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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Ruth 1:2



The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.

Adam Clarke Commentary

Elimelech - That is, God is my king.

Naomi - Beautiful or amiable.

Mahlon - Infirmity.

Chilion - Finished, completed.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

The Biblical Illustrator

Ruth 1:2

They came into the country of Moab, and continued there.

Lessons from the conduct of Elimelech and Naomi

1. Learn from the change in the circumstances of Naomi’s husband not to trust in the uncertain possessions of this world. You may now be wealthy and respectable among your neighbours and acquaintances; a few years or months may reduce you to a condition of discomfort, if not of poverty and indigence.

2. Learn from the consequences of the step taken by Elimelech, the peril of discontentedness and impatience under adverse circumstances. Should riches make themselves wings, and poverty threaten to be your lot, beware of rashly changing your habits and connections.

3. Ye that are parents, surrounded with a family of children, learn from this history to reflect how soon these children may be taken away. And oh! strive and pray, above all things, that they may be the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

4. Learn from Naomi’s trials the beneficial effects of affliction; and from her resolution to return to her native land--the land of Jehovah’s worship--that the only true refuge in affliction is pure and undefiled religion. (H. Hughes, B.D.)

The wanderers

Thus the history of Ruth begins with a story of wanderers from God. It is a sad, but not a strange commencement.

I. Why did they wander, and thus leave the home of their fathers? The answer given is, “There was famine in the land.” God had sent upon them a temporary trouble, and they fled from it. But when God chastens us in His wisdom, our duty is to yield with contentment and submission. We should bear the rod and Him who hath appointed it. When we patiently yield to His merciful chastisements, they become our most precious blessings. “There was a famine in the land,” and they fled from it. Temporary sufferings made their home for a little while uncomfortable, and they could not patiently endure the will of God. It was their own land. It was their father’s land. It was the Lord’s land. Their family and friends were there. Why should they fly? The next season might be better, and more than repay them for the losses of the present. The famine might follow them to the land whither they went, and make their sufferings greater there than at home. When Socrates was urged by his friends to escape from the prison where he was condemned to die, he answered them, “Tell me of a land where men do not die, and I will escape to that.” How much better might this family have found a quiet submission to the will of God! What an illustration this is of sinful, foolish man! Adam had all the garden of Eden. One single restraint made him a voluntary wanderer from God. How easily have all who have descended from him rebelled and wandered since! But can we ever find happiness in running away from God? Is there any happiness but in a cheerful, filial submission to God? See where this wandering from God begins--in a spirit of rebellion and discontent. Oh, be ye watchful there. Be ready to hear and to do the will of God. In the midst of your trials remember His mercies.

II. But who were these wanderers whose story we have before us? They were a family of Israelites, of professed believers in the Word of God. Never does sin seem to be more dreadful than when man’s ingratitude is contrasted with God’s mercies. You are never straitened in God. You have all things and abound in Him. He is rich in His mercy to you all. Why should you wander?

III. This wandering was wholly unnecessary. These Israelites were not poor and perishing. They “went out full.” Their wandering was therefore wilful, and this made it the more rebellious and guilty. But is not all wandering from God unnecessary? Why need we ever go astray from Him? It will be always a solemn charge against us, “they went out full.” It is the wandering which makes us empty. If we go away from God our own heedlessness or choice is the fountain of our guilt and sorrow. Why need we wander?

IV. From whence did these Israelites wander? It was from the Lord’s own land, Immanuel’s land. It was from the whole company of His people. It was from the midst of the privileges of Divine revelation. It was from Bethlehem, the House of Bread. It was a hasty, foolish wandering from a happy home. We will not call every journey a wandering. It depends upon whence we came and whither we go, and under whose direction we move. Jonah wandered. When God sent him to Nineveh he fled to Tarshish. And God arrested him in the deep and brought him back. Manasseh wandered. And he was taken in the thorns and bound with fetters, till, in the day of his affliction, he sought the Lord and was forgiven. Demas wandered. From a love of this present world he forsook his Master and returned no more. Judas wandered. And how fearful was his end when he went to his own place! This is the wandering of which we have to speak. It is a wandering from God, from His Spirit, from His Word, from His Church. Whosoever goes astray from God voluntarily leaves the salvation which has been provided for him, and makes it his condemnation that he has loved darkness rather than light, because his ways are evil. But there are many wanderers from God in a very peculiar sense. They go from the very midst of His family, from Bethlehem itself, where Jesus is. They were born in His Church. They were early dedicated to Him in His holy sacrament. They were taught His Word, and named and registered among the number of His covenant people. They might have lived always at His feet and in His favour. But they left Bethlehem in rebellious discontent.

V. Whither did these Israelites wander? “To the country of Moab”; to a land of idolatry; a land of open licentiousness and crime. What a change of condition to them! What though bread was abundant there! “Fulness of bread like that in Sodom!” Man does not live by bread alone. And who that truly loved God would not rather live with a famine in Bethlehem than with sinful abundance in Moab? They went to Moab, but only “to sojourn there.” Just as Lot went to sojourn in Sodom. Just as every wanderer from God goes into the world. It is but for recreation. It is only a harmless indulgence. It is but for a season of enjoyment. They mean some time to return and never to go back to Moab again. To die in Moab, without God and without hope! Nothing is further from their thoughts than this. They will only dip in the lake, like the swallow, and they shall feel refreshed for a longer flight. Ah, how little they know of the dangers they encounter!

VI. And what were the results of their wandering? What could they be but wasting sorrow and death? Ah, how sad are the results of a life of guilt! How mournful are the consequences of a wandering from God! (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)

Spiritual advantages sacrificed to worldly gain

Were they wise in taking this step? For some reasons they were wise. There was an abundance in the land of Moab, and a scarcity in the land of Judah. Worldly prudence, then, seemed to point out some other spot as their dwelling-place. But one thing they did not sufficiently consider--they were leaving behind them many of their religious advantages. Yes, there is no doubt that Elimelech was wrong, very wrong, in leaving the land of Judah with his family, and settling in the godless country of Moab. It is a fearful thing to set little store by our religious advantages and blessings, when God has given them to us. When, for instance, a person chooses a new home, how apt he is to reckon how far he will be a gainer in a worldly point of view, putting aside altogether his gain or loss in spiritual things! How sad, if he should grow richer for this life, but poorer for eternity! Again, when a servant chooses a fresh situation, is he not apt to measure the goodness of it by the wages he is to receive, instead of thinking seriously how far his soul is likely to prosper in his new home? (Bp. Oxeuden.)

Cowardly emigration

Emigration from one’s own land can only be justified when it becomes an inevitable thing--where the population abounds more than the means of maintenance, and the people require to be thinned by the emigration of some for the comfort and advantage of all. But when people leave their country in the day of its difficulties, and thus refuse their help, they play the part of cowards who desert the army when the tide of battle rolls against its standards they act undutifully before God, unworthily as patriots, and cruelly as human beings. Our best exertions at such a crisis are always due; and instead of flinching from a sphere in which any good is possible to us, we ought to show that duty calls us wherever we can be of service. (J. Cumming, D. D.)

The godly oppressed, while the wicked have abundance

This may seem a strange thing, that the godly should be oppressed with famine, when worldlings and heathen wallow in their wealth. Of these David speaketh (Psalms 17:14; Psalms 36:15; Psalms 73:4; Psalms 73:12). The like you may hear in Job (Job 21:7). But of the righteous it is said that they often cry out of their afflictions, their sorrows and nakedness, their hunger and misery; yea, our Saviour Christ pronounces Himself in His members, poor, hungry, naked. Judge now between the outward estate of the godly and the wicked; are they not contrary? That which of the world is condemned is of the Lord commended. Yet be not terrified from godliness, but rather strengthened in your profession. Then will you say, “Tell us the cause of this inequality?” Our Saviour answers (John 15:19; John 16:20). He compares us to the fruitful vine, which doth not only abide frost, snow, storm, and heat, but also at the gathering time is broken off, that the grapes may be reached. The gold must be tried in the furnace, the silver fined in the fire, the wheat purged in the floor, and, before it be meat for man, must also he ground in the mill; so must we be proved in affliction, fined in persecution, and crushed in pieces, under the burden of our own miseries, that we may be made prepared bread for the Lord’s own spending. Why, then, doth the Lord make such large promises to His Church of plenty, seeing it endures continual poverty? I answer, the Church of God must be considered after two sorts: the first, as it is cleansed in the blood of Christ, and washed pure from all outward and notorious offences, unto which estate pertain all these outward promises of liberality in the Scriptures. The second is the declined estate, or corrupted condition of every one in the Church, even unto the world’s end: unto this pertain all the punishments and tribulations which the godly endure, which the Lord sends upon them that He may by little and little scour us from our transgressions and weary us with the miseries of this life, that we may the more earnestly desire the life to come, for the Lord doth here scourge us that we should not be condemned with the world. (E. Topsell.)

Moab doomed

Moab was a doomed country. More than a hundred years before Ruth’s birth its sentence had been pronounced through the mouth of the prophet Balaam: “There shall come a Star out of Jacob; and a Sceptre shall arise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab.” “The earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up.” (C. F. Hall.)

Elimelech an exile

In the “Field of Moab,” that is the upland canton bounded by the Amon on the north, the mountains on the east, and the Dead Sea precipices on the west, people lived very much as they did about Bethlehem, only more safely and in greater comfort. But the worship was of Chemosh, and Elimelech must soon have discovered how great a difference that made in thought and social custom and in the feeling of men toward himself and his family. The rites of the god of Moab included festivals in which humanity was disgraced. Standing apart from these he must have found his prosperity hindered, for Chemosh was lord in everything. An alien who had come for his own advantage, yet refused the national customs, would be scorned at least, if not persecuted. Life in Moab became an exile, the Bethlehemites saw that hardship in their own land would have been as easy to endure as the disdain of the heathen and constant temptation to vile conformity. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ruth 1:2". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

And the name of the man was Elimelech,.... Which signifies "my God is King", as he was King over Israel. In the times of the judges, the government was a theocracy; the judges were raised up immediately by the Lord, and ruled under him; the Targum calls him a great man, and so Jarchi; and it is very likely he was, especially if it be true what is said the Jewish chronologyF21Seder Olam Rabba, c. 12. p. 34. Shalshalet Hakabala, fol. 8. 1. , that he was the brother of Salmon, prince of the tribe of Judah; and it is certain that Boaz the son of Salmon was a kinsman of his, 2:1,

and the name of his wife Naomi; which signifies "sweet, pleasant", very likely a comely person, and of a sweet disposition; a name of the same signification with Naamah, the sister of Tubalcain, Genesis 4:22 and according to the Talmudists she was Elimelech's brother's daughter; for they sayF23T. Bab Bava Bathra, fol. 91. 1. , that Elimelech, Salmon, and the kinsman (spoken of in this book), and the father of Naomi, were all of them the sons of Nahshon, prince of the tribe of Judah; the same Jarchi observes on 1:22.

and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion; which seem to have their names from weakness and consumption, being perhaps weakly and consumptive persons; and it appears they both died young. It is a tradition of the Jews, mentioned by Aben Ezra, that these are the same with Joash and Saraph, who are said to have dominion in Moab, 1 Chronicles 4:22 which is not likely:

Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah: Jarchi interprets Ephrathites by men of worth and esteem; and the Targum is,"Ephrathites, great men of Bethlehemjudah'but no doubt they were called so, because Ephratah was one of the names of Bethlehem, Genesis 35:19 so called from its fruitfulness; though Aben Ezra thinks it had its name from Ephratah the wife of Caleb; but it was so called in the time of Moses, as in the passage referred to:

and they came into the country of Moab, and continued there; unto their death; all excepting Naomi, who returned when she heard the famine was over.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Elimelech — signifies “My God is king.”

Naomi — “fair or pleasant”; and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, are supposed to be the same as Joash and Saraph (1 Chronicles 4:22).

Ephrathites — The ancient name of Beth-lehem was Ephrath (Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7), which was continued after the occupation of the land by the Hebrews, even down to the time of the prophet Micah (Micah 5:2).

Beth-lehem-judah — so called to distinguish it from a town of the same name in Zebulun. The family, compelled to emigrate to Moab through pressure of a famine, settled for several years in that country. After the death of their father, the two sons married Moabite women. This was a violation of the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 7:3; Deuteronomy 23:3; Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 13:23); and Jewish writers say that the early deaths of both the young men were divine judgments inflicted on them for those unlawful connections.

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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 1:2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.

Ephrathites — Bethlehem was otherwise called Ephratha. Naomi signifies my amiable or pleasant one: Mahlon and Chilon signify sickness and consumption. Probably they were sickly children, and not likely to be long-lived. Such are the products of our pleasant things, weak and infirm, fading and dying.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Ruth 1:2 And the name of the man [was] Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.

Ver. 2. And the name of the man was Elimelech,] i.e., My God is King: an excellent name, and such as might yield great comfort in those calamitous times. Christ liveth and reigneth, alioqui totus desperassem, saith one, else I had been down on all fours ere this day.

And the name of his wife Naomi,] i.e., My sweet or pleasant one: a fit name for a wife, who should be to her husband "as the loving hind and pleasant roe." [Proverbs 5:19] Loving appellations serve to increase love betwixt married couples, as well as to express it.

And the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion.] Mahlon signifieth infirmity; Chilion, finished. Why so called, is not showed, saith an interpreter, (a) but they answer the event of things: the first, his father’s infirmity in going from among God’s people, to live with idolaters for preservation of his outward estate; and the other, his father’s death, he being taken away in Moab. [Ruth 1:3] He was Mahlon in his leaving of Bethlehem, and Chilion in abiding in Moab.

Ephrathites of Bethlehem-judah.] Not Ephrathites of the tribe of Ephraim, as 1 Kings 11:26.

And continued there.] Heb., Were there as sojourners: and were kindly used; though the Moabites had been formerly hard-hearted enough, [Deuteronomy 23:3] and afterwards also, [Isaiah 16:6] and are therefore threatened.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Ruth 1:2. The name of the man was Elimelech That is, God is my king. According to the Jews, he was a man of great wealth and dignity: his wife's name was Naomi; 1:e. amiable, agreeable; see Ruth 1:20. If we are to believe the Jews, she was the daughter of Salmon, and niece of Nahshon prince of the tribe of Judah.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Ephrathites; so called, because this Beth-lehem is otherwise called Ephrath or Ephratah, Genesis 35:19 Micah 5:2; either from Caleb’s wife of that name, 1 Chronicles 2:19 4:4, or from the fertility of the soil about it; which title may therefore be used here, to show the greatness of the famine, which affected even fertile parts.

Of Bethlehem-Judah: See Poole "Jude 17:7".

Continued there, to wit, during the famine.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.’

Detailed names are now given of the family. The family consisted of Elimelech (‘my God is king’), his wife Naomi (‘my delight’ or ‘my sweetness’), and their two growing sons Mahlon (‘sickness’) and Chilion (‘wasting’). ‘Sickness’ and ‘wasting’ probably refers to how they were seen when born, as they struggled to survive, but it may well be that they had continued to experience such problems. Having ‘gone to sojourn in the country of Moab’ (Ruth 1:1), they ‘came into the country of Moab and continued there’. The double emphasis may have been bringing out the disapproval of the writer. They had left God’s land.

Ephrath(ah) is closely connected with Bethlehem, possibly as the region in which it was found, or possibly as the ancient name of Bethlehem itself (Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7). In Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7 ‘the way to Ephrath’ leads to Bethlehem. Compare Micah 5:2. Thus Ephrathites in this context may simply be the name by which Bethlehemites were called. Bethlehem-judah is so called in order to distinguish it from Bethlehem (house of bread) in Zebulun (Joshua 19:15).

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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

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.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Ruth 1:2. Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-judah — Bethlehem was otherwise called Ephratha. Naomi signifies my amiable or pleasant one; Mahlon and Chilion signify sickness and consumption. Probably they were sickly children, and not likely to be long-lived. Such are the products of our pleasant things, weak and infirm, fading and dying. They came into the country of Moab, and continued there — Settled their habitation in that country, which it would not have been lawful for them to have done, unless it had been in a time of great public calamity, or great private necessity, as Maimonides observes.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Elimelech. Josephus and others read erroneously, Abimelech. He was probably called also Jokim, 1 Paralipomenon iv. 22. --- Ephrathites. This title often designates people of the tribe of Ephraim; (Judges xii. 5., and 1 Kings i. 2,) but here it means those of Ephrata, which is also called Bethlehem of Juda, about five or six miles south of Jerusalem, Genesis xxxv. 19., and Micheas v. 2. (Calmet)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

Elimelech = My God is king.

Naomi = My pleasant one. Mahlon = Sick.

Chilion = Pining.

Ephrathites. Ephrath was the ancient name of Beth-lehem, where Rachel was buried (Genesis 35:19; Genesis 48:7).

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.

Elimalech - signifies 'My God is king.'

Naomi - fair or pleasant; and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, are supposed to be the same as Joash and Saraph (1 Chronicles 4:22).

Ephrathites. The ancient name of Beth-lehem was Ephrath (Genesis 35:19; Genesis 47:7), which was continued after the occupation of the land by the Hebrews, even down to the time of the prophet Micah (Micah 5:2).

Beth-lehem-judah - so called to distinguish it from a town of the same name in Zebulun. The family, compelled to emigrate to Moab through pressure of a famine, settled for several years in that country; and after the death of their father, the two sons married Moabite women. This was a violation of the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 7:3; Deuteronomy 23:3; Ezra 9:2; Nehemiah 13:23); and Jewish writers say that the early deaths of both the young men were divine judgments inflicted on them for those unlawful connections.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(2) Naomi.—The name is derived from the Hebrew root meaning to be pleasant (see below, Ruth 1:20). Mahlon and Chilion mean sickness and wasting, it may be in reference to their premature death, the names being given by reason of their feeble health. It is not certain which was the elder: Mahlon is mentioned first in Ruth 1:2; Ruth 1:5, and Chilion in Ruth 4:9. It is probable, however, that Mahlon was the elder.

Ephrathites.—See note on Genesis 35:19. Ephrath was the old name of Bethlehem. Why, in the present passage, the town is called Bethlehem-judah, and the inhabitants Ephrathites, does not appear.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
The Rabbins say, that Elimelech was the son of Salmon, who married Rahab; and that Naomi was his niece.
It is imagined, and not without probability, that Mahlon and Chilion are the same with Joash and Saraph, mentioned in 1 Ch 4:22.
Genesis 35:19; 1 Samuel 1:1; 17:21; Micah 5:2
Heb. were.

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary


Rth . And the name of the man (was) Elimelech. A descendant of Nahshon mentioned in connection with the erection of the tabernacle (Num 1:7). According to Jewish doctors, a noble and potent person. All names ending with "melech" (king) borne by distinguished persons (Lunge). Means to whom God is king (Keil). My God is King (Lange). My God is my King (Cox). God is King (Wordsworth). Josephus calls him Abimelech. Naomi, more correctly Noomi [LXX. νωεμιν; Vulg., Noemi; Old Eng. trans. Noemi]. According to Talmudists, niece of Naason, prince of the tribe of Judah, and daughter of his brother Salmon (?). Means my pleasure or delight (Wright); pleasant, gracious (Gesen.); the lovely gracious one (Lange); happiness (Josephus). Mahlon, more correctly Machlon, the husband of Ruth. Means sickness (Wright), sick (Gesen.); the weakly (Keil); consumption (M. Henry). Not so (Lange); rather derived from מָהיל (machel) "circle dance," Greek choros, and so may mean joy. Chilion, more correctly Kilion. (Sept., χελαίων; Josephus, χελλιων); means pining (Keil), destruction (Wright). Not so; should be referred to כּלַל, to crown, and so means ornament (Lange). Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah. Some of the older Jewish teachers not inappropriately render "Ephratim" by ευγενεστατοι [high-born] (Lange). Shews these were natives of the city or district around Bethlehem, not mere residents (comp. 1Sa 17:12; Jud 17:7). The place honourably distinguished, and Jesus Himself called an Ephrathite of Judah in Mic 5:2. Euphrates. Ephraim (Gen 41:52). words having a similar derivation and meaning. (See also notes on Rth 1:1.) The Ephraimites called Ephrathites (Jud 12:5; 1Sa 1:1; 1Ki 11:26) (Wright). And they came into the country [field] of Moab, and continued there [literally, were there; Old Eng., abode there]. The Targum adds, and were there as princes. The route supposed to be down the Wady Sadier to Engedi, and then round the S.E. shores of the Dead Sea, as with modern travellers. Moab not so large as Huntingdonshire, and not so far from Bethlehem as is Huntingdon from London (Cox).


"And the name of the man (was) Elimelech, … Ephrathites of," etc.

Names give an air of truth to the narrative (Lawson). Express in a very touching manner parental hopes and faith. Of especial significance among the early Hebrews. A really good name of unspeakable service to all who are capable of feeling its aspiration (Dr. J. Hamilton). But sometimes given in vain. When contrasting with the character, a continual humiliation.


I. That however others may propose, the final issues of life are with God and with the man himself.

These names remarkably significant and suggestive. But in what way? Elimelech means "my God is King," and yet some take his life as illustrating the feelings and conduct of the spiritually dead; others, of the backslider driven by momentary trials from God's ordinances down to Moab. Note (a) the irony of a good name when men fall short of its promises. At the present day, men baptized Martin Luther by their Protestant parents are found ministering at the altar of Rome (Braden. See extracts). Naomi means pleasure, delight, happiness, and yet she comes at best to be an illustration of sanctified affliction. Possibly the names of the whole family pitched in this exultant key (see notes), and yet their experience is in sad contrast.

(b) Events as they unfold often make vain all human forecastings. Even parental love not always prophetic. The name given with many fond anticipations, perhaps with much heart searching and prayer. That is all the human can do—the rest is in the hands of God.

The local designation of these Hebrews enforces similar lessons. They were Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah, a title as honourable as any an Israelite could desire. And yet under stress of circumstances Bethlehem-Judah changes to Moab, Ephrathites (probably meaning "high-born") to exiles.

II. That it is not how men are called, but how they live, and what they are, which is the important thing.

A deadly heresy to rest satisfied with the outward calling of things. The conventional Christian hearing himself termed so continually, begins possibly to lay the flattering unction to his soul that he is such. The sweet delusion grows, eats into the heart of the man. No greater offence than to deny him that title. Translate it to mean "the Christ-like," or even the "follower of Christ," and what then? So the conventional church member bears as lofty a name as this, "My God is King." A member of Christ, for the Church is "HIS body." You may explain that bond to imply "My Saviour my Head" (Eph ), and yet how many are satisfied with the mere name! This—

A strong delusion.—The "name to live, and are dead."

A transparent folly.—Others see through it; if not, God does.

A cruel self-deception.—Born of presumption, fostered of hypocrisy.

A crowning impiety.—Disastrous, Laodicean, deadly (Rev ).

III. That men consecrated by the loftiest associations of the past come to these strange experiences.

Elimelech, of an ancient family, born in the most honourable of birth-places, dedicated seemingly from his youth upwards. His name should have taught him faith. Had he been true to that, all would have been well, and possibly he would never have gone down to Moab.

So those born as it were inside the Church, early dedicated to God, registered among His covenant people, and yet to-day they are prodigals in the far country, Cains with the brand upon them, though with something also which speaks of the old family relationship—at best Elimelechs in Moab—God mourning over them, as over Ephraim (Hos ) the departed glory of their youth, gone like "the morning cloud and the early dew"—asking, as of Israel, "How shall I put thee among the children, give thee a pleasant land?" (Jer 3:19.)

IMPROVEMENT.—Sainted memories may become sad remembrances; mementoes of a better past, reminders of a glory which has been, and is departed. Men carry something with them from the past, must carry it. Does it come in to upbraid or to bless? How was it with this name Elimelech in Moab? Might have taught faith even there. But did it?

These patriarchs and early believers types of those still found in our midst. The history of the most insignificant not without meaning. They hold the mirror to all time, though the natural man, beholding his face as in a glass, straightway forgets what manner of man he is. Elimelech going down to Moab! Is the case without a parallel in our experience? "Let him that is without sin cast the first stone."

"Great birth. good means, high name and fame, save not from falling either into sin or outward misery, if a better blessing than all these be not given men from God."—Bernard.

"How happy must that man be whose God is King! He may be driven by famine, by persecution or otherwise far from the house of his God, yet he can never be banished to any place but where God is his King."—Macgowan.

"In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters, corresponding to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, Jews.

"In the first, names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given were simplicity and sincerity.

"The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterised by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought, and feeling more intensely religious. The heart of the nation was big with mighty and new religious truth, and the feelings with which the national heart was swelling found vent in the names which were given abundantly. God, under His name Jah, the noblest assemblage of spiritual truths yet conceived, became the adjunct to names of places and persons. Oshea's name is changed into Je-hoshua.

"In the third period, words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow, unreal state of all things."—Robertson (abridged).

"The meaning in names, not always true. Absalom meant ‘father's peace,' but the young man broke his father's heart. Solomon called his son Rehoboam. ‘an enlarger,' but he reduced the kingdom instead of enlarging it."—Braden.

"The believing Church is Christ's Naomi, His sweet and pleasant one, and He is her Elimelech, her God the King. For her He forsook the mansions of plenty and delight—with her He sojourned in a Moabitish world. amongst enemies to God; there He died an accursed death to accomplish her salvation; there He was buried to purify the grave for her use, rose again to trample on all her enemies, and is now gone to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to prepare a place for His Noami."—Macgowan.

Here also we may see that it was a custom of great antiquity in the world, that men and women should have several names whereby they were called, and that for these three reasons:

I. That they might be differenced and distinguished from others.

II. That they might be stirred up to verify the meanings and significations of their names. Wherefore let every Obadiah strive to be a "servant of God," each Nathanael to be "a gift of God," Onesimus to be "profitable," every Roger "quiet and peaceable," Robert "famous for counsel," and William "a help and defence" to many; not like Absalom, who was not a "father of peace," as his name doth import, but a son of sedition; and Diotrephes, not "nursed by God," as his name sounds, but puffed up by the devil, as it is 3Jn .

III. That they might be incited to imitate the virtues of those worthy persons who formerly have been bearers and owners of their names. Let all Abrahams be faithful, Isaacs quiet, Jacobs prayerful, Josephs chaste; every Lewis pious, Edward confessor of the true faith, William conqueror over his own corruptions. Let them also carefully avoid those sins for which the bearers of the names stand branded to posterity. Let every Jonah beware of frowardness, Thomas of distrustfulness, Martha of worldliness, Mary of wantonness. If there be two of our names, one exceedingly good, the other notoriously evil, let us decline the vices of the one, and practise the virtues of the other. Let every Judas not follow Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Saviour, but Judas the brother of James, the writer of the General Epistle; each Demetrius not follow him in the Acts, who made silver shrines for Diana, but Demetrius (3Jn ) who had a "good report of all men;" every Ignatius not imitate Ignatius Loyola the lame father of blind obedience, but Ignatius the worthy martyr in the primitive church. And if it should chance, through the indiscretion of parents and godfathers, that a bad name should be imposed on any, Oh let not "folly" be "with" them, because Nabal is their name; but in such a case let them strive to falsify, disprove, and confute their names. Otherwise, if they be good, they must answer them. In the days of Queen Elizabeth, there was a royal ship called "The Revenge," which, having maintained a long fight against a fleet of Spaniards (wherein eight hundred great shot were discharged against her), was at last fain to yield; but no sooner were her men gone out of her, and two hundred fresh Spaniards come into her, but she suddenly sunk them and herself; and so "The Revenge" was revenged. Shall lifeless pieces of wood answer the names which men impose upon them, and shall not reasonable souls do the same? But of all names I pray God that never just occasion be given that we be christened "Ichabod," but that the glory may remain in our Israel so long as the faithful Witness endureth in heaven.


"Nos patri fines, et dulcia linguimus area;

Nos patriam fugimus."—Virgil.

And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.

In weighing human actions, difficult to say what is merely an error of judgment and what an error of heart. The former slides imperceptibly into the latter. We take a false step—pride prevents our retracing it, habit comes in to perpetuate the mistake. Thus folly becomes sin and the cause of sin. Elimelech not to be severely condemned in that, driven by stress of famine, he went down to Moab. Very human this. What of his continuing there?

After all, a man must be judged by the standard of his own times. This would in some measure condemn Elimelech. [Jewish expositors do so almost unanimously.] The land given to Israel to inhabit, under special circumstances, with special promises (Deuteronomy 28). Would not the true Israelite have heard the call "to return" sounding in his ears continually? May we not say at least what was not of faith was of sin? Note. An error generally, though on the side of charity, when we impute the broad catholicity of Christianity to these early Jews. The traditions of his people, national feeling, education, all that distinguished the true Israelite, against this journey and sojourn. But he broke through all. Does not seem to have had any fear of dwelling among an idolatrous nation.

The danger subtle, unseen, often unrealized, but as often deadly. Malarias are dangerous just because they do not address themselves to any of the senses.


I. That the present choice may influence all the after life.

A mistake to put Elimelech outside the pale of ultimate salvation. But short of this, much which is instructive.

(a) A man's error may be foolish without being final. Seems to be so here. The first of a succession of disasters. Peter's denial a better example. So with the disciple's cowardice, Jonah's fleeing to Tarshish, etc.

(b) But a tendency in one false step to lead to a second, to a continuance in folly. Peter's first denial led to a second, to a third. Here, journeying to Moab ends in dwelling there. Elimelech went to sojourn for awhile, the same reason led him to continue. The first temptation was to go, the second would naturally be to remain. Note. Habit makes the sin of the past the "easily besetting sin." Lot lingered in Sodom; what wonder he afterwards lingered in Zoar? (Gen ; Gen 19:19-23).

II. That after a false step in life, God's mercies are not wholly denied us.

Elimelech was protected in journeying. The Moabites seem to have received him and his family with great kindness (cf. Deu , as shewing it might have been otherwise). Good also out of what may have been evil, in the case of Ruth.

(a) Divine providences seem to descend to our human levels. Follow even into Moab. God does not forsake His children in the hour of their folly. More strange still, the wicked are provided for in the midst of their wickedness (Mat ). Households which have become careless and godless have some place of refuge opening to them in the hour of need. We fail to embrace the wise guidance offered to-day; His hand is stretched out again on the morrow. Step by step we descend lower and still lower in the way of moral rectitude; His gospel can meet us in the last hour with the offers of salvation and mercy. Note. This should give no encouragement to men in going towards Moab, but may save us from despair if we are there. The folly which sins that grace may abound possibly finds a warning in the context.

(b) Men condemn, and so think themselves justified in neglecting; it is not so with God.

After the Divine lament, "I have nourished up children, and they have rebelled against me—gone away backwards," comes the affectionate question of a father waiting to be reconciled, "Why should ye be stricken any more?" (Isa .) Nay, more; He follows the terrible accusation, "Your hands are full of blood," with the tender appeal, "Come now, let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet," etc. (Isa 1:15-18). No condemnation like His upon every soul that sinneth, and no compassion like His. It is this that gives point to the Divine declaration, "My ways are not your ways," etc. (See context, Isa 55:8) So with Elimelech in Moab. Doubtless mercy followed while justice condemned. His piety may have been the "smoking flax" and the "bruised reed." Rest assured it was neither "quenched" nor "broken."

IMPROVEMENT.—To us the world offers its Moab continually. Forgetfulness of God is that far-off land (Augustine). Note. The filial spirit has died out in the breast of every prodigal before he leaves his father's house. Distance from God is not in space, but in affections (Bede). Apostacy of the heart always goes before apostacy of the life. Is thy heart right? the important question. If not, the land of promise will sooner or later be the land of penury,—Bethlehem itself a place of weariness and want. To such, life cannot be otherwise than a sad departure from the heritage of God.

Another treatment of the same text.


"I see that all are wanderers, gone astray.

Each in his own delusion; they are lost

In chase of fancied happiness, still woo'd,

And never won."—Cowper.

The history of Ruth begins with a story of wanderers from God—a sad but not strange commencement (Tyng). A common story (a) in God's Word; (b) in human experience. We, too, know of a spiritual wandering from God, from His Word, from His Spirit, from His church and sanctuary, from His gospel, from Bethlehem, where Jesus is. A wandering more sad and fatal than this in the text. Those who go out "full," to return like the prodigal in want (Luk ), in bitterness of spirit (Rth 1:20), having lost all. Or, sadder still, who never return. Jonah a wanderer, Manasseh, Demas. Nay, all men by nature wanderers (Isa 53:6). The wicked are emphatically called "wandering stars" (Jude 1:13).

I. See in what this wandering begins.

(a) Led by distrust rather than by immediate want. (See previous outlines.)

(b) By sight rather than by faith. No Divine voice comes to Elimelech, "Get thee out of thy country," as to Abraham (Gen ), or as to Joseph, "Arise," etc. (Mat 2:20). No pillar of fire and cloud leads, as with Israel departing from Egypt. On the other hand, no angel stops the way, as with Balaam (Num 22:22-35). No miraculous providence hinders, as with Jonah. Probably his spiritual experience feeble and meagre, his life commonplace and unheroic. The better illustration of multitudes who wander away from sanctuary privileges. The very absence of the miraculous int hese critical moments, these times of choice, when life turns to the right hand or the left, itself suggestive. How many had to walk, even in those days, with nothing supernatural, nothing out of the ordinary, to guide; only the light of conscience. But faith can always speak, and did speak. Contrast Abraham's wandering with Elimelech's—this seeking a country with that mentioned in Hebrews 11. Said of God's heroes, they became strangers and pilgrims, but "by faith," and "seeking a better country" (Heb 11:16). Happy wandering and even sojourning in a strange country, when men can say they are "persuaded," etc. (ib. 13). But sad when men leave Bethlehem for Moab, go out but to sojourn for awhile, and continue there.

(c) By discontent rather than duty. A common frame of mind with men, and the secret of much of our unrest. The unstable are always dissatisfied. Clouds without water are driven to and fro with every wind, and ships without ballast liable to the violence of every tempest (Westminster Conf. of Faith). Cain's envy made him a wanderer. (See also Outline III., Rth , div. II.)

II. See where this wandering leads. As in the parable, the son goes to hire himself in the far country. Possibly with Elimelech, also, wandering brought want. If so, another sentence may apply, "He would fain have filled his belly—and no man gave unto him." The peril in Moab as real, though not as apparent, as that in Bethlehem; perhaps more real. The one a famine, the other a scarcity of all those things by which men truly live. Countless avenues besides famine to the human heart (Lawson). Which was the best, bread or faith, to have abundance or to have God? (Robertson.)

Note. We need never go far to sojourn in Moab (Tyng).

III. See how this wandering ends.

Notice (a) Journeying to Moab often means continuing in Moab, dying in Moab. Not said, that the Lord was with him, as with Joseph in Egypt. If so, all would have been well. Not said, how he lived, or even how he died. His life afterwards summed up in one short sentence, "He continued there." Whatever his state of mind and circumstances, they became fixed, permanent.

Notice (b) That for some men there is no returning in life. HE DIED THERE. How much then may depend upon the moment's choice! this present false step from the path of duty: all time; nay more, all eternity. In every sinful life, critical moments when the wandering begins. In that moment the path is turned aside, the bias given, and for ever it may be.

IMPROVEMENT.—Are we free agents? and do we choose our own path in life? God chooses the circumstances that surround it. And He has said the way of transgressors is hard. To the sinful He says, "Behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns" (Hos ). Are we froward? He will shew Himself froward (Psa 18:26). Do we walk contrary to Him? He will walk contrary to us (Lev 26:23-24; Lev 26:27-28). Wandering from God means strife with God—a folly, a gigantic mistake (Isa 45:9.)

Bernard observes on these passages—

I. God, intending good to some in His secret counsels, may prosper that which others undertake with no good warrant. Elimelech's misfortunes and sojourn in Moab the means of blessing Ruth. So also Jacob's sons, in selling Joseph into Egypt, were providing a refuge for the family. Christ's cruel death the world's salvation.

II. That if men live where idolaters be, it is good to avoid the occasion of infection as much as may be. Some conjecture that Elimelech went not into the cities of the Moabites, but dwelt in tents. (Translate Fields of Moab. See notes on Rth .)

III. That none are so churlish and unkind at one time to some, but God can incline their hearts at another time to others. These Moabites formerly hard-hearted to Israel.

IV. That it is a praiseworthy matter to be harboursome to strangers. The barbarians commended (Act ; Act 28:7; Act 28:10), who received the apostle. Abraham, Lot, and Job praised for this. We are exhorted to it (Heb 13:2; Rom 12:20).

"What made it wrong for Elimelech to migrate to Moab, wrong according to the Old Testament standard, was that he was abandoning his place among the elect people to sojourn among heathen, whose social life, whose very worship, was unutterably licentious and degrading.… True, he is not directly blamed for his error in the book of Ruth, which is written in the most considerate and generous tone throughout; but that the writer of the book thought him to blame, and held the calamities which fell on him and his house to be a judgment on his sin, there is scarcely room to doubt."—Cox.

"Oh these wanderings from sanctuary privileges and home delights, how lightly begun, how disastrous in the ending! There are those to-day who are flitting about like the poor dove from Noah's ark, and finding no rest for the sole of the foot; spirits wandering self-tormented in desert places, and among the tombs, like that poor demoniac of old. And Christ's message to such is as then, ‘Return unto thine own house, among thy kinsfolk and acquaintances, show forth what things God had done for thee.'"—B.

"Like wandering birds driven from their nest; like wandering stars rushing into darkness; like waves of the sea driven of the wind and tossed. Thus we wander in sin, we know not where, we know not to what. Forsaking the fountain of living water, we hew out to ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."—Tyng.

"To grasp at happiness is all our view;

Through different tracks her footsteps we pursue;

While each his own fallacious path approves,

As interest leads, or inclination moves;

Yet most through error lose the wished-for way:

Who sets out wrong must wander far astray."

"For everywhere he is a Judas, with whom his worldly interest, his worldly ambition, prevail over his attachment to Christ and to Christ's cause."—Dr. Hanna.

"It was said of Athens, that it was ‘a good place to pass through, but a dangerous place to linger in.' To the faithful Israelite, Moab could have been no more than this. But it is written of Elimelech, ‘He continued there.'

"As you value your souls, beware of the world: it has slain its thousands and ten thousands. What ruined Lot's wife? the world. What ruined Achan? the world. What ruined Haman? the world. What ruined Judas? the world. What ruined Simon Magus? the world. What ruined Demas? the world. And what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"—Die, of Illustrations.

"Why should the professor of Christianity be found eagerly pursuing those trifles which even heathen have been found fleeing from? The world is rather a sharp briar to wound us, than a sweet flower to delight us."—Secker.

"Ages have passed away; yet Moab exists in the shape of the world, its pleasures, its follies and vanities; the lust of the eye, the pride of life, the love of the world, that is Moab."—Dr. Cumming.

"Let us not therefore abuse strangers, and make a prey of them, making an advantage of their unskilfulness in the language, and being unacquainted with the fashions of the land; like Laban that deceived his nephew Jacob in placing Leah for Rachel, and, to cloak his cheating, pleaded it was the custom of the country."—Fuller.

"Romulus is said to have been nursed of a she-wolf; Hieron king of Syracuse, by bees; Semi-ramis, of birds; Habides, king of Tartesius, of a hind; Cyrus the Persian, of a bitch; Pelias, of a mare; Paris, of a bear.… We know how the Lord commended the strange Samaritan beyond the priest and the Levite, because he succoured the poor wounded Jew which had fallen among thieves."—Topsell.

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ruth 1:2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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