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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Ruth 1



Verse 4


‘The name of the other Ruth.’

Ruth 1:4

The Book of Ruth is a love-story told in four chapters. It gives us a glimpse of everyday life in Bethlehem; in home and in harvest-field, in its general gossip and its law-suits, more than three thousand years ago.

I. Glancing back over the lines of this sweet and pure pastoral idyll, we feel that rarely did human story more impressively demonstrate the unspeakable worth of lowly folk, the fine and favourable issues of seemingly suppressed lives, the hidden wealth of true and unobtrusive souls, for nations and for the race. Notoriety counts for nothing in the sum of things. The world’s future lay more in quiet Bethlehem, with Naomi and Ruth, than it did at the headquarters of Judge Eli. Let us not despise ourselves. God does not, and our future is with Him. Every name is historic in His estimate.

II. But we are not near enough to the heart of this story to hear its beat and feel its warmth, until we see that it is a true and tender, pure and heroic woman’s love that gives such grace to these Hebrew homes and confers such peerless worth on these lowly lives.—The spell of the Book of Ruth is Ruth herself, and the chief charm of Ruth is her unselfish and devoted love.

III. Life and love lead to God.—For life is God’s gift, and love is of God’s nature. ‘We love, because He first loved us.’ This is true of the love in the home as much as of the love of the Church. All pure and unselfish love comes from God and leads to God.

Thus the story of Ruth is a fragment in a missionary report. It tells of the conversion of a Gentile and illustrates the wisest way of winning souls. God saves the world by love, and we cannot succeed by departing from His method and ignoring His Spirit. Naomi is a typical home missionary, and Ruth is the pattern and prophecy of the success that crowns wise and loving labour.


(1) ‘Before God sets His nation aside, He will try them under human kings for several hundred years; and in the Books of Samuel we have the opening of the record of these kings. Before our knowledge of the period of the Judges is complete, the story of the Book of Ruth remains to be told. It is in sweet contrast to the two closing stories of the Book we have just finished, but that it belongs to this period is clear from the first verse. This is the only instance in the Bible in which a whole Book is devoted to the history of a woman. But Ruth was an ancestress of Christ—the Mary of the Old Testament. The chief interest of the Book to us, outside of its own beauty, is the genealogical table at the end. Probably the events here recorded occurred near the close of the period of the Judges.’

(2) ‘Ruth, when we first see her, was a Gentile, worshipping idols in a far country. At the close of her history we see her in God’s chosen land, worshipping Him, and sustaining the part of the bride of Boaz. Her history just shows how any lost and wandering soul far from God can, if willing to make the decision which Ruth made, be brought nigh, be numbered among God’s children, and become a part of the Bride of Christ. Notice the genealogical table (Ruth 4:18-22), and remember that Moab, one of Ruth’s ancestors, was the son of Lot, Abraham’s nephew (see Genesis 19:36-37). It matters not what our ancestors have been, or done; that does not hinder from coming to Christ.’

(3) ‘The Book of Ruth is the romance of the Bible. The tale has movement, and tragic incident, and happy consummation. Its pastoral simplicity delights us. We are tired of heated discussions and high politics, of jarring controversy and commercial panics. We pine for the country air, for the fragrant meadows and the yellow corn, and the simple discourse of simple men. We can forget the haste and hurry of the world, and even ourselves, in the hopes and fears and fortunes of country life. The lessons we learn are easy and pointed; they are practical rather than deep, and yet they are of living force; and as we read, the sense of greater things is with us, for we know that the story plays a part—subordinate, no doubt, but real—in the great drama of the world. Ruth, for all that her own life’s story is complete, is one who takes a place in the great moving procession of characters which preceded the Christ.’

Verse 16


‘Intreat me not to leave thee.’

Ruth 1:16

Now, this chapter illustrates:—

I. A noble influence.—Observe the contrast. Here is Naomi bidding Ruth go home. To go with Naomi means to share her poverty and loneliness; probably to be without the shelter of a married woman’s home—which then was almost more than life. To go with Naomi means leaving her own people to dwell among strangers of another religion, and of a hostile race. And Naomi loves her daughter too well not to set all this before her; so, sacrificing her own wish, she bids Ruth go. But while her words speak thus, her life, her love, her character have so won upon Ruth’s heart that she will not heed the words which would send her away, but bursts out with impetuous haste, ‘Intreat me not’ … The language of the life has proved mightier than the language of the lip. Now, what was there in Naomi to make her so attractive and winning? Well, names were significant in those days, and as ‘Naomi’ meant ‘the lovely, gracious, or pleasant one,’ I think we shall not err in supposing that the name indicated a sunny disposition and pleasant bearing, which made its owner ‘lovely’ in the best of senses. She had the kindly spirit and loving temper that win the trust and affection of others. But, on the other hand, she was steadfast to principle, and did not forsake the God of her fathers in a heathen land. Not that she was a bigot; her sons’ heathen wives found in her a true mother, but they knew Whom she worshipped.

There are two blunders, into one of which most are apt to fall. Some mistake bigotry for firmness, and fancy that wrathful denunciation of others is a proof of boldness in the truth. Others mistake a mild indifference for charity, and think to prove their catholicity by affecting an equal regard for all religions alike. Both extremes are wrong. The right spirit is that which combines firmness and charity. Our faith in God should make us true to conviction: our knowledge of ourselves and our liability to err should teach us to think charitably of our fellow-men. And so it is in a character like this of Naomi that we find the secret of an attractive life. Consistency, charity, and the charm of kindly grace—if only we blended these three in ourselves, many would be like Ruth, the Moabitess, and gladly accompany us to the Canaan above. Are we making it easier or harder for others to say, ‘Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God?’

II. A wise resolve.—(a) Ruth had made up her mind to seek the best Society. We are made for society; we all want a people of our own—a little world which will help us to realise ourselves by contact with others. An isolated life is unnatural. But society may be a blessing or a curse. ‘Tell me with whom thou walkest, and I will tell thee who thou art,’ say the Spaniards; and our own English proverb amounts to the same thing—‘A man is known by his friends.’ ‘He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.’ The evil influences of wicked society will dry up all the best springs of your life, and deaden your finest susceptibilities. But true friendship ever blesses and ennobles the friends. Such is the influence of all good company, and it was therefore a wise resolve on the part of Ruth to adopt as her people the nation which worshipped God.

(b) Ruth had made up her mind to seek the true worship. She came of a heathen race, and so the acceptance of Naomi’s God was a renunciation of idolatry, and a turning to the one Lord of Hosts who made heaven and earth. It was a wise and noble resolve. Well, we are not idolaters, and we are not so foolish as to give any credence to the fantastic mythologies of heathen lands. And yet we may be worshippers of false gods, and believers in a heathen creed. For what is belief? It is not an opinion; it is the faith we live by. And what is worship? It is not bowing the knee, and bending the head in a religious service; it is the heart’s homage to what you deem of worth. And so our belief and worship do not always coincide with our professions. What is your god—in whom you believe, and whom you worship? Respectability? Pleasure? Power? Money? Or do you set far above all that is earthly, Him who is Lord of all and King of men? Do you regard His favour as life, and His displeasure as making success a mockery, riches a curse, the praise of men as a millstone about your neck? The Lord is not your God until He is thus enthroned in your heart, and supreme in your life. Have you made Ruth’s resolve your own?


(1) ‘The interest here is more domestic than national, and its charm gathers round the personal fortunes of two poor and lonely widows. But directly these are brought into line with this Divine purpose they become radiant with beauty and interest. The character of Ruth is one of the sweetest in literature. Nor is that of Naomi hardly inferior. The value of the little book is enhanced by its position between the warlike Books of Judges and Samuel. Its talk of fields and home and children, of rural customs and of human loves, are not the less beautiful because it also enshrines the fact that Gentile blood mingles with that of the chosen people, and that at length, through this Moabitess, comes the fulfilment of the promised Messiah. In Christ Jesus the middle wall of partition is broken down.’

(2) ‘An ancient Persian seer once told this parable: “One day a friend put into my hands a piece of scented clay. I took it, and said to it, ‘What art thou? Art thou musk? for I am charmed with thy fragrance.’ It answered, ‘I was a mean piece of clay, but I was some time in company with the rose, and the fragrance of my sweet companion was communicated to me, and I became what I am. Otherwise I should only be a bit of clay as I seem!’”’

(3) ‘It is one thing to love the ways of the Lord when all is fair, and quite another to cleave to them under all discouragements and difficulties. The kiss of outward profession is very cheap and easy, but the practical cleaving to the Lord, which must show itself in holy decision for truth and holiness, is not so small a matter. How stands the case with us? Is our heart fixed upon Jesus, is the sacrifice bound with cords to the horns of the altar? Have we counted the cost, and are we solemnly ready to suffer all worldly loss for the Master’s sake? The after gain will be an abundant recompense, for Egypt’s treasures are not to be compared with the glory to be revealed. Orpah is heard of no more: in glorious ease and idolatrous pleasure her life melts into the gloom of death; but Ruth lives in history and in heaven, for grace has placed her in the noble line whence sprung the King of kings.’


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ruth 1:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 30th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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