Judges 21
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh, saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife.
Israel bewails the desolation of Benjamin, and takes measures to preserve the tribe from extinction. Twelve thousand men are sent to punish Jabesh-Gilead for not joining in the war against Benjamin, and to take their daughters for wives for the remaining Benjamites.

CHAPTER 21:1–14.

1Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpeh [Mizpah], saying, There shall not any of us give his daughter unto Benjamin to wife. 2And the people came to the house of God [Beth-el], and abode [sat] there till even before God, and lifted up their voices, and wept sore; 3And said, O Lord [Jehovah,] God of Israel, why is this come to pass in Israel, that there should be to-day one tribe lacking in Israel? 4And it came to pass on the morrow, that the people rose early, and built there an altar, and offered burnt-offerings, and peace-offerings. 5And the children [sons] of Israel said, Who is there among all the tribes of Israel that came not up with [in] the congregation unto the Lord [Jehovah]? For they had made a great oath concerning him that came not up to the Lord [Jehovah] to Mizpeh, saying, He shall surely be put to death. 6And the children [sons] of Israel repented them for Benjamin their brother, and said, There is one tribe cut off from Israel this day. 7How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing we have sworn by the Lord [Jehovah], that we will not give them of our daughters to wives? 8And they said, What one is there of the tribes of Israel that came not up to Mizpeh to the Lord [Jehovah]? and behold, there came none to the camp from Jabesh-gilead to the assembly. 9For the people were numbered [mustered], and behold there were none of the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead there. 10And the congregation sent thither twelve thousand men of the valiantest, and commanded them, saying, Go and smite the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead with the edge of the sword, with the women and the 11children. And this is the thing that ye shall do, Ye shall utterly destroy every male, and every woman that hath lain by man. 12And they found among the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead four hundred young [women,] virgins [,] that had known no man by lying with any male: and they brought them unto the camp to Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan. 13And the whole congregation sent some to speak to the children [sons] of Benjamin that were in the rock Rimmon, and to call peaceably unto them [and offered (lit. called) peace to them]. 14And Benjamin came again [returned] at that time; and they gave them wives [the women] which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-gilead: and yet so they sufficed them not [but they found not for them so many].1


[1 Judges 21:14.—ולֹא־מָצְאוּ לָהֶם כֵּן. Here, as in Ex. 10:14, כֵּן means tot; and, in general, it answers to tantus, ***, tot, where “so” we add the appropriate adjective.


Judges 21:1–4. Now the men of Israel had sworn in Mizpah. Our author now informs us, by way of supplementing the preceding narrative, of two oaths taken by the congregation at the beginning of the war. All Israel promised, man by man (hence the expression אִישׁ יִשְׁרָאֵל), that they would not give their daughters as wives to any men of Benjamin. They abrogated the connubium (the right of intermarriage) with the tribe. They determined to treat Benjamin as a heathen people, or as heathen nations, in the absence of special treaties (ἐπιγαμία), were accustomed to look upon each other. There were instances of heathen tribes who did not at all intermix. Such cases were found among Germanic tribes also, until Christianity had fully conquered them. It was the church that brought East-Goths and West-Goths, Anglo-Saxons and Britons, Franks and Romans, to look upon each other as tribes of one Israel. Very great, therefore, must have been the indignation of the collective Israel, when they thus, as it were, cast Benjamin out of their marriage covenant. The Romans once (335 B. C.) punished certain rebellious Latin tribes by depriving them of the privileges of connubia, commercia, et concilia (Liv. viii. 14). The Latins were subject tribes: Benjamin, a brother-tribe with equal rights. It might be thought that such a resolve was of itself sufficient to punish Benjamin for its immorality. But is it not probable that in that case, the tribe, through its stubbornness, would have sunk altogether into heathenism? It must be admitted, however, that double punishment was too severe. For it was to punish the guilty, not to destroy a tribe, that Israel had taken the field. This they now perceive—but too late—after their passionate exasperation has subsided. They now sit before the altar of God in Bethel, weeping over the calamity that has taken place. The consequences of their unmeasured severity are now perceived. To what purpose this utter destruction by the sword of everything that pertained to the brother tribe? When Benjamin took to flight, would it not have sufficed then once more to demand of him the surrender of the guilty? Would he still have resisted, when, helpless, he sought the wilderness for refuge? To what purpose the slaughter of the flying? the indiscriminate use of sword and fagot in the cities? Israel has cause for weeping; for it feels the horrors of civil war. Humanity and kindness are frightened away when brethren war with brethren. The worst and most detestable crimes are committed against nations by themselves, under the influence of foolish self-deception, when they fall victims to internal strife. The exasperation of the feelings puts moral causes entirely out of sight. Leaders, says Tacitus, are then less valued than soldiers (Hist. ii. 29, 6: “civilibus bellis plus militibus, quam ducibus licere”). Israel may bewail itself before God, but it cannot accuse its leaders. The Urim and Thummim approved the punishment of Benjamin, but not the oaths and cruelty with which it was accompanied. However, if Israel in this war furnishes an illustrative instance of the results to which defiant obstinacy (on the side of Benjamin), and fanatical, self-exasperating zeal (on the side of the ten tribes), may lead, it is also instructive to note that it knows that such doings must be repented of. It builds an altar, and, as before the war, brings burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, the first expressive of penitence for the past, the other of vows for the future.

Judges 21:5 ff.. For they had made a great oath concerning whoever came not up to Jehovah to Mizpah, saying, He shall surely be put to death. Israel here also again clearly shows in its history, what every man may observe in his own experience: that repentance and vows, with reference to past precipitate sin, have scarcely been expressed, before the same thing is done again, and frequently with the same blind zeal which was just before lamented. At that time, when indignation at the outrage in Gibeah filled all hearts, an oath was also taken that every city in Israel that did not send its messengers to the national assembly, consequently took no part in the general proceeding against Benjamin, which was the cause of God, should be devoted to destruction. Such a city was considered to make itself, to a certain extent, an ally of Benjamin, and to be not sufficiently disturbed by the outrageous misdeed, to give assurance that it did not half approve of it. Amid the terrible events of the war, it had been neglected to ascertain whether all cities had sent messengers; it is only now, when the question how to help Benjamin up again without violating the oath, is considered, that the absence of messengers from Jabesh-Gilead is brought to light. And what is it proposed to do? To deal with that city as they have just lamented to have dealt with Benjamin. In order to restore broken Benjamin, another and in any view far less guilty city is now to be crushed. The reconciliation of breaches made by wrath is to be made by means of wrath. The people lament that they have sworn an untimely oath, and instead of penitently seeking to be absolved from it before God, undertake to make it good by executing another, equally hard and severe, and that after “Jehovah” has smitten the rebellious (Judges 20:35), and peace has been restored. Jabesh-Gilead was a valiant city, full of men of courage, as all Gileadites were. According to Eusebius, it lay six miles from Pella. Robinson searched for its site along the Wady which still bears the name Yâbis, and thought it probably that now occupied by some ruins, and called ed-Deir (Bibl. Res. iii. 319). The city must have been one of importance in Gilead. This is indicated by the fact that the Ammonite king Nahash selects it as his point of attack (1 Sam. 11). In the history of Jephthah its name does not occur. When king Saul hears of the danger threatened the city by Nahash, he cuts a yoke of oxen into pieces, which he sends throughout all Israel with a summons to march to the relief of Jabesh-Gilead, and obtains a splendid victory. These historical notices suggest some noteworthy connections. Against Jabesh the Israelites now undertake the execution of a severe vow, in order to assist Benjamin. At a later date, Saul of Benjamin collects Israel around him, in order to deliver Jabesh. Jabesh does not come when summoned against Benjamin, by the pieces of the slain woman. Under Saul, Benjamin summons the whole people for Jabesh, by the pieces of a sacrificial animal.

Israel sends 12,000 valiant warriors against Jabesh-Gilead—a duly proportioned number, if 40,000 proceeded against Benjamin. The commander of these troops is instructed to destroy everything in Jabesh, except the virgin women, who are to be brought away, in order to be given to Benjamin. It may be assumed, however, that these instructions are to be so taken as that the army was to compel Jabesh to deliver up its virgin daughters as an expiation for its guilt, under threat of being proceeded with, in case of refusal, according to its proper deserts.2 For it is not stated that the destruction was carried out; and, on the other hand, under Saul, Jabesh is again, to all appearances, the chief city of Gilead. The four hundred virgins are then, so to speak, the expiatory sacrifice for the guilty in Gilead. As such, and because the Gileadites were forced to surrender them, they could be given to Benjamin, notwithstanding the oath, which contemplated a voluntary giving. The words in Judges 21:14, “which they had saved alive of the women of Jabesh-Gilead,” do not imply that the others were actually killed, but indicate that these were those who in any event were to be permitted to live for the sake of Benjamin, and who by their life—not as frequently among the heathen, by their death—helped to preserve the existence both of the Gileadites, from whom they were taken, and of the Benjamites, to whom they were given.3 Inasmuch as they were preserved alive when it was possible to kill them, they were no longer considered to be such as ought not be given to Benjamin. How instructive is all this! Israel will not break its oath, but evades it after all! If Gilead had deserved death, then its virgin women could not be allowed to live. If these may be saved alive, why should the children die? The Gileadites may not give their daughters voluntarily, but do not the Israelites give them for them? The surrender of these maidens is indeed a violent solution of the dilemma in which Israel finds itself, but the solution is only formal, not natural. The Greeks also, in cases of oaths thoughtlessly made, whose performance was maliciously insisted on, had recourse to formal exegesis, which avoided the real execution (cf. Herod. iv. 154; Nägelsbach, Nachhom. Theol., p. 244). For the sake of kindness to Benjamin, Israel here thought itself justified in adopting a similar course; for in order not to weaken the sanctity of oaths, they evaded that which they had sworn by a formal compliance. They soon found occasion to repeat the process; for the four hundred Gileaditish maidens were not sufficient.


A second expedient to supply the Benjamites with wives: they are instructed to carry off the maidens in attendance at one of the feasts held periodically in Shiloh

CHAPTER 21:15–25

15And the people repented them for Benjamin, because that the Lord [Jehovah] 16had made a breach in the tribes of Israel. Then [And] the elders of the congregation said, How shall we do for wives for them that remain, seeing the women are destroyed out of Benjamin? 17And they said, There must be an inheritance for them 18that be escaped of Benjamin,4 that a tribe be not destroyed out of Israel. Howbeit, we may not give them wives of our daughters: for the children [sons] of Israel have sworn, saying, Cursed be he that giveth a wife to Benjamin. 19Then they said, Behold, there is a feast of the Lord [Jehovah] in Shiloh yearly [,] in a place [omit: in a place] which [namely, Shiloh] is on the north side of Beth-el, on the east side of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of 20Lebonah. Therefore, they commanded the children [sons] of Benjamin, saying, Go, and lie in wait in the vineyards; 21And see, and behold, if [when] the daughters of Shiloh come out to dance in dances, then come ye out of the vineyards, and catch you every man his wife of the daughters of Shiloh, and go to the land of Benjamin. 22And it shall be, when their fathers or their brethren come unto us to complain contend], that we will say unto them, Be favourable unto them for our sakes Give us them kindly]: because we reserved [took] not to [omit: to] each man his wife in the war;5 for ye did not give unto them at this time,6 that ye should be guilty. 23And the children [sons] of Benjamin did so, and took them wives, according to their number, of them that danced, whom they caught: and they went and returned unto their inheritance, and repaired the cities, and dwelt in them. 24And the children [sons] of Israel departed thence at that time, every man to his tribe and to his family, and they went out from thence every man to his inheritance. 25In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.


[1 Judges 21:17.—ירֻששַּׁת שִּׂלֵיטָה סְב יָמִן. Dr. Cassel renders: “A portion of escape yet remains for Benjamin,” i.e., a means of delivering the tribe from extinction. This agrees well with the context, but is expressed somewhat singularly. Keil: “ ‘Possession of the saved shall be for Benjamin,’ i.e., the territory of the tribe of Benjamin shall continue to be a separate possession for those Benjamites who have escaped the general slaughter.” But this is not only incongruous with the context, but puts a meaning into the words which, as they stand, they cannot have. It seems to me that the better interpretation is as follows: In Judges 21:15, the people lament that a tribe is broken off. Thereupon the elders meet for consultation. It is agreed that the only thing needed to avert the catastrophe, lamented by the people as if it had already taken place, is a supply of wives. “There is a possession of escaped to Benjamin,” say the elders (Judges 21:17), “and a tribe will not be destroyed out of Israel” (as the people lament). “We, it is true, cannot give them our daughters (Judges 21:18), but behold there is a feast in Shiloh” (Judges 21:19).—TR.]

[2 Judges 21:22.—בַּמִּלְחָמָה. Our author translates: als Kriegsbeute, i.e., as captives of war, cf. the exegetical remarks below. It seems better to refer the word to “the war” against Jabesh-Gilead.—TR.]

[3 Judges 21:22.—בָּעת תֶּאְשָׁמוּ. The word בָּעֵת, rendered “at this time” by the E. V., belongs to the last clause of the verse. The two clauses together are well rendered by Dr. Cassel: “for you have not given them to them, in which case (בָּעֵת) you would be guilty.” He adds in a foot-note: “בָּעֵת as in Judges 13:23; ‘in which case he would not have caused us to hear things like these.’ ” Bertheau refers also to Num. 23:23.—TR.]


Judges 21:15 ff. The fact that the number of maidens obtained at Jabesh-Gilead proved insufficient, furnishes the occasion of another consultation, instituted by the “elders of the congregation” (Judges 21:16), in order not to let the tribe of Benjamin die out. Finally, they hit on one last piece of deliverance (יְרֻשֵּׁת פְּלֵיטָה) that is yet left them: they conclude to point out to the Benjamites a method by which they may seize for themselves those wives, which Israel, by reason of its oath, cannot give them. The inhabitants of Jabesh, likewise, did not give their daughters; they were forcibly taken from them, and turned over as booty to the sons of Benjamin.

Shiloh was the scene of a periodically recurring feast, at which the maidens assembled from all regions, and executed dances in certain fixed places. For the sake of these places, and to enable the Benjamites to reach the proper locality without exciting particular attention, an exact description of the situation of Shiloh7 is added.8 For that it is not gone into for the sake of Shiloh itself, is evident from the fact that such descriptions are not elsewhere customary. The Benjamites are told of the vine-hills that enclose the dancing-places. There they are to wait, concealed in the thickets, until the maidens come forth; when they are to rush upon them, seize each a wife, and return with them, along the well-known roads, southward over Rimmon, to their territory, now again peaceably held by them. The Benjamites appear to have directed attention to the consequences of such an exploit, and the ill-will of fathers and brothers likely to be engendered by it. But the elders of the congregation quiet their apprehensions, and say:—

Judges 21:22 ff.. When their fathers or their brethren come unto us to contend. Verse 22 also has experienced the most singular expositions. The Syriac and Arabic versions have substituted לָקְחוּ for לָקִחְנוּ, wherein Studer proposes to follow them. Others, as Bertheau, deem it necessary to leave out the words בַּמּלְחָמָה …. כִּי לֹא. Keil thinks that the words express the sense of the Benjamites, as if they had uttered them. And yet the matter is clear. The Benjamites, having recent experience of the consequences of lawlessness, are apprehensive of new troubles, in consequence of the proposed seizure. The elders quiet their fears, and say: No doubt, the fathers or brothers will come and contend warmly; and with us, for it will be manifest that we have given the occasion. Without this, you, the tribe of Benjamin, would not now have dared to do this thing. They will reproach us with having brought them under the curse of having violated their oath, inasmuch as you have obtained their daughters. Then shall we say to them (the fathers): Be quiet and gentle; give the maidens kindly to us. You know that we did not take them in war, as booty, as for instance, at Jabesh. We have indeed allowed them to be taken (for which no grudge is to be held against Benjamin); but in peace, not for injury: and as you did not give them, no guilt attaches to you. What else could we do to provide wives for Benjamin, without involving ourselves in the curse of a broken oath? We therefore allowed your daughters to be seized, but not as captives of war. Your daughters have gone to them involuntarily; and no curse can come on you, since you did not give them to them. The emphasis of the sentence lies on this very word לָקחְנוּ. Since we permitted them to be taken, there can be no thought of disgrace and war, or of insult. Therefore, do not contend; for why should there be contention where there is no war. The “elders” will ask forgiveness for themselves, on the ground that they meant it well with the seizure (לא כַּמִּלְחָמָה), not in war; and fathers and brothers, whose wrath against Benjamin has now subsided, will all be satisfied, as soon as they are convinced that what has been done does not render them liable to the curse which lights on oath-breakers. For the oath that had been taken was latterly the chief hindrance in the way of reconciliation with Benjamin.

The Benjamites, thus encouraged, and made to feel secure against bad consequences, actually execute the proposed exploit, and with the wives thus won return happy to their renovated inheritance. Roman history, it is well known, has a celebrated occurrence of a similar nature in the rape of the Sabine women. A few analogous features are undoubtedly observable therein. The tribes of Italy refuse to enter into marriage treaties with the Romans; and the latter feared the destruction of their scarcely founded state. The Sabine rape occurred in the fourth month of Rome (Plutarch, Romulus, 14); and four months Benjamin had been sitting in the rock Rimmon. Benjamin received only maidens (Judges 21:12, 21); and only maidens likewise did the Romans seize (Plut. l. c.; Schwegler, Röm. Gesch. i. 478). It was also a feast for which the Sabine women appeared in Rome, albeit not as active participants. In Israel, it has been thoughtfully conjectured, the dancing maidens perhaps celebrated the memory of Miriam’s festive chorus of timbrel-striking maidens, when Israel had safely passed through the Red Sea. The Romans celebrated the consualia on the anniversary of the rape of the Sabine maidens, and conceived the observance sacred to the sea-god. In like manner, the animal that symbolized Mars, the god whom Romulus chiefly served at Rome, was the wolf, whom also his worshippers did not disgrace. Benjamin is compared with a wolf, and the word חָטַף, used of the seizure of the virgins (Judges 21:21), is afterwards applied as characterizing the wolf9

Schwegler (Röm. Gesch. i. 469) declares that the rape of the Sabines is a myth, sprung from the conception of marriage as a robbery.10 But it is precisely in this story that the seizure of women is contrasted, as a thing improper in itself, with the regular marriages of the other tribes. The idea of the narrative is rather to show the impossibility of maintaining laws prohibiting intermarriage between different tribes. It contained the lesson that the marriage connections of men overleap the historical divisions of tribes and families, and that just as the ship converts the separating sea into an highway of fellowship (Neptunus Equestris, for the sea is a steed), so connubium, the practice of intermarriage, is the commingling of different tribes. Consualia are, therefore, conjugalia; Consus is Conjux; the veiling and concealment connected with his festivals, corresponds to the concealment of the married (nubere, connubium), and the sacrifice of a mule corresponded to the wish, that although the union was one of heterogeneous elements, analogous to that from which the animal sprang, it might nevertheless not be marked by the barrenness of which he was a symbol.

But all this is yet more clearly taught by Benjamin’s seizure of the maidens of Shiloh. Israel is the type of an organic nationality with different tribes. Should it attempt to abolish the practice of intermarriage, the result must be, either the forcible taking of women, or the death of a member of the living whole. In peace the Benjamites regain what they had lost in war. An ambuscade almost annihilated them: by an ambuscade they now win new life. Then Israel lay breathing forth wrath, in desolate wadys, in order to inflict barrenness: now, Benjamin lies among fertile vine-hills, in order to procure a blessing. It is frightful to think of Benjamin dissolving in flames, and his women and maidens falling by the inexorable sword; so that it must be acknowledged a grateful change when we can picture to ourselves the Benjamites hurrying away with their kidnapped prizes. But the seeming act of war was yet not without its terrors and tears, as suddenly the timbrels ceased to sound, and daughters screamed, and mothers wept. It was an image of war sufficient of itself to mark the horribleness of civil war. The narrative is given for the purpose of pointing out into what irregularities a people naturally falls when it lacks the organic unity of one general regimen. It closes with the words, which might form the superscription of the entire Book: “There was no king in Israel, and every man could do what seemed right in his own eyes.”

CONCLUDING NOTE.—The time in which the occurrence at Gibeah and the events that grew out of it took place, it is not difficult to ascertain. Everything points back to the time in which the memories and traditions of Israel’s military fellowship under Joshua were yet living and fresh. It is the period concerning which it is said, Josh. 24:31, and Judg. 2:7: “And the people served Jehovah all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of Jehovah, which he did for Israel.”

It is also evident from the narrative that God was still zealously served. Counsel was sought from the Urim and Thummim. The people wept and fasted before God. They brought burnt-sacrifices and peace-offerings. Of idolatry, there is not a trace. Union with heathen women is held inconceivable. All Israel still feels itself under a military organization such as obtained under Moses and Joshua. In all probability, no great length of time had elapsed since military operations for the conquest of the land had come to a stand-still. From Judg. 1:22–26, it may be seen what great importance was attached to the conquest of Bethel. When the house of Joseph, in whose territory Shiloh and the estate of the high-priest lay (Josh. 24:33), went up against Bethel, “Jehovah was with them.” It is probable that from that time until into the days of the events that have just been related, the ark of the covenant was at Bethel, and that that place was the centre of military actions. The ark must, however, have been removed before the end of the Benjamite war; for when peace is restored, it is found in Shiloh. Its stay at Bethel cannot have been long, for there is there no permanent altar (Judges 21:4). The maidens of Jabesh, also, are not brought to Bethel, but to Shiloh (Judges 21:12). The exodus from Egypt is still in living remembrance (Judges 19:30). Just as after the death of Joshua, the order was, “Judah first” (Judges 1:1), so it is now (Judges 20:18). Nothing is visible as yet of the partial efforts of single tribes. All this is most clearly deducible from the fact that Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, and the grandson of Aaron, stands at the head of the sanctuary (Judges 20:28). He was yet one of those who had seen the great works of Jehovah. Eleazar, his father, had died after Joshua. Until he himself died, Israel’s religious condition was doubtless such as is described in Judges 2:7. Moreover, his name and character suggest the inference that the events just treated of, are immediately connected with the preceding great age. It was Phinehas whose moral zeal incited him to slay the sinning Israelite in the territory of Moab, for which act he was praised as having “turned away the wrath of God” (Num. 25:7–12). To him, therefore, the moral indignation of Israel over the criminal outrage of Benjamin, is doubtless to be especially attributed. He had been selected by Moses to accompany a hostile expedition against Midian by which Israel had been seduced into heathen practices (Num. 31:6). This expedition numbered twelve thousand men,—one thousand from each tribe. The expedition against Jabesh-Gilead was organized in a similar manner. If this type of priestly zeal for faith and purity of morals stood at the head of Israel, the whole war against Benjamin, at least so far as its motives are concerned, becomes plain. Before this, a similar war against the two and a half transjordanic tribes had almost occurred. These tribes, as we are told in Josh. 22, had built themselves an altar: the sons of Israel this side the Jordan thought that it was intended for idolatrous purposes. They came together in Shiloh, and resolved to proceed against the supposed apostates. But first an embassy was sent, at whose head Phinehas again stood (Judges 21:13). The address which he made to them is altogether in the spirit of the action determined on against Benjamin.

But it is precisely this last named occurrence that enables us to characterize yet more narrowly the catastrophe related in chaps, 20 and 21, and to comprehend the design with which it stands, not at the beginning, but at the close of the Book, and alongside of the history of Micah. It is not stated that a solemn embassy, like that in Josh. 22:19 ff., was sent to Benjamin, to set his sin before him in the spirit of kindness. Everything is indeed done according to the forms of the law and under priestly instruction, but with such assured consciousness of power, and with such carnal fanaticism, that the zeal is not pleasing, and is finally attended by lamentable consequences. The moral motive of the war against Benjamin is certainly to be praised; but the blind rage in victory is of the flesh. The crime of Benjamin was horrible; but the unity, determination, and perseverance which Israel manifests against this tribe, end in a fanaticism which at last forgot that the war was waged only because Benjamin was a brother, and that he was treated worse than national enemies had ever been. This is the lesson which the narrator designs to teach by placing this narrative at the close of his Book. He censures what his narrative contained, for both at its beginning and at its close he says: “there was no king in those days.”

In the next place, he furnishes an opportunity to compare the tribes of Dan and Benjamin with each other, in their characters, their deeds, and their fortunes. Both were preëminently warlike. But this valor, to what did they turn it? Why was not Dan as bold against the Philistines as against peaceful Laish? or why did not Benjamin turn his martial spirit against Jebus, a place of such importance to him? Dan founds an idolatrous worship in order not to lose his tribe-consciousness; and Benjamin defends a crime by way of resenting the interference of other tribes. Dan’s offense, however, is justly deemed more heinous than that of Benjamin; for it committed a spiritual sin against the Spirit of the eternal God, while Benjamin protected a terrible, indeed, but yet only fleshly crime. The difference shows itself also in the consequences. It is true that both Benjamin and Dan lose their proper importance. The cities and territories of both are taken by Judah. But the hero who comes out of Dan, Samson, is none of theirs who practice idolatry in the north. His fame did not redound to their honor. But out of Benjamin arose, after this, more than one glorious deliverer. When he was yet but a remnant, Ehud rose up in the midst of him to be a deliverer. Saul and Jonathan—the first king and his royal son—were Benjamites.

This being so, the narrator allows the reproach to fall on Israel of having acted so differently with respect to Dan and Benjamin. In the face of deeds like those of Micah and Dan, it remained inactive, neither warned nor took any other measure, although the sins were mortal in their nature; whereas it nearly destroyed Benjamin. And even before these occurrences in Benjamin, where was this united strength, when, in disregard of the law, heathen people, as the prophet tells them in Judges 2, were left to pursue their own modes of life and idol service?

It was this that drew the punishment after it. Had the external unity been in possession of its earlier internal strength, not only would the victory over Benjamin have been gained more quickly, but the servitude under foreign foes would not have come so soon. The observance of external forms, the customary prayer, the usual routine of worship in war and peace, are of no avail, unless animated by living faith.

Israel felt that one tribe was lacking to protect its eastern flank on the Jordan, when Moab invaded the country. True, it was a Benjamite, Ehud, who delivered the country from the tyrant, but it was only by the help of Ephraim (Judges 3:27) that he gained the complete victory. His own tribe were too few in numbers. Even Saul was still conscious that he came from the smallest tribe of Israel (1 Sam. 9:21), although under him Israel already felt that “there was a king in the land.”


The Book closes with two highly significant narratives. In connection with what has gone before, they demonstrate the insufficiency of the existing national organization. Even under the great heroes, national unity, in the full sense of the word, did no longer exist. Deborah complains of the indifference of the tribes to the common weal. Gideon experiences the envy of Ephraim, which under Jephthah breaks out into bloody hostility. Samson stood alone, whom his own people themselves propose to hand over to the enemy. The Judgeship affords no guaranty of national unity. With this, there is wanting also concentrated discipline against sin. Sin, therefore, can do what it will. There is a lack of authority. Hence, the Book of Judges forms the introduction to the Books of the Kings. Both concluding narratives show what the consequences are when the law loses its force, when faith grows weak, when apostasy breaks loose, and subjective arbitrariness asserts itself. The first sketches more particularly the decay of nationality, as exhibited in the arbitrariness of the individual; the second, the discords that result from the passionate procedures of the whole nation. The arbitrariness revealed by the first, concerns spiritual matters; that by the second, is fleshly in its nature. The first shows that against the service of God anything may be done with impunity: the second, that for fleshly sins blood is made to flow in streams. In both cases, indeed, sin punishes itself; but it broke forth, because every one did what he would. Moral decay always shows itself first in the priestly order. In both narratives, the frivolity of a Levite is a principal cause of the lamentable results that ensue. This opens the way to subjective arbitrariness of every kind, which superstition uses to its own advantage. Micah builds a private sanctuary, and under priestly forms sets up idolatry. He was punished for his sin, by being made to experience the thing he had done. He committed a robbery on the spirit of Israelitish law, and he was robbed, by Dan, of all he had applied to this purpose. As he had done, so it was done to him. The arbitrariness which he had exercised, was pleasing to others also. The priest who had sold himself to him, departed when he found a better buyer. The insubordination allowed the individual, because there was no one vested with general authority, permitted also a tribe to leave its appointed territory. One tribe (Dan), strong enough to rob the weaker, but with not enough spirit to win the land assigned it from the Philistines, removes into a distant region, and destroys a peaceable city. Robbery and murder are followed by permanent idolatry under the priestly charge of a descendant of Moses.

From all this we may see what the consequences would be were Christianity to become wholly inactive in the state. Persons, who deem themselves virtuous, suppose that the religion of a living God is by no means absolutely necessary for social life. But as soon as religion falls into decay, and before its influence ceases altogether, the moral supports of society fall to pieces. When the ministers of the Word begin to regard good positions more than truth, ruin is at hand. Venality is followed by its evil consequences, although he who is ready to sell himself know enough of the language of the day to conceal it. A Christian must serve no idols. The more surely, therefore, is it a sign of decay, when he makes a business of serving superstition.

STARKE: The creature is to be applied for God’s honor, but not in honoring him. Arbitrariness in parts, leads to arbitrariness in the whole. If the foundation-stone, piety, be removed, then the tribes, like stones of a building, fall apart. The fear of God is the beginning of all wisdom, and also the protector of all peace.

ON CHAPS. 19–21.—When the command of God is no longer in the heart, priests become carnal, and their flocks lawless. As the Levite runs after a concubine, so the people of Gibeah seek the indulgence of bestial lusts. Who will imitate the morals of a master, who rejects God’s sacred command. If in Gibeah the law of Jehovah is dishonored with impunity, how can it be expected that they will show obedience toward their brethren? Israel is indignant at the sins of Benjamin, but does it turn away from its own? Virtuous indignation is not difficult, but careful self-examination is more necessary. The rod may undertake to maintain supremacy, but only truth can succeed in doing it. Civil war arises not from political, but from moral dangers. The love of peace will begin as soon as self-righteousness ceases. Seb. Schmidt observes: “The best way of conciliating an enemy is to do him good.” But kind deeds towards an enemy spring only from love, which is a daughter of repentance. The severest judges of morals often know least of this love. Love is most needed when it becomes necessary to punish. Israel began to grieve bitterly when Benjamin was almost destroyed. Men recognize only when too late, what the root was in the beginning. Lewdness strangles compassion. Carnal zeal consumes considerateness. Self-righteousness irritates the minds of men. Only at the altar of God, through the pious priest, does peace come into being.

GERLACH: In all this it becomes manifest what Israel might have been and continued to be, if it had clung faithfully to the Lord and his commandments, and had preserved its covenant with the Lord, and by that very means its national purity, unimpaired.—THE SAME: The people, drawing near to God in the presentation of expiatory burnt offerings, sought in these offerings to remove the breach between the holiness of the Lord and their own sinfulness; and in the sacred meals that followed the offering, to obtain the assurance of the assistance of divine grace as they went forth into the holy war.

Only where the gospel is heard and followed, is there peace. For that reason, the Lord, our Saviour, says to all his disciples: Peace be with you!


1Judges 21:14.—ולֹא־מָצְאוּ לָהֶם כֵּן. Here, as in Ex. 10:14, כֵּן means tot; and, in general, it answers to tantus, ***, tot, where “so” we add the appropriate adjective.

2The Athenian Ionians, according to Herodotus (i. 146), stole Carian women for themselves, and killed their fathers. Hence, he says, the Milesian custom which did not permit women to eat with their husbands, or to call them by their names.

3[Unfortunately, this exegesis has not a particle of support in the text. To use a favorite phrase of the Germans on such occasions, it is entirely aus der Luft gegriffen.—TR.]

4[Judges 21:17.—ירֻששַּׁת שִּׂלֵיטָה סְב יָמִן. Dr. Cassel renders: “A portion of escape yet remains for Benjamin,” i.e., a means of delivering the tribe from extinction. This agrees well with the context, but is expressed somewhat singularly. Keil: “ ‘Possession of the saved shall be for Benjamin,’ i.e., the territory of the tribe of Benjamin shall continue to be a separate possession for those Benjamites who have escaped the general slaughter.” But this is not only incongruous with the context, but puts a meaning into the words which, as they stand, they cannot have. It seems to me that the better interpretation is as follows: In Judges 21:15, the people lament that a tribe is broken off. Thereupon the elders meet for consultation. It is agreed that the only thing needed to avert the catastrophe, lamented by the people as if it had already taken place, is a supply of wives. “There is a possession of escaped to Benjamin,” say the elders (Judges 21:17), “and a tribe will not be destroyed out of Israel” (as the people lament). “We, it is true, cannot give them our daughters (Judges 21:18), but behold there is a feast in Shiloh” (Judges 21:19).—TR.]

5[Judges 21:22.—בַּמִּלְחָמָה. Our author translates: als Kriegsbeute, i.e., as captives of war, cf. the exegetical remarks below. It seems better to refer the word to “the war” against Jabesh-Gilead.—TR.]

6[Judges 21:22.—בָּעת תֶּאְשָׁמוּ. The word בָּעֵת, rendered “at this time” by the E. V., belongs to the last clause of the verse. The two clauses together are well rendered by Dr. Cassel: “for you have not given them to them, in which case (בָּעֵת) you would be guilty.” He adds in a foot-note: “בָּעֵת as in Judges 13:23; ‘in which case he would not have caused us to hear things like these.’ ” Bertheau refers also to Num. 23:23.—TR.]

7The description may still be recognized, since Robinson seems to have discovered Shiloh in Seilun, and Lebonah in Lubban. The description of Shiloh as “Shiloh which is in the land of Canaan” (Judges 21:12), is more peculiar. This was only the full name of the place, cf. Josh. 21:2, and 22:9, where it is named in the same way. Cf. Lugdunum Batavorum.

8[Better Keil: “The exact description of the situation of Shiloh serves to show that it was peculiarly adapted for the execution of the advice given to the Benjamites, who after seizing the maidens, could easily escape into their territory by the highway leading from Bethel to Shechem, with out being apprehended by the citizens of Shiloh.”—TR.]

9Cf. the Targum on Ezek. 22:27, and my Gold. Thron. Salomonis. p. 164.

10The usages, also, of which he makes mention, as, for instance the Spartan, have a different meaning. The mother must be robbed of her child because she loves it. The narrative in question exhibits the necessity of robbery because the stranger does not meet with love.

11[The following “Homiletical and Practical” paragraphs are based on the whole of “Part Third” of the Book, from chap. 17 to 21 inclusive. As will be seen, it was impracticable to place them under the several parts of the text to which they refer, according to the plan pursued in the other parts of the volume (cf. the note on p. 19).—TR.











§ 1. Contents and Aim

THE little Book of Ruth, the exposition of which usually follows that of the Book of Judges, consists of only eighty-five verses; but these inclose a garden of roses, as fragrant and full of mystic calyxes, as those which the modern traveller still finds blooming and twining about the solitary ruins of Israel and Moab, this side the Jordan and beyond. The significance and beauty of the brief narrative cannot be highly enough estimated, whether regard be had to the thought which fills it, the historical value which marks it, or the pure and charming form in which it is set forth. It will be necessary rightly to seize its fundamental idea, in order to treat to advantage the other historical questions which present themselves with reference to the time of its composition and place in the canon of the Old Covenant.

An ancient Israelitish family of Bethlehem fell into misery. They had left their native country in a time of distress, in order to save themselves from participating in it. But in the stranger’s land, in Moab, a harder fate alights upon them. Death carries off father and sons; the mother remains behind, childless and widowed. True, she has daughters-in-law; but these are without offspring, and—Moabitesses, aliens, not without fault chosen to be wives of her sons. Naomi’s situation is as bad as it can be. In Moab she cannot remain; sorrowfully she returns to Bethlehem. Her house is desolated; upon herself, rests the hand of God. But in the midst of despair, a consolation arises for her. Ruth, her Moabitish daughter-in-law, remains with her,—no dissuasion of her mother-in-law restrains her. She gives up everything, native land and paternal home, yea, even the hope of better fortunes, continues faithful to her love for Naomi, and goes with her to her God and her people,—but in tears, poverty, and bereavement.

Naomi arrives at Bethlehem, but no one helps, no one comforts her. Ruth alone becomes her support,—she labors, she begs for her. Her piety, however, does not remain unknown. The kindnesses done to these women by Boaz, on whose fields Ruth had been gleaning, originated solely in the man’s admiration of the pious love of Ruth, although it is true that he was a kinsman of Naomi. Ruth the noble man blesses, because she has taken refuge under the wings of God in Israel. She reinstates her mother-in-law in the good-will of her relatives. She overcomes the prejudices of Israel against the stranger. The rights of an Israelitish wife fall to her lot. But it is only on account of her love and purity that the blessing of Boaz fulfills itself. For her mother’s sake she enters once more on a hard and difficult road. But thereby the sorrow of Naomi is at last lifted away. Boaz fulfills to Ruth the law of Israel, and marries her. From the Moabitess springs the son, of whom David, the king of Israel, who rose from among the flocks of Bethlehem to be a hero and a prophet, is the celebrated grandson.

With good reason the book is not called “Naomi,” or “Boaz,” or “the Descent of David,” but “Ruth.” For she is the central point of the whole narrative. Her love is the groundwork of the history it relates. That she became the ancestress of David was only the reward of her virtue. The idea to be set forth, and which gives such great significance to the little book, is, the power of love, as conquering all national contrarieties, hostilities, and prejudices.

It is not a story of romantic love between man and woman, but of the reverential love of a widow for the mother of her deceased husband. The love portrayed in the character of Ruth is of the purest, most unselfish, most extraordinary kind. It is for the sake of this love, to indicate its nature, that the strength which leaves father and mother, and accepts the God of Israel, is delineated. For Naomi can be thus loved of Ruth only because the latter has some intuitive perception of the higher life of the God of Israel in her mother-in-law.

The Jewish narrative, therefore, does not only, with unselfish uprightness, set forth the overpowering depth of affection of a Moabitess; it teaches also that such love is valid before God, without respect of race, that through it Ruth is more deeply implanted into the kingdom of the true Israel than are natural children—consequently the women say to Naomi, that Ruth is better for her than seven sons—and that the blessing of God was poured out in superabundant measure on Ruth, although a foreigner, because she had confessed the God of Israel in love and from love.

The narrative displays no hatred toward foreigners, gives no prominence to the keen discriminations of the Mosaic law against them, notwithstanding that they form the background of the story; does not blame the really well-disposed Orpah, although she turns back; has not a word of reprehension for the anonymous relative who refuses to marry Ruth; but in contrast to these facts, it causes the brightness of the blessing that lights on Ruth to become known. Orpah is forgotten, the name of the superstitious kinsman unknown, but Ruth—is the grandmother of David.

The Book was not written for the glorification of the king; for how, according to human views, could he be flattered by such a descent! But the fact of David’s descent from Ruth, demonstrates and glorifies the praise of such as act as she did. It is a book of praise of true love and virtue; a book of reconciliation for those alien nations who betake themselves under the wings of the living God. In Boaz and Ruth, Israel and the Gentiles are, as it were, personified. In order to come under the wings of Israel, nothing is needed but the love and faith of Ruth. From these, and not from legal descent according to the flesh, do the might and glory of the kingdom of God proceed. The Book, it is often said, with its contents, stands at the portal of the history of David; according to its spirit, it stands, like the Psalms, at the gates of the Gospel. And this not only on account of the genealogy of Christ in the latter, which carries us back to David and Boaz, but because of the spirit which informs the doctrine of our Book, that the greatest king of Israel sprang from the reconciliation of Israel and the Gentiles, from the marriage of Boaz and Ruth in the confession of Jehovah.

§ 2. Time of Composition

It is precisely the free and loving spirit with which Ruth is depicted, the Moabitess set forth as the ancestress of David for the instruction and joy of the reader, that enables us, on somewhat closer inspection, to determine, with considerable definiteness, the time in which alone the book can have been written. It is to be observed that the Books of Samuel say nothing of the descent of David from Ruth. Without the little book now under consideration, this fact would be entirely unknown to us. For the Book of Chronicles also, although it names Boaz as the ancestor of David in such a way that it were easy to believe that use was made of the last verses of Ruth, passes over the name of Ruth in utter silence.

That our Book cannot have been written after Solomon, is evident from 1 Kgs. 11:1, where the king is blamed for having taken many foreign wives of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zidon, and Heth, “nations concerning which Jehovah said to the sons of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you.” It is not for the honor of Rehoboam that the historian relates that his mother was Naamah, an Ammonitess (1 Kgs. 14:21). Nor is it without design that the (second) Book of Chronicles, Ruth 24:26 (the passage is wanting in Kings) informs us that the mother of one of the murderers of King Joash was a Moabitess, of the other an Ammonitess. Ezra says (Ruth 10:10): “Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives;” and the names of those who were to separate from their wives were noted down. Nehemiah (Ruth 13:1 ff.) went so far as to execute strictly the law that “no Ammonite or Moabite should come into the congregation of God forever.” These negative data are sufficient of themselves to refute the opinion that the book written in praise of a Moabitess who did enter into the congregation of God, was perhaps composed in the times after Solomon, or during the exile, or when the spirit of Ezra or Nehemiah was in the ascendant. It is especially clear that it cannot have been written in the Exile, for in that situation Israel maintained the sharpest separation between itself and the Gentiles1 (cf. Esth. 3:8). The Book, moreover, exhibits a homelike, peaceful coloring inconsistent with that time of expatriation and distress. It cannot even be assigned to the reign of Solomon; for in that case the genealogy at the close would hardly have failed to add: “And David begat Solomon.”

But there are not wanting positive grounds which make it highly probable that the Book originated in the time of David, and while he occupied the throne,—circumstances which add their own instruction to that of the Book. It must indeed be admitted that our information concerning the great revolution brought about in Israel by the achievements, spirit, and reign of David, is very meagre and fragmentary. But it is also true that too little attention has been paid to the fact that the new occupant of the throne at Jerusalem was not merely a hero, but a creative genius, whom singular sufferings and experiences had thoroughly tried, and in whom the full heart of Israel beat powerfully and grandly, although he appears not without the human coloring of his age. From the very opening of his public career in the combat with Goliath, and ever after, he displays, as no one else did, the enthusiastic strength of faith and the immovable religious convictions of a true Israelite; and yet it was he, driven into exile through Saul’s distrust, who more than any other hero or prince, before or after, came into peculiar contact with alien nations. It was doubtless due, in part at least, to the recollection that his great-grandmother was a Moabitess, that he went to the king of Moab and said, “Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth and be with you, till I know what God will do to me” (1 Sam. 22:3). Accordingly, he causes his father and mother to emigrate to the same country whither Elimelech and his family had gone. And they remained in Moab until David was master of Jerusalem. So also, at a later time, he remembers that the king of Ammon had formerly shown him kindness (2 Sam. 10:2). While he was hiding in the cave of Adullam, all sorts of wild and warlike people collected about him, of whom he formed his band of heroes and afterwards his body-guard. Their names Kerethi and Pelethi (2 Sam. 8:18, etc.) sufficiently indicate their foreign origin. He abode a long time in the Philistine city of Gath (1 Sam. 27); and there bands of brave men attached themselves so entirely to him, that they continued faithful to him even in his last great distress, brought upon him by Absalom (2 Sam. 15:18). But everywhere he bore aloft the banner of his God and people. Whoever followed him, entered not merely into his personal interests, but also into those of Israel (cf. 1 Sam. 26:10, etc.). Through the glory and heroism of his history, aided by the preparatory influence of Saul’s achievements, the heathen, who till then continued to reside among Israel, were undoubtedly for the most part amalgamated with Israel, so that the intellectual preponderance of Israel, reinforced by military superiority, suppressed idolatry and extended the acknowledgment of Jehovah.

We are reminded here especially of Uriah, who fell a victim to David’s unlawful passions. This man, a hero and distinguished personage in Israel, was a Hittite or descendant of Heth (2 Sam. 11:3). From his widow, that is, from an Israelitish woman once married to a Hittite, sprang king Solomon, just as David descended from a Moabitish woman, the widow of an Israelite. Nor is Uriah the only foreigner among David’s distinguished warriors; the list includes also an Ammonite named Zelek (2 Sam. 23:37). It is remarkable, also, that David deposits the ark of God in the house of a Gittite, that is, a man who originated in Gath, a city of the Philistines. He was called Obed Edom, thus bearing the same name with David’s grandfather, the son of Ruth.2 His surname Edom also betrays his alien origin. The ark of God was three months in his dwelling, and God blessed him and his house.

Yet more noteworthy is the fact that in the saddest hours of David’s life, when his favorite son, Absalom, and the chief men of Israel fell away from him, only such as had turned from among alien nations to Israel and its God remained true to him. He himself had the same experience which Naomi had with Ruth; they who loved him dared everything for him and with him. An Ammonite supplies him with provisions in his flight (2 Sam. 17:27). Especially prominent is Hushai the Archite,3 the companion of David, who in the hour of distress adheres to him, and renders him most important service at the court of Absalom, in thwarting the intrigues of the apostate Ahithophel (2 Sam. 15:32 ff.). Touching is the fidelity of Ittai, the man of Gath. The king says to him (2 Sam. 15:19 ff.): “Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king, for thou art a stranger. If thou art banished, go to thy native place.4 Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may; return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee!” David, the fleeing king, who in his old age must leave his capital, speaks like Naomi. The answer of Ittai shows that he, like Ruth, has turned to the God of Israel: “As Jehovah liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.” Never again, in the history of the ancient Israel, do such relations come to view. Under their influence, and therefore during the reign of David, the composition of a book which commemorates the truth and love of a Gentile, was perfectly natural. It is a signature of the spirit, more active in Israel then than at any other time, which recognized faith in God as the kernel of the kingdom of God, and saw that not only natural, but also spiritual Israelites could become its children. It must not be overlooked that it is especially in the Psalms that the relations of the Gentiles to the kingdom of God are unfolded. Take as specimens of many similar passages, these two: “Thou makest me the head of the nations; a people that I knew not, serves me” (Ps. 18:43).5 “All the families of the nations shall bow down before thee; for the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and he rules among the nations” (Ps. 22:27, 28).6

To point out definitely the years of David’s reign during which the Book was written, will hardly be possible. But it is not improbable that it was done when he stood on the summit of his glory and enjoyed peace on all sides. At that time, a contemplative view of the king’s history, in which so many men of alien origin had distinguished themselves by wonderful fidelity, gave rise to our Book. It may be assumed that its narrative concerning David’s excellent ancestress influenced the bearing of the king’s faithful Gentile subjects, as manifested in the catastrophe of Absalom. It is a genuine historical characteristic of the reign of David, that it, and not the Psalter merely, is Messianic. It is informed by the idea of universality bounded only by the acknowledgment of Jehovah. It brought about closer connections between Israel and the Gentiles, which continued to exist in the reign of Solomon. The fall of this king, toward the close of his reign, consists in the very fact that he no longer subjected these connections to the domination of the God of Israel, but suffered his own faith and morals to be overcome by heathen influences. Solomon would not have been to blame for taking wives of Moab and Ammon, if these, like Ruth, had confessed Jehovah; his fall consisted in his taking heathen wives, who withdrew him from the pure service of God. The Messianic idea was distorted, consequently obliterated and for a long time lost, and only restored by the vision of the prophets.

Nothing of importance can be urged against assigning the origin of our Book to this period, almost the only time in which it can have been written. The arguments which Bertheau, after Ewald and other earlier critics, founds on linguistic peculiarities, are not at all conclusive, and are sufficiently met by Keil’s counter-remarks (Einleit. § 137). The more unusual expressions are due to the peculiarities of the matter, and are also to be met with elsewhere. The narrative exhibits life in its popular aspect, and probably makes use of popular forms of speech which to us seem Chaldaizing. This very circumstance attests the antiquity of the Book. A book of similar character, written in the Exile, would no longer possess the manifold idioms peculiar to original forms and views of life. Considering the small number of literary productions that have come down to us from the several earlier centuries of Hebrew history, and our ignorance of the places of their composition and the dialect of their writers, it is manifest that any attempts to fix the time in which any work was written by means of a few grammatical peculiarities alone, must always be exceedingly problematical. In the present case, however, the contents of the Book itself contradict the conclusion to which such a method of argumentation has led. For these speak decidedly against an exilic, and in favor of a Palestinian origin, in a peaceful, and indeed a definitely limited period. Critics have paid only too little continuous attention to these contents, and hence were led to overestimate sundry externalities of the Book.

§ 3. Position in the Canon.

The position which Jewish tradition assigned to our Book in the Canon, may likewise be due to the spirit of its contents. The Septuagint, it is true, attached it closely to the Book of Judges, as if it were but an appendix of that work,7 and was followed therein by Josephus and the Christian Fathers who were for the most part dependent on that version. Possibly, the desire to make the number of books equal to the number of letters in the alphabet may have contributed to this result; for even in later times the supposed coincidence was invested with symbolical significance. Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Canticles could not be so directly attached to another book, there being none specially devoted to the history of Solomon, while Ruth and Lamentations could readily be joined to other writings. But it cannot have been for liturgical purposes merely, that the Canon of the Palestinian Jews, as appears from the Talmud, corroborated by manuscripts and traditions, considers Ruth as well as Lamentations as a separate work, and never unites it with Judges. If the little work be viewed simply as a genealogical narrative introductory to the history of David, then, indeed, its proper place is between Judges and the Books of Samuel. But since this is not its true character, since it sets forth a higher idea, of which the birth of David is but the crown and confirmation, an independent position was rightly assigned to it. The Messianic doctrine contained in it invested it with greater importance. Now, from the fact that the Jews continued the Book in this separate and independent position, although they saw that the followers of Christ viewed him as the descendant of Ruth, it may be inferred that in the Palestinian canon Ruth held, even before the birth of our Lord, the same position as at present. It harmonizes well with this, that from primitive times the Book was read during the Feast of Weeks. For this cannot have been done simply because a harvest scene occurs in it.8 The practice must rather be connected with a belief that Ruth prefigures the entrance of the heathen into the kingdom of God, and with the idea that the Feast of Weeks was a celebration of the giving of the law on Sinai, which law, as the Midrash explains, was given to all nations, only it was not accepted by them. The Feast of Weeks, we know, corresponded to the Christian Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was poured out, according to the words of Joel, on all flesh, and the Gospel was preached to all the world.

Undoubtedly, however, the Book of Ruth offers an interesting parallel to that of Judges. While the latter exhibits the military history of Israel, the former introduces us to the peaceful private life of the people. We hear no trumpet-blasts or pæans of triumph, only the rustling of the sickles among the grain stalks salutes our ears. We find ourselves transported into the rural family life of Israel. Not the warrior or king, but the farmer and householder find their prototypes here.9 The little book relates a narrative of social village life, and within its brief compass exhibits the profoundest sorrow, the noblest love, and all the attractiveness of an Israelitish life of faith. Naomi and Boaz are not painted in the same colors as Deborah and Gideon. But the love of Ruth and Orpah can only have grown up in the household of Naomi. Israel’s fathers and husbands must have so lived as to enchain even after their death the hearts of foreign and childless widows. With what nobility and moral beauty the faithful in Israel were adorned, is seen in Boaz. The whole picture is surmounted by a calm, clear sky. The reader finds himself now in the open field, now on the road, and anon among the assembly of citizens at the gate. The unadorned narrative shows such art in grouping, preserves such moderation, causes the finest lessons to shine through so gently, and withal displays such great vivacity, that the æsthetics of the little work alone yield an important testimony to its origin. It can have arisen only under surroundings such as those it describes. It breathes an air of freedom and peace wholly inconsistent with the unrest and servitude of the Exile. Indeed, one is tempted to believe that the author must have lived in Bethlehem itself. He loves to indicate, with untutored art, the peculiarities of speech which obtain among his dramatis personœ. He makes his rustics talk in rustic fashion,10 while yet, when Boaz speaks on elevated subjects, the language rises to the level of the theme.

§ 4. Time of the History.

The time in which the occurrences themselves took place, can hardly be more closely determined. Boaz was the great-grandfather of David. For it is not to be supposed that between Boaz and Obed, or Obed and Jesse, other names have fallen out. A wider remove of Ruth from David contradicts the thought and doctrine of the Book. The view that Boaz may have been a contemporary of Gideon11 is without anything to support it. The Book suggests not a hint of war; and although it speaks of famine in the land, there is not the least indication that it was a result of hostile devastations. Much rather does Ruth 1:6 (cf. the Comment.) suggest elemental causes. The ancient opinion, found in Josephus, which places the occurrences of our Book in the time of Eli, has certainly much greater probability in its favor, since the later years of Boaz and the life of Obed may be conceived as running parallel with the life of Eli, and that of Samuel with Jesse. It is also remarked below that an attitude of mutual hostility between Israel and the Philistines, may explain why Elimelech emigrated to Moab.

Some expositors (Ewald, Bertheau) have found that the author of our Book maintains a specially “learned bearing,” because in Ruth 4 he gives information concerning certain old customs, and have inferred from it that he must have written at a late period. But he has only done, in the simplest manner, what it is the duty of every narrator to do, namely, explain and give information on points in need of it. He gives a picture of popular life; in which he no more excuses himself from drawing the pursuit of the humble gleaner than the transactions at the gate of the city. Perhaps nothing testifies more clearly for the antiquity of the Book than Ruth 4. The Mosaic law speaks of the pulling off of the shoe only in the particular case in which a widow, being refused marriage by her deceased husband’s brother, is authorized to subject the offender to this action as a sign of disgrace. But this was only a special application of a more general symbolical idea connected with the shoe, and explanatory of its earlier use in transactions of exchange and redemption generally.12 Now, it was just because the Mosaic law prescribed the use of the shoe only in the case just mentioned, that it ceased to be used on other occasions. Consequently, it was precisely during the better observance of the law under Samuel, Saul, and David, that its use as the general symbol of transfer of rights or property had become obsolete. That which takes place at the gate of Bethlehem is no such transaction as is described in Deut. 25:7 ff. The unknown kinsman does not regard it as such. It has reference solely to the redemption of the landed property. Nor is Ruth present. Had the Book been written in the Exile, when the letter of the law had become impressed upon the people, an explanation of this absence would not have been wanting, just as Josephus conceives it necessary to add, quite in opposition to the narrative, that Ruth having been sent for by Boaz, the whole levirate process was performed according to legal prescription. In our author’s time the recollection of the usages he describes, was fresher; the usages themselves having disappeared but a few generations before. Nor is this notice of obsolete customs peculiar to the Book of Ruth. Other O. T. books make similar explanations. Thus, the author of the Books of Samuel observes that “formerly” prophets were called “seers” (1 Sam. 9:9); and the author of the Book of Judges frequently gives the earlier names of cities of which he has occasion to speak.

§ 5. Translations and Commentaries.

The translation of our Book in the Septuagint bears a verbal character. The relation of Josephus (Ant. v. 9) evinces his efforts to bring the statements of the Biblical accounts into harmony with the prescription of the law as observed in his time, and not to allow the virtues of Israel to be too much eclipsed by those of foreigners. The Chaldee translation, the Targum, being intended for the public instruction of the people, follows the same course yet more decidedly. It carries back into the ancient times of Ruth a good deal of later apprehension and exposition. Its interpolations may be found collected, for the most part, in the Midrash Ruth Rabba,13 which, on its part, has chiefly drawn from the Gemara of Jerusalem and older Midrashim. The Babylonian Talmud gives expositions of detached passages of Ruth: Berachoth, 7; Sabbat, 113; Jebamoth, 47; Nasir, 23; Babakama, 30; Bababathra 91; Sanhedrin, 19. There is another collection of Rabbinical interpretations in Jalkut Simeoni, tom. ii. ed. Venez. n. 596 ff.

Interesting philological explanations on the Chaldee version of the Targum are given in the rare book: Perush hamiloth, Krakau, 1540–44. The most important commentaries of mediæval Jewish scholars, are those of Raschi and Ibn Esra. The commentary of Solomon ben Melech was published by Joh. Ben. Carpzov, in the Collegium Rabbinico Biblicum in librum Ruth, Lips. 1703, and republished by Reland.

The earlier Christian theology accorded little special treatment to the Book of Ruth. Cassiodorus (De Divinis Lectionibus, cap. 1) says: “Ancient expositions I have nowhere been able to find. I have however persuaded the pious presbyter Bellator to write explanations, and he has said much in praise of this woman and others in two books.” But of the work of this Bellator nothing is known, cf. Serarius, p. 680, Ruth 8. In later ages, the expositors, older and more recent, of the Book of Judges, are also to be consulted on Ruth. Most prominent among these are the commentaries of RUPERT V. DEUTZ, SANCTIUS, Serarius, Grotius, Clericus, Rosenmüller, Maurer, Bertheau, and Keil.14

For special treatment of the Book of Ruth, the following are to be named: Christ. Aug. Heumann, Poecile, tom. i. 180, and ii. 383; J. W. Weinrich, Hist. und theol. Betrachtungen gelehrter Dinge, p. 237, etc.; Joh. Jac. Rambach, Notœ liberiores in libellum Ruthœ ex. rec. J. H. Michaelis in liberior. adnot. in Hagiographos, tom. ii. Halæ, 1720. The Collegium of Carpsov has already been mentioned.

The Book was translated [into German] and explained by Dereser, Frankfort, 1806, and by von Riegler, Würzburg, 1812. Compare Umbreit on the spirit and design of the Book, in the Studien und Kritiken, 1834, ii. In 1856 appeared: Metzger, Liber Ruth ex hebr. in lat. versus perpetuœque interpret. illustr. Tüb. 4.

Useful especially for teachers of Hebrew is: The Book of Ruth in Hebrew, with a critically revised Text, various Readings, including a new collation of twenty-eight Hebrew MSS., and a grammatical and critical Commentary; to which is appended the Chaldee Targum, etc., by Charles H. H. Wright, M. A., British Chaplain at Dresden. Leipzig, 1864.

[Wordsworth’s Commentary mentioned in the Introduction to Judges contains notes on Ruth also. A Comment on Ruth, by Thomas Fuller, D. D., London, 1868 (originally published in 1654), is a homiletical production, abounding in striking thoughts quaintly expressed. It only extends, however, to the end of ch. ii. The Rich Kinsman, or History of Ruth, by S. H. Tyng, D. D., N. Y.—TR.].

§ 6. Homiletical Introduction.15

The Book of Ruth is one of the smallest in the O. T., but abounds in material for homiletical instruction. It was admitted into the canon of Holy Scriptures not merely on account of its ultimate aim and issue, but also for the instructiveness of the narrative in itself. The O. T. points everywhere through history to completion, even as Christ him self says: I am the Way and the Truth, the Alpha and Omega.

The Book of Ruth does not preach by means of mighty deeds of war inspired by faith, like those of Gideon and Samson, but by acts of love, which demand no less strength of soul. God can be praised not only with timbrels and trumpets, but also in quietness and silence. There is a heroism of faith in the family, at the sick-bed, and in grief for those we love, which is not inferior to that of Barak. Jephthah found it easier to triumph over Ammon than to subdue his sorrow on account of his daughter. It is often easier to die for the faith, than in the midst of men to live for it.

The Book tells of no prophetic woman like Deborah. But it tells of women whose hearts were capable of pure love, and such love is always prophetic. The fires which rouse a nation to enthusiasm glowed in Deborah; but in the women of our book burned the gentle flames of the household hearth, which distress and desertion cannot quench. The Book of Judges tells of a prophetess who was strong as a man; the Book of Ruth of a man who was tender as a woman.

No psalms lift up their lofty strains in the Book of Ruth. The scene of its history is not laid in the temple where the harp of God resounds,—its central figure is neither king nor poet. But the whole Psalter was born of suffering and love in God, like as David, the psalmist, descended from Ruth. A people must first have families in whom God is manifested forth by love and truth, before inspired singers can rise up from it to tune their harps with power. By the side of Sarah and Rebecca stands the retiring woman, who as Dante says (Parad. xxxii. 11), was

“Ancestress of the singer, who for dole

Of the misdeed said, Miserere mei.

Our Book contains no stern denunciations nor sorrowing lamentations over Israel, its people, princes, and priests; but deeply impressive, penetrating to the heart, is the instance it gives of suffering, love, and victory. It proposes not, like Daniel, to unveil the destinies of nations and the world; but at its close appears the Son of David into whose Godhood all history empties as the rivers into the ocean. No miracles occur in it like that of the three men in the fiery oven; but it tells of three believing ones, who in the glowing heat of suffering and temptation, were found strong and true.


1The Mishna (Jebamoth, ii. 5) decided that a Levirate marriage cannot be demanded by a brother-in-law, if he be the son of a slave woman or of a foreigner.

2In the Levirate marriage of Ruth the symbolism of the shoe was employed. Obed Edom was the son of such a marriage. It is precisely with reference to Edom that the figurative expression: “I cast my shoe upon it,” twice occurs in the Psalms (60 and 108). The Book of Chronicles first calls Obed Edom a Levite. Errors, however, such as those into which expositors fell concerning Kenaz (cf. Com. on Judges, Ruth 1:16), must here also be avoided.

3Of Arke, in Phœnicia. Cf. Movers, Phönizier, II. i. 115.

4[This is Dr. Cassel’s own rendering of the difficult words וְגַם־גּלֶח אַתָּה לִמְקוֹמֶךָ.—TR.]

5This Psalm, at least, is admitted by Olshausen also to be Davidic. Psalmen, p. 98.

6The history of this Psalm might alone testify to a higher antiquity than modern criticism will allow it. Delitzsch says (Die Psalmen, p. 194): “It is a Davidic Psalm, of the time during which its author was persecuted by Saul.”

7[Subjoined it without a separate title. The Jewish canon places it in the third class of O. T. books, the Kethubim or Hagiographa. Its place in this class is variable; the Talmud and some MSS. give it the first, but most MSS. the fifth place. Cf. Wright, Book of Ruth, introd. § xi. 4.—TR.]

8The reasons for this usage given by Raschi and others, are, in their final consequences, undoubtedly tantamount to the proclamation of the kingdom of God among the nations. Cf. Heidenheim, Machsor Schebnoth, 1811, p. 106, note.

9[WORDSWORTH (contrasting the Book of Ruth with that of Judges): The Book of Ruth is like some beautiful land scape of Claude, with its soft mellow hues of quiet eventide, and the peaceful expanse of its calm lake, placed side by side with some stern picture of Salvator Rosa, exhibiting the shock of armies and the storm of war; and receiving more beauty from the chiaro-oscuro of the contrast. Or, if we may adopt another comparison, derived from classical literature, the Book of Ruth, coming next after the Book of Judges [which he regards as its proper place], is like a transition from the dark, terrific scenes of a tragedy of Æschylus, to the fresh and beautiful landscapes of some pastoral idyl of Theocritus, transporting us to the rural Thalysia, or harvest-home, under the shade of elms and poplars, on the banks of the Halis (Idyl vii. 1, 8), or to the flowery meadows and sheepwalks on those of the Arethusa or Anapus (Idyl i. 68, 117; vii 151, .—TR.]

10A fact which clearly manifests itself in the so-called Chaldaisms. Compare, for instance, the conversation of Naomi with her daughters, Ruth 1, that of Boaz with Ruth, Ruth 2, etc. Cf. Keil, Einleitung, § 137, note 2.

11[Among later writers who favor this opinion, Hengstenberg may be mentioned, who urges that if the famine had resulted from bad harvests, it must also have extended to the neighboring land of Moab, and points out how well the ten years’ sojourn in Moab agrees with the seven years’ oppression by the Midianites, for “some years must necessarily have elapsed till the land could recover from its effects, and again present that flourishing state of cultivation in which Naomi found it on her return” (Dissert, on Pent., ii. 92, note, Ryland’s translation). Bertheau (Com. p. 234) replies that the time of Gideon is inconsistent with the genealogy of Ruth 4:21, 22, which affords the only certain data for determining the question. He places the history in the latter part of the time of the Judges, or somewhere in the earlier part of the Philistine domination over Israel. Keil in his Einleitung, § 137, note 1 (2d edit., 1859) agrees with Bertheau, and fixes on the time shortly before Eli; but in his commentary (publ. 1863) adopts the view of Hengstenberg, and although he thinks it not impossible that the genealogy is incomplete, so that Obed may have been the grandfather of Jesse, yet endeavors to show that even on the supposition that it is complete, Obed may have been born in the last years of Gideon But he appears to forget that the combination of the famine with the Midianitic devastations requires Obed to be born, not in the last, but in the earlier years of Gideon; for the impression left by the narrative is that the union of Ruth with Boaz took place not very long after the return from Moab (cf. Ruth 1:22 b). Now, supposing that the emigration occurred in the fifth year of the Midianite oppression, the return, ten years afterwards, would fall in the 8th year of Gideon. But from say the 10th year of Gideon to the birth of David is according to Keil’s own reckoning, a period of 127 years, somewhat too long to be spanned by means of one intervening birth. According to Dr. Cassel’s chronology (cf. Introd. to Judges, § 4) the interval would be thirty years longer.—TR.]

12Cf. the Commentary on chs. 3 and 4.

13Cf. Zunz, Gottesdienstliche Vorträge, p. 265.

14Cf. also Wolff, Bibliotheca Hebrœa, ii. 78; iv. 18.

15[Here, as in Judges, the author appended his “Homiletical Hints” in a body at the close of the Commentary. For he sake of convenience as well as uniformity, they have here also been distributed and placed in immediate connection with the sections of the text out of which they grow. The opening paragraphs, as applying to the whole Book, are here inserted. The “Hints” proper are arranged by Dr. Cassel under heads which, being suggestive in themselves, are here subjoined: I. Naomi the Beloved. II. Ruth the Loving: 1. The confessor of the true religion; 2. The woman of action; 3. The difficult suit. III. Boaz the Well-doer: 1. The landed proprietor; 2. The professor of religion; 3. The man of action; 4. The blessing.—TR.]

Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

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