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And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, each of you return to the house of her mother. May Yahweh show faithful love to you, just as you have shown to the dead and to me. Bible

“Go, each of you return.” Naomi directs the young women, who were likely in their early to mid 20s, to return. Girls in that culture were generally married around 12-14, and if they lived with their husbands 10 years (Ruth 1:4), then Ruth was likely 22-24 years old. Naomi gave them three opportunities to return to their families (Ruth 1:8, 11-12, and 1:15). On the basis of the Book of Ruth, modern Judaism gives potential converts to Judaism three chances to change their minds. The text does not say why Naomi waited until they were on the road back to Israel to tell the young women to return to their families. One possibility is that it was not until Naomi was actually on the road that it became clear to her that the better choice for the women was to go back to their own homes. But it is also possible that where Elemelich decided to settle in Moab was east of the villages where the girls lived and so as Naomi was heading west back to Israel she had to pass that area, and so it was close to their own villages that Naomi told them to return to their families.

“the house of her mother.” This phrase is very unusual and unexplained. It is normally, “to the house of your father,” which is so common that it is the reading of one of the Septuagint manuscripts, which was apparently altered to fit the culture. Elsewhere in the Bible, the “house (or “room”) of the mother had to do with love and marriage (cp. Song of Solomon 3:4, 8:2) and Isaac consummated his marriage in his mother’s tent (Gen. 24:67), so it is possible that Naomi used “the house of your mother” as a subtle way of saying that the girls had her blessing to remarry.

“May Yahweh show faithful love.” Naomi had not lost her belief in Yahweh, and was not embarrassed about it, even though she had lived in Moab for ten years. The top god in Moab was Chemosh, and Naomi knew Chemosh, if he acted at all, would not deal kindly with people. Naomi may not have known the spiritual reality behind Chemosh, that he was a demon, but she knew by the way he was worshipped that he was not a kind god.

The Hebrew word translated “faithful love” is hesed (#02617 חֶסֶד), and it cannot be easily translated into English. It is rooted in the concept of covenant and relates itself to the faithfulness that God shows in keeping His covenants and His promises. Hesed wraps up in one word much of the wonderful qualities of God: covenant faithfulness, kindness, mercy, grace, loyalty—wonderful qualities that come from the heart. Hesed is thus impossible to translate by the same word in all of its contexts; the translator/reader must understand the semantic range of the word and use the meaning that best fits the context. It occurs three times in Ruth (Ruth 1:8, 2:20, and 3:10), and has a slightly different emphasis each time. Although hesed is rightly used of God because of His covenants and promises and behaviors associated with covenants and keeping them, it is also used by people in a more general way to indicate devotion, kindness, faithfulness, love, etc., depending on the context. The broad semantic range of hesed explains why when it is used in the Hebrew text the English translations differ so widely in exactly how to translate it. For example, when Boaz says that Ruth showed hesed (Ruth 3:10) some of the English translations of it are “devotion,” “kindness,” “faithful,” “loyalty,” “goodness,” “faithful love,” and “lovingkindness.”

It also seems clear that at this time in Israel’s history people freely spoke the name of Yahweh, which the Jews no longer do. Sadly, we do not know exactly how they pronounced the name.


Commentary for: Ruth 1:8