|The Book of Ruth|
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Go to Bible: Ruth 1
“famine in the land.” It is very unusual that there would be a famine in Israel, especially around Bethlehem, and not in Moab, the border of which was less than 20 miles away. This famine happened in the period of the Book of Judges, and likely during one of the periods when Israel had abandoned Yahweh and was worshipping pagan gods because famine was one of the signs of the judgment of God (Lev. 26:19-26; Deut. 28:23-24, 38-42). When people abandon God they open themselves up to the cruel attacks of the Devil. Elimelech, like Abraham, left the land when there was a famine. See commentary on Genesis 12:10.
“Bethlehem Judah.” Since “Bethlehem” means “house of bread,” there are a couple of Bethlehems in Israel, this Bethlehem is Bethlehem in Judah.
“in the country of Moab.” The Hebrew text reads literally, “in the fields of Moab,” but Moab was referred to by the idiom, “the fields of Moab.” The central area of Moab was a high plateau that had fields.(top)
“Elimelech.” The name means, “My God is King.”
“Naomi.” “Naomi” means “pleasant” or “my pleasure.” The names of the two sons are more difficult to determine.(top)
|Rut 1:3||- (top)|
“And they took wives for themselves of the women of Moab.” It is not until Ruth 4:10 that we learn that Mahlon married Ruth and Chilion married Orpah.(top)
|Rut 1:5||- (top)|
“Yahweh had visited his people.” Yahweh had intervened and blessed the people. How did God “visit”? Not by a personal presence of some kind, but rather by giving them bread, which the people understood as being from God. [For more on God “visiting,” see commentary on Exod. 20:5].
“bread.” A common idiom for food. “Bread” came to be used by metonymy for food in general because bread was the main food in the culture and staple of life. Bread was indeed the staff upon which the people leaned for food, and in literature it is sometimes referred to as the “staff of life” (cp. Lev. 26:26; Ps. 105:16; Ezek. 4:16; 5:16).(top)
|Rut 1:7||- (top)|
“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.
“May Yahweh deal.” 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.(top)
“in the house of her husband.” In the times of the Old Testament, a woman on her own was unheard of and her life would have been extremely difficult, even impossible. A woman found “rest” i.e., safety and security, by being married and/or being a part of a large family.(top)
|Rut 1:10||- (top)|
|Rut 1:11||- (top)|
“I am too old to have a husband.” It is unclear why Naomi did not say that she could find husbands for Ruth and Orpah among her relatives, after all, Boaz stepped up and married Ruth.(top)
“refrain.” The Hebrew word occurs only here in the Hebrew Bible. It is related to the word “anchor.”
“too much for you.” Naomi knows that life for a widowed and unmarried young woman, especially with no family to take care of her, would be incredibly hard, and Naomi thinks that this is unfair and too much for the two young Moabite women. Naomi feels like her life has not gone well, and it is not the fault of the two young Moabite women, nor Naomi’s fault either, but Naomi does not want the difficulty of her life to become part of the life experience of the Moabite women she has come to love. There is likely some self-pity and bitterness in her words in that she thinks life has been unfair to her, which it had been. A lot of anger and bitterness that people feel in life is due to feelings that God should have somehow worked to make life better.(top)
“They lifted up their voice and wept.” That is, they wept aloud. The CSV says, “they wept loudly,” which gets the sense.(top)
”Naomi.” The Hebrew text reads “she,” but we substituted “Naomi” for clarity.
“and to her god.” The word “god” is elohim, which is grammatically plural. In the context of pagan worship, it is difficult to determine whether the translation should be “god” (ASV, CSB) or “gods” (ESV; KJV). In Judges 11:24 the singular Moabite god is referred to as elohim, grammatically plural (Judges 11:24; cp. 1 Kings 11:33, which also uses elohim (plural) to refer to a singular god. The grammatically plural elohim, when used of the Hebrew God Yahweh, does not mean that there is a plurality of “Persons” in God any more than Chemosh has a plurality of Persons in him. The NET text note says, “it is likely that Naomi, speaking from Orpah's Moabite perspective, uses the plural of majesty of the Moabite god Chemosh. For examples of the plural of majesty being used of a pagan god, see BDB 43 s.v. אֱלֹהִים 1.d. Note especially 1 Kgs 11:33, where the plural form is used of Chemosh.” [For more on elohim not referring to a plurality in God, see commentary on Gen. 1:1].(top)
“Do not entreat me to leave you.” Ruth’s love for Naomi and her determination to be with her and help support her opened the door for a Moabite woman to be part of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, showing that God cares for all people, and looks on the heart.
“your people are my people, and your God is my God.” Ruth 1:16 indicates that Ruth had already made up her mind who her people and her God were—she accepted Yahweh as her God—and so told Naomi not to press her to leave. Although most English versions have the future tense verb, “will be” in the verse, and thus read, “your people will be my people,” the Hebrew has a future tense verb but does not use it here. Generally in Hebrew when no verb is in the text—and there is no verb here in Ruth 1:16—then it is understood that the present tense verb is meant unless the context directs otherwise, which it does not seem to do. Young’s Literal Translation gets the sense correctly: “thy people is my people and thy God my God.”
The idea that Ruth is speaking of the future is imported in many versions from Ruth 1:17, where the future tense Hebrew verbs are used, but the events in Ruth 1:17, death and burial, are future events so future tense verbs would be used to describe those events. But here in Ruth 1:16, the reason Ruth told Naomi not to press her to leave was that she had already decided who her people and her God were, and that is reflected in the Hebrew text which would normally be translated with a present tense verb, as in the YLT and REV.
Ruth 1:16 is one of the profound verses in the Bible that shows that the attributes of Yahweh—His care and concern for people, and His fairness, grace and mercy—are clearly displayed for anyone who cares to take the time and make the effort to get to know Him, and His arms are open to all who will come to Him. Ruth was openly accepted into the society of Israel, and God clearly accepted her, so she is in the genealogy of Jesus Christ.(top)
“Yahweh do so to me, and more also.” This phrase is a curse formula. This let Naomi know that Ruth was extremely serious about her commitment to Naomi and Yahweh. Here in Ruth 1:17 we see that Ruth has taken Yahweh as her God. Her native god was Chemosh, but typical of pagan gods, he was cruel. According to Morris Jastrow and George A. Barton (Jewish Encyclopedia), Chemosh was essentially of the same nature as Baal. As such, Chemosh might demand human sacrifice, ritual sex, and other such impure and ungodly things. Ruth found out enough about Yahweh that she not only clung to Naomi, but to Yahweh as well, saying to Naomi “your God is my God” (Ruth 1:16).(top)
“she said no more to her.” That is, Naomi said no more to Ruth about returning to Moab.(top)
“and they asked.” The phrase, “they asked” is the feminine plural; it is the women of the city who asked. The women were curious and concerned about these two women who had come to their city, Bethlehem.(top)
“Do not call me.” The verb is feminine plural, so it is the women of the city who Naomi is addressing.
“Call me Mara.” Although many names in the biblical world were like names today, just chosen because they sounded nice or the parents liked them, some names were significant. Some were used because they were long-standing family names, and other names were used because of the meaning of the name. We do not know why Naomi’s parents decided to name her “Pleasant” (“Naomi” means “pleasant”) but it fit until she lost her husband and sons, at which time her name no longer fit her circumstances and she did not want to be called “Pleasant.” Sadly, she wanted to be called “Mara,” “Bitter.” This reflects a difference between The Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament has exhortation to put away things like bitterness, anger, and rage (Eph. 4:31), whereas the Old Testament does not have that same exhortation, although it recognizes the value of joy and gladness.
“the Almighty.” The Hebrew is Shaddai (also in Ruth 1:21).(top)
“I went out full and Yahweh has brought me home again empty.” Life is unpredictable. Jacob left the Promised Land with only his staff, and returned with much livestock, wives and concubines, and many children (Gen. 32:10). Naomi left Israel with a husband and two sons, and in her estimation came back empty. It was the women of the town who pointed out to her that her daughter-in-law Ruth was better than seven sons (Ruth 4:15).
“Yahweh has testified against me.” The general thought of the time was that if a person lived righteously then Yahweh would bless them, and if they were evil then things would not go well with them. Based on that belief, Naomi said Yahweh had testified against her by way of the circumstances of her life.
The Old Testament did not reveal the Devil, nor the intensity of the war between Good and Evil, and that left a lot of questions unanswered. Even kings and prophets had a lot of unanswered questions when it came to the evil that occurs on earth (and people who read the Old Testament without realizing that it had been superseded by the teaching in the New Testament have those same questions). When Jesus revealed the Devil and demons to his disciples, he told them things never before revealed: “And turning to the disciples, he said privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see the things that you see, for I say to you, that many prophets and kings desired to see the things that you see, and did not see them, and to hear the things that you hear, and did not hear them” (Luke 10:23-24). Grace and “truth” came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). [For more on why bad things happen on earth, see commentary on Luke 4:6, that God is not in control of what happens on earth].
“the Almighty has afflicted me?” This statement reflects Naomi’s theology and belief, but we learn from the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus Christ that what Naomi believed is not accurate. God does not kill people (Naomi’s husband and sons) and cause pain and trouble to people like Naomi and Ruth just to bring about His ends. The greatness of God is that He works in the warzone between Good and Evil like a master chess player, working to bring good from the evil that the Devil and evil people do (cp. Rom. 8:28).(top)
“So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law.” This is a summary statement, not a sequel. Summary statements are common in the Bible, and this one adds the information about the barley harvest.
“in the beginning of barley harvest.” This is the time of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. It generally occurs in our month of April.(top)