. Nevertheless, she has very touchingly to own that though the Lord brought her home, He "brought me home again empty." We make no spiritual progress in the days of our wandering from the Lord. The Lord may indeed deal with us to strip us of much that hinders soul progress. As with Naomi we have to confess, "I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty." As with all who wander, Naomi has to suffer. Very blessedly she is restored; very truly she gets back to her home, the Lord"s people and the Lord"s land, but she never gets back her husband and her sons. They are gone for ever. She sought ease and rest from conflict and exercise; she found only death and loss. She was brought back empty.

7. But if the Lord brings us back empty He will bring us back to a place of plenty. It was so with Naomi, for when Naomi returned it was "the beginning of barley harvest."

What a comfort for our hearts to know that if we fail in our compassions to one another, that there is no failure with the Lord. In yet a little while the Lord will bring home His poor wandering sheep, not one will be lacking at last. Then, in love"s eternal home, we shall enjoy the fulness of heaven"s great harvest- it will be the "beginning" of a harvest of blessing and joy that will have no end.

 


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Bibliography Information
Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Ruth 1:4". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/hsw/ruth-1.html. 1832.

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