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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary


- Ruth

by Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch

The Book of Ruth

(Note: The book of Ruth does not indeed belong to the prophetical books of history so far as its historical character is concerned, and even in the Hebrew canon it is placed among the hagiographa; but as its contents directly follow upon those of the book of Judges, it seemed advisable to place the exposition immediately after that of Judges.)


Content, Character, and Origin of the Book of Ruth

The book of Ruth ( Ῥούθ ) introduces us to the family life of the ancestors of king David, and informs us, in a simple and attractive form of historical narrative, and one in harmony with the tender and affectionate contents, how Ruth the Moabitess, a daughter-in-law of the Bethlehemite Elimelech, of the family of Judah, who had emigrated with his wife and his two sons into the land of Moab on account of a famine, left father and mother, fatherland and kindred, after the death of her husband, and out of childlike affection to her Israelitish mother-in-law Naomi, whose husband had also died in the land of Moab, and went with her to Judah, to take refuge under the wings of the God of Israel (Ruth 1); and how, when there, as she was going in her poverty to glean some ears of corn in the field of a wealthy man, she came apparently by accident to the field of Boaz, a near relation of Elimelech, and became acquainted with this honourable and benevolent man (Ruth 2); how she then sought marriage with him by the wish of her mother-in-law (Ruth 3), and was taken by him as a wife, according to the custom of Levirate marriage, in all the ordinary legal forms, and bare a son in this marriage, named Obed. This Obed was the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:1-17), with whose genealogy the book closes (Ruth 4:18-22).

In this conclusion the meaning and tendency of the whole narrative is brought clearly to light. The genealogical proof of the descent of David from Perez through Boaz and the Moabitess Ruth (Ruth 4:18-22) forms not only the end, but he starting-point, of the history contained in the book. For even if we should not attach so much importance to this genealogy as to say with Auberlen that “the book of Ruth contains, as it were, the inner side, the spiritually moral background of the genealogies which play so significant a part even in the Israelitish antiquity;” so much is unquestionably true, that the book contains a historical picture from the family life of the ancestors of David, intended to show how the ancestors of this great king walked uprightly before God and man in piety and singleness of heart, an din modesty and purity of life. “Ruth, the Moabitish great-great-grandmother of David, longed for the God and people of Israel to them with all the power of love; and Boaz was an upright Israelite, without guile, full of holy reverence for every ordinance of God and man, and full of benevolent love and friendliness towards the poor heathen woman. From such ancestors was the man descended in whom all the nature of Israel was to find its royal concentration and fullest expression” ( Auberlen). But there is also a Messianic trait in the fact that Ruth, a heathen woman, of a nation so hostile to the Israelites as that of Moab was, should have been thought worthy to be made the tribe-mother of the great and pious king David, on account of her faithful love to the people of Israel, and her entire confidence in Jehovah, the God of Israel. As Judah begat Perez from Tamar and Canaanitish woman (Gen 38), and as Rahab was adopted into the congregation of Israel (Joshua 6:25), and according to ancient tradition was married to Salmon (Matthew 1:5), so the Moabitess Ruth was taken by Boaz as his wife, and incorporated in the family of Judah, from which Christ was to spring according to the flesh (see Matthew 1:3, Matthew 1:5, where these three women are distinctly mentioned by name in the genealogy of Jesus).

The incidents described in the book fall within the times of the judges (Ruth 1:1), and most probably in the time of Gideon (see at Ruth 1:1); and the book itself forms both a supplement to the book of Judges and an introduction to the books of Samuel, which give no account of the ancestors of David. So far as its contents are concerned it has its proper place, in the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Lutheran and other versions, between the book of Judges and those of Samuel. In the Hebrew Codex, on the contrary, it is placed among the hagiographa, and in the Talmud ( bab bathr.f. 14 b) it is even placed at the head of them before the Psalms; whilst in the Hebrew MSS it stands among the five megilloth: Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther. The latter position is connected with the liturgical use of the book in the synagogue, where it was read at the feast of weeks; whilst its place among the hagiographa is to be explained from the principle upon which the general arrangement of the Old Testament canon was founded, - namely, that the different books were divided into three classes according to the relation in which their authors stood to God and to the theocracy, and the books themselves in their contents and spirit to the divine revelation (see Keil, Lehrbuch der Einleitung, §155 ).

The latter is therefore to be regarded as the original classification, and not the one in the Septuagint rendering, where the original arrangement has unquestionably been altered in the case of this and other books, just because this principle has been overlooked.

(Note: Many critics of the present day, indeed, appeal to the testimony of Josephus and the earlier fathers as favouring the opposite view, viz., that the book of Ruth was originally placed at the close of the book of Judges, to which it formed an appendix. Josephus (c. Ap. i. 8) reckons, as is well known, only twenty-two books of the Old Testament; and the only way by which this number can be obtained is by joining together the books of Judges and Ruth, so as to form one book. Again, Melito of Sardes, who lives in the second century, and took a journey into Palestine for the purpose of obtaining correct information concerning the sacred writings of the Jews ( πόσα τὸν ἀριθμὸν καὶ ὁποῖα τὴν τάξιν εἶεν ), places Ruth after Judges in the list which has been preserved by Eusebius (h. e. iv. 26), but does not give the number of the books, as Bertheau erroneously maintains, nor observes that “Judges and Ruth form one book under the name of Shofetim.” This is first done by Origen in his list as given by Eusebius (h. e. vi. 25), where he states that the Hebrews had twenty-two ἐνδιαθήκους βίβλους , and then adds in the case of Ruth, παρ ' αὐτοῖς ἐν ἑνὶ Σωφετὶμ . Ruth occupies the same place in the lists of the later Greek fathers, as in Rufinus (Expos. in Symb. Apost.) and Jerome (in Prolog. Gal.), the latter of whom makes this remark on the book of Judges, Et in eundem compingunt Ruth, quia in diebus Judicum facta ejus narratur historia; and after enumerating the twenty-two books of the Old Testament, adds, Quanquam nonnulli Ruth et Kinoth inter Hagiographa scriptitent et hos libros in suo putent numero supputandos , etc. But all these testimonies prove nothing more than that the Hellenistic Jews, who made use of the Old Testament in the Greek rendering of the lxx, regarded the book of Ruth as an appendix of the book of Judges, and not that the book of Ruth ever followed the book of Judges in the Hebrew canon, so as to form one book. The reduction of the sacred writings of the Old Testament to twenty-two is nothing more than the product of the cabbalistic and mystical numbers wrought out by the Hellenistic or Alexandrian Jews. If this numbering had been the original one, the Hebrew Jews would never have increased the number to twenty-four, since the Hebrew alphabet never contained twenty-four letters. Josephus, however, is not a witness with regard to the orthodox opinions of the Hebrew Jews, but was an eclectic and a Hellenist, who used the Old Testament in the Septuagint version and not in the original text, and who arranged the books of the Old Testament in the most singular manner. The fathers, too, with the exception of Jerome, whenever they give any account of their inquiries among the Jews with regard to the number and order of the books accepted by them as canonical, never give them in either the order or number found in the Hebrew canon, but simply according to the Septuagint version, which was the only one that the Christians understood. This is obvious in the case of Melito, from the fact that he reckons Βασιλειῶν τέσσαρα and Παραλειπομένων δύο , and places Daniel between the twelve minor prophets and Ezekiel. We find the same in Origen, although he gives the Hebrew names to the different books, and states in connection with the four books of Kings and the two books of Paralipomena, that the Hebrews named and numbered them differently. Lastly, it is true that Jerome arranges the writings of the Old Testament in his Prol. Gal. according to the three classes of the Hebrew canon; but he endeavours to bring the Hebrew mode of division and enumeration as much as possible into harmony with the Septuagint numbering and order as generally adopted in the Christian Church, and to conceal all existing differences. You may see this very clearly from his remarks as to the number of these books, and especially from the words, Porro quinque litterae duplices apud Hebraeos sunt, Caph, Mem, Nun, Pe, Sade ... Unde et quinque a plerisque libri duplices existimantur, Samuel, Melachim, Dibre Hajamim, Esdras, Jeremias cum Kintoh, i.e., Lamentationibus suis . For the plerique who adopt two books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, are not Hebrew but Hellenistic Jews, as the Hebrew Jews did not divide these writings in their canon into two books each, but this mode of dividing them was first introduced into the Hebrew Bibles by Dan. Bomberg from the Septuagint or Vulgate. The further remark of this father, quanquam nonnulli Ruth et Kinoth inter hagiographa scriptitent , etc., is also to be estimated in the same way, and the word nonnulli to be attributed to the conciliatory efforts of Jerome. And lastly, his remark concerning the connection between the book of Ruth and that of Judges is not to be regarded as any evidence of the position which this book occupied in the Hebrew canon, but simply as a proof of the place assigned it by the Hellenistic Jews.)

The book of Ruth is not a mere (say a third) appendix to the book of Judges, but a small independent work, which does indeed resemble the two appendices of the book of Judges, so far as the incidents recorded in it fall within the period of the Judges, and are not depicted in the spirit of the prophetic view of history; but, on the other hand, it has a thoroughly distinctive character both in form and contents, and has nothing in common with the book of Judges either in style or language: on the contrary, it differs essentially both in substance and design fro the substance and design of this book and of its two appendices, for the simple reason that at the close of the history (Ruth 4:17), where Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth, is described as the grandfather of David, and still more clearly in the genealogy of Perez, which is brought down to David (Ruth 4:18-22), the book passes beyond the times of the Jud Ges. In this simple fact the author very plainly shows that his intention was not to give a picture of the family life of pious Israelites in the time of the judges from a civil and a religious point of view, but rather to give a biographical sketch of the pious ancestors of David the king.

The origin of the book of Ruth is involved in obscurity. From its contents, and more especially from the object so apparent in the close of the book, it may be inferred with certainty that it was not written earlier than the time of David's rule over Israel, and indeed not before the culminating point of the reign of this great king. There would therefore be an interval of 150 to 180 years between the events themselves and the writing of the book, during which time the custom mentioned in Ruth 4:7, of taking off the shoe in acts of trade and barter, which formerly existed in Israel, may have fallen entirely into disuse, so that the author might think it necessary to explain the custom for the information of his contemporaries. We have not sufficient ground for fixing a later date, say the time of the captivity; and there is no force in the arguments that have been adduced in support of this (see my Lehrb. der Einl. 1 37).The discovery that words and phrases such as מרגּלות (Ruth 3:7-8, Ruth 3:14), כּנפים פּרשׂ (Ruth 3:9), מקרה , chance (Ruth 2:3), either do not occur at all or only very rarely in the earlier writings, simply because the thing itself to which they refer is not mentioned, does not in the least degree prove that these words were not formed till a later age. The supposed Chaldaisms, however, - namely the forms תּעבוּרי and תּדבּקין (Ruth 2:8, Ruth 2:21), יקצרוּן (Ruth 2:9), שׂמתּ יר דתּי שׁכבתּי (Ruth 3:3-4), מרא for מרה (Ruth 1:20), or the use of להן , and of the ἁπ. λεγ. עגן ( Ruth 1:13), etc., - we only meet with in the speeches of the persons acting, and never where the author himself is narrating; and consequently they furnish no proofs of the later origin of the book, but may be simply and fully explained from the fact, that the author received these forms and words from the language used in common conversation in the time of the judges, and has faithfully recorded them. We are rather warranted in drawing the conclusion from this, that he did not derive the contents of his work from oral tradition, but made use of written documents, with regard to the origin and nature of which, however, nothing certain can be determined.