Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.CHAPTER FIRST
RUTH 1: 1–6
Distress in a Foreign Land
1NOW [And] it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled [judged], that there was a famine in the land. And a certain [omit: certain] man of Beth-lehem-judah went to sojourn in the country [territories1] of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 2And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi [Noomi],2 and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-judah. And they came into the country [territories] of Moab, and continued [ lit. were, i. e., abode] there. 3And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4And they took them wives of the women of Moab [Moabitish wives]; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. 5And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them;3 and the woman was left [behind]4 of her two sons and her husband. 6Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, that she might return [and returned] from the country [territories] of Moab: for she had heard in the country [territory] of Moab how [omit: how] that the Lord [Jehovah] had visited his people in giving [to give] them bread.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Ruth 1:1.—Prop. fields, plains. The form שְׂדֵי is variously explained. Bertheau regards it as another mode of writing שְׂדִה, which occurs in Ruth 1:6 of this chapter, and in Ruth 4:3, and according to Wright is in many MSS. found here also. The original י of nouns derived from ל״ה stems frequently reappears before suffixes (Ges. Gr. 93, 9, Rem.), and Berth. thinks that the same change is occasioned by the close connection of the word with the following genitive (cf. Ges. 89, 1). Ewald also takes שְׂדֵי to be singular, but derives it from the ancient form שָׂדַי, the construct of which might be שׂדֵי after the analogy of הַי const. דַּי ,תֵי, const. דֵּי, etc. But שָׂדַי is not found in Ruth, unless it be in the disguise of the construct, while שָׂדֶה occurs not less than nine times. Better, therefore, with Gesenius, Fürst, and others, take שְׂדֵי as plural construct of שָׂדֶה. Keil proposes to make שְׂדֵי plural const. of שׂדַי, pl. שָׂדַיִם (which however is not found anywhere); for what reason does not appear, unless it be that the plural of שָׂדֶה is usually feminine, whereas שְׂדֵי is masc. But such irregularities are not uncommon; see Green, Gr. 200, c. The interchange of the singular and plural is readily accounted for from the meaning of the word, which, according to the more or less definite conception in the mind of the writer at the moment, may represent the territory as one great field or as made up of many smaller fields.—TR.]
[2 Ruth 1:2.—נָעֳמִי: Noomi, as the name should be written. Sept. Νωεμίν; Vulg. Noemi.—TR.]
[3 Ruth 1:5.—Better: “Then died they two also, Mahlon and Chilion.”—TR.]
[4 Ruth 1:5.—וַתִּשָּׁאֵר: not, “was left from, i. e. was bereaved of,” as Wright (with the Vulgate) interprets,—on the ground that the מִן changes the simple meaning of the verb as found in Ruth 1:3. מִן has its proper partitive meaning, and points out the whole of which Naomi is now the only part left, cf. Deut. 3:11; Neh. 1:2, 3. The enumeration of the whole is so far incomplete that it does not expressly include Naomi herself. In Ruth 1:3 the verb is used without מִן because there is there no direct reference to the whole, but only the statement that at the death of her husband, she and her sons were left behind.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Ruth 1:1. And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged. Nothing more definite is hereby expressed than that the occurrence about to be related took place in the time when there was yet no king in Israel. In those days there was no governor armed with imperative authority, who could help and discipline the whole people. Everybody did what he would, and helped himself in whatever way he thought best. Part of the tribe of Dan forsook the land in a body, because they were no longer pleased with it, and had no mind to overcome the remaining enemies; and Elimelech, an individual citizen, abandoned his home when the times became bad.
There was a famine in the land. No rain fell, and the crops did not prosper. Notwithstanding good and diligent cultivation, with which that at present observed in those parts is not to be compared, no harvests were reaped from those extensive grain-bearing plains which in good years produce abundant supplies.5 In such seasons of scarcity, southern Palestine naturally resorted to importations from Egypt, as, the history of Joseph has already shown. The increased prices, however, necessarily resulting from a failure of the home crops, pressed with two-fold weight on the less affluent among the people. And if, by hostilities on the part of the Philistines, or for any other reason, they were also cut off from the granaries of Egypt, nothing remained but to look for supplies to eastern countries. Even ancient Rome suffered famine whenever its connections with Egypt were interrupted, an occurrence which sometimes, as under Vespasian (Tacit. iii. 48, 5), involved serious political consequences.
The famine extended to the most fertile parts of the land, for it visited Bethlehem. The very name, “House of Bread,” bespeaks a good and fertile district. Even yet, notwithstanding poor cultivation, its soil is fruitful in olives, pomegranates, almonds, figs, and grapes (Ritter, xvi. 287 [Gage’s transl. iii. 341]). The region was “remarkably well watered in comparison with other parts of Palestine.”6 On this account, the name Ephratah, applied to Bethlehem and the country around it, is perhaps to be explained as referring to the fruitfulness insured by its waters.7
And a man went. The man left Bethlehem with his family in the time of famine, in order, during its continuance, to sojourn in the fertile territories of Moab, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, whither the calamity did not extend. For this the Jewish expositors rightly blame him. He left his neighbors and relatives in distress, in order to live in the land of the enemy; forsook his home, in order to reside as a stranger in Moab. If what he did was right, all Bethlehem should have done the same! The case stood very different, when Abraham for a like reason went to Egypt (Gen. 12:10); for Abraham went with all his house, left no one behind, and was everywhere a stranger. But Isaac is already forbidden from adopting the same method of relief (Gen. 26:2), and Jacob removes to Egypt, not on account of the famine, but because his lost Joseph has been found again. But this man undertakes, by his own strength and in selfish segregation from his fellows, to change the orderings of divine providence. The famine was ordained as a chastening discipline; but instead of repenting, he seeks to evade it by going to a foreign land. Whether this can be done, the ensuing narrative is about to show.
Ruth 1:2. And the name of the man was Elimelech. His family was of importance in the tribe of Judah (cf. chaps. 2 and 3), well known in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19 ff.; 4:1 ff.), and by no means poor (Ruth 1:21). The names of its members may be held to testify to the same effect. In accordance with the spirit of Israelitish life, they may be supposed to reflect those obvious peculiarities which popular discernment remarked in the persons of those who bore them. The man is named Elimelech, “my God is King.” All names compounded with “melech,” king, with which we are acquainted, Abimelech, Ahimelech, etc., are borne by distinguished persons. Now, it was precisely in contest with a king of Moab, Eglon, that Israel had experienced that God is king; and yet, here an Elimelech withdraws himself from the favor of God in order to live in Moab! His wife’s name was Naomi, “the lovely, gracious one.” The name unquestionably corresponded to the character. Whoever is loved as she was, and that by daughters-in-law, is most certainly worthy of love. As to the names of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, the derivations which make them signify “sickly” and “pining,” suggested perhaps by their subsequent fate, are undoubtedly erroneous. For, surely, they bore them already when in Bethlehem, after leaving which they continued in life over ten years in Moab. It is much more likely that by these names, bestowed at birth, the parents expressed the feeling that these sons were their “joy” and “ornament.” Mahlon (properly Machlon) may then be derived from מָחיל, machol, “circle-dance,” Greek choros. Comp. 1 Kgs. 4:31, where Heman, Chalcol, and Darda, are called sons of Machol; and in Greek, Choregis or Chorokles, from choros. In like manner, Chilion8 (or rather Kilion), may, like כַּלָּה, kallah, a bride, be referred to כָּלַל, to crown. The name would thus signify coronatus, just as kallah (bride) signifies a coronata. It is particularly stated that they are “Ephrathites” of Bethlehem-judah. Ephratah was the ancient name of Bethlehem and the region around it. Accordingly, Ephrathites are natives of the city, persons properly belonging to the tribe of Judah, not mere residents in Bethlehem from other tribes (cf. Judg. 17:7).9 So David also, by a use of the word in obvious accord with this passage, is spoken of as the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem-judah (1 Sam. 17:12); and the prophet, when he announces Him who in the future is to come out of Bethlehem, expressly speaks of Bethlehem-Ephratah (Micah 5:1). For the same reason, the full name Bethlehem-judah is constantly used, in order to prevent any confusion with Bethlehem in Zebulun (Josh. 19:15; cf. Com. on Judg. 12:8), and also to make it impossible to think of Ephrathites of the tribe of Ephraim.
Ruth 1:3–5. And Elimelech died. Probably not long after his arrival in Moab. This appears not only from the connecting “and”: “they came to Moab, were there, and Elimelech died” (cf. the Com. on Judg. 1:1), but may also be inferred from the circumstance that the sons did not marry while he was yet living.
The death of the father is the beginning of the sad catastrophe; but notwithstanding its occurrence the sons are unwilling to return. On the contrary, they proceed, in violation of the Mosaic law, to take Moabitish wives (cf. Com. on Judg. 3:6 f.). That such marriages fall within the prohibition of Deut. 7:3 is not to be doubted. The restrictions of that passage apply to all who serve false gods, and the idolatry of Ammon and Moab is as strongly abominated as any other. That Moab and Ammon are not expressly named in the passage, is owing to the fact that it speaks with reference to the country on this side of the Jordan. In other passages, the worship and fellowship of Moab are rejected in the same way as those of the other nations (cf. Judg. 10:6). The question is not what name a people bears, but what its religion and worship are. No doubt, however, the old Jewish expositors are right when they maintain that the law which forbids the entrance of an Ammonite or Moabite into the congregation of Jehovah, even to the tenth generation (Deut. 23:3), does not bear on the case of Ruth. For this can apply only to men, who from their sex are enabled to act independently, not to women, who are selected and taken. A woman founded no family in Israel, but was taken into one. For that reason, also, there is no connection whatever between this law and that in Deut. 7:2 ff. Israel was forbidden to take wives for their sons from among the neighboring nations, not because these entered into the congregation or founded strange families, but because marriage is a covenant, and involves the danger of becoming mixed up with idolatry.
Inapplicable, likewise, to the present case is the passage in Deut. 21:10 ff., adduced by Le Clerc in defense of Naomi’s sons. Doubtless, the fact that a woman was a captive taken in war gave marriage with her an altogether different character. In that case all the presuppositions which underlie the enactment in Deut. 7 were wanting. The woman, moreover, must first bewail her kindred as dead, before she is allowed to be married. But Ruth and Orpah were not captives. Marriage with them was in all respects such as Deut. 7 provided against. Nor does the narrative seek to hide the sin of the young men.10 It is precisely, as we shall see, the most striking beauty of the thought of our Book, that the wrong which has been done is overcome, and turned into a stepping-stone to a great end. The Midrash makes a daughter of king Eglon out of Ruth. Her heart at least is noble and royal as any king’s daughter could be, and her exterior was doubtless such as to correspond with it.
The name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. The designation of girls by names borrowed from pleasing animals or flowers is common to all nations. The conjecture that Orpah, or Orpha, as the LXX. pronounce it, like Ophra, signifies a hind, is therefore undoubtedly in accordance with Moabitish usage. A comparison might apparently be made with cerva, Celtic carv (cf. Benfey, ii. 174). The name of Ruth would gain in interest, if the derivation which I propose, were approved. Singularly enough the name of the rose is not mentioned in the Scriptures, although this flower to this day adorns the ruins of the holy land with wondrous beauty. The Mishna and Talmud speak of it under its Greek name, ῥόδον (cf. my Rose und Nachtigall, p. 19). Now it seems to me that in רוּת we have the ancient form of the word ῥόδον, rosa, undoubtedly derived from the redness of the flower, ἐρυθρός, rutilus, Sanskrit rudh-ira, Gothic rauds (Benfey, ii. 125). That even the so-called Semitic and classical languages have many words and roots in common, especially such as denote common objects, as colors, animals, plants, is manifest from numerous instances, as e. g.ἀλφός, albus, לָבָן. At all events, the thought of Ruth as the Moabitish Rose is in itself, apart from the philological probability, too attractive to refrain from giving expression to the conjecture.11
And they dwelt there about ten years. The selection of such maidens as the sequel shows Ruth and Orpah to be, and the peaceful relations which must have existed between all parties concerned, may perhaps be allowed to reduce the offense of Naomi’s sons against the marriage law to its mildest form. But the distance at which they keep themselves from their native land and people when these are in distress, in order to find happiness and rest for themselves elsewhere, does not prove productive of blessings. The lot that befalls them is very sad. The father, who feared lest he should not be able to live at home, had scarcely reached the strangers’ land before he died. The sons founded their houses in Moab, and Moab became their grave. They were probably determined not to return home before the famine was over; and when it was over, they themselves were no more. The father had emigrated in order to have more and to secure his family; and now his widow had neither husband, nor sons, nor property. Mahlon and Chilion had died childless; “joy” and “ornament” had given way to mourning and the signs of bereavement—Naomi stood alone in a foreign land. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law.
Ruth 1:6. For Jehovah had visited his people to give them bread. Believing Israel sees the government of God in everything. Everything comes from Him and is designed to discipline and instruct mankind. In Deut. 28:47, 48, it is written that in case Israel shall apostatize from God and cease to serve Him, it shall serve its enemies, and that in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and want. That the famine which had at this time befallen Bethlehem was the consequence of one of those military tyrannies which, as the Book of Judges relates, chastised the people, there is not the least indication. But a chastisement it certainly was, even though this is not asserted. And doubtless, the people, as it usually did under such circumstances, turned with penitence and prayer to its God. Then the years of famine came to an end. God remembered his people. It is a judgment of God when He allows men to go their own ways and help themselves in their necessities and sufferings (cf. the ὑπεριδών, Acts, 17:30); but in his mercy He remembers them, as he remembered Israel in Egypt (Ex. 2:24). The word פָּקַד here used, occurs repeatedly for such a return of divine remembrance. God remembered (פָּקַד) Sarah, silently mourning over her childlessness (Gen. 21:1). After Moses had performed wonders before Israel in Egypt, the people believed, and when they heard that God had observed (פָּקַד) the sufferings of the people, and had looked upon their affliction, they bowed down and worshipped (Ex. 4:31).
From the turn of the language that God “remembered” to “give bread” to his people, more particularly to Bethlehem, the “House of Bread,” it may properly be inferred that the famine was not the result of war, but of drought.
NOTE ON BETHLEHEM AND THE GRAVE OF RACHEL. “No one,” says Robinson (Bibl. Res. i. 471), has ever doubted, I believe, that the present Beit Lahm, ‘House of Flesh,’ of the Arabs, is identical with the ancient Bethlehem, ‘House of Bread,’ of the Jews. The present distance of two hours from Jerusalem corresponds very exactly to the six Roman miles of antiquity.” Schubert justly calls it the most attractive and significant of all the world’s birthplaces.
This Bethlehem, where Rachel died, where Boaz married Ruth, where David was born, and Jesus Christ entered the world, is to-day, as Ritter remarks, a little city or village “hardly worthy of mention on its own account, having scarcely a single noteworthy characteristic, except the unchanging carpet of green, and the beautiful sky from which once the glory of the Lord shone round about the shepherds.”
Bethlehem lies two short hours south of Jerusalem, on two moderate-sized hills, on whose northern and eastern declivities the dwelling-houses of the place are built. It is bounded on the south by the Wady et Taamirah. During the reign of the emperor Justinian it flourished greatly for a season, which, however, did not prove long. Its present inhabitants are mostly Christians. They are a strong and energetic race. During the Middle Ages, warlike feuds seem to have given the place a better title to be called Bethlachem, House of War, than Bethlehem.
Toward the west, there is a succession of irregular hills and valleys as far as the chapel over Rachel’s sepulchre. The Jews considered this as an especially sacred spot.12 The monument is described by Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Palestine somewhere between A. D. 1160 and 1173, is consisting of “eleven stones, according to the number of the sons of Jacob, with a cupola resting on four pillars over them; and all passing Jews write their names on the stones of the monument” (ed. Asher, p. 40). The Jewish traveller Petachia (circa A. D. 1175–80), writes as follows: “Eleven stones lie on the grave of Rachel, according to the eleven tribes, for Benjamin was only born as his mother died. The stones are of marble; and the stone of Jacob, also marble, covers all the others, and is very large, so that it requires many persons to move it.” This induces the author to add the following legend: “The monks who live a mile away, once took the stone from the grave, and deposited it by their church; but the next morning they saw it again at the grave as before” (ed. Carmoly, p. 97).
The author of Jichus ha Abot gives a description of the cupola as it was in his time (cf. Hottinger, Cippi Hebraici, p. 33, Carmoly, Itineraires, etc., p. 436). The Arabian traveller Edrisi (about A. D. 1150; ed. Jaubert, i. 345) and another anonymous writer (Fundgruben des Orients, ii. 135; Carmoly, p. 457) also speak of it.
Buckingham’s description (A. D. 1816) is as follows: “We entered it on the south side by an aperture through which it was difficult to crawl, as it has no doorway, and found on the inside a square mass of masonry in the centre, built up from the floor nearly to the roof, and of such a size as to leave barely a narrow passage for walking around it. It is plastered with white stucco on the outer surface, and is sufficiently large and high to enclose within it any ancient pillar that might have been found on the grave of Rachel. Around the interior face of the walls is an arched recess on each side, and over every part of the stucco are written and engraved a profusion of names, in Hebrew, Arabic, and Roman characters.” (Cf. Palestine, i. 336.)
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL13
“A man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in Moab.” Because there is famine at home, the family of Elimelech migrate to a foreign country. They alone think that the distress cannot be borne. Instead of crying to God and trusting in Him, along with their brethren, in Bethlehem, they proceed to an enemy’s land, where heathen worship false gods. Their emigration testifies to a decrease in their faith. Here it is not, as in the case of Abraham, Go to a land that I will show thee; but it must rather be said, They went to a land that God had rejected. The result was such as might have been expected. God did not bless their departure, and therefore their entrance brought, no joy. They sought to avoid one affliction, and fell into a heavier. The men escaped famine, but death overtook them. They had not trusted God’s love at home, and so his judgments smote them abroad.
Results like these should also be contemplated by many who undertake to emigrate in our days. Not many go as Abraham went to Canaan, or as Jacob went to Egypt; the majority follow in the steps of Elimelech.
Continue in thy land, and support thyself honestly. “To many”—says a book called Sabbatliche Erinnerungen,—“it may be a necessity to leave their native land, for the relations of life are manifold and often strange; but most of those who in these days seize the pilgrim-staff, are not driven by distress. It is not hunger after bread, or want of work that urges them, but hunger after gain, and the want of life in God.”14
STARKE: Dearth and famine are a great plague, and we have good reason to pray with reference to them, “Good Lord, deliver us!”
It is true, indeed, that Elimelech emigrated to a heathen land, where the living God was not acknowledged, while emigrants of the present day go for the most part to lands where churches are already in existence. But, on the other hand, Elimelech, notwithstanding his unbelieving flight, became after all no Moabite. The emigrant’s grand concern should be not to have the spirit of a Moabite when he leaves his native land. Many have ended much more sadly than Elimelech, and have left no name behind. Elimelech’s kindred was yet visited with blessings, because the faithful, believing spirit of an Israelitish woman, Naomi, worked in his household.
STARKE: Husband and wife should continue true to each other, in love and in sorrow, in good and evil days.
“And the name of his wife was Naomi.” Naomi means, “pleasant, lovely.” As her name, so her character. Her name was the mirror of her nature. And truly, names ought not to be borne in vain. [FULLER: Names are given to men and women, not only to distinguish them from each other, but also,—1. To stir them up to verify the meanings and significations of their names. Wherefore let every Obadiah strive to be a “servant of God,” every Nathaniel to be “a gift of God,” Onesimus to be “profitable,” every Roger “quiet and peaceable” (?) Robert “famous for counsel” (?), and William “a help and defense” to many. 2. To incite them 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 painful, 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, etc. If there be two of our names, one exceedingly good, the other notoriously evil, let us decline the vices of the one, and practice 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, 3 John, Ruth 1:12, 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, O let not “folly” be “with” them, because Nabal is their name.…. 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?—TR.].
[BP. HALL: Betwixt the reign of the judges, Israel was plagued with tyranny; and while some of them reigned, with famine. Seldom did that rebellious people want somewhat to humble them. One rod is not enough for a stubborn child.
FULLER: The prodigal child complained, “How many hired servants of my father have bread enough, and I die for hunger!” So here we see that the uncircumcized Moabites, God’s slaves and vassals, had plenty of store, whilst Israel, God’s children (but his prodigal children, which by their sins had displeased their Heavenly Father), were pinched with penury.
THE SAME: Let us not abuse strangers, and make a prey of them, but rather let us be courteous unto them, lest the barbarians condemn us, who so courteously entreated St. Paul, with his shipwrecked companions, and the Moabites in my text, who suffered Elimelech, when he came into the land, to continue there.
THE SAME: “And Elimelech died.” I have seldom seen a tree thrive that hath been transplanted when it was old.
THE SAME: “And she was left, and her two sons.” Here we see how mercifully God dealt with Naomi, in that He quenched not all the sparks of her comfort at once, but though He took away the stock, He left her the stems. Indeed, afterwards He took them away also; but first He provided her with a gracious daughter-in-law.—TR.]
1[Ruth 1:1.—Prop. fields, plains. The form שְׂדֵי is variously explained. Bertheau regards it as another mode of writing שְׂדִה, which occurs in Ruth 1:6 of this chapter, and in Ruth 4:3, and according to Wright is in many MSS. found here also. The original י of nouns derived from ל״ה stems frequently reappears before suffixes (Ges. Gr. 93, 9, Rem.), and Berth. thinks that the same change is occasioned by the close connection of the word with the following genitive (cf. Ges. 89, 1). Ewald also takes שְׂדֵי to be singular, but derives it from the ancient form שָׂדַי, the construct of which might be שׂדֵי after the analogy of הַי const. דַּי ,תֵי, const. דֵּי, etc. But שָׂדַי is not found in Ruth, unless it be in the disguise of the construct, while שָׂדֶה occurs not less than nine times. Better, therefore, with Gesenius, Fürst, and others, take שְׂדֵי as plural construct of שָׂדֶה. Keil proposes to make שְׂדֵי plural const. of שׂדַי, pl. שָׂדַיִם (which however is not found anywhere); for what reason does not appear, unless it be that the plural of שָׂדֶה is usually feminine, whereas שְׂדֵי is masc. But such irregularities are not uncommon; see Green, Gr. 200, c. The interchange of the singular and plural is readily accounted for from the meaning of the word, which, according to the more or less definite conception in the mind of the writer at the moment, may represent the territory as one great field or as made up of many smaller fields.—TR.]
2[Ruth 1:2.—נָעֳמִי: Noomi, as the name should be written. Sept. Νωεμίν; Vulg. Noemi.—TR.]
3[Ruth 1:5.—Better: “Then died they two also, Mahlon and Chilion.”—TR.]
4[Ruth 1:5.—וַתִּשָּׁאֵר: not, “was left from, i. e. was bereaved of,” as Wright (with the Vulgate) interprets,—on the ground that the מִן changes the simple meaning of the verb as found in Ruth 1:3. מִן has its proper partitive meaning, and points out the whole of which Naomi is now the only part left, cf. Deut. 3:11; Neh. 1:2, 3. The enumeration of the whole is so far incomplete that it does not expressly include Naomi herself. In Ruth 1:3 the verb is used without מִן because there is there no direct reference to the whole, but only the statement that at the death of her husband, she and her sons were left behind.—TR.]
5Ritter (Erdkunde, xiii. 458) states, on the authority of Burkhardt, that in Nejd, in Arabia, similar famines recur at intervals of from ten to fifteen years.
6Which even Benjamin of Tudela (Asher’s edit. p. 40) particularly notices.
7 אֶפְרָתָה ,אֶפְרָת, from פָּרָה, to bear, sc. fruit, cf. פְּרָה, Phrath, in its Greek form Euphrates, an אֶפְרָת, as it were.
8Sept. Χελαιών, Josephus Χελλίων. The magnificence of the names might rather seem to contrast with the unhappy issue. For Elimelech Josephus puts Abimelech, probably also in consequence of some allegorical exposition.
9Some of the older Jewish teachers not inappropriately render “Ephratim” by εν̓γενέστατοι, high-born, or Palatini (Ruth Rabba, 29, etc.).
10The Targum justly brings it into full relief. [It paraphrases: “and they transgressed the command of the Lord, and took foreign wives from among the daughters of Moab.”] The answers of Le Clerc are misunderstandings, which have been repeated down to Bertheau. Rambach’s excuses for the brothers are already offered by older Roman Catholic expositors. “But,” says one of these (cf. Serarius, p. 690), “why make excuses for them? for Scripture does in no way represent them as holy men.”
11[רוּת is usually regarded as a contraction either of רְאוּת, vision, appearance, or better, of רְעוּת female friend. The explanation of עָרְפָה as hind, rests on the supposition that it is the same with עָפְרָה, the two middle letters being transposed. Gesenius derives it from the Arabic ’Orphun, a mane; cf. the Heb. עֹרֶף, neck. “It may, however, be more suitable,” says Wright, “as the name of a female, to regard it as identical with the Arabic ’Orphun in the sense of liberality.”—TR.]
12[They do still. Dr. Hackett, who visited the tomb in 1852, says: “The Jews, as would be expected, regard the spot with peculiar interest. One of them filled a bag with earth collected near the tomb, and gave it to one of my travelling companions to bring home with him to this country, as a present to a brother of the Jew residing here.” See Scripture Illustrations, Boston, 1855, p. 102, where a small engraving of the present exterior of the sepulchre is also given.—Tr.]
13[Compare the Introduction, Sect. 6, for some general Homiletical Hints on the whole Book.—Tr.]
14[Without questioning the correctness of the foregoing remarks, it may nevertheless serve a good purpose to call attention to the following sentences from Dr. Thos. Fuller (1654), which read to-day suggest the great need of that caution in “application” which they also exemplify: “Now If any do demand of me my opinion concerning our brethren which of late left this kingdom to advance a plantation in New England; surely I think, as St. Paul said concerning virgins, he had ‘received no commandment from the Lord;’ so I cannot find any just warrant to encourage men to undertake this removal; but think rather the counsel best that king Joash prescribed to Amaziah. ‘Tarry at home.’ Yet as for those that are already gone, far be it from us to conceive them to be such to whom we may not say, “God speed,” as it is in 2 John verse 10: but let us pity them, and pray for them; for sure they have no need of our mocks, which I am afraid have too much of their own miseries. I conclude therefore of the two Englands, what our Saviour saith of the two wines, Luke 5:39: ‘No man having tasted of the old presently desireth the new for he saith, The old is better.’ ”—TR.]
Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.RUTH 1: 7–18.
Faithfulness until Death.
7Wherefore [And] she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her;15 and they [already] went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. 8And Naomi said [Then said Naomi] unto her two daughters-in-law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord [Jehovah] deal kindly with you,16 9as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord [Jehovah] grant you that ye may find17 rest [a resting-place], each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. 10And they said unto her, Surely18 we will return with thee unto thy people. 11And Naomi said, Turn again [Return], my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in 12my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again [Return], my daughters, go your way [omit: your way]; for I am too old to have [to belong (again) to] an husband. If [Even if] I should say,19 I have hope, if I should have [should belong to] an husband also to-night, and should also bear sons; 13would ye [then]20 tarry for them [omit: for them] till they were grown? would ye stay for them [would you then shut yourselves up] from having husbands [in order21 (after all) not to belong to a husband]? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes [it is much more bitter to me than to you],22 that [since] the hand of the Lord [Jehovah] is gone out against me. 14And they lifted up their voice, and wept again.23 And 15Orpah kissed her mother-in-law [and turned back]; but Ruth clave unto her. And she [Naomi] said, Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods [God]:24 return thou [also] after thy sister-in-law. 16And Ruth said, Entreat [Urge] me not to leave thee, or [and] to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest [abidest], I will lodge [abide]: thy people shall be [is] my people, and thy God my God: 17Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord [Jehovah] do so to me, and more also, if25 aught but death part thee and me. 18When [And when] she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto [ceased to dissuade] her.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Ruth 1:7.—From this verse, and the preceding (cf. also Ruth 1:10), it appears plain, as Bertheau remarks, that not only Naomi, but also both her daughters-in-law, set out with the intention of going to Judah. It may be true that Naomi, determined from the start that they must not carry out this intention, “looked upon them as only bearing her company for a while before parting” (Dr. Cassel, below); but it seems at least as likely that in the struggle between duty and inclination, she did not finally reach this conclusion until the moment that she attempted to give it effect. The לָשׁוּכ is of course strictly applicable only to Naomi.—TR.]
[2 Ruth 1:8.—יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָֹה עִמָּכֶם חֶסֶד: lit. Jehovah do kindness with you. On the form יַעֲשֶׂה as optative, cf. Ges. 127, 3, b. Although the shortened form יַעַשׂ is more usual, its substitution by the Keri is unnecessary. In עִמָּכֶם the suffix is masc., although referring to women, cf. also עֲשִׂיתֶם in the next member of the clause. Similar departures from strict grammatical propriety occur in Ruth 1:9, 11, 13, 19, 22, Ruth 4:11. Gesenius regards them as originally colloquial inaccuracies, which afterwards passed into books, § 121, 6, Rem. 1. All but two (Ruth 1:19, 22) of those in our Book are actually found in conversations.
[3 Ruth 1:9.—וּמְצֶאןָ, imperat. scriptio defect. for מְּצֶאכָה. On the construction, cf. Ges. 130, 1. The imperat. is only a stronger jussive, hence easily connected with it.—TR.]
[4 Ruth 1:10.—כִּי: Dr. Cassel first supplies: “We will not turn back,” and then renders כִּי by denn, “for,” cf. Ges Lex. s. v. כִּי, B. 3, b. In that case, however (after the implied negation), sondern, “but,” would be better than “for.” But it is best taken like ὅτι in N. T. before words directly quoted, cf. Lex. 1. c. B. 1, b. Keil’s remark, that “כִּי before words in direct discourse serves to strengthen, being almost equal to an assurance,” is certainly not true in all cases, cf. 1 Sam. 10:19; 1 Kgs. 11:22.—TR.]
[5 Ruth 1:12—כִּי ׃כִּי אמרְתִּי is causal, and introduces another but closely connected reason (the first, also introduced by כִּי, being given in the preceding clause) why they should return, cf. Isa. 6:5; Ps. 22:12. In English we should represent this כִּי—כִּי by “for—and.” הָיִיתִי ,אָמַרְתִּי, and יָלַדְתִּי, are all conditional perfecta with the conditional particle omitted, as in Ps. 69:33; 103:16; Amos. 3:8, etc. Cf. Ew. 357 b. In English we might imitate the sentence thus: “For (let us suppose) I say, I have hope; I have a husband; I have children; will you,” etc.]
[6 Ruth 1:13.—הֲלָהֵן is the fem. suffix הֵן, used as a neuter (cf. Ges. 107, 3), with prep. לְ and the interrogative ה: “under these circumstances,” or briefly “then,” as inserted in the text after Dr. Cassel. The word in this sense is not unusual in Chaldee, cf. Dan. 2:6, 9, 24; Ezra 5:12. In Hebrew it is found again at Job 30:24. As it occurs here in the colloquy of Naomi with her daughters, it is probably to be regarded as a word current in the language of daily life. See Keil, Introd. to O. T. § 137, 2. The rendering of the E. V. (after Sept., Vulg., etc.), “for them,” is very improbable, both on account of the position of the word, the emphasis being clearly on “wait,” and also because of its fem. suffix.—TR.]
[7 Ruth 1:13.—לְבִלְתִּי, lit. “to not,” Dr. Cassel, um. לְבִלְתִּי expresses negative design, as לְמַעַן positive. The necessary result is here represented as designed, cf. the use of ἵνα, Win. 53, 10, 6.—TR.]
[8 Ruth 1:13.—כִּי־מַר־לִי מְאֹד מִכֶּם: Dr. Cassel interprets rather than renders: “for I am much worse off than you, since against me,” etc. Substantially the same rendering is given by Keil, De Wette, Wright, Wordsworth, etc. “So Sept., which has ὑπὲρ ὑμᾶς, not ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, and so Syr. and Arabic” (Wordsworth). Bertheau, like E. V. takes מִכֶּם = on your account, for your sake. The objection that this would require עֲלֵיכֶם instead of מּכֶּם (cf. 2 Sam. 1:26), does not hold, cf. Prov. 5:18; Eccles. 2:10, etc. But the other rendering yields a better sense מַר may be adjective, noun, or verb, viz. 3 sing. perf. of מָרַר, used impersonally.—TR.]
[9 Ruth 1:14.—עוֹד: Dr. Cassel—“exceedingly.” But there is no good reason to change the English “again,” referring to Ruth 1:9.—Tr.]
[10 Ruth 1:15.—אֱלֹהֶיהָ: Sept. and Vulg. render by the plural, “gods.” Luther has the sing., and so Dr. Cassel. The reference is apparently to the national deity—“her people and her god”—namely, Chemosh (Num. 21:29); hence, the sing, is to be preferred. It seems almost superfluous to observe that Naomi’s words do not necessarily contain any recognition of the Moabitish deity, or indicate (as Wright suggests) that “she was possibly led astray by the false idea that Jehovah was only the God of Israel.” Was Jephthah, then, similarly led astray (cf. Judg. 11:24, 27)?—Tr.]
[11 Ruth 1:17.—כִּי is not “if” (אִם, 1 Sam. 3:17, etc.), but “that,” cf. 1 Sam. 14:44; 1 Kgs. 2:23. נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי, “I swear,” or some such expression, is understood, cf. Gen. 22:16. The E. V. might be corrected by leaving כִּי untranslated, and rendering: “only death shall part thee and me.” The Hebrew, instead of invoking a definite judgment or calamity on himself, in case he breaks his oath, simply says כֹּה, which with the addition “and more too,” is perhaps more awful to the imagination because it is not definite.—On the article with “death,” cf. Ges. 109, Rem. l. c.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Ruth 1:7. And she went forth out of the place. The place is not named, nor is it necessary. The Israelitish family had after all not become naturalized in it. No one asks Naomi to stay. No one accompanies her, save her two daughters-in-law, the youthful widows of her too early faded sons.
And they already went on the way. Until then Naomi had looked on her daughters-in-law as only bearing her company for a while before parting. But being now far from their place of residence, on the highway from Moab to Judah, she stops, and bids them return.
Ruth 1:8. Jehovah deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead and with me. A scene now begins of unequaled tenderness and amiableness. We get a look into a family-life that may serve as a model for all. It is an honor to the deceased sons, Mahlon and Chilion, that they made such a selection of wives; but they must also have been worthy of the enduring love they awakened, notwithstanding that there were no children to strengthen the bonds of affection. The attachment of the Moabitish women, Ruth and Orpah, to their new family, must be grounded in psychological facts, with a knowledge of which exegesis cannot dispense. The Moabitish women had entered into an Israelitish house, and had breathed the beneficent atmosphere of a family of Judah. Marriage and family life form the real mirror of religious belief and worship. Hence, the apostle, in his sublime manner, arranges the relations of husband and wife by referring to the love of Christ for his church (Ephes. 5:22 ff.). Ancient Israel, therefore, distinguished itself from the inhabitants of Canaan, not merely by the name of its God, but by its life at home in the family, by faithfulness and love to wife and child. Purity and morality in marriage were the necessary results of faith in the only, living God, as much as a life of unchaste and sensual pleasures belonged to the abominations of idolatry among the Ammonites and Moabites. Among the worst sins into which Israel fell in the desert, was the whoredom with the daughters of Moab in the service of Baal-Peor (Num. 25); by executing summary and terrible punishment on which, Phinehas the priest won for himself an enduring blessing. The Mosaic law does not contain special and extended instructions as to the treatment of wife and child. But the command, “thou shalt not commit adultery,” stands among the Sinaitic Ten as the reflection of that other which says, “thou shalt have no other gods.” An affectionate, moral family life had become an Israelitish characteristic through the influence of the Israelitish faith, as is evident already in patriarchal times from the instances of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. But it showed itself still more brightly in Israel as a nation, living by the side of other tribes in Canaan, since monogamy had become its natural and prevailing practice. Every profounder apprehension of domestic relations, brought about by man’s consciousness of God, affects the wife especially. She experiences most deeply the beneficence of a life sanctified by the law of God. Her happiness and her love, indissolubly connected, depend upon the moral education of the man she follows. Ruth and Orpah felt the impression of the higher morality which, in contrast with the Moabitish home, pervaded every Israelitish household. It is not necessary to conceive of Mahlon and Chilion as men of eminence in this respect; but they held fast to their famile traditions, according to which the wife occupied a position of tenderness, protected by love and solicitude. They did not act in entire accordance with the law when they married Moabitish wives; but neither did they unite with them in the idolatry of Baal-Peor. Although they may not have been specially pious and god-fearing men, their national mode of home and married life nevertheless contrasted with that of Moab, and all the more strongly because they lived in the midst of Moab. Both the young women, acquainted with the fate of Moabitish marriages, felt themselves gratefully attracted to the Israelitish house into which they entered. They had not accepted the law and the God of Israel; but they requited the kind and tender treatment they received with equally self-sacrificing love. That Naomi can acknowledge this, after having observed them through ten years of married life, what a picture of peace and happiness does it suggest! The women had not only heard the religion of Jehovah confessed in Moab (cf. the expression: Jehovah deal kindly with you, etc.), but they had seen the expression of it in the life. What they have done and are yet ready to do, is the consequence thereof. For national divisions, we here see, are overcome rather by the preaching of the life than by the verbal proclamation of doctrine.
Naomi praises not only the love which Ruth and Orpah have manifested toward their husbands, but also that which they have shown towards herself, the mother-in-law. And this is yet more noteworthy. Ancients and moderns unite in complaints of the unhappy relations between daughters-and mothers-in-law. Plutarch, treating of the duties of married persons, relates that in Leptis, in Africa, it was customary for the bride on the day after the wedding to send to the bridegroom’s mother to ask for a pot, which the latter refuses, pretending that she has none, in order that the young wife may speedily become acquainted with the stepmotherly disposition of her mother-in-law, and be less easily provoked when subsequently more serious troubles arise.26 In Terence (Hecyra, ii. 1, 4), Laches laments “that all mothers-in-law have ever hated their daughters-in-law” (uno animo omnes socrus oderunt nurus).27 Juvenal, in his satire against women (vi. 231), says, in a rather coarse way, that matrimonial peace is inconceivable so long as the mother-in-law lives (desperanda salva concordia socru). Old German popular sayings faithfully reproduce the ancient maxims: “Diu Swiger ne weiss, dass sie Snur gewesan” (the mother-in-law has forgotten that she was ever a daughter-in-law);28 “Die beste Swigar ist die, auf deren Rock die Gänse weiden” (the best mother-in-law is one on whose gown the geese feed, i. e. who is dead).
The family life of Naomi with her daughters-in-law affords no trace whatever of such sad experiences. They mutually love each other—both during the lives of the husbands and after their decease,—although they belong to different tribes. The praise for this naturally belongs largely to the mother, whose kind and genial soul evidently answered to her beautiful name. Thus much may also be gathered from her further conversation with her daughters. But the unhappy relations between daughter and mother-in-law, elsewhere usual, must in general have been unknown in Israel. Otherwise the prophet could not represent it as a sign of the extremest social ruin that, as the son against the father, and the daughter against the mother, so the daughter-in-law rises up against the mother-in-law (Mic. 7:6); a passage to which Christ alludes when he speaks of the effects to be brought about in social life by his gospel (Matt. 10:35).
Ruth 1:9, 10. Jehovah grant you that you may find a safe place. If he be truly worthy of love who amid his own sorrow still thinks of the welfare of others, then, surely, Naomi is worthy of love. She has been called upon to part with all that was dear to her, with husband and children. She stands quite alone in her advanced age. But even yet all partings are not over. She thinks that now also she must no longer allow herself to be accompanied by Orpah and Ruth. Both the daughters-in-law are yet young; should she take them with her into her uncertain lot! She has not the presumption to forget their future in thoughts about her own; nor the vanity to think that the widows of her sons should not marry again. The position of a single woman in antiquity was an unhappy one. It was altogether customary for youthful widows to marry again. Only a husband’s house is the true asylum for a woman. There she finds protection, safety, and honor. That is the idea of the menuchah, the rest, which Naomi wishes that Jehovah may give each of them in the house of another husband. It is impossible to imagine a more beautiful expression of the end of marriage to a woman. The possession of a menuchah, an asylum of honor and freedom, is the highest happiness; the want of it, a terrible misfortune. Among other evils, Israel is told that in the event of disobedience it shall have no menuchah (Deut. 28:65).29 The holy land, if it be possessed in faith, is, as it were, the earthly house to which Israel has come, like a wife to the house of her husband. “Hitherto,” says Moses, Deut. 12:9, “you have not yet come unto the menuchah which Jehovah your God gives you.” The desert had no place of rest, properly speaking: it was only the way, not the goal. Solomon was the first who could praise God for the complete gift of menuchah to his people (1 Kgs. 8:56). It is true, Israel’s highest menuchah is God, Jehovah himself and his redemption. He is the true goal of life. Says the prophet (Isa. 11:10): “And it shall come to pass in that day: the Root of Jesse—to him shall the nations repair, and his menuchah is glory.” And, hence, Christ also says, Matth. 11:29: “Learn of me, that I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest (ἀνάπαυσιν, menuchah) for your souls.”
Such a menuchah Orpah and Ruth had enjoyed in the homes of their husbands; and they are, as it were, vocationless, if they find not another. It was in the natural course of ancient social life that they should marry again among the people to whom they belonged. Naomi thinks it wrong for her to take them away from that people. Turn back, she says; may the blessing of the God of Israel be with you even in the midst of Moab! May He grant you rest in the house of a new husband! And she kisses them, as the signal of parting (cf. Ruth 1:14),—but a loud weeping arises. Naomi finds it hard to be obliged to leave these last dear friends whom she has become accustomed to regard as daughters. Orpah and Ruth are unwilling to turn back, unwilling to let the loved Naomi proceed alone on her solitary way through life. “We go with thee,” they say, “to thy people.”
Ruth 1:11–13. And Naomi said: Have I then yet sons in my womb? It is by means of two considerations that Naomi seeks to persuade her daughters-in-law to return: first, she holds out to them the prospect of new family connections in Moab; and, secondly, she shows them that all hope of renewed married happiness is ended if they go with her. The surprising delicacy with which this is done, is such as to show clearly how truly a religious love educates and refines. The ultimate cause of the grief occasioned by the necessity of impending separation, lies after all solely in the fact that Ruth and Orpah are Moabitesses. Naomi could not bear to tell them that if they, as daughters of Moab, went with her to Israel, they would find themselves in a less hospitable situation than they had hitherto enjoyed. She is too tender to remind these good children of the fact that Israel does not sanction connections with Moab. On this account, she had already suggested (Ruth 1:8), with special emphasis, that they should return to Moab, each to her mother’s house, thus putting the natural Moabitish mother over against herself, the Israelitish mother-in-law. She would thereby intimate to them, as delicately and indirectly as possible, that they could hope for nothing in Israel except what she herself could give; that they could enter into her house, indeed, but not into Israel’s national life. Naomi’s speech in Ruth 1:12, 13, is a climactic utterance of grief,30 which often says so many really unnecessary things, in order to conceal others which it dares not say. Orpah and Ruth are themselves aware of all that Naomi says to them in these verses. In wishing to go with her, they cannot possibly have a thought of building hopes on sons yet to be born to Naomi by another marriage. But—and this is what Naomi would make them feel—any other hope than this vain one, they as Moabitish women could not have in Israel. If I myself—she gives them to understand—could yet have sons, I would take you with me. My home would then be your home too. To me you are dear as daughters-in-law, whether in Israel or in Moab, but other prospect have you none. Here where everything turns on love, the fulfiller of every law, Naomi does not think of the legal provisions with respect to levirate marriages; but she heaps up the improbabilities against her being able to furnish husbands to her daughters-in-law in Israel, in order in this veiled manner to indicate that this was nevertheless the only possible ground of hope for them in Israel.
For I am worse off than you are. It is very painful for Naomi to let them go, for she is entirely alone. But she cannot answer it to take them with her, seeing she can offer them no new home. Undoubtedly, she is in a worse situation than that of the young women. For them there is yet a possible future among their people. Naomi has buried her happiness in a distant grave. For her there is no future. The last of those dear to her, she herself must tear away from her heart. “Jehovah’s hand,” she says, “went forth against me.” She is soon to experience that his mercy is not yet exhausted.
Ruth 1:14. But Ruth clave unto her. Orpah suffers herself to be persuaded, and goes; but Ruth remains, and will not leave her. The result of Naomi’s tears is, that Orpah takes leave of her, and that Ruth clings to her only the more closely. The hopelessness of the future, on which the mother had dilated, leads Orpah back to Moab, but suffers Ruth to go with her to Israel. All that Naomi had said, her solitariness, poverty, sorrow, only served to attach her more firmly. Orpah too was attached and well disposed; but still, with eyes of love, although she had them, she yet saw herself, while Ruth saw only the beloved one. It might be said with a certain degree of truth, that the same cause induced Orpah to go and Ruth to remain, the fact, namely, that Naomi had no longer either son or husband. The one wished to become a wife again, the other to remain a daughter. Few among the natural children of men are as kind and good as Orpah; but a love like that of Ruth has scarcely entered the thoughts of poets. Antigone dies for love of her brother; but the life which awaited Ruth was more painful than death. Alcestis sacrifices herself for her husband, and Sigune (in the Parcival of Wolfram v. Eschenbach) persistently continues in a solitary cell, with the corpse of her lover whom she had driven into battle, until she dies; but Ruth goes to a foreign land and chooses poverty, not for a husband or a lover, but for the mother of him who long since was torn away from her. She refuses to leave her for the very reason that she is poor, old, and childless. Naomi, having lost her sons, shall not on that account lose her daughters also. Rather than leave her to suffer alone, Ruth will starve with, or beg for her. Here is love for the dead and the living, surpassing that of Alcestis and Sigune. That Ruth does for her mother-in-law, what as the highest filial love the poet invents for Antigone, when he represents her as not leaving her blind father, is in actual life almost unexampled. Nor would it be easy to find an instance of a deeper conflict than that which love had to sustain on this occasion. The foundation of it was laid when Elimelech left his people in order not to share their woes. It was rendered inevitable, when, against the law of Israel, his sons took wives of the daughters of Moab. It broke out when the men died. Their love for their Israelitish husbands had made the women strangers in their native land; and the love of Naomi for her Moabitish daughters made her doubly childless in Israel. Nationality, laws, and custom, were about to separate mother- and daughters-in-law. But as love had united them, so also love alone has power to solve the conflict, but only such a love as Ruth’s. Orpah escapes the struggle by returning to Moab; Ruth ends it by going with Naomi.
Ruth 1:15. Thy sister-in-law returned home to her people and to her God. In these remarkable words lies the key to the understanding of Ruth 1:11–13. Her daughters had said to her (Ruth 1:10), “We will go with thee to thy people.” It grieves Naomi to be obliged to tell them, with all possible tenderness, that in the sense in which they mean it, this is altogether impossible. It was necessary to intimate to them that a deeper than merely national distinction compels their present parting: that what her sons had done in Moab, was not customary in Israel; that her personal love for them was indeed so great, that she would gladly give them other sons, if she had them, but that the people of Israel was separated from all other nations by the GOD of Israel. Orpah understood this. Strong as her affection for Naomi was, her natural desire for another resting-place in a husband’s house was yet stronger; and as she could not hope for this in Israel, she took leave and went back. For the same reason, Naomi now speaks more plainly to Ruth: thy sister-in-law returned home to her people and to her God. It is not that we belong to different nations, but that we worship different Gods, that separates us here at the gates of Israel.
Ruth 1:16, 17. And Ruth said, Thy people is my people, and thy God my God. Naomi’s house, her character and life, have won for her the love of her daughters-in-law. Ruth cleaves to her and will not leave her, although poverty and misery await her. For love to her she proposes to give up not only home and family, but also all the heart-joys that might there yet be hers. She cleaves to her thus, although she is of Israel. Naomi and her house have made Israel also appear lovely in the eyes of Ruth. Who would not wish to go to a people whose sole known representatives were so amiable as Naomi and her family! In Moab, the young women had not been made aware that one cannot be united to Israel without acknowledging Israel’s God, for they had entered the marriage relation with sons of Israel without entering into covenant with their God. Now, however, they learn, from Naomi’s intimations, that that which Mahlon and Chilion had done, was against the custom of Israel. The discovery instantly manifests itself in different effects on Orpah and Ruth. Orpah is repelled, because she thinks only of the bridal she might lose. Ruth is attracted for if that which distinguishes this people which she already loves be its God, then she loves that God also. In Naomi she loves both people and God. Ruth’s love is true love: it cleaves to Naomi not for advantages, but on account of her virtues and amiability. Ruth desires to be one with her for life. She will not let her be alone, wher ever she may be. What Naomi has, she also will have, her people and her God. And this she expresses at once, so clearly and decidedly, that in Ruth 1:17 she swears by Jehovah, the God of Israel. The Jewish expositors, after the example of the Targum, suppose a dialogue to have taken place in which Naomi has first explained to Ruth the difficulties connected with faith in the God of Israel. All this, however, should be considered merely as a didactic anticipation of her subsequent experiences. In our narrative, the confession of Ruth, “thy God is my God,” is the highest stage of that devotion which she yields to Naomi for life. She has vowed that nothing shall separate her love from its object; for whatever could separate it, would make it imperfect. But since the God of Israel is the true ground of all the love which she felt for her Israelitish friends, it follows that her confession of Him is the keystone of her vow. It is at the same time the true solution of the conflict into which persons who mutually loved each other had fallen. It rectifies the error committed by her husband when he took the Moabitish woman notwithstanding her relation to the idol of Moab. The unity of the spirit has been attained, which not only shows true love, but even in memory reconciles what was amiss in the past. For Naomi’s grief was so great, not only because she had lost her sons, but also because the daughters-in-law which she had must be given up, and she be left alone. And as love enforced the separation, so love also became the cord drawing to a yet closer union. If Naomi believed herself fallen out of the favor of God on Moab’s account, she could derive comfort from Ruth who for her sake entered into the people of God.
Ruth 1:18. And when she saw that she was firmly resolved. Older expositors have imagined that Naomi’s efforts to persuade her daughters-in-law to return homeward, were not altogether seriously meant. She only wished to test them. They take this view in order to free Naomi from the reproach of being too little anxious to introduce her daughters into Israel and the true faith (Rambach: Quœrunt hic interpretes an recte fecerit Noomia, etc.).31 But this whole exposition is a dogmatic anachronism. Naomi could entertain no thoughts of missionary work as understood in modern times, and for that she is not to be reproached. The great love on which the blessing of the whole narrative rests, shows itself precisely in this, that Naomi and her daughters-in-law were persons of different nationality and religion. This contrast—which a marriage of ten years has only affectionately covered up—it is, that also engenders the conflict of separation. During more then ten years the marriage of Naomi’s sons to Moabitesses was and continued to be wrong in principle, although, in the happy issue of their choice, its unlawfulness was lost sight of. What she had not done then in the spring-tide of their happiness, Naomi could not think of doing now. Her generous love shows itself now rather in dissuading her daughters-in-law from going with her to Israel. For they surely would have gone along, if their deceased husbands, instead of remaining in Moab, had returned to Israel. But their death had in reality dissolved every external bond with Naomi. No doubt, Naomi now feels the grief which the unlawful actions of her husband and sons have entailed. Had her daughters-in-law been of Israel, there would naturally be no necessity of her returning solitary and forsaken. She feels that “the hand of Jehovah is against her.” How indelicate would it be now, nay how unbecoming the sacredness of the relations involved, if Naomi, at this moment, when she is herself poor, and with no prospect in the future, were to propose to her daughters-in-law to leave not merely the land but also the god of Moab, that thus they might accompany her. If she had ever wished, at this moment she would scarcely dare, to do it. It is one of the symptoms of the conflict, that she could not do it. The appearance of self interest would have cast a blot on the purity of their mutual love. Naomi might now feel or believe what she had never before thought of,—she could do nothing but dissuade. Anything else would have rudely destroyed the grace and elevation of the whole beautiful scene. The great difference between Orpah and Ruth shows itself in the very fact that the one yields to the dissuasion, the other withstands. Ruth had the tenderly sensitive heart to understand that Naomi must dissuade; and to all Naomi’s unuttered reasons for feeling obliged to dissuade, she answers with her vow. Naomi dissuades on the ground that she is poor,—“where thou abidest, I will abide,” is the answer; that she is about to live among another people,—“thy people is my people;” that she worships another God,—“thy God is my God;” that she has no husband for her,—“only death shall part me from thee.” Under no other circumstances could the conflict have found an end so beautiful. Naomi must dissuade in order that Ruth might freely, under no pressure but that of her own love, accept Israel’s God and people. Only after this is done, and she holds firmly to her decision, does Naomi consent and “cease to dissuade her.”
NOTE TO VERSE 8: “Jehovah deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead and with me.” The love which unites husband and wife in marriage, reconciles the contrasts inherent in difference of nationality, makes peace, gives a good conscience, and leaves a blessed memory. Christian families, too, will do well to look upon the good understanding existing between Naomi and her daughters-in-law as an example to be followed. It originated in the right love of the wives for their husbands, and of the mother for her sons. A right love rejoices in the happiness of its objects, even though derived through others. The jealousy of mothers toward their children-in-law, and of wives toward their husbands’ parents does not spring from love.
A pleasing instance of right relations with a mother-in-law comes to light in the gospel history. Jesus enters into the house of Peter, whose mother-in-law lies sick of a fever. Request is immediately made in her behalf, and He, always full of love ready to flow forth in miracles wherever He sees love, hears her (Matth. 8:14 ff. and paral.). The term πενθερά, used in this account by the gospels, is also employed by the Sept. with reference to Naomi.
Origen has a remarkable passage, thoroughly worthy of his noble spirit (cf. on Job, Lib. i.): “Blessed is Ruth who so clave to her aged mother-in-law that she would not leave her until death. For this reason, Scripture indeed has justly extolled her; but God has beatified her forever. But He will judge, and in the resurrection condemn, all those wicked and ungodly daughters-in-law who deal out abuse and wrong to their parents-in-law, unmindful of the fact that they gave life and sustenance to their husbands.…. If, therefore, thou lovest thy husband, O wife, then love them also who gave him being, and thus brought up a son for themselves and a husband for thee. Seek not to divide the son from his father or mother! Seek not to bring the son to despise or father or mother, lest thou fall into the condemnation of the Lord in the day of awful inquest and judgment.”
But these excellent words never found the right echo. Even Jerome says: prope modum naturale est, ut nurus socrum et socrus oderit nurum. And yet it never was the case where Christian virtue was actually alive.
Monica, the mother of Augustine, had to endure not a little from her mother-in-law. The latter supported Monica’s disobedient maid-servants against their mistress. She allowed them to bring her all sorts of evil reports about her. Her daughter-in-law she daily chided and provoked. But Monica met her with such complaisant love, quiet obedience, and amiable patience, as to conquer the irritable mother-in-law, so that she became, and continued to be to the last, the friend and protectress of her daughter-in-law. No wonder that from such a heart there sprang the faith and spirit of a man like Augustine (cf. Barthel, Monica, p. 31).
Not only the history, but also the traditions and the poetry, of the Middle Ages, frequently depict the sufferings of daughters-in-law, inflicted on them by the mothers of their husbands. As part of the “swan-legends” of the lower Rhine, we have the peculiar story of Matabruna, the bad wife of the king of Lillefort, who persecuted and tormented her pious and believing daughter-in-law Beatrix, until at last the latter, by God’s help, came off victorious (cf. Wolf, Niederländische Sagen, p. 175; also my treatise on the Schwan, p. 24).
Hermann Boerhaave’s step-mother having died, the universally celebrated physician wrote as follows: “All the skill with which God has endowed me I applied, and spent whole half-nights in considering her disease, in order to prolong her life,—but all in vain.…. But I weep too, as often as the thought occurs to me that now I shall have no more opportunity to show her my love, veneration, and gratitude; and I should be altogether inconsolable, if, since my coming of age, I had been even once guilty of disrespect or ingratitude toward her.”
It may hence be seen how deeply-grounded in the nature of things it is, that in German [and if in German, then in English too.—TR.] glauben [to believe] and lieben [to love] are really of the sam root. In Gothic, liubs means, “dear, beloved”; liuban, “to be beloved.” With this, the likewise Gothic laubjan, galaubjan, “to believe,” is connected. In the version of Ulfilas, even ἐλπίς, hope, is at Rom. 15:13 translated by lubains. And in truth: Faith, Love, Hope, these three are one; but the greatest of them is Love.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
“Jehovah deal kindly with you, as ye have deal with the dead and with me.” Naomi’s husband was dead. Her sons had married Moabitesses, and had died childless. Usually, and sometimes even in “believing” families, mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are not on the best of terms. But Naomi, although in Moab, enjoyed such love in the house of her sons, that her daughters-in-law did not leave her, but went with her, and that Ruth, for her sake, left native land, parents, and property. She won love because she was Naomi, “pleasant.” She cherished no vanity, sought no strife, and did not wish to rule; hence she had peace and love.
STARKE: “Piety, wherever found, has the power to win the hearts of people. It is able to diffuse joy even among those who do not believe.”
Naomi was pleasant and pious. She illustrated the saying of the apostle Peter (1 Epis. 3:1): “that, if any obey not the word, they may also without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.” By her conduct she preached the God of Israel, “in a meek and quiet spirit,” in the midst of Moab; and hence the love which she won redounded to the praise of Israel, and became a silent preaching of the truth to unbelievers.
STARKE: “As long as the Church is called Naomi, there is no lack of adherents; but when she appears as Mara, and is signed with the cross of Christ, many go back.”
“And Ruth said, Thy people is my people, and thy God my God.” Ruth is a prophecy, than which none could be more beautiful and engaging, of the entrance of the heathen world into the kingdom of God. She comes forth out of Moab, an idolatrous people, full of wantonness and sin, and is herself so tender and pure. In a land where dissolute sensuality formed one of the elements of idol worship, a woman appears, as wife and daughter, chaste as the rose of spring, and unsurpassed in these relations by any other character in Holy Writ. Without living in Israel, she is first elevated, then won, by the life of Israel, as displayed in a foreign land. Amid surrounding enmity and jealousy toward Israel, she is capable of being formed and attracted through love.
It is an undeniable fact that women have at all times entered more deeply than men into the higher moral spirit of the fellowship with God mediated by Christ. Women, especially, feel that marriage is a divinely instituted and sacred union. Their hearts teach them to know the value of the great treasure and consolation which faith in the living God gives to them especially. Ruth’s confession of God and his people originated in the home of her married life. It sprang from the love with which she was permitted to embrace Israelites. It was because in these persons she loved the confessors of Jehovah, that her feelings had a moral power which never decays.
An ancient church teacher says: “Had she not been inspired, she had not said what she said, or done what she did. For what is she chiefly praised? For her love to the people of Israel or her innocence, for her obedience or her faith? For her love to the people of Israel. For had she desired marriage only as a means of pleasure, she would rather have sought to obtain one of the young men. But as she sought not sensual gratification, but the satisfaction of conscience, she chose a holy family rather than youthful age.”
How great a lesson is here for the church considered in its missionary character! The conduct of one Israelitish woman in a foreign land, was able to call forth a love and a confession of God, like that of Ruth. How imperative, then, the duty of Christians at home, and how easy of execution, to, win Jews and other unbelievers. For love is the fountain of faith. It is written, Thou shalt love thy God with all thy heart. The Jews must learn to love Christ in the Christian, and the Christian in Christ. Love removes all prejudices, divisions, and sad remembrances. Ruth loves a woman, and is thereby led to the God whom that woman confesses. Must not men love, if they would be loved? Only love opens the fountain of faith, but faith sanctifies and confirms love.
PASCAL: “The heart has reasons which the reason does not comprehend. This is seen in a thousand things. It is the heart that feels God, not the reason. Hence, that is the more perfect faith which feels God in the heart.”
Ruth is not only the type of a convert, but also a teacher of those who seek to convert others. For she shows that converts are made, not by words, but by the life, not by disputations, but by love, not by the legerdemain of a sentimental sermon, but by the faithful discharge of the duties of life. She teaches also by what she gives up,—people, home, parents, customs,—and all from love. She has had a taste of an Israelitish heart and household. Whoever has tasted Christ, can never again live without him,—can never leave him who loves all, suffered for all, weeps with all, and redeems all. If Jews and heathen taste him, this is effected, not through external institutions, through dead works, but through prayer, which fills the lives of Christians with its sweetness. To the fanatical, the disputatious, the canting, the selfish, the avaricious,—and also to the characterless and slavish,—who would say: thy people is my people, thy God is my God?
“Where thou abidest, I will abide; where thou diest, I will die.” Ruth is not only enrolled among the feminine worthies of Israel, with Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, but heathenism itself throughout its vast extent cannot show a single woman who is her equal in love. For hers is a love outliving the grave, and sustained by no fleshly relationship, for when her husband was dead no living person, mutually dear, existed to connect her with Naomi. Neither self-interest, nor hope, nor vanity, mix themselves up with this love. It is a purely moral and spiritual love, of which no other instance is on record. It is in fact the love of those whom God by his mercy has won for himself, and who love God in their brethren. It is the evangelical love of the Apostles, who loved Greeks and Franks, Persians and Scythians, as their own flesh and blood. Such love as this followed the steps of our Lord, and tarried where he was. Confession, martyrdom, prayer, and every brotherly thought or deed, spring from the love of the converted heart. The more heartily the soul cries out to Christ himself, Thy people is my people, and thy God my God, the more fervently burns this love.
ZINZENDORF: I speak because I believe; I love, because many sins are forgiven me.
SAILER: Lead men through love to love. For love cultivates and preserves the true and the good by doctrine, life, prayer, watchfulness, and by a thousand other inventions of its inexhaustible genius.
15[Ruth 1:7.—From this verse, and the preceding (cf. also Ruth 1:10), it appears plain, as Bertheau remarks, that not only Naomi, but also both her daughters-in-law, set out with the intention of going to Judah. It may be true that Naomi, determined from the start that they must not carry out this intention, “looked upon them as only bearing her company for a while before parting” (Dr. Cassel, below); but it seems at least as likely that in the struggle between duty and inclination, she did not finally reach this conclusion until the moment that she attempted to give it effect. The לָשׁוּכ is of course strictly applicable only to Naomi.—TR.]
16[Ruth 1:8.—יַעֲשֶׂה יְהוָֹה עִמָּכֶם חֶסֶד: lit. Jehovah do kindness with you. On the form יַעֲשֶׂה as optative, cf. Ges. 127, 3, b. Although the shortened form יַעַשׂ is more usual, its substitution by the Keri is unnecessary. In עִמָּכֶם the suffix is masc., although referring to women, cf. also עֲשִׂיתֶם in the next member of the clause. Similar departures from strict grammatical propriety occur in Ruth 1:9, 11, 13, 19, 22, Ruth 4:11. Gesenius regards them as originally colloquial inaccuracies, which afterwards passed into books, § 121, 6, Rem. 1. All but two (Ruth 1:19, 22) of those in our Book are actually found in conversations.
17[Ruth 1:9.—וּמְצֶאןָ, imperat. scriptio defect. for מְּצֶאכָה. On the construction, cf. Ges. 130, 1. The imperat. is only a stronger jussive, hence easily connected with it.—TR.]
18[Ruth 1:10.—כִּי: Dr. Cassel first supplies: “We will not turn back,” and then renders כִּי by denn, “for,” cf. Ges Lex. s. v. כִּי, B. 3, b. In that case, however (after the implied negation), sondern, “but,” would be better than “for.” But it is best taken like ὅτι in N. T. before words directly quoted, cf. Lex. 1. c. B. 1, b. Keil’s remark, that “כִּי before words in direct discourse serves to strengthen, being almost equal to an assurance,” is certainly not true in all cases, cf. 1 Sam. 10:19; 1 Kgs. 11:22.—TR.]
19[Ruth 1:12—כִּי ׃כִּי אמרְתִּי is causal, and introduces another but closely connected reason (the first, also introduced by כִּי, being given in the preceding clause) why they should return, cf. Isa. 6:5; Ps. 22:12. In English we should represent this כִּי—כִּי by “for—and.” הָיִיתִי ,אָמַרְתִּי, and יָלַדְתִּי, are all conditional perfects with the conditional particle omitted, as in Ps. 69:33; 103:16; Amos. 3:8, etc. Cf. Ew. 357 b. In English we might imitate the sentence thus: “For (let us suppose) I say, I have hope; I have a husband; I have children; will you,” etc.]
20[Ruth 1:13.—הֲלָהֵן is the fem. suffix הֵן, used as a neuter (cf. Ges. 107, 3), with prep. לְ and the interrogative ה: “under these circumstances,” or briefly “then,” as inserted in the text after Dr. Cassel. The word in this sense is not unusual in Chaldee, cf. Dan. 2:6, 9, 24; Ezra 5:12. In Hebrew it is found again at Job 30:24. As it occurs here in the colloquy of Naomi with her daughters, it is probably to be regarded as a word current in the language of daily life. See Keil, Introd. to O. T. § 137, 2. The rendering of the E. V. (after Sept., Vulg., etc.), “for them,” is very improbable, both on account of the position of the word, the emphasis being clearly on “wait,” and also because of its fem. suffix.—TR.]
21[Ruth 1:13.—לְבִלְתִּי, lit. “to not,” Dr. Cassel, um. לְבִלְתִּי expresses negative design, as לְמַעַן positive. The necessary result is here represented as designed, cf. the use of ἵνα, Win. 53, 10, 6.—TR.]
22[Ruth 1:13.—כִּי־מַר־לִי מְאֹד מִכֶּם: Dr. Cassel interprets rather than renders: “for I am much worse off than you, since against me,” etc. Substantially the same rendering is given by Keil, De Wette, Wright, Wordsworth, etc. “So Sept., which has ὑπὲρ ὑμᾶς, not ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, and so Syr. and Arabic” (Wordsworth). Bertheau, like E. V. takes מִכֶּם = on your account, for your sake. The objection that this would require עֲלֵיכֶם instead of מּכֶּם (cf. 2 Sam. 1:26), does not hold, cf. Prov. 5:18; Eccles. 2:10, etc. But the other rendering yields a better sense מַר may be adjective, noun, or verb, viz. 3 sing. perf. of מָרַר, used impersonally.—TR.]
23[Ruth 1:14.—עוֹד: Dr. Cassel—“exceedingly.” But there is no good reason to change the English “again,” referring to Ruth 1:9.—Tr.]
24[Ruth 1:15.—אֱלֹהֶיהָ: Sept. and Vulg. render by the plural, “gods.” Luther has the sing., and so Dr. Cassel. The reference is apparently to the national deity—“her people and her god”—namely, Chemosh (Num. 21:29); hence, the sing, is to be preferred. It seems almost superfluous to observe that Naomi’s words do not necessarily contain any recognition of the Moabitish deity, or indicate (as Wright suggests) that “she was possibly led astray by the false idea that Jehovah was only the God of Israel.” Was Jephthah, then, similarly led astray (cf. Judg. 11:24, 27)?—Tr.]
25[Ruth 1:17.—כִּי is not “if” (אִם, 1 Sam. 3:17, etc.), but “that,” cf. 1 Sam. 14:44; 1 Kgs. 2:23. נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי, “I swear,” or some such expression, is understood, cf. Gen. 22:16. The E. V. might be corrected by leaving כִּי untranslated, and rendering: “only death shall part thee and me.” The Hebrew, instead of invoking a definite judgment or calamity on himself, in case he breaks his oath, simply says כֹּה, which with the addition “and more too,” is perhaps more awful to the imagination because it is not definite.—On the article with “death,” cf. Ges. 109, Rem. l. c.—TR.]
26Cf. Jerome, adv. Jovinian, lib. i. 48, p. 317, and Comment. ad Michæam, on ch. vii. p. 519 (ed. Migne, vi. p. 1221).
27Pliny, in his Panegyr. Trajani, cap. 84, says; “quo quidem admirabilius existimandum est, quod mulieribus duabus in una domo, parique fortuna, nullum certamen nulla contentio est.”
28Similar ideas are treated of in his peculiar way, by Abraham a Sancta Clara, in Judas, der Erzschelm, v. p. 15.
29[The word in the passage referred to is manoach, which, however, differs only in form, cf. Ruth 3:1.—TR.]
30The climax of grief shows itself in the climax of impossibilities adduced to show that she can have no other sons for Ruth and Orpah. In the first place she says, I am too old; but if I were not, I have no husband. But even if I had a husband, and brought forth children this very night, two of them, and they sons, would you wait till they were grown up, and shut yourselves in until they were marriageable! The word עָגַן, here used in the sense of shutting one’s self in, does not occur again in Scripture, and receives its explanation only from its use in this sense in the later Hebrew. This meaning, however, is evidently very ancient. It is connected with נֵּן, garden, the παράδεισος, which was closed in, hedged in. Ruth and Orpah would have had to look upon themselves as brides of the supposed sons of Naomi, and must therefore have been shut in. With this the explanation of the word כַּלָּה itself stands connected. Kallah means bride and daughter-in-law as newly-married wife), in the same way as the Greek νύμφη (cf. Matt. 10:35, as also the rendering of the LXX. and the German Braut, Grimm, Wörterb. ii. 332). The Greek νύμφη explains itself from the Latin nubere, to cover, to veil. The bride already covered herself, like the wife, withdrew herself from the eyes of men, and was shut up. The goddesses themselves were originally called νύμφαι probably because they were conceived of as rendered invisible by the nature-covering of tree and fountain. The use of συννυμφος, for sister-in-law, by the LXX. in Ruth 1:15, is peculiar, and doubtless intended to mean “the other, second the sister-daughter-in-law,” rather than “sister-in-law.” In classic authors it does not occur; for in συννυμφοκόμος the σύν refers to κόμος. The Hebrew bride derives her name from the garland with which it was customary to crown both bride and bridegroom (cf. Mader, de Coronis, Helmst. 1662, p. 35, etc.). The symbolism of the word contains profound poetical ideas. It represents a shutting in, it is true; but by flowers,—a shutting up unto perfection and coronation.
31“Sed alii tamen Hebræi pariter ac Christiani interpretes Noomiam a reatu liberant, et non serio sed tentand animo id egisse statuunt.”—Rambach, p. 743.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?RUTH 1: 19–22.
Sorrow and Repentance.
19So they two went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Beth-lehem, that all the city was moved32 about them, and they said,33 Is this Naomi? 20And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me [hath inflicted bitter sorrow upon me]. 21I went out full, and the Lord [Jehovah] hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord [Jehovah] hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? 22So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, which returned out of the country [territories] of Moab:34 and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley-harvest.
TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL
[1 Ruth 1:19.—תֵּהֹם Niphal imperf. of הָמַם, cf. Ges. 67, Rem. 5; 22, 1. So Ges., Berth., Ewald, etc. Keil, Fürst, etc., consider it Niph. imperf. of הוּם.—TR.]
[2 Ruth 1:19.—וַתֹּאמַרְנָה: fem. plural (cf. עֲלֵיהֶן, etc. in Ruth 1:20). Not exactly, dicebantque mulieres, as the Vulg. has it; the population of the city are the subject of the verb, but in a matter of this kind women would naturally be so prominent as to lead the narrator insensibly to use the feminine. Perhaps Naomi arrived at an hour of the day when the labors of the field left none but women in the city.—TR.]
[3 Ruth 1:22.—הַשָּׁבָהמִשְּׁדֵימוֹאָב: Dr. Cassel translates the whole clause thus: “And so Naomi was returned home, and Ruth, the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, [who accompanied her] after [or on, cf. the Com. below] her departure from the fields of Moab.” This rendering, is, of course, intentionally free, and is designed to indicate that what seems an unnecessary remark, really adds to the sense, namely, that Ruth was the (only) one that clave to Naomi, that came with her from Moab. But this seems rather forced. As the same expression occurs, at Ruth 4:3, in connection with Naomi, it may be supposed that it became customary to speak of Naomi and Ruth as “the returned from Moab,” or as we should say, popularly, “the returned Moabites.” In that case, it would be best (with Berth.) to take הַשָּׁבַה (accented in the text as 3d fem. perf., with the art. as relative, cf. Ges. 109, 2d paragr.), as the fem. participle. The epithet would be applied to Ruth by virtue of her connection with Naomi, cf. Ruth 1:7.—TR.]
EXEGETICAL AND DOCTRINAL
Ruth 1:19. So they two went. Naomi said nothing more. She ceased to dissuade. She allowed Ruth to go with her, and the latter was as good as her words. She actually accompanied her mother-in-law; and so it came to pass, that Naomi did not return home alone, that is to say, entirely forsaken and helpless.
The whole city was moved about them. Naomi’s return was an uncommon occurrence. The city, and especially the women, were thrown into a peaceable uproar. Everybody ran, told the news, and wondered. For more than ten years had passed since she had left Bethlehem. Then there had doubtless been talk enough, as Naomi went away with her husband, in far different and better circumstances. It may be taken for granted that even then her character had awakened sympathy and affection in Bethlehem. Her husband, we know, belonged to a prominent family of the city. All this renders it natural that the news that Naomi had returned to Bethlehem, poor and sorrowful, spread like wildfire, and created what to her was an unpleasant sensation.35 “Is that Naomi!” is the universal exclamation.
Ruth 1:20. Call me not Naomi, call me Mara. Undoubtedly, the general astonishment over such a return, gave rise to many reflections which a woman especially would feel deeply. Not merely the external comparison of “then” and “now,” but also the motives of the former departure are brought to mind. Then, Naomi’s life and circum stances corresponded with the amiable and joyous name she bore. Now, she were better named Mara, the bitter, sorrowful one. It is evident that names were still preserved with conscious reference to their meaning. Naomi manifestly intends, by these and the following words, to inform the inhabitants of Bethlehem of her fortunes. I am no longer the old Naomi; for what of happiness I possessed, I have lost. I have no more anything that is pleasant about me: my life, like a salty, bitter spring, is without flavor or relish.
For the Almighty (Shaddai) hath inflicted bitter sorrow upon me. Why Shaddai? The use of this divine surname must here also be connected with its pregnant, proper signification. The explanation which must necessarily be given to it, is not consistent with its derivation from שָׁדַד, which always appears in a bad sense. What this explanation is, will become apparent when the passages are considered in which the name is first, and with emphasis, employed. We select, therefore, those of Genesis, in which book the name Shaddai occurs more frequently than in any other except Job, and always as designative of the gracious, fertile God, by whom the propagation of mankind is guaranteed. Thus, it is assumed by God in Gen. 17:1 ff. where he says to Abram, “I make thee exceedingly fruitful,—to a father of a multitude of nations,” etc. So likewise, it occurs Gen. 28:3: “El Shaddai will bless thee and make thee fruitful.” Gen. 35:11: “I am El Shaddai, be fruitful, and multiply.” Gen. 48:3: “El Shaddai appeared unto me—and said, Behold, I make thee fruitful and multiply thee.” Gen. 49:25: “Shaddai shall bless thee—with blessings of the breasts (שָׁדַיִם) and of the womb.” For the same reason it is used at Gen. 43:14, where the fate of the children of Jacob is in question. This gracious God, the source of fruitfulness and life, gives his blessing to his chosen saints, but from sinners, and from those whom He tries, He takes away what to others He gives. Hence the frequent use of the name in Job, who is chastened in his children, cf. Ruth 8:3: “Will Shaddai pervert justice? If thy children sinned against Him, He gave them over into the hand of their transgressions.” And in this sense Naomi also uses the name Shaddai, in speaking of her misery. For the death of her husband and her sons has rendered her family desolate and unfruitful. The word must therefore unquestionably be referred to a root שָׁדָה, still in use in Arabic, in the sense “to water, to fertilize.” For that all fertility comes from water, by which aridity is removed and thirst assuaged, is a deeply rooted conception, especially in oriental antiquity. Numerous mythical pictures of heathenism represent their heroes as conquering drought and unfruitfulness by liberating the rain and the streams. The name of the Indian god Indra is derived from Ind = und, to flow, and is therefore equivalent to “the rain-giver,” who frees the clouds so that they can dispense their showers (cf. E. Meier, Ind. Liederb., p. 147 f.). The true Rain-giver, the dispenser and increaser of fertility, of the earth and among beasts and men, is the living, personal God, as Shaddai. The root שָׁדָה must also explain שַׁד, mamma, properly the fountain of rain and blessings for man and beast, as Gellius (12:1) calls it, fontem sanctissimum corporis, and the bringer up of the human race. Hence we are enabled to recognize the wide-spread philological root to which shadah, to water, shad (Aram tad), mamma, belong; for it is connected with the Sanskrit dhe, Greek θῆσαι, Gothic daddjan (Old German, tutta, etc., cf. Benfey, Gr. Gram. ii. 270), in all which forms the idea of giving drink, suckling, is present. From the Greek word, the name of the goddess Thetis is derived, as “Nurse of the Human Race” (cf. Welcker, Gr. Mythol., 1:618). That Artemis of Ephesus was represented as a multimammia, is known not only from antique sculptures, but also from the writings of the church fathers; cf. the words of Jerome (in Proœm Ep. Pauli ad Ephes.): omnium bestiarum et viventium esse nutricem mentiuntur. Naomi was rightly named when, with a flourishing family, she went to Moab—but now Shaddai, who gave the blessing, has taken it away.
Ruth 1:21. I went out full, and Jehovah hath brought me home again empty. Full of family happiness, of joy in her sons, and of hope of a cheerful old age surrounded by children and children’s children; but empty now of all these, without possessions and without hope. A penitent feeling pervades her lamentation. I went away notwithstanding my fullness, and because I went full, do I return empty. For this reason she says: “I went away, and Jehovah has brought me home again.” I went because it was my will to go, not God’s; now, God’s judgment has sent me back. With that one word she gives vent to her sorrow that in those times of famine she forsook her people, although she herself was happy. What an evil thing it is to follow one’s own will, when that will is not directed by the commandments of God! Man goes, but God brings home. But beside this penitential feeling, there is another feature indicative of Naomi’s beautiful character, which must not be overlooked. She says, I went, me hath God afflicted; not, We went—my husband took me with him,—after all, I only followed as in duty bound. She utters not a breath of accusation against Elimelech or of excuse for herself. Properly speaking, the fault did lay with her husband and sons. They were the originators of the undertaking that ended so disastrously; but of this she has no memory. She neither accuses, nor yet does she commiserate and bewail them. Of the evils which they experienced, she does not speak. I went, and me has God brought home again, empty and bereft of husband and child. Therefore, she repeats, call me not Naomi! That name, when she hears it, suggests the entire contrast between what she was and what she now is.
For Jehovah hath testified against me, עָנָה בִי. The internal connection with the preceding thoughts confirms the correctness of the Masoretic pointing. The reading of the LXX., “he humbled me,” was justly departed from, for it is only a paraphrase of the sense.36 That which Bertheau considers to be the difficulty of the passage, that it makes God to testify against a person, while elsewhere only men bear testimony, is precisely the special thought of Naomi: “I went,” she says, “and God has testified that this going was a sin. Through the issue of my emigration God has testified that its inception was not rooted in Him, but in ourselves.” It is a peculiarity of piety that it ascribes the issue of all the affairs of life to God. “Was it right or not, that I (namely, Elimelech and she) went away to Moab?” Men might be in doubt about it. But the end, she says, bears witness against us, who followed our own inclinations. God testified against her, for “Shaddai hath afflicted me.” In other words, in that God, as Shaddai, made sorrow my portion, He testified against me. The two clauses, יְהוָֹה עָנָה בִי, and שַׁדַּי הֵרַע־לִי, are not so much parallel as mutually explanatory. In the loss of my children and family, says Naomi, I perceive that He “declares me guilty,” as the Targum also excellently renders עָנָה בִי. At the same time, the meaning of Shaddai comes here again clearly to view. For it is He who inflicts sorrow upon her, only in that her children are taken from her. That which God, as Shaddai, the giver of fruitful ness, did to her when he caused her sons to wither away, proves that God testifies against her. הֵרַע is here used just as it is in Josh. 24:20: “If ye forsake Jehovah—he will do you hurt (הֵרַע לָכֶם) and utterly destroy you.”
Ruth 1:22. So Naomi returned and Ruth with her. The curiosity of the inhabitants of Bethlehem is satisfied; they have also heard the history of Ruth; but with this their sympathy has likewise come to an end. Naomi was poor and God-forsaken,—at least according to the pious and penitential feeling of the good woman herself. How natural, that in her native place, too, she should stand alone. But Ruth was with her. She had continued firm on the road, and she remained faithful in Bethlehem. Since there also no one assisted her mother-in-law, she continued to be her only stay and the sole sharer of her lot. Her presence is once more expressly indicated: “and Ruth, the Moabitess, with her, on her departure from the fields of Moab.” No one was with her but Ruth,—who made the journey from Moab with her, in order to take care of her mother-in-law. What had become of Naomi, if Ruth, like Orpah, had forsaken her! She had sunk into poverty and humiliation more bitter than death. It is true, she too, with her husband, had left Israel in times of distress. But for this she could not be held responsible, although her generous spirit accused herself and no one else. On the other hand, she had been sufficiently punished, and had confessed her guilt. But in Bethlehem poor Naomi was made to feel that she now bore the name of Mara. Only Ruth had respect to neither before nor after. She reflected on neither happy nor sorrowful days. As she had loved in prosperity, so she remained true in adversity. Naomi, in her native place and among kindred, in Israel, had been alone and in want, had not the stranger, the widow of her son, accompanied her from her distant land. While such love was hers, Naomi was not yet wholly miserable; for God has respect to such fidelity.
And they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley-harvest. Consequently, in the beginning of the harvest season in general. This statement is made in order to intimate that the help of God did not tarry long. The harvest itself afforded the opportunity to prepare consolation and reward for both women in their highest need.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
“Call me not Naomi, but Mara.” Naomi does not conceal her condition when she reaches her native place. Usually, the natural man, even as a beggar, still desires to shine. She has lost everything; and what she had gained, the companionship of Ruth, is not yet able to console her. Her very love fills her with anxiety for this daughter. Recollections are very bitter, and the future is full of care. It is, however, only because she is empty of all joys, that she wishes to be called Mara. But it was made evident even in her misery that whatever she had lost, she had found the grace of God; for then too she was not only named, but truly was, Naomi. Nor will one who in sorrow does not cease to be lovely, retain the name of Mara. Pope Gregory the Great, when praised (by Leander) replied: “Call me not Naomi, i. e. beautiful, but call me Mara, since I am full of bitter grief. For I am no more the same person you knew: outwardly I have advanced, inwardly I have fallen. And I fear to be among those of whom it is said: Thou castedst them down when they were lifted up. For when one is lifted up, he is cast down; he advances in honors and falls in morals.”
THOMAS A KEMPIS: “It is good at times to be in distress; for it reminds us that we are in exile.”
BENGEL: “If God have loved thee, thou canst have had no lack of trouble.”
“For Shaddai hath afflicted me.” Naomi did not go to Moab of her own accord, for she followed her husband. Her stay also in the strange land was prolonged only because her sons had married there. After their death, although poor and empty, she returned home again, albeit she had but little to hope for. And yet in the judgment she perceives only her own guilt. Her loving heart takes all God’s judgments on itself. The more she loved, the more ready she was to repent. Being a Naomi, she did not accuse those she loved. The sign of true love is unselfishness, which ascribes ills to self, blessings to others. As long as she was in misery, she took the anger of God upon herself; but as soon as she perceived the favor of God, she praised Him as the God who showed kindness to the living and the dead.
[FULLER: “And all the city was moved,” etc. See here, Naomi was formerly a woman of good quality and fashion, of good rank and repute: otherwise her return in poverty had not been so generally taken notice of. Shrubs may be grubbed to the ground, and none miss them; but every one marks the felling of a cedar. Grovelling cottages may be evened to the earth, and none observe them; but every traveller takes notice of the fall of a steeple. Let this comfort those to whom God hath given small possessions. Should He visit them with poverty, and take from them that little they have, yet their grief and shame would be the less: they should not have so many fingers pointed at them, so many eyes staring on them, so many words spoken of them; they might lurk in obscurity: it must be a Naomi, a person of eminency and estate, whose poverty must move a whole city.—THE SAME: “Seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me.” Who then is able to hold out suit with God in the court of heaven? For God himself is both judge and witness, and also the executor and inflicter of punishments.
BP. HALL: Ten years have turned Naomi into Mara. What assurance is there of these earthly things whereof one hour may strip us? What man can say of the years to come, thus will I be?—TR.]
32[Ruth 1:19.—תֵּהֹם Niphal imperf. of הָמַם, cf. Ges. 67, Rem. 5; 22, 1. So Ges., Berth., Ewald, etc. Keil, Fürst, etc., consider it Niph. imperf. of הוּם.—TR.]
33[Ruth 1:19.—וַתֹּאמַרְנָה: fem. plural (cf. עֲלֵיהֶן, etc. in Ruth 1:20). Not exactly, dicebantque mulieres, as the Vulg. has it; the population of the city are the subject of the verb, but in a matter of this kind women would naturally be so prominent as to lead the narrator insensibly to use the feminine. Perhaps Naomi arrived at an hour of the day when the labors of the field left none but women in the city.—TR.]
34[Ruth 1:22.—הַשָּׁבָהמִשְּׁדֵימוֹאָב: Dr. Cassel translates the whole clause thus: “And so Naomi was returned home, and Ruth, the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, [who accompanied her] after [or on, cf. the Com. below] her departure from the fields of Moab.” This rendering, is, of course, intentionally free, and is designed to indicate that what seems an unnecessary remark, really adds to the sense, namely, that Ruth was the (only) one that clave to Naomi, that came with her from Moab. But this seems rather forced. As the same expression occurs, at Ruth 4:3, in connection with Naomi, it may be supposed that it became customary to speak of Naomi and Ruth as “the returned from Moab,” or as we should say, popularly, “the returned Moabites.” In that case, it would be best (with Berth.) to take הַשָּׁבַה (accented in the text as 3d fem. perf., with the art. as relative, cf. Ges. 109, 2d paragr.), as the fem. participle. The epithet would be applied to Ruth by virtue of her connection with Naomi, cf. Ruth 1:7.—TR.]
35The Midrash makes the scene still more dramatic by the explanation, that the concourse of the inhabitants was occasioned by the fact that the first wife of Boaz had that very day been carried to her grave (cf. Ruth Rabba, 31, d).
36[And, therefore, hardly to be called a “reading.” That the LXX. read עִנָּה, as some have thought, is hardly possible, as that word could not be suitably construed with כְּ. For the same reason Bertheau takes עָנָה בְ in the sense “to bestow labor on anything,” cf. Eccles. 1:13. This general idea, he thinks, is then determined by what follows, so as to mean: “Jehovah has worked against me.” On עָנַה בְ, in the sense, to testify against, cf. Ex. 20:16; 2 Sam. 1:16; Is. 3:9; etc. Bertheau’s objection seems to be sufficiently met above.—TR.]