corner graphic

Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Ruth 1:1



Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.

Adam Clarke Commentary

When the judges ruled - We know not under what judge this happened; some say under Ehud, others under Shamgar. See the preface.

There was a famine - Probably occasioned by the depredations of the Philistines, Ammonites, etc., carrying off the corn as soon as it was ripe, or destroying it on the field.

The Targum says: "God has decreed ten grievous famines to take place in the world, to punish the inhabitants of the earth, before the coming of Messiah the king. The first in the days of Adam; the second in the days of Lamech; the third in the days of Abraham; the fourth in the days of Isaac; the fifth in the days of Jacob; the sixth in the days of Boaz, who is called Abstan, (Ibzan), the just, of Beth-lehem-judah; the seventh in the days of David, king of Israel; the eighth in the days of Elijah the prophet; the ninth in the days of Elisha, in Samaria; the tenth is yet to come, and it is not a famine of bread or of water but of hearing the word of prophecy from the mouth of the Lord; and even now this famine is grievous in the land of Israel."

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

In the days when the Judges ruled - “Judged.” This note of time, like that in Rth 4:7 ; Judges 18:1; Judges 17:6, indicates that this Book was written after the rule of the judges had ceased. The genealogy Rth 4:17-22 points to the time of David as the earliest when the Book of Ruth could have been written.

A famine - Caused probably by one of the hostile invasions recorded in the Book of Judges. Most of the Jewish commentators, from the mention of Bethlehem, and the resemblance of the names Boaz and Ibzan, refer this history to the judge Ibzan Judges 12:8, but without probability.

The country of Moab - Here, and in Rth 1:2 , Rth 1:22 ; Rth 4:3 , literally, “the field” or “fields.” As the same word is elsewhere used of the territory of Moab, of the Amalekites, of Edom, and of the Philistines, it would seem to be a term pointedly used with reference to a foreign country, not the country of the speaker, or writer; and to have been specially applied to Moab.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Ruth 1:1

In the days when the judges ruled.

The transition from Judges to Ruth

Leaving the Book of Judges and opening the story of Ruth, we pass from vehement out-door life, from tempest and trouble, into quiet domestic scenes. After an exhibition of the greater movements of a people we are brought, as it were, to a cottage interior in the soft light of an autumn evening, to obscure lives passing through the cycles of loss and comfort, affection and sorrow. We have seen the ebb and flow of a nation’s fidelity and fortune; a few leaders appearing clearly on the stage, and behind them a multitude indefinite, indiscriminate, the thousands who form the ranks of battle and die on the field, who sway together from Jehovah to Baal, and back to Jehovah again. What the Hebrews were at home, how they lived in the villages of Judah or on the slopes of Tabor, the narrative has not paused to speak of with detail. Now there is leisure after the strife, and the historian can describe old customs and family events, can show us the toiling flockmaster, the busy reapers, the women with their cares and uncertainties, the love and labour of simple life. Thunderclouds of sin and judgment have rolled over the scene; but they have cleared away, and we see human nature in examples that become familiar to us, no longer in weird shadow or vivid lightning flash, but as we commonly know it, homely, erring, enduring, imperfect, not unblest. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)

There was a famine in the land.

Famine, the consequence of sin

This might happen many ways: by the incursion of foreign enemies, by civil wars among themselves, or by restraint of seasonable showers from heaven. Howsoever it came, sin was the cause thereof: a toleration of idolaters and public monuments of idolatry ( 1:21; 1:27; 1:29-30; 3:5; 2:2), contrary to God’s express commandment by the hand of Moses. They fell themselves unto idolatry ( 2:11-13; 2:17; 8:27).

I. That sins, Especially those aforenamed, deserve the judgments of God (Deuteronomy 28:1-68; 1 Kings 8:35-37). Therefore, to escape plagues, let us take heed of sin (Ezekiel 18:31; Revelation 18:1-24).

II. That famine and dearth is a punishment for sin, and that a great plague (Ezekiel 5:16; Deuteronomy 28:23-24; Leviticus 26:19; Leviticus 26:29; Amos 4:1-13). And when this hand of God cometh upon us, let us search our ways and humble ourselves (2 Chronicles 7:14), that the Lord may heal our land, for it is a terrible judgment (1 Samuel 24:14) and without mercy (2 Kings 6:10; 2 Kings 6:29; Ezekiel 4:10).

III. We may hereby see how God made His word good upon them, and that He dallieth not with His people, in denouncing judgments against them; for Moses had told them (Deuteronomy 28:1-68) that God would thus afflict them if rebellious against Him: and here the story telleth us that in the days of the judges this famine came. (R. Bernard.)

A famine in the land!

in the land of promise and in Bethlehem, the House of Bread! No doubt the state of affairs in Bethlehem constituted a severe trial of faith to Elimelech and his family and neighbours. It is very hard to see the meal growing less and less in the barrel; it is even harder for those who have enjoyed times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and seasons of genuine delight in His service, to lose the experience of the Divine love and care, to find prayer becoming a burden and the Word of God lifeless and unhelpful; but can either the one condition of things or the other be any excuse or justification for forsaking the land of promise? For, to begin with, how can a change of front help us under the circumstances? If corn be scarce in Canaan, where God has pledged Himself to feed us, is it likely that better things will be found in a land upon which, as we shall see, His curse is resting? If from any cause our sense of the presence and approval of Jesus seems to have lost something of its distinctness, even in that circle of Church life and Christian society with which we have been associated, is it probable that we shall obtain truer solace and renewal in that “world” the friendship of which is declared to be enmity to our Lord? And, after all, what is the province of faith if it be of no service to us under such circumstances as these? Christ, as we well know, changes not; if there be a change in our experience of Him, the causes lie with us, and not with our Lord--the clouds are earth-born; what we need is more sun, not less, and this we shall never obtain by turning our back upon Him from whom every blessing of spiritual experience, as well as of earthly enjoyment, flows. It is pretty certain that, like Elimelech, those whose hearts are growing colder would protest almost with indignation that they have no intention of any permanent abandonment of Christ. They are suffering from famine--from a loss of spiritual enjoyment. To what may this unhappy state of things be due? Some, perhaps, would frankly aver that they never have found enjoyment in Christ and His service from the very commencement; they have sought to serve Him purely as a matter of duty: for their pleasure they have looked to the world. Some, again, would admit that there are both food and enjoyment in the Divine life for those who desire to follow Christ, and at one time they themselves hoped that it would prove permanently satisfying; but they confess that they got tired of it after a time, and it seemed rather hard to them that they should be required to limit themselves to that which, however good in itself, appeared to be somewhat restricted in character. Now, our Bread is Christ, and dissatisfaction with our Bread is dissatisfaction with Him, and confessions such as those to which we have been listening simply mean that the Lord Jesus has ceased to be, or more probably has never been in any very real sense, everything to us; such persons as those whose cases we have imagined have not actually given up serving and loving the Lord, or at any rate do not think they have done so, but into a heart which has never been completely surrendered to the Master they have admitted other objects of regard, and these later affections, competing with that earlier one, have dimmed its lustre and loosened its hold upon us. And are there not others who, whilst desiring after a fashion to lead a Christian life, deliberately place themselves beyond the reach, so to speak, of the nourishing and fructifying grace of God by the very character of the circumstances by which they elect to surround themselves? Their friends, their amusements, their books (not to mention other matters) seem to be chosen almost with a view to hindering instead of assisting their growth in Christ. But the Holy Spirit is Sovereign; He is the Lord of life as well as the giver of it, and He feeds the souls who seek Him in accordance with His own will, not in accordance with theirs. And the famine in Bethlehem took place “in the days when the judges ruled.” It is impossible to read the historian’s account of those days ( 2:11, etc.) without realising that the times were very bad indeed, and just such as we should expect to be characterised by famine and distress of all kinds. For, to begin with, they were days of religion by fits and starts--days in which the Israelites served God when they were in trouble and forgot Him as soon as their circumstances improved. Is it likely that such a condition of things and such a fashion of living can succeed? Will God bless those who, blind to His long-suffering, set every law of gratitude and right behaviour at defiance in this hopeless kind of way? But is not this precisely what some of us are constantly doing? No, religion by fits and starts cannot possibly be a happy state of affairs: it must involve us in that separation from God which results in famine. We shall not improve our circumstances, however, by turning our backs upon God; let us understand that our want is due to our own conduct, not to God’s unfaithfulness, and let us seek so to amend our lives that He may yet be able to make our land flow with milk and honey. Moreover, the days when the judges ruled were obviously days of intermittent government: the arrangement was but a makeshift at the best. In our own ease it is the absence of the autocratic rule of the Lord Jesus, or rather our fretful murmuring against the rule, which lies at the root of most of our spiritual sorrow. We acknowledge the Lord as our Saviour, but do we sufficiently recognise Him to be Christ our King? It is impossible for us to fear the Lord and serve our own gods, and be happy--try as we may. That there are times in the experience of all Christian people when the pasture which once was green fails somewhat of its peaceful restfulness no one who knows anything of life will for a moment deny. But this is neither starvation nor a breaking of faith on the part of our covenant God. Elimelech left Bethlehem in a moment of panic, or a fit of despondency or of world-hunger, but others remained and trusted the God of their fathers; and when ten years later Naomi, the solitary survivor of the little band, returned, she found her friends alive and well and in the enjoyment of barley harvest. They had been tried, indeed, but never forsaken. It was sad enough that Elimelech should have left the land of promise and the House of Bread: it was worse that he should have selected Moab as his new home. It was not merely that the people of the country were heathen, and that, as Elimelech must have known, if he and his family were to remain true to God they would have to lead lives of trial and to face unpopularity and perhaps persecution, but Moab had acted with extraordinary bitterness to his ancestors in times past, and in consequence was under a very terrible curse. Are we in no danger? Are there none of us who are beginning to turn our heads, and our hearts too, in the direction of those old associations and those old surroundings which did us so much injury in the past--the scars of whose wounds, the fascination of whose attractions, have not yet passed away? Are we wise in venturing where stronger men than we are have fallen, where we ourselves fell not so long ago? God help us, and keep us true to Him and to ourselves! (H. A. Hall, B. D.)


The famine in Bethlehem

The home of Elimelech was in Bethlehem “Bethlehem-judah” as the historian is careful to remark, in order to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the territory of the tribe of Zebulun. Its very name--Bethlehem, i.e., House of Bread--indicates its fertility. And therefore the famine which drove Elimelech from Bethlehem must have been extraordinarily protracted and severe; even the most wealthy and fertile parts of the land must have been consumed by drought: there was no bread even in the very House of Bread. Elimelech and his household were by no means likely to be the first to feel the pinch of want, or to feel it most keenly; for he came of a good stock, of a family that stood high in the tribe of Judah, and was a man of consideration and wealth. The probability is that he was rich in flocks and herds, a sheep-master such as Bethlehem has constantly produced, and that it was to find pastures for his famishing flocks that he went to sojourn in Moab. (S. Cox, D. D.)

He, and his wife, and his two sons.--

Family names

The names are thoroughly Jewish, and are rich in meaning. Elimelech was a grand name for a pious man; it means, “My God is King.” The mother is called Naomi, “the gracious” or “sweetness.” Mahlon means “weakly,” and Chilion, “pining” or “wasting,” referring probably to their bodily condition; for as they both died young it is possible they were ailing from their birth. But it is noteworthy that in those olden times parents were accustomed to give their children names according to some peculiarity in their circumstances, or in the fond hope that the special virtue implied in the name might be developed in after-life. Isaac’s firstborn is Esau, because of the redness of his skin. Moses in exile calls his son Gershom, “For,” he said, “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” The custom is dying out in these modern times. Parents give children names without inquiring the meaning; the sound is more to them than the sense. But there may be more involved, for good or evil, in the old custom than we suppose. Shakespeare asks, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” True, but as an American writer points out, “The influence of names in the formation of character is probably much greater than is usually imagined, and deserves the special attention of parents in their bestowment. Children should be taught that the circumstances of their bearing the names of good men or women who have lived before them constitutes an obligation upon them to imitate or perpetuate their virtues.” It does not follow that the desired result will be obtained, yet it may be an influence; and at least the name, when contrasted with the life, will be a constant rebuke. (Wm. Braden.)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ruth 1:1". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled,.... So that it appears that this history is of time and things after the affair of Micah, and of the concubine of the Levite, and of the war between Israel and Benjamin; for in those times there was no king nor judge in Israel; but to what time of the judges, and which government of theirs it belongs to, is not agreed on. JosephusF15 places it in the government of Eli, but that is too late for Boaz, the grandfather of Jesse, the father of David, to live. Some Jewish writers, as Jarchi, say it was in the times of Ibzan, who they sayF16 is the same with Boaz, but without proof, and which times are too late also for this history. The Jewish chronologyF17 comes nearer the truth, which carries it up as high as the times of Eglon, king of Moab, when Ehud was judge; and with which Dr. LightfootF18 pretty much agrees, who puts this history between the third and fourth chapters of Judges, and so must belong to the times of Ehud or Shamgar. Junius refers it to the times of Deborah and Barak; and othersF19, on account of the famine, think it began in the times the Midianites oppressed Israel, and carried off the fruits of the earth, which caused it, when Gideon was raised up to be their judge; AltingF20 places it in the time of Jephthah; such is the uncertainty about the time referred to:

that there was a famine in the land; the land of Canaan, that very fruitful country. The Targum says this was the sixth famine that had been in the world, and it was in the days of Boaz, who is called Ibzan the just, and who was of Bethlehemjudah; but it is more probable that it was in the days of Gideon, as before observed, than in the days of Ibzan

and a certain man of Bethlehemjudah; so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15 which had its name from the fruitfulness of the place, and the plenty of bread in it, and yet the famine was here; hence this man with his family removed from it:

and went to sojourn in the country of Moab; where there was plenty; not to dwell there, but to sojourn for a time, until the famine was over:

he and his wife, and his two sons; the names of each of them are next given. par parF15 Antiqu. l. 5. c. 9. sect. 1.F16 T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 91. 1. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 8. 2. Jarchi & Abendana in loc.F17 Seder Olam Rabba, c. 12. p. 33.F18 Works, vol. 1. p. 48.F19 Rambachius in loc. & Majus in ib. so Biship Patrick. Lampe Hist. Eccl. l. 1. c. 5. p. 22.F20 Theolog. Hist. loc. 2. p. 84.

Copyright Statement
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Gill, John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the a land. And a certain man of b Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

The Argument - This book is called Ruth, who is the main person spoken of in this writing. In which also the state of the Church is set forth figuratively, being subject to many afflictions and yet eventually God gives good and joyful offspring, teaching us to abide with patience till God delivers us out of troubles. In this also it is described how Jesus Christ, who according to the flesh came from David, proceeded by Ruth, of whom the Lord Jesus promised to come, nonetheless she was a Moabite of base condition, and a stranger to the people of God; declaring to us by it that the Gentiles would be sanctified by him, and joined with his people, and that there would be one sheepfold, and one shepherd. It would appear that this account belongs to the time of the judges.

(a) In the land of Canaan.

(b) In the tribe of Judah, which was also called Bethlehem Ephrathat, because there was another city so called in the tribe of Zebulun.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

1:1-5. Elimelech, driven by famine into Moab, dies there.

in the days when the judges ruled — The beautiful and interesting story which this book relates belongs to the early times of the judges. The precise date cannot be ascertained.

Copyright Statement
These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary


The book of Ruth opens in this Chapter with the relation of a certain family leaving Bethlehem in consequence of a famine, and sojourning in the country of Moab. The distressing events which followed: the death of the husband and his two sons; and the return of the widow, with one of her daughters in law, from Moab to Bethlehem. These are the principal things related in this chapter.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

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.

In the land — Of Canaan. It must be early: for Boaz was born of Rahab. So Christ descended from two Gentile mothers.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Wesley, John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Scofield's Reference Notes

famine (See Scofield "Genesis 12:10").

Bethlehemjudah House of Bread and Praise.

Copyright Statement
These files are considered public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available in the Online Bible Software Library.

Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Ruth 1:1". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Ruth 1:1 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.

The Book of Ruth.] So, "The Book of Esther": not because these thrice worthy women - in whom, besides their sex, there was nothing woman like or weak - were the authors of those books, but the subject matter of them. Whether Samuel wrote this history of Ruth, or some other prophet, it is not much material: but it fitly precedeth his book, as a preparative to the history of David, whose acts it recordeth. And it no less fitly followeth the Book of Judges, as being an appendix to it, and treating of things done in their days. A precious piece it is surely, though but short; και πολλη και ελαχιστη, as St Bartholomew said of divinity; of special concernment, as pointing to Christ born of Boaz a Jew, and Ruth a Gentile, as a Saviour to both sorts; [Acts 10:34-35] and of singular worth: whence Hugo compareth it to a little bee, great in fruitfulness, gathering wax and honey, for light and medicine; Lavater, to such precious stones as are small in bulk, but of egregious virtue.

Ver. 1.

Now it came to pass.] Not without the special hand and providence of God, which we are diligently to observe this whole story throughout; as likewise in reading the Book of Esther.

In the days when the judges ruled.] But what judges ruled when Ruth was thus preferred to be grandmother to Messiah the Prince, is hard to say. Josephus and Zonaras are for Eli. The Rabbins say that these things began under Ehud, and that Ruth was the daughter of Eglon king of Moab. But neither of these is likely. Gallianus will have Abimelech and Tola to have been judges when these things were done. Lyra and some Jewish doctors hold Boaz to be the same with that judge Ibzan of Bethlehem. [ 12:8] Tostatus, and after him Tremellius, think the history of Ruth fell out in the days of Deborah; others, in the beginning of Gideon: and these speak most probably, as may be gathered by comparing Matthew 1:5 with the end of this history.

That there was a famine in the land.] In the promised land, that sumen totius terroe: and at Bethlehem also, that "house of bread," famous for its fertility. See 6:4-6, with Psalms 107:34. There is food in Moab when famine in Israel. "Wicked men have their portion in this life"; [Psalms 17:14] but David neither coveteth their cates, nor envieth their happiness. [Psalms 17:15]

And a certain man of Beth-lehem-judah went.] So did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in like case, and for like cause. So the prophet Elisha counselled the Shunamite to do, &c. Some Jews tell us, - but who told them? - that Elimelech was a great rich man, and that, through contempt of the law, and base covetousness, lest he should part with his wealth to his poor kindred, he left his country and went into the land of Moab, where he died a beggar, &c. Let this pass for a Jewish fable.

He, and his wife, and his two sons.] Whom he had in his heart, ad commoriendum et convivendum. This condemneth those miscreants which run away from wife and children, and are worse than infidels, [1 Timothy 5:8] yea, than brute beasts.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ruth 1:1. It came to pass—when the judges ruled Though these words point out the general epocha of this event, yet they leave us at a loss to determine under what particular judge it happened. Bishop Usher places it in the 2686th year of the world, one hundred and thirty-three years after the conquest of Canaan. See his Chronolog. Sac. p. 1 Chronicles 12 and Judges 6:3-4.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible


A famine in Canaan. Elimelech removes to Moab; with Naomi his wife, and his two sons, who marry Orpah and Ruth there; and die, Ruth 1:1-5. Naomi returns to Judah; her daughters-in-law accompany her on her way, Ruth 1:6-13. Orpah returns home to her people and gods; Ruth remains, being converted, Ruth 1:14-18. They come to Beth-lehem, Ruth 1:19-22.

In the days when the judges ruled; which is noted as the cause of the following famine, because in much of that time they were guilty of great defection from God. But under which of the judges this happened, Scripture being silent, it seems presumptuous to determine; nor is it necessary to know. What is said about this matter from the genealogy, mentioned Ruth 1:18, &c., it will be most proper to consider it there.

In the land, or, in that land, to wit, of Canaan.

The country of Moab; a fruitful land beyond Jordan, eastward.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ruth 1:1

And it came about in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth-lehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.’

The famine occurred in the days of ‘the Judges’ (local rulers), each of whom at various times ruled a part of Israel. There were many periods under the Judges when the land was peaceful (see Judges 3:11; Judges 3:30 etc.), and this would appear to have been one of them. If there are no gaps in the genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22 it suggests that it was probably late in that period, possibly in the time of Samuel, although some (accepting gaps in the genealogy) relate it to the famines caused by the predators in the time of Gideon (Judges 6). Whichever period we accept the famine was of sufficient severity to cause a man of Bethlehem-judah to seek refuge, with his family, in neighbouring Moab. This would involve crossing the Jordan, possibly at Jericho, and moving southwards into Moab.

“Went to sojourn --.” That is, semi-permanently as a resident alien. His intention would be to remain there until the famine was over.

“He, and his wife, and his two sons.” It was probably the need of his sons that he had in mind when he made the move, especially if, as their names suggest, they were weak and sickly. They would be in no condition to withstand famine. But one whose name declared that ‘My God is king’ should never have been seeking refuge in a land that was submissive to another god (Chemosh). He was belying his name.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible


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.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Ruth 1:1. There was a famine in the land — This makes it probable that the things here recorded came to pass in the days of Gideon, for that is the only time when we read of a famine in the days of the judges; namely, when the Midianites, Amalekites, &c., came and destroyed the increase of the earth, and left no sustenance for Israel, nor for their cattle, 6:3-4.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Of one. Hebrew, "And it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled." (Haydock) --- The and shews the connection with the former book. (Calmet) --- Land. Chaldean adds, "of Israel," (Menochius) while the less fertile country of Moab had abundance. God thus punished the idolatry of his people. Some say the famine lasted ten years; but this is uncertain, though Noemi continued so long out of the country, ver. 4. (Salien)

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

Now it came to pass in the days. Occurs five times. Always denotes impending trouble, followed by happy deliverance. Compare Genesis 14:1. Esther 1:1. Isaiah 7:1. Jeremiah 1:3.

when the judges ruled. Doubtless, in the early days, before the sin of Jdg 1 developed the later internal disorders, and outward oppressions.

a famine. See note on Genesis 12:10.

country = fields.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

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.

Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled. In the use of this formula the sacred writer has respect to the unwritten history of the transactions with which this episode is connected; whereas in Joshua it refers to the previous record of Moses. The beautiful and interesting story which this book relates belongs to the early times of the judges. The precise date cannot be ascertained.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(1) When the judges ruled.—Literally, when the judges judged. This note of time is by no means definite. As we have seen, some have proposed to connect the famine with the ravages of the Midianites Judges 6:1); or, supposing the genealogy to be complete (which is more likely, however, to be abridged, if at all, in the earlier generations), then since Boaz was the son of Salmon (Salma, 1 Chronicles 2:11) and Rahab (Matthew 1:5), whom there can be no reasonable grounds for supposing to be other than the Rahab of Jericho, the events must be placed comparatively early in the period of the judges.

Beth-lehem.—See note on Genesis 35:19. Judah is added by way of distinction from the Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15).

Moab.—See notes on Genesis 19:37 : Numbers 21:13; Deuteronomy 2:9. The land of Moab seems to have been of exceptional richness and fertility, as allusions in the threats of Isaiah 16 Jeremiah 38, indicate. It was divided from the land of Israel by the. Dead Sea, and on the north by the river Arnon, the old boundary between Moab and the Amorites (Numbers 21:13). The journey of the family from Bethlehem would probably first lead them near Jericho, and so across the fords of the Jordan into the territory of the tribe of Reuben. Through the hilly country of this tribe, another long journey would bring them to the Arnon, the frontier river.

How far Elimelech was justified in fleeing, even under the pressure of the famine, from the land of Jehovah to a land where Chemosh was worshipped and the abominations practised of Baal-peor, may well be doubted, even though God overruled it all for good. It was disobeying the spirit of God’s law, and holding of little value the blessings of the land of promise.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

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.
the judges
Judges 2:16; 12:8
Heb. judged. a famine.
Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 43:1; Leviticus 26:19; Deuteronomy 28:23,24,38; 2 Samuel 21:1; 1 Kings 17:1-12; 18:2; 2 Kings 8:1,2; Psalms 105:16; 107:34; Jeremiah 14:1; Ezekiel 14:13,21; Joel 1:10,11,16-20; Amos 4:6
Judges 17:8; 19:1,2

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary


Rth . Now] Heb. ו vau, and. The same introcopula between all the books of the O.T. so far, except in the opening of Deuteronomy, which begins abruptly. Keil (1Ki 1:1) says the use of this conjunction at the beginning of a writing is a sure sign of its connection with another book. It came to pass in the days when the judges ruled (judged). וֵיְהִי The imperfect with van consec, simply attaches itself to a completed action, which has either been mentioned before, or is supposed to be well known (Ewald). Assigns a particular period. Shows also a different state of things [monarchy] existed around the writer. Time of the judges generally a troubled time. Spent to a large extent under the usurpation of neighbouring nations. Towards its end Israel had fearfully degenerated (Jud 21:25). Does not necessarily imply a judge ruled when Elimelech left the country (Lawson). A famine in the land] Threatened, Lev 26:19-20; Deu 28:23-24 Recognised as a Divine instrument of punishment, 2Sa 24:13-14; Eze 5:16; Amo 4:6-7. That it did not extend to Moab favours this idea. Said by some to have been caused by an incursion of the Midianites (see Jud 6:3-4) by the Philistines (Cox). Josephus says it was in the days of Eli (see Intro., par. 10-12). Solomon's prayer concerning famine (1Ki 8:35-37). Christians' duty during (Act 11:28). A more terrible famine (Amo 8:11), when men shall seek the word of God, and shall not find it. And a certain man (Heb. And a man) of Bethlehem-Judah] To distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Zebulon. Means, House of Bread. Ancient name Ephrata (fruitful), though this may have applied to the district as far as Jerusalem. Now called Beit-Lahm, or Beit-el-ham (Mansford). Rachel died here. David and Christ born here. Hepworth Dixon advances the theory that both may have been born in the house which is mentioned Rth 3:3. (See note on that verse; also Dixon's "Holy Land.") References to Bethlehem in the book of Judges mournful ones (Jud 17:7; Jud 19:1-2). The turn of the narrative here same as in the former (Speaker's Commentary). Favours the idea that the writer was the same. Went to sojourn] Expresses correctly the meaning of the Heb., which signifies "to tarry as a stranger in a place." Isaac was forbidden this method of relief from famine (Gen 26:2), when he would have followed the example of Abraham in going down to Egypt (Gen 12:10). Israelites generally much attached to their own land. In the country (field or fields) of Moab] Bertheau maintains, we have in שְׂדְי only another way of writing שִׂדְה the singular (Rth 1:6). Keil, Gesenius, Fürst, look upon it as a form of the plural. The same style of expression used of Moab (Gen 36:35; Num 21:20; 1Ch 1:46). Moab connected with Israelites in the days of Ehud (Jud 3:12-20). Continued to be an asylum for them (comp. 1Sa 22:3-4; Isa 16:14; Jer 40:11-12). Israelites held places of trust there (1Ch 4:22-23). David sent his father and mother there. Moabites descendants of Lot (Gen 19:37), and worshippers of Chemosh. Their inheritance spared to them by command of God, when Israel entered into the land. This may account for the friendship with Israel, and in favour of the earlier date ascribed by Lightfoot and others to book of Ruth (see Intro., par. 10, 12). Moabites not admitted into the congregation of the Lord until the tenth generation, on account of their disgraceful origin. For description, etc., see Intro., par. 13. He, and his wife, and his two sons] Sarah went with Abraham (Gen 12:18) into Egypt. Rachel and Leah left their country with Jacob. The family of importance (Ruth 2, 3), well known in Bethlehem (ch Rth 1:19, and Rth 4:1). See notes on Rth 1:2.




Now [and] it came to pass. Simple phrases bear the marks of a nation's way of thinking. Language has been called fossil thought, poetry. Here the Hebrew faith in an overruling hand. Not by chance, but by the orderly unfolding of events. A common scriptural form of introduction; simple, dignified, yet how much it may express.

I. View it simply as a statement of facts. (a) These things happened. The phrase introductory to a remarkable life; singled out from many others. Much not considered worthy of record. Lives of which the Scripture takes no note, written in the record kept until the last great day. Events which have dropped even from the pages of inspired history. Note: When God is silent, it is not wise to speak (Welsh Proverb).

But these things come within the scope of revelation—( α) for wise purposes. God saw fit to transmit the knowledge of them for our edification (2Ti ). Paul bids us look to Christ, yet learn of those who through faith and patience, etc. (Heb 6:12). ( β) For gracious purposes. Here are links in the chain, and the end is Christ. The way leads through Moab back again to Bethlehem.

(b) These things happened by the hand and providence of God. The theocratic aspect is not prominent in the book of Ruth (Davidson). But it is there. A special hand of God in all this business, beyond man's purpose and thought (R. Bernard). The story of Ruth is an impertinence in Scripture, unless we believe in a special providence. This everywhere taken for granted in the Divine word. God in profane history, much more then in sacred. God in every life. The very absence of what is called the religious element has its significance. The book beautifully enforces what Wordsworth calls "natural piety." But more particularly amid these seemingly commonplace events a Divine purpose and plan. "While the judges were ruling, some one city, and some another, Providence takes particular cognizance of Bethlehem, and has an eye to a King, to Messiah Himself" (M. Henry).

II. See in it a subtle connection between cause and effects.

In those days of ungodliness this happened. The judges ruled, but every man did right in his own eyes (Jud ). Religion corrupted, worship decayed, idolatry common; and here are the results. When sin is ripe, vengeance is ready.

Notice (a) National life affects individual history. We cannot separate ourselves from our surroundings; are members one of another in many senses. We prosper or we suffer together in times of Divine visitation.

(b) Life as it stands towards God influences life as it stands towards men. All life an unfolding, a coming to pass. But how? Look for the seeds within, around, in the past; but look above for the hand overruling and bringing to pass. God of His most dear justice hath decreed the sum of all discipline (Cyprian). Divine law in the natural world immutable, so in the spiritual. The world of morals sways the sceptre over the world of circumstances. Every other view of life practical atheism. Do we believe it? rather, do we live as though we believed it? In prosperity we are commonly like hogs feeding on the mast, not minding his hand that shaketh it down; in adversity, like dogs biting the stone, not marking the hand that threw it (Fuller).

IMPROVEMENT. By-and-by our life will be summed up in this short sentence, "It came to pass;" the pilgrimage a road with many turnings, but all mapped out. The "to be" will be the "has been." And to what issues? Doubtless a link in some chain or other. Ruth's is joined to Israel's, to David's, to Christ's. A Gentile from the outer darkness brought within the hope of Israel. Gospel mercy foreshadowed so far back in the unfolding of events. In God's time, "it came to pass." Fuller says, "To typify the calling of the Gentiles, as He took of the blood of a Gentile into His body, so He should shed His blood out of His body for the Gentiles, that there might be one Shepherd and one sheepfold"—a quaint conceit, but enshrining precious truth. The ingathering had begun to work itself out in this "coming to pass." The ingathering is going on now. How do we stand as towards it? Linked with Israel's hope, or—? What is the life unfolding? A history of one whom God has chosen, and who has chosen God? or the sad story of one who has wandered into strange lands, leaving behind him the home and the sanctuary of his fathers—wandered to die amid his wanderings? or the story of one who did run well for awhile like Orpah? Which is it?

"It is our fault that we look upon God's ways and works by halves and pieces; and so we see often nothing but the black side.… We see Him bleeding His people, scattering parliaments, chasing away nobles and prelates, as not willing they should have a finger in laying one stone of His house; yet do we not see that in this dispensation the other half of God's work makes it a fair piece?"—Rutherford.

"Life is all one unfolding, as of some quaint manuscript which now we may not be able to decipher, but which by-and-by will prove itself to the righteous a new Scripture full of the benedictions of God."—B.

"The curtains of yesterday drop down, the curtains of to-morrow roll up, but yesterday and to-morrow both are. Time and space are not God, but creations of God. With God, as it is a universal HERE, so is it an everlasting NOW."—Carlyle.


In the days when the judges ruled [judged], a famine, etc.

God takes the events into His own hands. While the judges are judging, God too is holding the balances. The times were evil. Six long servitudes, at least, mark the Divine displeasure at Israel's sin. Sin deprived angels of heaven, Adam of Paradise, Cain of his honour, Reuben of his birthright, thousands of the land of Canaan (R. Bernard). Now it deprives Israel of food. A blessing promised on their land, their basket and their store, as long as they walked in His law (Lev ; Deu 28:5). Evidently they had departed from that law. And now the presence of the godly in the land cannot avert the evil, as at Sodom. The fact that there are children in the households of Israel does not stay the Divine hand as at Nineveh. No place is exempt, not even Bethlehem. The rich suffer with the poor, for Elimelech belonged to a wealthy and honourable family.

See in this,

I. Designed punishment. Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? God has many arrows in His quiver; the land may have rest, but it has not plenty (M. Henry). Famine, the peculiar instrument used—a very terrible one. David preferred the pestilence (2Sa ). But no choice is given here.

Notice (a) God's judgments come in a very natural way. The wonted streams dry up possibly from very apparent causes—easy to understand, easy to explain. A drought or an inroad of the enemy may have caused this. But beyond natural causes, another reason—behind Nature, GOD. He turns a fruitful land into barrenness, because of the wickedness of them that dwell therein (Psa ).

(b) There is always something special in them worthy our attention. Esau, despising his birthright, lost it. Lot, led of his lust into Sodom, had to leave behind all for which he lusted. Judas perished "in the midst" of the field he had purchased with the price of blood. (See Alford on Act .) A sad irony often in the history of sinners and their sins. So here, a famine in the land flowing with milk and honey! No bread in Bethlehem, the house of bread! And more, Moab has plenty while Israel is pinched with penury.

(c) There is always a reason which stands out in connection with them. God had said expressly He would deal with Israel after this fashion. Famine was to be to them one especial mark of His displeasure (Lev ). Moab may have ease, not so Israel (Jer 15:11; Jer 48:11); for Moab is as the unregenerate, his taste for earthly enjoyment and sensual gratification unchanged. The wicked have their portion in this life, but Christ says woe to them (Luk 6:25; Amo 6:1). And Paul reasons of such, "Then are ye bastards, and not sons."

See in this,

II. Necessary discipline. Chastisement meant discipline with Israel. Jehovah explains the weary wilderness privations as intended "to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart." This famine has a like explanation (Jud ), if it resulted either from a Midianitish or Philistine invasion, as is probable. (See Notes and Introduction.) The prodigal child was brought from the keeping of harlots to the keeping of hogs (Fuller). And why? The "I will arise" explains and justifies "the hungering in a far country." So always. Christ for mere trial sometimes, for sin at other times, doth cover Himself with a cloud (Rutherford). Whatever the reason, the Divine purpose the same—discipline.

(a) Notice the different forms this discipline may take, as illustrated by the narrative. Want, scarcity of provisions, possibly hunger, and these leading to loss of worldly possessions and the family patrimony, absence from the sanctuary, wanderings in strange lands, years of exile, death to most of them in a foreign land. A similar epitome might be made of many a family history—

"They grew in beauty side by side,

They filled one home with glee;

Their graves are scattered far and wide,

By mount and stream and sea."—Mrs. Hemans.

(b) Notice the severity of this particular form. Hunger a most trying test. Any kind of deprivation is. The same cause sent Abraham and Jacob into Egypt, Isaac to Gerah. Even Christ must feel its pangs when He is led into the wilderness to be tempted.

IMPROVEMENT. The dispensations of Providence strange—sovereign, even punitive. Can we see this other thing, that they are disciplinary ("Whom the Lord loveth," etc., Heb ), and may be beneficial? This last aspect depends largely upon ourselves. He is dealing with us in one way or other. If not by famine, then by our very abundance; if not by plenty, then perhaps by penury. And to what effect? Driving us towards Moab; away from the sanctuary; away from all that links us with the people of God? There is this sad possibility, and the narrative which follows may warn us of this. Or ripening us for that land where there is no hunger? tribulation working patience, etc. (Rom 5:3).

Topsell treats the passage—

I. That the corruption of religion and the neglect of the worship of God is the cause of all His judgments.

II. That the Lord is true in His judgments as in His mercies (Deu ; Psa 145:17; 2Th 1:6).


I. That people deprive themselves by their sins, of that which God had given, and they enjoyed, according to His promise.

II. That a fruitful land is made barren for the sins of the inhabitants thereof.

III. That judgment begins at the house of the Lord.

Fuller derives the following uses [lessons]:—

I. Let us practise that precept, "Babes, keep yourselves from idols" (1Jn ).

II. Let us be heartily thankful to God for our plenty.

III. Let us pray with David, "Deliver us from blood-guiltiness."

IV. Let us be pitiful and liberal to relieve the distresses of the poor.

"Burckhardt states that in Nejd in Arabia famines like these recur at intervals of from ten to fifteen years."—Wordsworth.

"The Athenian women had a custom to make a picture of famine every year, and to drive it out of their city with these words: ‘Out famine, in food; out penury, in plenty!' But let us say in word, and second it in deed. ‘Out sin, in sanctity; out profaneness, in piety:' and then we shall see that as long as our king reigneth, there shall be no famine in our land.… Is this the land whereof it is said, ‘Asher his bread shall be fat, and afford dainties for a king' (Gen ), which is called ‘a good land of wheat and barley, vineyards and fig trees, oil, olive, and honey' (Deu 8:7); which is commended (Eze 20:6) to be ‘a land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands'?… The people's hard hearts were rebellious to God, and the hard earth proved unprofitable to them; their flinty eyes would afford no tears to bemoan their sins, and the churlish heavens would afford no moisture to wake their earth; man proved unfaithful to God his Maker; the earth proved unfaithful to man her manurer."—Fuller.

"Think not that the fertility of a land is able to secure its inhabitants against famine, or that any earthly advantage is suflicient to secure us against any calamity whatsoever. All things are in the hands of God, and His creatures change their qualities or effects at His pleasure."—Lawson.

"A clear and striking proof that here is no continuing city or place of abode, and shews the necessity of our seeking a city which hath foundations, the builder and maker of which is God. For if a man be ever so agreeably situated in the midst of plenty, Divine Providence can soon drive him from his rest, and reduce him to the disagreeable necessity of depending upon the bounty of even the wicked themselves, who are. like Moab, for ever shut out from the sanctuary of Jenovah."—Macgowan.

"When afflictions fail to have their due effect, the case is desperate."—Bolingbroke.

"Suffering seasons have generally been sifting seasons, in which the Christian has lost his chaff, and the hypocrite his courage."—Secker.

"There is a deep truth contained in the fabled story of old, where a mother, wishing to render her son invulnerable, plunged him into the Styx, but forgot to dip in his heel, by which she held him. We are baptized in the blood and fire of sorrow, that temptation may make us invulnerable; but let us remember that trials will assail us in our most vulnerable part, be it the head, or heart, or heel."—Robertson.


"Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;

The world was all before them, where to choose

Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."—Milton.

And a certain man of Bethlehem went to sojourn in the country [fields] of Moab.

An exile leaving Bethlehem, like Dante leaving his beloved Florence. To this man also nunquam revocare. He dies in exile. God's providences often unexplained in this life—await the clearer light of eternity. Some blame Elimelech's going to Moab. Possibly self-exiled. But no man ought to be condemned without proofs of guilt, and no certain proofs appear in the present case (Lawson). Israelites were not prohibited sojourning in a strange land. David dwelt in Gath. Sent his father and mother for protection into Moab. What if a kindred necessity impelled Elimelech?

I. Suggests the mutability of human affairs. (a) We must expect changes in this world, changes which make life Mara (Rth ). While Moab is at ease, Israel is to be poured from vessel to vessel. Elimelech an Israelite, and they were much attached to their land—dwelt in the most fertile part of the country, probably a rich man (see notes), and yet in his old age he must become a wanderer. No condition of life, no circumstances, no experience, can exempt us. (b) We cannot always dwell where we wish. David must sojourn in the tents of Kedar, leave city and palace behind, and flee to the wilderness. El must go down to Moab, Joseph to Egypt. Nay, touches the holiest: Christ Himself a wanderer, "not having where to lay His head."

II. Presents a picture of restlessness under affliction.

Sight, not faith, guides Elimelech. The sublime trust which waits upon God in these hours of peril seemingly absent. The promise to Israel, "Thou shalt eat bread without scarceness" (Deu ). To us, "Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him; verily thou shalt be fed" (Psa 37:3; Psa 37:7). "In the days of famine thou shalt be satisfied" (Rth 1:19).

Outward appearances against the promises. Faith weak—he went down to Moab. Some suggest desire after gain led him. Dr. Cumming thinks that he fled from the sight of poverty and want around him. He went out "full." Certainly strong reasons demanded for a change like this. Otherwise God says to such, "Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy ways?" (Jer .)

Restlessness a very common sin. At the first approach of trial men grow impatient; seek a change in outward circumstances, or in doctrine; become offended even with Christ Himself (Joh ).

Note.—One single restraint made Adam a wanderer from God. (See outlines on Rth .)


III. May illustrate spiritual declension.

Elimelech a wealthier man than many of his neighbours, who bore the brunt of famine rather than expose their children to the seductions of heathen license (Cox). If all should do as he did, Canaan would be dispeopled (M. Henry). What was the cause in his case? Did he value the sanctuary privileges less, or the good things of this world more than they?

Note a principle in this. Men go down to Moab,

(a) Because the promised land itself seems to yield them scanty supplies. The narrow way not attractive in itself. A gospel that says by the mouth of its Master, "Sell all that thou hast," and by one of its chief apostles, "Silver and gold have I none"—a service which demands honesty, though honesty should prove to be other than the best policy—truthfulness, though truth be an offence—must seem meagre in its rewards, alas to how many! They follow for awhile, charmed by the novelty of Christ's kingdom. Sooner or later He is seen as "one not having where to lay His head," a "root out of a dry ground." Human nature asks large things (2Ki ). His gospel has chosen the weak things and things which are not (1Co 12:27-28). Scanty supplies a great secret of spiritual declension.

(b) Because of the rich abundance inviting them there. Possibly pinched by famine, and in all probability fearing to lose his flocks and herds, the rich grass lands on the other side of the Dead Sea proved irresistible to this man. Lot went down to dwell among the wicked cities of the plain for similar reasons—led of his own spirit and of his own judgment. To both men the journey was as disastrous as it was tempting. So Judas, Demas. Abundance is not everything. The world may seem to have it, does seem to have it even to the righteous (see Psa ; Psa 73:5; Psa 73:7; Psa 73:12). A blight always upon it when the righteous seek it. Elimelech goes down to Moab to die there. Lot has to escape from Sodom "as by fire." The young man who came to our Lord went away "sorrowful."

Fuller observes: "It is lawful for men to leave their native soil, and to travel into a foreign country; as—

I. For merchants, provided always that, while they seek to make gainful adventures for their estates, they make not ‘shipwreck of a good conscience.'

II. For ambassadors, that are sent to see the practices and negotiations in foreign courts.

III. For private persons that travel with an intent to accomplish themselves with a better sufficiency to serve their king and country."

Bernard observes:

I. No place is exempt from punishment, where sin is suffered to reign.

II. God can remove, by one means or another, men out of their homes and harbour. No man may think himself securely settled.

III. Fear of corporal wants will make men leave their homes, their native soil, their friends and kindred. How much more, then, for the love of eternal life, should we be willing to forsake all!"

Topsell—We note,

I. It is lawful for the godly, in the time of necessity, to crave help or relief of the very enemies of God, so they be not polluted with their superstitions.

II. That the Lord doth ever provide for His faithful servants in all their miseries. Joseph sent beforehand to provide for his brethren (Gen ); Obadiah, who hid fifty of the prophets, and fed them in a cave (1Ki 18:13); Elijah provided for (1Ki 17:4-10; see also 2Co 4:8-9).

"When we go from home, it depends entirely on the will of God whether we shall arrive at the place of our destination. When we are in it, it depends no less on the Divine pleasure whether we shall ever again see the place from which we went out. ‘A man's heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.' Beware of bringing upon yourselves the punishment that came upon the proud King of Babylon, because he did not glorify that God in whose hand his breath was, and whose were all his ways. Do not say that to-morrow you will go into such a city, and buy, and sell, and get gain. Say rather if the Lord will."—Lawson.

"It is an evidence of a discontented, distrustful, unstable spirit, to be weary of the place in which God has set us, and to be for leaving it immediately whenever we meet with any uneasiness or inconvenience in it. It is a folly to think of escaping that cross which, being laid in our way, we ought to take up. It is our wisdom to make the best of that which is, for it is seldom that changing our place is mending it."—Matt. Henry.

"Now if any do demand of me my opinion concerning our brethren, which of late left this kingdom to advance a plantation in New England, surely I think as St. Paul said concerning virgins, he had ‘received no commandment of the Lord;' so I cannot find any just warrant to encourage men to undertake this removal; but think rather the counsel best that King Joash prescribed to Amaziah, ‘Tarry at home.' Yet, as for those that are already gone, far be it from us to conceive them to be such to whom we may not say God speed.' I conclude, therefore, of the two Englands, what our Saviour saith of the two wines (Luk ). ‘No man having tasted of the old presently desireth the new; for he saith, The old is better.'"—Fuller.

"The merchant, having obtained his bank, promiseth rest and security to himself; the husbandman, having gathered his fruits, never doubteth but he shall spend them, and provideth for more; the gentleman coming to his lands, thinketh his revenues and pleasant life will endure alway, like the apostles when Christ was transfigured in the Mount, presently they would build tabernacles of residence; but as the cloud came betwixt them and heaven, and bereaved them of their purpose, even so suddenly will death come and deprive you of your profits, call the merchant from his bank, the husbandman from his farm, the gentleman from his land, the prince from his kingdom."—Topsell.

"Sometimes it dimly dawns upon us, when we see other men's mischiefs and wrongs, that we are in the same category with them, and that perhaps the storms which have overtaken them will overtake us also. But it is only for a moment; for we are artful to cover the ear, and not listen to the voice that warns us of our danger,"—Beecher.

"What is this passing scene?

A peevish April day!

A little sun, a little rain,

And then night sweeps along the plain,

And all things fade away.

Man (soon discussed)

Yields up his trust,

And all his hopes and fears lie with him in the dust.

Then since this world is vain,

And volatile and fleet,

Why should I lay up earthly joys,

Where dust corrupts, and moth destroys,

And cares and sorrows eat?

Why fly from ill

With anxious skill,

When soon this hand will freeze, this throbbing heart be still?"

Kirke White.

"There are evils worse than famine. What is the real misfortune of life? sin or want of food? sickness or selfishness? And when I see Isaac (Genesis 26) gaining from his want of food the heart to bear up and bear right onward, I can understand that the land of famine may be the land of promise, and just because it is the land of famine."—Robertson.

"People do not leave their country for a mere whim. To forsake the homestead where the boys were born, to bid farewell to familiar well-tried friends, to leave the spot made sacred by religious worship, for a heathen country—it is hard! very hard! Elimelech and Naomi must have felt this.… These involuntary emigrants hoped to return speedily—when times were better. Little did they dream that three out of the four would be lying in their graves before ten years had passed. Their farewell was a final one. Oh! these plans of ours, what folly they appear to us when we look back to see how one touch has ruined them all! Our designs always need ‘if the Lord will' written right across the face of them."—Braden.

"One month in the school of affliction will teach thee more than the great precepts of Aristotle in seven years; for thou canst never judge rightly of human affairs, unless thou hast first felt the blows and found out the deceits of fortune."—Fuller.

"Probably this family held on, trusting that prosperity would again smile; but it came not, and hope faded away. What were they to do? Terrible question! Crops gone, cattle gone; starvation stared them in the face."—Braden.


"Urged by remembrance sad, and decent pride,

Far from those scenes which knew their better days."

He, and his wife, and his two sons

Touches the whole household. The children bear the burden as well as their parents. In times of scarcity, the family a heavy burden. Christ uses this as an extreme case, "Woe to them that are with child and give suck in those days!" (Mat .)

We have here,

I. An important step in the family history. Not lawful unless there had been a public calamity or some great private necessity (Maimonides). Nothing but necessity can dispense with a local relinquishing of God's church, not pleasure, nor profit, nor curiosity (Bishop Hall). In moments like these, go not before God and Providence, but follow Him (Rutherford).

II. A united household in these trying times. Domestic union in the midst of the greatest distresses. Nothing can separate those whom God has joined. Grace finds its most appropriate sphere in the family life. Husbands and wives who aim at separate interests reproved here. Naomi willing to go even to a strange land. Saw the necessity. She was one of those wives whose law is their husband's will in all things wherein the laws of God leave them at liberty (Lawson). A man and his wife should be like the two wheels of a chariot (Hindoo Proverb).

III. A parent's responsibility in these critical changes. The results of Elimelech's conduct were not confined to himself. His children either gained or suffered by it. No man lives to himself, sins to himself.

His care for his wife and children to be commended (1Ti ). Did not leave them as the ostrich, to care for themselves (Job 39:16). He acted kindly, did he act wisely? One thing certain, his responsibility was increased by going down to Moab, where temptation was sure to assail his children. Possible to live like Joseph in Pharaoh's court, but how difficult!

"All worship not at idol feasts,

Whose lot it is to live in idol lands."

David in his exile. Daniel and the three Hebrew children in Babylon. But how few come out untainted! Lot's children seem to have carried the defilement with them when they left Sodom (Genesis 19).

This man went to sojourn, not to stay. God did not forsake him. The wanderers were fed. Josephus speaks of his "happy prosperity" in the land of Moab. There is a law of compensation, however, in connection with all this. He died there. His children married Moabitish women, and then died in exile. His wife returned empty to that place she had left (Rth ).

"The religious man may be considered in his family as the key-stone to the arch."—Salter.

"Is such a man a Christian?" was asked of Whitefield. "How should I know?" was the answer; "I never lived with him."

"The very tigress fostereth her young, and the helpless hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and exerts the full extent of her feeble powers in their defence."—Macgowan.

"The godly in old time knew that their wives and children were as themselves; and as they were careful to cherish their own bodies, so they were mindful to nourish their own families."—Topsell.

"An honest man careth for his wife and children as well as for himself."—Bernard.

"We see the flesh of fishes remaineth fresh, though they always swim in the brackish waters."—Fuller.

"If Elimelech had made inquiry, it is probable he would have found plenty in some of the tribes of Israel; and if he had had that zeal for God and His worship, and that affection for his brethren which became an Israelite, he would not have persuaded himself so easily to go and sojourn in Moab."—M. Henry.

"Life is the first thing. God wishes no man to starve; and if his circumstances are such that, by remaining in them, he must suffer want and death, his path is clear—he must depart. Bishop Hall quaintly says, ‘the Creator and Possessor of the earth hath not confined any man to his necessary destruction.' It may be our duty, in order to save ourselves from pecuniary difficulties, to sever the dearest ties."—Braden.

"Now the devil knoweth that this is a blow at the root, and a ready way to prevent the succession of churches; if he can subvert families, other societies and communities will not long flourish and subsist with any power and vigour; for there is the stock from whence they are supplied both for the present and future."—Manton.

"Families are societies that must be sanctified to God, as well as churches; and the governors of them have as truly a charge of the souls that are therein, as pastors have of churches. But, alas! how little is this considered or regarded! But while negligent ministers are (deservedly) cast out of their places, the negligent masters of families take themselves to be almost blameless. They offer their children to God in baptism, and there they promise to teach them the doctrine of the gospel, and bring them up in the nurture of the Lord; but they easily promise and easily break it; and educate their children for the world and the flesh, although they have renounced these, and dedicated them to God. This covenant-breaking with God, and betraying the souls of their children to the devil, must lie heavy on them here and hereafter. They beget children and keep families merely for the world and the flesh; but little consider what a charge is committed to them, and what it is to bring up a child for God, and govern a family as a sanctified society."—Westminster Confession of Faith.

"Home is the chief school of human virtue. Its responsibilities, joys, sorrows, smiles, tears, hopes, and solicitudes form the chief interest of human life."—Channing.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ruth 1:1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology