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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Ruth 1

 

 

Verse 1

SOJOURN OF ELIMELECH’S FAMILY IN MOAB, Ruth 1:1-5.

1. When the judges ruled — The age of the Judges extended from the death of Joshua’s generation unto the time of Samuel’s public resignation of his office at Gilgal, (1 Samuel 12,) when Saul was established king — a period, according to the common chronology, of more than three hundred years. See Introduction to Judges.

A famine in the land — Perhaps that scarcity of food and suffering caused in the land of Israel by the seven years’ oppression of the Midianites, whose devastations reached even to Gaza, and left no sustenance for man or beast. Judges 6:4. According to Ruth 1:4, Naomi dwelt in the land of Moab about ten years, and Ruth 1:6 gives the impression that the famine continued in the land of Israel during most of this period, which comports well with the seven years of Midianitish rule. According to this supposition the events of this book of Ruth were contemporaneous with the judgeship of Gideon.

Beth-lehem-judah — So called to distinguish it from another city of the same name in the tribe of Zebulun. Joshua 19:15. It is situated about six miles south of Jerusalem. Its great celebrity is its being the birthplace of Ruth’s divine descendant, Jesus the Messiah. Its ancient name was Ephrath or Ephratah. See, further, notes on Genesis 35:19, and Matthew 2:1.

Went to sojourn — To reside for a time as a stranger; not to remain permanently.

The country of Moab — Literally, The fields of Moab; the district east of the Dead sea, forty or fifty miles in length by twenty in width, peopled by the descendants of Moab, whose origin is narrated in Genesis 19:30-37. See also notes on Numbers 21:13, and Deuteronomy 2:9. This region has long lain waste, and the dangers of modern travel there have been so many that until quite recently few have ventured to explore it. Captains Irby and Mangles passed through it in 1818, and in their Travels describe the land as capable of rich cultivation, and, though now so deserted, yet presenting evidences of former plenty and fertility. In some places the form of fields is still visible, and the plains are covered with the sites of towns on every eminence or spot convenient for the construction of one. Wherever any spot is cultivated the corn is luxuriant, and the multitude and close vicinity of the sites of ancient towns prove that the population of the country was formerly proportioned to its fertility. In 1870 Professor Palmer passed through the fields of Moab, and his description of the country confirms that of Irby and Mangles. “The uplands are very fertile and productive; and, although the soil is badly tended by the few scattered Arab tribes who inhabit it, large tracts of pasture land and extensive corn fields meet the eye at every turn. Ruined villages and towns, broken walls that once enclosed gardens and vineyards, remains of ancient roads — every thing in Moab tells of the immense wealth and population which that country must have once enjoyed.” In the days of Ehud the Israelites were subject to the Moabites for the space of eighteen years, but under that judge the Moabites were “subdued,” after which the land had rest fourscore years. Judges 3:12-30. From this history of Ruth we find that amicable relations existed in her day between the two nations, so that Moab became a place of refuge for Israelitish emigrants. So, too, in later times, it continued to be an asylum for outcasts and wanderers, See 1 Samuel 22:3-4; Isaiah 16:3-4; Jeremiah 40:11-12.

His two sons — Who were, at the time of his emigration, unmarried.


Verse 2

2. The names of this family are significant.

Elimelech — My God a king.

Naomi — My pleasantness. Compare Ruth 1:20.

Mahlon — Sickliness.

Chilion — Consumption. The sons were, perhaps, so named from having sickly constitutions, which resulted in their early death.

Ephrathites — so called from the more ancient name of their native place, Ephrath. The same Hebrew word is also used as synonymous with Ephraimite. See Judges 12:4-5; 1 Samuel 1:1.


Verse 4

4. They took them wives — “A kind of phrase,” says Kitto, “which usually occurs in a bad sense, as done without the concurrence of their parents, or not left so entirely to them as custom required.”

Of the women of Moab — The law condemned intermarriages with the Canaanitish tribes, but, inasmuch as Israel and Moab were descended from kindred ancestors, Abraham and Lot, not with the daughters of the Moabites, (Deuteronomy 7:3;) it commanded, however, that no Moabite, even to the tenth generation, should enter the congregation of the Lord. Deuteronomy 23:3. In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah the law was so construed as to prohibit all intermarriage with foreigners. Exodus 9, and Nehemiah 13.

But it was a distinguishing feature of the age of the Judges that every man did that which was right in his own eyes, (Judges 17:6;) the law was not enforced, and men forgot the commandments of the Lord and indulged in such looseness as even to intermarry with the idolatrous Canaanites. See Judges 3:5-6.

In this marriage of Ruth, the Moabitess, and Mahlon, the Beth-lehemite, we may now see the overruling hand of Providence, by which a Gentile woman is adopted into the family from which Christ had his human lineage, thus typifying the reception of the Gentiles into the kingdom of the Messiah, and the elevation, by the Gospel, of different nations above narrow sectional prejudices and partition-walls into feelings of a common brotherhood. “The story of Ruth has shed a peaceful light over what else would be the accursed race of Moab. We strain our gaze to know something of the long line of the purple hills of Moab, which form the background at once of the history and of the geography of Palestine. It is a satisfaction to feel that there is one tender association which unites them with the familiar history and scenery of Judea — that from their recesses, across the deep gulf which separates the two regions, came the Gentile ancestress of David and the Messiah.” — Stanley.


Verse 5

5. The woman was left of her two sons and her husband — That is, she alone remained of the family that came from Beth-lehem. They emigrated from the land of their people to escape the miseries of famine, but in the plenteous land of Moab death overtook them. The Targum and the Jewish writers generally regard these deaths as a judgment on the family of Elimelech for seeking comfort among idolaters, and intermarrying with them. Generally, those who are easily induced by losses or difficulties to change their places or pursuits in life seldom reap advantage from their changes. The bitter losses and changes of Naomi, however, were overruled by a wise and gracious Providence to the honour of her name and the blessing of the world.


Verse 6

6. She arose with her daughters in law — She made known to them her intention to return on foot and alone to the land of Israel; and when the time of her departure came, Orpah and Ruth arose and went forth with her to bear her company a little way on her journey, perhaps undecided whether to go all the way with her or not.

She had heard — Probably by some traveller that had recently passed through the land of Judea. But the tidings may not have reached her until several years after the famine had ceased, for sometimes intelligence travels with wonderful slowness in the East, and particularly in that age, when there was probably very little intercourse between Israel and the surrounding nations.

The Lord had visited his people in giving them bread — By raising up Gideon to end the oppression of the Midianites, who for seven years had consumed the produce of their fields, and by now causing the fields to yield unwonted abundance. The sacred historian sees in all this the hand of Jehovah.


Verses 6-22

NAOMI’S RETURN WITH RUTH TO BETHLEHEM, Ruth 1:6-22.

Bereft of her husband and her sons, the desolate Naomi turns her heart towards the land of her people. To her Moab has been a land of sorrows, and though the graves of her beloved dead are there, they are so full of bitter recollections that she wishes not to linger near them. The ten years of her sojourn in these sunny, fertile fields of abundance have been to her worse than years of famine.


Verse 7

7. Her two daughters-in-law with her — They would, as a matter of courtesy and love, accompany her a distance on her lonely journey.

They went on the way — They all three went along together, as if all were started for Beth-lehem; they felt a common sympathy and sorrow, and could not bear to be separated.


Verse 8

8. Go, return — Thus, at length, the tearful Naomi herself breaks the silence of their grief. She feels that she would wrong these daughters of Moab to take them with her where, in all probability, they would be shut up to lasting widowhood.

Each to her mother’s house — She says mother’s house rather than father’s, for it is maternal tenderness and sympathy that best knows how to comfort and cheer a daughter in her sorrows.

As ye have dealt with the dead and with me — Their life in Moab had been one of harmony and reciprocated kindnesses. No discord, no family feuds, had arisen among them; their sorrows came from the death of those they loved.


Verse 9

9. That ye may find rest — That is, that ye may be happily married again, and thereby obtain relief from the bereavement and sorrows which now afflict you. The estate of holy matrimony is well called a state of rest, for the natural affections and propensities instinctively yearn for it, and in it alone find their lawful gratification. The Rabbins say: “The man is restless while he misses the rib that was taken out of his side; and the woman is restless till she gets under the man’s arm, from whence she was taken.”

She kissed them — With such kisses as only a tender mother could imprint upon the objects of her lost sons’ love. But those kisses bound them to her so that they could not tear themselves asunder.


Verse 11

11. Why will ye go with me — What purpose will it serve for you to accompany me further? What object of self-interest can ye have?

Are there yet any more sons — This is said in allusion to the levirate law, which made it the duty of a person to marry his deceased brother’s widow and thus preserve his brother’s name and family. See the law, as detailed in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, and note at the beginning of chap. 3. Naomi here reminds Ruth and Orpah, in the spirit of her age and country, that she has no more sons for them.


Verse 12

12. I am too old to have a husband — She urges, in addition, the utter improbability of her having another husband or other sons, and hence the propriety of their return to their mothers’ homes, where, as young widows, they might be happily married again.


Verse 13

13. It grieveth me much for your sakes — More literally, It is much more bitter to me than to you that, etc. My hopes for earthly comfort in my own land are poorer than yours in Moab.

The hand of the Lord is gone out against me — In my own family a severe and mysterious Providence has cut off all temporal hope for you and for me. This was indeed a source of grief. Keil observes that Naomi omitted to notice one possible case, namely, that her daughters in law might find other husbands in Judea. He supposes she did not hint at this chiefly from feelings of delicacy on account of their Moabitish descent, which would be an obstacle to their marriage among the Israelites.


Verse 14

14. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law — The last sad kiss of a tearful separation; after which she, unlike Ruth, turned back again to her people and her gods. The great deity of the Moabites was Chemosh. Numbers 21:29; Judges 11:24.

But Ruth clave unto her — She would not leave nor forsake her. It was not merely because of a tender affection for her mother in law that she clung to her, but also a yearning desire to know more of the God and land of Israel. Compare Ruth 2:11-12. Like Martha and Mary of New Testament history. Orpah and Ruth represent two different types of character. Orpah’s home attachments, and desire to find rest in another husband’s house, control and limit her life-influence and action. Ruth’s loftier spirit discerns in the God of Israel the fountain of a purer religion than the Moabitish idolatry affords, and gladly forsakes father and mother and sister and native land to identify herself in any way with the people of Jehovah. Thus it is that, in some decisive moment, every soul that attains salvation makes its choice, by which it adopts the true Jehovah as its portion. It abandons all the former idolatries of its life, and becomes a true worshipper of the true God.


Verse 16

16. Entreat me not to leave thee — Nothing in all the range of literature can surpass the beauty and tenderness of Ruth’s reply to Naomi, contained in this and the following verse. The Chaldee Paraphrase puts the passage in the following form: “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave and return from following after thee, for I desire to become a proselyte. Said Naomi, We are commanded to observe the Sabbath and good days, in not travelling more than two thousand cubits. Said Ruth, To every place whither thou goest I will go. Said Naomi, We are commanded not to lodge with the Gentiles. Said Ruth, Wheresoever thou lodgest I will lodge. Said Naomi, We are commanded to keep six hundred and thirteen precepts.

Said Ruth, What thy people keep I will keep, as if they were my people from of old until now. Said Naomi, We are commanded not to worship with a strange worship. Said Ruth, Thy God shall himself be my God. Said Naomi, We have four kinds of capital punishment for criminals: stoning, burning, beheading, and hanging. Said Ruth, In whatever way thou diest I will die. Said Naomi, We have a house of burial. Said Ruth, And there will I be buried.” Blessed are the human ties that lead us to God and heaven!


Verse 17

17. The Lord do so to me — Here is the first occurrence of that common formula of an oath by which the person swearing called down upon himself a stroke of Divine judgment in case he kept not his word, nor carried out his resolution. Compare marginal references.


Verse 19

19. They came to Beth-lehem — The journey must have occupied several days. They knew not what awaited them. The future seemed full of darkness and sorrow, and they then little dreamed of the honours that were to crown their memory in the history of the chosen people.

All the city was moved about them — The Beth-lehemites beheld with emotion their grief and loneliness, and heard with sorrow the story of their sad bereavement. Their sad history, we may suppose, was for a time on every lip, and even a matter of interesting conversation among the elders and most honourable of the city. Ruth 2:11-12.

Is this Naomi — As though they had said, Has the once cheerful and pleasant wife of the honoured Elimelech come to this state of sorrow?


Verse 20

20. Call me not Naomi, call me Mara — Naomi means pleasant, or, more exactly, my pleasantness; Mara signifies bitter or sorrowful. The mysterious and severe dispensations of the Almighty had turned all her former pleasures into bitterness and woe.


Verse 21

21. I went out full — That is, in the rich possession of a husband and two sons.

Home again empty — Bereft of my most precious treasures, so that the cause of my pleasantness is gone.


Verse 22

22. The beginning of barley harvest — April is the month in which the barley harvest is chiefly gathered in, although it begins earlier in some parts of Palestine and later in others. The mention of the harvest at the time of Naomi’s return contrasts suggestively with the notice of the famine which was the occasion of her emigration.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ruth 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ruth-1.html. 1874-1909.

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