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(1) When the judges ruled.—Literally, when the judges judged. This note of time is by no means definite. As we have seen, some have proposed to connect the famine with the ravages of the Midianites Judges 6:1); or, supposing the genealogy to be complete (which is more likely, however, to be abridged, if at all, in the earlier generations), then since Boaz was the son of Salmon (Salma, 1 Chronicles 2:11) and Rahab (Matthew 1:5), whom there can be no reasonable grounds for supposing to be other than the Rahab of Jericho, the events must be placed comparatively early in the period of the judges.
Beth-lehem.—See note on Genesis 35:19. Judah is added by way of distinction from the Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15).
Moab.—See notes on Genesis 19:37 : Numbers 21:13; Deuteronomy 2:9. The land of Moab seems to have been of exceptional richness and fertility, as allusions in the threats of Isaiah 16:0 Jeremiah 38:0, indicate. It was divided from the land of Israel by the. Dead Sea, and on the north by the river Arnon, the old boundary between Moab and the Amorites (Numbers 21:13). The journey of the family from Bethlehem would probably first lead them near Jericho, and so across the fords of the Jordan into the territory of the tribe of Reuben. Through the hilly country of this tribe, another long journey would bring them to the Arnon, the frontier river.
How far Elimelech was justified in fleeing, even under the pressure of the famine, from the land of Jehovah to a land where Chemosh was worshipped and the abominations practised of Baal-peor, may well be doubted, even though God overruled it all for good. It was disobeying the spirit of God’s law, and holding of little value the blessings of the land of promise.
(2) Naomi.—The name is derived from the Hebrew root meaning to be pleasant (see below, Ruth 1:20). Mahlon and Chilion mean sickness and wasting, it may be in reference to their premature death, the names being given by reason of their feeble health. It is not certain which was the elder: Mahlon is mentioned first in Ruth 1:2; Ruth 1:5, and Chilion in Ruth 4:9. It is probable, however, that Mahlon was the elder.
Ephrathites.—See note on Genesis 35:19. Ephrath was the old name of Bethlehem. Why, in the present passage, the town is called Bethlehem-judah, and the inhabitants Ephrathites, does not appear.
(4) They took them wives.—This seems to have been after the father’s death. The fault of settling on a heathen soil begun by the father is carried on by the sons in marrying heathen women, for such we cannot doubt they must have been in the first instance. The Targum (or ancient Chaldee paraphrase) says: “They transgressed against the decree of the Word of the Lord, and took to themselves strange wives.” This act was to incur a further risk of being involved in idolatry, as King Solomon found.
Ruth.—This name will mean either “comeliness” or “companion.” according to the spelling of which we suppose the present name to be a contraction. The Syriac spelling supports the latter view. Ruth was the wife of Mahlon (Ruth 4:10), apparently the elder sou. The Targum calls Ruth the daughter of Eglon, king of Moab, obviously from the wish to exalt the dignity of Ruth.
(5) And they died.—Clearly as quite young men. It is not for us to say how far those are right who see in the death of Elimelech and his sons God’s punishment for the disregard of His law. Thus Naomi is left alone, as one on whom comes suddenly the loss of children and widowhood.
(6) That she might return.—Literally, and she returned. Clearly, therefore, the three women actually began the journey; and when the start has been made. Naomi urges her companions to return. Then, as with Pliable in the Pilgrim’s Progress, so with Orpah: the dangers and difficulties of the way were too much for her affection.
The Lord had visited His people.—The famine had ceased, and Naomi’s heart yearns for the old home. Perhaps, too, the scenes where everything reminded her of her husband and sons, filled her with sadness (for it would appear that she set out immediately after her sons’ death), and perhaps, too, her conscience smote her for distrusting the mercies of the God of Israel.
(7) Her two daughters in law with her.—Both clearly purposing to go with Naomi to the land of Israel (Ruth 1:10), not merely to escort her a little way. Naomi had obviously won the affections of her daughters-in-law, and they were loth to part with her, since such a parting could hardly but be final.
(8) Return.—Naomi’s love is all unselfish. The company of Ruth and Orpah would clearly have been a great solace to her, yet she will not sacrifice them to herself. They each had a mother and a home; the latter, Naomi might fail to secure to them.
(9) The Lord grant you . . .—A twofold blessing is invoked by Naomi on her daughters-in-law, made the more solemn by the twofold mention of the sacred name Jehovah. She prays first for the general blessing, that God will show them mercy, and secondly for the special blessing, that they may find rest and peace in a new home.
(11) The advice of Naomi thus far is insufficient to shake the affectionate resolve of the two women. She then paints the loneliness of her lot. She has no more sons, and can hope for none; nay, if sons were to be even now born to her, what good would that do them? Still her lot is worse than theirs. They, in spite of their great loss, are young, and from their mothers’ houses they may again go forth to homes of their own. She, old, childless, and solitary, must wend her weary way back to live unaided as best she may.
(13) It grieveth me much for your sakes.—A much more probable translation is, it is far more bitter for me than for you. An exact parallel to the construction is found in Genesis 19:9. The ancient versions are divided, the LXX., Peshito Syriac, and Targum support this translation; the Vulg. is rather loose in its rendering.
(14) Kissed.—Orpah, though unwilling to leave her mother-in-law, and though warmly attached to her, still thinks of the hardships of the journey, of the hardships when the journey is done; and the comforts of home detain her.
(15) Naomi, now armed with a fresh argument, urges Ruth to follow her sister-in-law’s example.
Her gods.—Naomi doubtless views the Moabite idols as realities, whose power is, however, confined to the land of Moab. She is not sufficiently enlightened in her religion to see in the Lord more than the God of Israel.
(16) Intreat me not.—Ruth’s nobleness is proof against all. The intensity of her feeling comes out all the more strongly now that she pleads alone: “I will undertake with thee the toilsome journey, I will lodge with thee however hardly, I will venture among a strange people, and will worship a new god.”
(17) The Lord do so to me.—Ruth clinches her resolutions with a solemn oath, in which, if we are to take the words literally, she swears by the name of the God of Israel. With this Naomi yields; after so solemn a protest she can urge no more.
(19) They went.—The journey for two women apparently alone was long and toilsome, and not free from danger. Two rivers, Arnon and Jordan, had to be forded or otherwise crossed; and the distance of actual journeying cannot have been less than fifty miles. Thus, weary and travel-stained, they reach Bethlehem, and neighbours, doubtless never looking to see Naomi again, are all astir with excitement. It would seem that though the news of the end of the famine had reached Naomi in Moab, news of her had not reached Bethlehem.
They said . . .—The Bethlehemite women, that is, for the verb is feminine. Grief and toil had doubtless made her look aged and worn.
(20) Call me not Naomi, call me Mara.—Here we have one of the constant plays on words and names found in the Hebrew Bible. Naomi, we have already said, means pleasant, or, perhaps, strictly, my pleasantness. Mara is bitter, as in Exodus 15:23. The latter word has no connection with Miriam or Mary, which is from a different root.
The Almighty.—Heb., Shaddai. According to one derivation of the word, “He who is All Sufficient,” all sufficing; the God who gives all things in abundance is He who takes back (see Note on Genesis 17:1).
Hath dealt very bitterly.—Heb., hemar, referring to the preceding Mara. The pleasantness and joys of life are at an end for me, my dear ones passed away, bitterness and sadness are now my lot.
(22) Barley-harvest.—God had restored plenty to His people, and the wayfarers thus arrive to witness and receive their share of the blessing. The barley harvest was the earliest (Exodus 9:31-32), and would ordinarily fall about the end of April.
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ruth 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18