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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Ruth 1

Verses 1-2

Famine in Bethlehem


A famine (Rth 1:1) in the land of which God has said that His people would not lack anything there (Deu 8:9a), must have a certain cause. That cause is that the people have become unfaithful to God. Because of this unfaithfulness God sends a famine. His goal is that His people turn back, repent, and serve Him faithfully again. He would like His people to be happy and that can only be in relationship with Him. The faithful, they are those who remain faithful to Him in the midst of general unfaithfulness, share in the famine. The famine serves as a trial for them to continue to trust in Him, even if the blessing associated with faithfulness is withheld.

“The days when the judges governed” Israel, are days when stability in society is far from being achieved. There is no king in Israel and “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 17:6; Jdg 18:1; Jdg 19:1; Jdg 21:25). In such an uncertain time of crisis, it is not easy to know what to do. Without asking the LORD for permission, “a man of Bethlehem in Judah” on his own initiative flees his residence, with his wife and both his sons. The goal of his journey is the plains of Moab.

We do not have to look down on him because he took this arbitrary decision. Abraham and Isaac also tapped wells in another land when hunger came into the land God promised them. Abraham goes to Egypt (Gen 12:10) and Isaac to the land of the Philistines (Gen 26:1). Elimelech may not have remembered these histories, and he left as they did. Have we always been warned by examples of believers who have deviated?

Elimelech doesn’t intend to stay there all the time, because he wants to sojourn there i.e. to stay there as a stranger. He doesn’t go that far either, only about forty or fifty kilometers. After all, he is not going all the way to Egypt either, but stays close to the country. ‘I can just go back’, he must have thought. But things run differently. The place of which he thinks the grass there is greener, becomes a cemetery.

In Rth 1:2, the author mentions the names of the members of the family who are moving away. The meaning of these names prepare us. The name of the LORD, which appears more than ten times in this little book, does not appear in Rth 1:1-5. The LORD is the great Absent One at this departure. The first name is Elimelech. He is responsible for this move. Elimelech does not honor his name. In his name the name of God does occur because his name means ‘my God is King’. He confesses God as King with the meaning of his name, but does not acknowledge Him as King in the practice of his life.

Then the name of his wife is called: Naomi. This name means ‘my lovely one’. She must have been a radiant woman. Everything she will experience will dramatically change that. She later lets herself be called “Mara” because of the bitterness she experienced on her way of life (Rth 1:20). Mara means ‘bitterness’.

The names of his sons are also mentioned and have a meaning. Mahlon means ‘sick’ and Chilion means ‘languishing away’. Is there anything to be learned from this about Elimelech’s spiritual state when the young people are born? Giving a name shows something of the parents’ faith. It seems that Elimelech sees God as Someone Who only gives trouble and sorrow. Seen in that light, it is understandable that he runs away when hunger starts to gnaw.

It does not seem that he is part of a large group that, like him, is driven by hunger, and leaves Bethlehem in search of food. There is an indication that he is not yet hungry when he leaves. Naomi says later, when she returns, that she has left “full” (Rth 1:21). In any case, the run to Moab is not motivated by faith, but by calculation. If all had reasoned like this, there would have been no one left in Bethlehem. Throughout this history, it is clear how much this family has lost. Everything lost through its arbitrary actions, so that every blessing it still receives, clearly comes as a proof of God’s grace.

Just as Elimelech no longer recognizes the meaning of his name in practice, he no longer recognizes the meaning of the names Bethlehem and Judah. Bethlehem means ‘bread house’. Judah means ‘praise’. Instead of asking the LORD why He does not give bread, Elimelech goes with his family to Moab. As if he could in this way escape the discipline of God. Because he does not ask the LORD why there is famine, he does not ask the LORD where he can best go. His departure also means that his praise disappears.

Moab is the land of his own choice. In this choice he was only guided by the question of where there is bread. He moves to the plains of Moab because he thinks he finds there what he misses in Bethlehem. He exchanges the LORD’s discipline for Moab’s bread.

Moab is known for his pride and laziness (Isa 16:6; Jer 48:11). Moab is an enemy of God’s people who has tried to bring a curse upon God’s people (Num 22:1-7). Elimelech seeks refuge with such an enemy. By this he brings shame upon God’s Name. He who does not stand to his confession, disgraces God’s Name.

But how do we react to trials, illnesses, difficulties and the like? Do we want to escape from them or do we wonder what lesson the Lord wants us to learn with them? In case of illness, do we resort to a medicine or a doctor rather than to God? We may certainly use a medicine or a doctor, but what is our first action? And when we are financially tight? Do we think first of the Lord or are we looking for ways to solve this problem ourselves?

When we come into trials, our first action should be an examination of our own heart. Then we are in God’s light and see what solution He gives. If His blessing is withheld, do we want to get it through our own efforts or do we go to the Lord to ask Him if there are any thing that is stopping His blessing? We tend to avoid the difficulties and look for the shortest route to happiness.

From a spiritual point of view, we can see in Bethlehem a picture of a local church where the Lord Jesus as the bread of life is central. It can happen sometimes that in a local church the spiritual life is languishing away. Every member of the church is responsible for this because all members together form the church. The blame should not be put too quickly on someone else. Leaving is the way of the least resistance. And if you leave anyway, where do you end up? Not in Egypt, a picture of the world. No, you don’t give up your faith. You end up in Moab. That is not the world, but an area between the world and the church.

Moab spiritually represents an area where you can be a Christian in a relaxed way – Moab is a picture of laziness! – without worrying about your responsibilities in the church. Sometimes it is about Jesus, but His authority is difficult to be found. He is a good example, but He should not come any closer and be presented as Someone who has all authority over your life. More and more often you only hear about ‘God’. God’ sounds nice and general. Everyone is free to fill in who or what you mean by God.

Whoever really knows God as Father loves the Lord Jesus (Jn 8:42a) and honors Him. It is actually impossible to honor God if the Son is not honored: “He that does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (Jn 5:23b). In ‘Moab’, it is not the Son who is the central focus of faith life, but whether you get a good feeling from something. You don’t get that in ‘Bethlehem’ but you get it in ‘Moab’.

Verses 3-4

Marriage With Moabite Women


Where Elimelech thought he would survive, he dies. He had plans to stay there as a sojourner and return to the land of God after a while, but Moab becomes his grave. Many people make plans. They retire and then want to enjoy themselves. Often, they do not take into account death that can suddenly take its toll.

There is another aspect with Elimelech and that has to do with the meaning of his name. For someone who chooses Moab as his habitat, the authority of God disappears from his life. After all, Elimelech means ‘my God is King’, doesn’t it? Naomi and both children are left behind at the place where Elimelech has taken them to. The death of her husband doesn’t cause Naomi to return to Bethlehem. She stays where she is. Then it happens, the thing that Elimelech would not have wanted, and what Naomi cannot stop: the two sons marry Moabite women. Mahlon marries Ruth (Rth 4:10) and Chilion marries Orpah.

It is the natural consequence of the direction that Elimelech has gone. His way led away from God and that is a way where you never go alone. Others will always go with you on that way. Elimelech searched out the things of the world, his sons searched out the world itself. It is not clear how old Mahlon and Chilion were, when their parents took them to Moab. What is clear is that they have built their existence in Moab. Elimelech still thought about going back, for his sons this thought does not exist. The little faith their father still had is not to be found with the sons.

If they have been religious at all, it has not played a role in choosing their wife. Their wives can also continue to serve idols. In Rth 1:15 Naomi tells Ruth that Orpah has returned to her gods and that she should do so. Neither of the boys show any interest in the land of God, which is also evident from their choice for a Moabite woman. In doing so, they are indicating that God’s commandment that “an Ammonite or Moabite may not enter the congregation of the LORD” (Deu 23:3a; cf. Neh 13:1-2), has no meaning for them.

In view of the marriage of the two sons as members of God’s (earthly) people with women who serve idols, there is still a practical application to be made. When a member of God’s (heavenly) people, the church, a believer, marries someone of the world, there is an unequal yoke. God’s Word warns against such a commitment clearly and emphatically (2Cor 6:14). If this happens, the consequence is not that the unbeliever repents, but that the believer becomes even more unfaithful to the Lord. By repentance and confession of the sin that has been committed by entering into this marriage, there is grace to become faithful again.

From this history we also learn that it is a great responsibility for parents as to where they take their children even though they are with them. If the parents do not give first place to the Lord Jesus and the church, it is not to be expected that the children will then do so.

Verses 5-6

Naomi Returns to Israel


It seems that the happiness of the weddings of Mahlon and Chilion lasted only briefly. Even before there were children, they died. Now Naomi has lost every male support. Around her she has nothing left of any support. If she looks ahead, there is no prospect at all. She has gone down a dead-end road with her husband and children and has now reached the end of that road.

She sees no way out, but is still not entirely without a way out (2Cor 4:8). At this deepest point in her life, when everything is lost, the desire arises in Naomi to return to the land of Israel. The awakening of this desire is not even the result of the misery in which she finds itself. Because she is now all alone, there is room for the LORD to awaken this desire in her. He lets the rumor reach her that He has given the land bread again.

The LORD takes the initiative. Perhaps after all the misery – the death of her husband and her sons – she had no need to go back at all. But the LORD works in her the desire to return to Him and to the inheritance. That’s how He always works. He fulfills a longing for Him and doing penance.

It is not so much the insight of everything that has been lost that makes a person return, but the remembrance of home, as with the prodigal son: “But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men”‘” (Lk 15:17-19). It is the longing for which only God can give.

If we as Christians have strayed from God and the place where He gives blessing, we must first come to the acknowledgment that we have not found what we were looking for. Seeking to satisfy our desires independently of the Lord Jesus and the path God shows us towards Him, always ends in disappointment after a time. Only then will there be room again for God’s Spirit to work in us the longing for all the spiritual blessings that God has given us in Christ. The emergence of this longing is the first step towards restoring of the enjoyment of the blessing.

Verses 7-13

Naomi and Her Daughters-In-Law


After the prehistory in the previous verses, the actual story now begins. This story is mainly given in the form of conversations. More than three-quarters of the book consists of conversations. The first conversation starts in Rth 1:8. The reason is Naomi’s return to the country of Israel. With this she gives in to the longing that the LORD has worked in her heart. Here too she resembles the prodigal son who stands up and goes back after his remembrance of home (Lk 15:20a).

When she leaves Moab, her two daughters-in-law go with her. They have somehow become attached to Naomi. The young women are not frivolous women. Although they are free to marry someone else, they still want to stay with Naomi. Once they are on their way, Naomi suddenly considers that her daughters-in-law have no future in the country she is going to. She doesn’t want them to come and tells them to go back. Because of their Moabite nationality they have no future in her country. They had better go back “each of you to her mother’s house”. There they have enjoyed their Moabite education and from there they just have to start a new life.

Naomi no longer has a view of the God of Israel, the only, true God. Her daughters-in-law have come into contact with Him through their marriage. Although there must not have been much to see of Him, there must have been something visible. However, Naomi has become bitter, and for the women, life with her boys has turned out to be a great disappointment. Can she still warm up for that God? Can she tell her daughters-in-law with warmth about that God? She advises them to remarry and have children. In this way they “may find rest, each in the house of her husband”, Naomi believes.

This means that Naomi sends them back to the world where there is no place for the true God. It may be that she does so because she is very disappointed in God. She may return to her native country, but that is because she knows deep inside that she belongs there, rather than she is motivated by a longing for the LORD. She has to get to know the LORD again. Now that she has heard that there is food in Israel again, she sees no more reason to stay in Moab.

Although she is disappointed in the LORD, she still gives her daughters-in-law His blessings. This shows that, despite disappointment, she still clings to Him. It seems too bad that her thoughts about Him are confused. Her statement sounds pious and her wish is sincere, but it is an impossibility, for how can the LORD bless a life in idolatry?

This mixture is often present in someone who has deviated and is on the way back, but has not yet been restored to fellowship with the Lord. From the past there is a certain knowledge of the Lord, but there is no longer clarity about the conditions attached to living in fellowship with Him. Fortunately, the Lord has patience with someone who is returning back from darkness on the way to light. He will make the light shine brighter and brighter (Pro 4:18). This will become clear in Naomi’s life.

In the way that Naomi goes from darkness to light, we also see the way that Israel will go in the future. From the darkness of the great tribulation the light will go up for the remnant when they come face to face with their once rejected Messiah. The day will come for them when the Messiah will shine brightly as the “Sun of righteousness” (Mal 4:2).

The testimony Naomi gives of her daughters-in-law is beautiful and to be envious of. Both women loved their husbands and they also loved Naomi. There are also people today who, although unbelieving, are committed to good family relations. That is praiseworthy and will be blessed by the Lord. If men observe any institution of the Lord, this will have a beneficial effect on the relationships between them. The abandonment of, or even consciously breaking with the family bonds established by God, will chill the climate of interaction between people.

Naomi’s proposal shows that her religious life is still on the back burner. She is on the way back to the LORD, but she is far from being able to help others to find that way and to go that way. There is nothing by which she can encourage them to seek the LORD. On the contrary, she discourages her daughters-in-law from joining her.

A few times she mentions the name of the LORD, but that cannot conceal the fact that she eventually wants to send her daughters-in-law back to their idols (Rth 1:15). Would she be ashamed to arrive in Bethlehem with two Moabite daughters-in-law? She can imagine what people will think. No, they can’t come along.

When a believer has gone astray, he suffers damage to his own soul. Those who live outside of fellowship with God cannot help others to find Him either. A backslidden believer is more of a stumbling block than a help for anyone to find the Lord. Such a life is not a testimony to the Name of the Lord. The Christian testimony has collapsed and no longer attracts because the Christian testimony has waxed cold in the pursuit of their own interests. Christ is not central, but that old ego, I.

Christians living this way can only say to others that they should stay where they are. Their own life with Christ radiates nothing. The disappointment they have experienced in their path of deviation and the bitterness resulting from it, are not yet overcome. Only when the soul has been fully restored in the fellowship with the Lord and all that is wrong has been confessed can a clear testimony be given again.

When Naomi has finished her advice, she kisses her daughters-in-law. It only stirs up strong emotions in her daughters-in-law, attached as they are to their mother-in-law. With tears they assure her that they will go with her to her people. It is almost impossible to understand, but instead of agreeing, Naomi again makes frantic attempts to keep them from their intention. The first time she has pointed out their origins and the future in their own country (Rth 1:8). With the second attempt she points out that there is nothing more that binds them to her and that there is no change to be expected for the future either.

She makes it clear that the women should not expect her to make any contribution to a life that is meaningful to them. She declares any hope of it unfounded. Everything is worse for her even than for them because she is dealing with a God who is against her. It is as if she is saying to her daughters-in-law: ‘It’s better not to have to deal with such a God’.

Thus, she gives a very wrong impression of the LORD. She blames Him for all her difficulties. As if it is His hand that has brought her to Moab, and not the arbitrary choice of she and her husband. That God is a God full of goodness and grace, even for strangers, does not arise in her mind.

Verses 14-15

The Choice of Orpah and Ruth


Then we see God in His sovereignty using Naomi’s persistent misrepresentation of affairs to test the faith of Orpah and Ruth. Her discouragements reveal the state of the heart of each of them. The rejections are made and the decision falls. Both women cry again, but now they are no longer saying that they will both go with Naomi to her people (Rth 1:10). Orpah chooses to go back and follows Naomi’s bad advice. She looks no further than life on earth. She lacks the faith that makes a person look further and deeper than what they can superficially discern.

Orpah gives Naomi expressions of love by kissing her; Ruth gives Naomi her heart. The faith that is lacking in Orpah is present in Ruth. It is remarkable how much Ruth has been attracted to Naomi. This is only possible because she has seen the presence of God in Naomi’s life. Ruth has looked deeper than the miserable state in which Naomi ended up. She even looks through the words that Naomi speaks and that should keep her away from God.

It makes Ruth’s faith all the clearer. She does not believe because of Naomi, but despite Naomi. After all, how tragic it is that Naomi once again says to Ruth that she should follow her sister-in-law to her people and her gods! However, Ruth’s faith sees right through everything behind Naomi a God Whom she also wants to know as her God because this is the only true God. That’s why she doesn’t turn away from Naomi, but rather clings to her.

Orpah looks at that from which she left and therefore returns. Ruth is looking forward to where she is going and that’s why she goes with Naomi. She goes in faith. She is one of those from whom it is written: “And indeed if they had been thinking of that [country] from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better [country], that is, a heavenly one” (Heb 11:15-16). This is incomprehensible to unbelief because all circumstances are against her.

Verses 16-17

The ‘Creed’ of Ruth


Ruth declares that she will stay with Naomi. She has seen something in Naomi that has touched her heart. She doesn’t know what the consequences of her decision will be for her, but her choice is clear. She asks Naomi to stop urging her to leave. She is determined to be wherever Naomi is and to have fellowship with her people and her God. That is where faith leads to.

In seven statements she indicates that she does not only want to be a foreigner in Naomi’s country, but that she wants to commit herself to it forever. It is a creed that must make a great impression on us. It shows a state of heart that makes us envious. We can apply this to our attachment to the Lord Jesus and our fellow believers and to our stay in the world.

1. “Where you go, I will go, …”. This indicates an unconditional following. Is it not the wish of every believer who loves the Lord Jesus to follow Him in an unconditional manner (Rev 14:4b)?

2. “… and where you lodge, I will lodge”. By the rejection of the Lord Jesus it is night in the world. In this position is the believer (Rom 13:11-14; 1Thes 5:4-7; Jn 13:30). But in the heart of the believer shines the morning star (2Pet 1:19) as the harbinger of the day that will come when the Lord Jesus will shine as the Sun of righteousness (Mal 4:2).

3. “Your people [shall be] my people …”. She declares herself one with the people of Naomi, even though they are still so unfaithful. She doesn’t select the people with whom she wants to connect herself. It is also important for us who belong to the church to realize that we have not chosen our brothers and sisters ourselves, but that the Lord has given them to us.

4. “And your God, my God.” Above all, she chooses the God of Naomi. With this she says goodbye to the idols of Moab forever.

5. “Where you die, I will die …” Her attachment is so great that she not only wants to share in Naomi’s life, but she also wants to share death with her. This is a proof of true connectedness. For us, we died with Christ. The place of our death is the cross. True attachment to one another becomes reality to the extent that we personally prove that I am crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20). That means the end of a selfish life.

6. “… And there I will be buried.” This means the radical end of the bond between the world and the believer. Whoever is buried has disappeared from the world. This is expressed in baptism (Rom 6:4). But burial also has to do with the future. Burying is sowing. One is buried in view of the resurrection. Being buried and being resurrected belong together (1Cor 15:4). Ruth does not want to be buried in Moab when she dies. Where Naomi is buried, there she wants to be buried, for there they will rise up together to live in the promised blessing.

7. “… [anything but] death parts you and me.” Ruth draws the full consequence from all her previous statements. The only thing that can bring separation between her and Naomi on earth is death. She does not talk about any expectations she has of her mother-in-law. She does not impose any conditions on her attachment to Naomi. Her commitment to Naomi is a proof of a faith that goes beyond what becomes visible from God in a member of God’s people.

The seven statements Ruth makes can be divided into a group of four and a group of three. The first four statements have to do with the way of faith in a world where it is night, but also where God’s people are present and where God Himself is our help. The last three statements all have to do with death. If death is taken into account, the flesh, the self, is not given the chance to assert itself.

Only those who have died and been buried can live real life. Only physical death puts an end to this life on earth. Ruth does not want to go with Naomi as a stranger to the land of God, to stay there for a while and then go back to Moab. She wants to stay there forever.

Verse 18

Naomi Accepts Ruth to Go With Her


Naomi has made three attempts to stop her daughters-in-law from leaving Moab and going with her to Israel. She made her first attempt in Rth 1:8; 11, where she told her two daughters-in-law to return. She supported her urgent advice with logical arguments. After her second attempt, also supported by a rational argument (Rth 1:12-14), Orpah decides to return.

To convince Ruth to follow her sister-in-law, she makes a third attempt (Rth 1:15). That attempt brings out from Ruth the wonderful confession of the previous verses. Then Naomi gives in. She does not make a new attempt to convince Ruth to return. Ruth’s determination has closed her mouth.

Determination or conviction of our faith silences people in their objections. There are no more questions for a tenacious sticking to a position once it has been adopted. Ruth’s determined attitude shows a striking, humble mind at the same time. A humble attitude does not harm determination, but rather gives it extra strength. With the Lord Jesus this can be seen in a perfect way.

Verses 19-22

Naomi and Ruth Come to Bethlehem


Naomi and Ruth go together on their way to Bethlehem. It is likely that Ruth asked her mother-in-law on the way how life in Bethlehem had been. Old memories will have come back with Naomi. Maybe she has spoken about God’s care for His people. She may have also told Ruth about the family’s departure from Bethlehem and why they left. She may have already told her that in Moab, but now it speaks all the more to the heart of Ruth. After all, they are on their way to Bethlehem, with the beautiful meaning ‘house of bread’? Soon she will be there! For Ruth it will be her first acquaintance, which she looks forward to with full expectation.

With Naomi, other feelings will have prevailed. This is also evident from the first words she speaks in Bethlehem. These are words in response to what the women say who know her from the past. She will be curious to know what it looks like if much has changed during her absence. Even more, she must have wondered how the people of the city would react to her return.

There is a reaction. There is a wave of excitement through the city. Her return to the people of God shakes up the whole city. It goes from mouth to mouth. The women who know her from the past, see in this Naomi someone who reminds them of the Naomi from the past, but she is no longer the same. As respected as she used to be, now so poor.

We can learn another lesson from the city’s reaction to the return of Naomi. If we compare this with the return to the church of someone who has backslidden, how is our reaction? Does it do anything for us? It can cause a shock. The question is whether this is of joy or of fear. A person who has strayed but returns with repentance should be accepted by us with the assurance of our love (2Cor 2:6-8 ).

When the women pronounce her name, a name that means ‘lovely’ or ‘pleasant’, she resists. They no longer need to call her by that name. For her life is not lovely and pleasant anymore. Nor does she experience that the LORD finds her lovely or pleasant. They should call her “Mara”, which means “bitterness”. By her departure she has lost her vision of the LORD, and His relationship. In so doing, she attributes incongruous things to the LORD. She accuses Him, that He, the Almighty, “has dealt very bitterly” with her.

God once revealed Himself to Abraham as “God Almighty” (Gen 17:1). By virtue of that name God has made His covenant of blessing with Abraham. Naomi, however, does not mention this Name because she experienced His blessing, but because He has dealt very bitterly with her. The Almighty is not for her, but against her. He did not do her good, but evil. His omnipotence did not comfort and strengthen her, but was in her mind the cause of her misery.

She does acknowledge that she herself (“I”, emphatically) left. It was her own initiative. She went voluntarily, without being forced to and she also went “full”. She also acknowledges that the LORD has made her return. She has not returned because she wanted to, but because the LORD has inwardly urged her to return. That happened when she was “empty”. Selfishness made her go away, grace brought her back. She is on her way to restoration, but she is not yet fully restored. Restoration is a process. Discipline must be fully effective.

Where the road to restoration has begun, the first results of the full harvest are visible. It is therefore significant that they come to Bethlehem “at the beginning of barley harvest”. That means, that the people are harvesting from the field the sheaf of the first fruits after the Passover. The sheaf of the first fruits speaks of the resurrection of Christ. At that moment they return. Faith can see that. Restoration takes place on this basis.

The resurrection of Christ is the proof that His work of reconciliation has been perfectly accepted by God. As a result, there is the possibility of restoration for anyone who has backslidden. The ‘beginning of the harvest’ contains the promise of the entire harvest. The beginning of restoration means the promise of a full restoration.

The resurrection of Christ also contains a promise. He rose “as the first fruits” (1Cor 15:23), from all those who are asleep. His resurrection promises the resurrection of all who are in Christ. The full harvest of His work will become visible when He appears among all His own on earth, to establish His kingdom of peace. Despite all our failures, we can focus on that.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ruth 1". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ruth-1.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.