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THE EXILE AND THE RETURN
CONTENTS.—A famine in the land of Israel.—Elimelech a wealthy Hebrew, descended of an ancient and honourable house, goes down to the fields of Moab with his family. The removal is followed by his death; the marriage of his sons Mahlon and Chilion to Ruth and Orpah, and their death.—At the end of ten years, Naomi his wife returning, dissuades her two daughters from accompanying her further.—Orpah goes back, but Ruth continues with Naomi.—The two come to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest, and are received with astonishment.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—
Ruth 1:1. Now] Heb. ו vau, and. The same introcopula between all the books of the O. T. so far, except in the opening of Deuteronomy, which begins abruptly. Keil (1 Kings 1:1) says the use of this conjunction at the beginning of a writing is a sure sign of its connection with another book. It came to pass in the days when the judges ruled (judged). וֵיְהִי The imperfect with van consec, simply attaches itself to a completed action, which has either been mentioned before, or is supposed to be well known (Ewald). Assigns a particular period. Shows also a different state of things [monarchy] existed around the writer. Time of the judges generally a troubled time. Spent to a large extent under the usurpation of neighbouring nations. Towards its end Israel had fearfully degenerated (Judges 21:25). Does not necessarily imply a judge ruled when Elimelech left the country (Lawson). A famine in the land] Threatened, Leviticus 26:19-20; Deuteronomy 28:23-24 Recognised as a Divine instrument of punishment, 2 Samuel 24:13-14; Ezekiel 5:16; Amos 4:6-7. That it did not extend to Moab favours this idea. Said by some to have been caused by an incursion of the Midianites (see Judges 6:3-4) by the Philistines (Cox). Josephus says it was in the days of Eli (see Intro., par. 10–12). Solomon’s prayer concerning famine (1 Kings 8:35-37). Christians’ duty during (Acts 11:28). A more terrible famine (Amos 8:11), when men shall seek the word of God, and shall not find it. And a certain man (Heb. And a man) of Bethlehem-Judah] To distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Zebulon. Means, House of Bread. Ancient name Ephrata (fruitful), though this may have applied to the district as far as Jerusalem. Now called Beit-Lahm, or Beit-el-ham (Mansford). Rachel died here. David and Christ born here. Hepworth Dixon advances the theory that both may have been born in the house which is mentioned Ruth 3:3. (See note on that verse; also Dixon’s “Holy Land.”) References to Bethlehem in the book of Judges mournful ones (Judges 17:7; Judges 19:1-2). The turn of the narrative here same as in the former (Speaker’s Commentary). Favours the idea that the writer was the same. Went to sojourn] Expresses correctly the meaning of the Heb., which signifies “to tarry as a stranger in a place.” Isaac was forbidden this method of relief from famine (Genesis 26:2), when he would have followed the example of Abraham in going down to Egypt (Genesis 12:10). Israelites generally much attached to their own land. In the country (field or fields) of Moab] Bertheau maintains, we have in שְׂדְי only another way of writing שִׂדְה the singular (Ruth 1:6). Keil, Gesenius, Fürst, look upon it as a form of the plural. The same style of expression used of Moab (Genesis 36:35; Numbers 21:20; 1 Chronicles 1:46). Moab connected with Israelites in the days of Ehud (Judges 3:12-20). Continued to be an asylum for them (comp. 1 Samuel 22:3-4; Isaiah 16:14; Jeremiah 40:11-12). Israelites held places of trust there (1 Chronicles 4:22-23). David sent his father and mother there. Moabites descendants of Lot (Genesis 19:37), and worshippers of Chemosh. Their inheritance spared to them by command of God, when Israel entered into the land. This may account for the friendship with Israel, and in favour of the earlier date ascribed by Lightfoot and others to book of Ruth (see Intro., par. 10, 12). Moabites not admitted into the congregation of the Lord until the tenth generation, on account of their disgraceful origin. For description, etc., see Intro., par. 13. He, and his wife, and his two sons] Sarah went with Abraham (Genesis 12:18) into Egypt. Rachel and Leah left their country with Jacob. The family of importance (Ruth 2:3), well known in Bethlehem (ch Ruth 1:19, and Ruth 4:1). See notes on Ruth 1:2.
HOMILIES AND OUTLINES
CHAPTER 1—Ruth 1:1
Theme—THE FAMINE AND EXILE
Now [and] it came to pass. Simple phrases bear the marks of a nation’s way of thinking. Language has been called fossil thought, poetry. Here the Hebrew faith in an overruling hand. Not by chance, but by the orderly unfolding of events. A common scriptural form of introduction; simple, dignified, yet how much it may express.
I. View it simply as a statement of facts. (a) These things happened. The phrase introductory to a remarkable life; singled out from many others. Much not considered worthy of record. Lives of which the Scripture takes no note, written in the record kept until the last great day. Events which have dropped even from the pages of inspired history. Note: When God is silent, it is not wise to speak (Welsh Proverb).
But these things come within the scope of revelation—(α) for wise purposes. God saw fit to transmit the knowledge of them for our edification (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul bids us look to Christ, yet learn of those who through faith and patience, etc. (Hebrews 6:12). (β) For gracious purposes. Here are links in the chain, and the end is Christ. The way leads through Moab back again to Bethlehem.
(b) These things happened by the hand and providence of God. The theocratic aspect is not prominent in the book of Ruth (Davidson). But it is there. A special hand of God in all this business, beyond man’s purpose and thought (R. Bernard). The story of Ruth is an impertinence in Scripture, unless we believe in a special providence. This everywhere taken for granted in the Divine word. God in profane history, much more then in sacred. God in every life. The very absence of what is called the religious element has its significance. The book beautifully enforces what Wordsworth calls “natural piety.” But more particularly amid these seemingly commonplace events a Divine purpose and plan. “While the judges were ruling, some one city, and some another, Providence takes particular cognizance of Bethlehem, and has an eye to a King, to Messiah Himself” (M. Henry).
II. See in it a subtle connection between cause and effects.
In those days of ungodliness this happened. The judges ruled, but every man did right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Religion corrupted, worship decayed, idolatry common; and here are the results. When sin is ripe, vengeance is ready.
Notice (a) National life affects individual history. We cannot separate ourselves from our surroundings; are members one of another in many senses. We prosper or we suffer together in times of Divine visitation.
(b) Life as it stands towards God influences life as it stands towards men. All life an unfolding, a coming to pass. But how? Look for the seeds within, around, in the past; but look above for the hand overruling and bringing to pass. God of His most dear justice hath decreed the sum of all discipline (Cyprian). Divine law in the natural world immutable, so in the spiritual. The world of morals sways the sceptre over the world of circumstances. Every other view of life practical atheism. Do we believe it? rather, do we live as though we believed it? In prosperity we are commonly like hogs feeding on the mast, not minding his hand that shaketh it down; in adversity, like dogs biting the stone, not marking the hand that threw it (Fuller).
IMPROVEMENT. By-and-by our life will be summed up in this short sentence, “It came to pass;” the pilgrimage a road with many turnings, but all mapped out. The “to be” will be the “has been.” And to what issues? Doubtless a link in some chain or other. Ruth’s is joined to Israel’s, to David’s, to Christ’s. A Gentile from the outer darkness brought within the hope of Israel. Gospel mercy foreshadowed so far back in the unfolding of events. In God’s time, “it came to pass.” Fuller says, “To typify the calling of the Gentiles, as He took of the blood of a Gentile into His body, so He should shed His blood out of His body for the Gentiles, that there might be one Shepherd and one sheepfold”—a quaint conceit, but enshrining precious truth. The ingathering had begun to work itself out in this “coming to pass.” The ingathering is going on now. How do we stand as towards it? Linked with Israel’s hope, or—? What is the life unfolding? A history of one whom God has chosen, and who has chosen God? or the sad story of one who has wandered into strange lands, leaving behind him the home and the sanctuary of his fathers—wandered to die amid his wanderings? or the story of one who did run well for awhile like Orpah? Which is it?
“It is our fault that we look upon God’s ways and works by halves and pieces; and so we see often nothing but the black side.… We see Him bleeding His people, scattering parliaments, chasing away nobles and prelates, as not willing they should have a finger in laying one stone of His house; yet do we not see that in this dispensation the other half of God’s work makes it a fair piece?”—Rutherford.
“Life is all one unfolding, as of some quaint manuscript which now we may not be able to decipher, but which by-and-by will prove itself to the righteous a new Scripture full of the benedictions of God.”—B.
“The curtains of yesterday drop down, the curtains of to-morrow roll up, but yesterday and to-morrow both are. Time and space are not God, but creations of God. With God, as it is a universal HERE, so is it an everlasting NOW.”—Carlyle.
Theme—THE BEGINNING OF SORROWS
In the days when the judges ruled [judged], a famine, etc.
God takes the events into His own hands. While the judges are judging, God too is holding the balances. The times were evil. Six long servitudes, at least, mark the Divine displeasure at Israel’s sin. Sin deprived angels of heaven, Adam of Paradise, Cain of his honour, Reuben of his birthright, thousands of the land of Canaan (R. Bernard). Now it deprives Israel of food. A blessing promised on their land, their basket and their store, as long as they walked in His law (Leviticus 26:3-5; Deuteronomy 28:5). Evidently they had departed from that law. And now the presence of the godly in the land cannot avert the evil, as at Sodom. The fact that there are children in the households of Israel does not stay the Divine hand as at Nineveh. No place is exempt, not even Bethlehem. The rich suffer with the poor, for Elimelech belonged to a wealthy and honourable family.
See in this,
I. Designed punishment. Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? God has many arrows in His quiver; the land may have rest, but it has not plenty (M. Henry). Famine, the peculiar instrument used—a very terrible one. David preferred the pestilence (2 Samuel 24:14). But no choice is given here.
Notice (a) God’s judgments come in a very natural way. The wonted streams dry up possibly from very apparent causes—easy to understand, easy to explain. A drought or an inroad of the enemy may have caused this. But beyond natural causes, another reason—behind Nature, GOD. He turns a fruitful land into barrenness, because of the wickedness of them that dwell therein (Psalms 107:34).
(b) There is always something special in them worthy our attention. Esau, despising his birthright, lost it. Lot, led of his lust into Sodom, had to leave behind all for which he lusted. Judas perished “in the midst” of the field he had purchased with the price of blood. (See Alford on Acts 1:8.) A sad irony often in the history of sinners and their sins. So here, a famine in the land flowing with milk and honey! No bread in Bethlehem, the house of bread! And more, Moab has plenty while Israel is pinched with penury.
(c) There is always a reason which stands out in connection with them. God had said expressly He would deal with Israel after this fashion. Famine was to be to them one especial mark of His displeasure (Leviticus 26:19-20). Moab may have ease, not so Israel (Jeremiah 15:11; Jeremiah 48:11); for Moab is as the unregenerate, his taste for earthly enjoyment and sensual gratification unchanged. The wicked have their portion in this life, but Christ says woe to them (Luke 6:25; Amos 6:1). And Paul reasons of such, “Then are ye bastards, and not sons.”
See in this,
II. Necessary discipline. Chastisement meant discipline with Israel. Jehovah explains the weary wilderness privations as intended “to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart.” This famine has a like explanation (Judges 2:20-22), if it resulted either from a Midianitish or Philistine invasion, as is probable. (See Notes and Introduction.) The prodigal child was brought from the keeping of harlots to the keeping of hogs (Fuller). And why? The “I will arise” explains and justifies “the hungering in a far country.” So always. Christ for mere trial sometimes, for sin at other times, doth cover Himself with a cloud (Rutherford). Whatever the reason, the Divine purpose the same—discipline.
(a) Notice the different forms this discipline may take, as illustrated by the narrative. Want, scarcity of provisions, possibly hunger, and these leading to loss of worldly possessions and the family patrimony, absence from the sanctuary, wanderings in strange lands, years of exile, death to most of them in a foreign land. A similar epitome might be made of many a family history—
“They grew in beauty side by side,
They filled one home with glee;
Their graves are scattered far and wide,
By mount and stream and sea.”—Mrs. Hemans.
(b) Notice the severity of this particular form. Hunger a most trying test. Any kind of deprivation is. The same cause sent Abraham and Jacob into Egypt, Isaac to Gerah. Even Christ must feel its pangs when He is led into the wilderness to be tempted.
IMPROVEMENT. The dispensations of Providence strange—sovereign, even punitive. Can we see this other thing, that they are disciplinary (“Whom the Lord loveth,” etc., Hebrews 12:6), and may be beneficial? This last aspect depends largely upon ourselves. He is dealing with us in one way or other. If not by famine, then by our very abundance; if not by plenty, then perhaps by penury. And to what effect? Driving us towards Moab; away from the sanctuary; away from all that links us with the people of God? There is this sad possibility, and the narrative which follows may warn us of this. Or ripening us for that land where there is no hunger? tribulation working patience, etc. (Romans 5:3).
Topsell treats the passage—
That the corruption of religion and the neglect of the worship of God is the cause of all His judgments.
That the Lord is true in His judgments as in His mercies (Deuteronomy 28:23-24; Psalms 145:17; 2 Thessalonians 1:6).
That people deprive themselves by their sins, of that which God had given, and they enjoyed, according to His promise.
That a fruitful land is made barren for the sins of the inhabitants thereof.
That judgment begins at the house of the Lord.
Fuller derives the following uses [lessons]:—
Let us practise that precept, “Babes, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
Let us be heartily thankful to God for our plenty.
Let us pray with David, “Deliver us from blood-guiltiness.”
Let us be pitiful and liberal to relieve the distresses of the poor.
“Burckhardt states that in Nejd in Arabia famines like these recur at intervals of from ten to fifteen years.”—Wordsworth.
“The Athenian women had a custom to make a picture of famine every year, and to drive it out of their city with these words: ‘Out famine, in food; out penury, in plenty!’ But let us say in word, and second it in deed. ‘Out sin, in sanctity; out profaneness, in piety:’ and then we shall see that as long as our king reigneth, there shall be no famine in our land.… Is this the land whereof it is said, ‘Asher his bread shall be fat, and afford dainties for a king’ (Genesis 49:20), which is called ‘a good land of wheat and barley, vineyards and fig trees, oil, olive, and honey’ (Deuteronomy 8:7); which is commended (Ezekiel 20:6) to be ‘a land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands’?… The people’s hard hearts were rebellious to God, and the hard earth proved unprofitable to them; their flinty eyes would afford no tears to bemoan their sins, and the churlish heavens would afford no moisture to wake their earth; man proved unfaithful to God his Maker; the earth proved unfaithful to man her manurer.”—Fuller.
“Think not that the fertility of a land is able to secure its inhabitants against famine, or that any earthly advantage is suflicient to secure us against any calamity whatsoever. All things are in the hands of God, and His creatures change their qualities or effects at His pleasure.”—Lawson.
“A clear and striking proof that here is no continuing city or place of abode, and shews the necessity of our seeking a city which hath foundations, the builder and maker of which is God. For if a man be ever so agreeably situated in the midst of plenty, Divine Providence can soon drive him from his rest, and reduce him to the disagreeable necessity of depending upon the bounty of even the wicked themselves, who are. like Moab, for ever shut out from the sanctuary of Jenovah.”—Macgowan.
“When afflictions fail to have their due effect, the case is desperate.”—Bolingbroke.
“Suffering seasons have generally been sifting seasons, in which the Christian has lost his chaff, and the hypocrite his courage.”—Secker.
“There is a deep truth contained in the fabled story of old, where a mother, wishing to render her son invulnerable, plunged him into the Styx, but forgot to dip in his heel, by which she held him. We are baptized in the blood and fire of sorrow, that temptation may make us invulnerable; but let us remember that trials will assail us in our most vulnerable part, be it the head, or heart, or heel.”—Robertson.
Theme—THE DEPARTURE FROM HOME
“Some natural tears they dropped, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide.”—Milton.
And a certain man of Bethlehem went to sojourn in the country [fields] of Moab.
An exile leaving Bethlehem, like Dante leaving his beloved Florence. To this man also nunquam revocare. He dies in exile. God’s providences often unexplained in this life—await the clearer light of eternity. Some blame Elimelech’s going to Moab. Possibly self-exiled. But no man ought to be condemned without proofs of guilt, and no certain proofs appear in the present case (Lawson). Israelites were not prohibited sojourning in a strange land. David dwelt in Gath. Sent his father and mother for protection into Moab. What if a kindred necessity impelled Elimelech?
I. Suggests the mutability of human affairs. (a) We must expect changes in this world, changes which make life Mara (Ruth 1:20). While Moab is at ease, Israel is to be poured from vessel to vessel. Elimelech an Israelite, and they were much attached to their land—dwelt in the most fertile part of the country, probably a rich man (see notes), and yet in his old age he must become a wanderer. No condition of life, no circumstances, no experience, can exempt us. (b) We cannot always dwell where we wish. David must sojourn in the tents of Kedar, leave city and palace behind, and flee to the wilderness. El must go down to Moab, Joseph to Egypt. Nay, touches the holiest: Christ Himself a wanderer, “not having where to lay His head.”
II. Presents a picture of restlessness under affliction.
Sight, not faith, guides Elimelech. The sublime trust which waits upon God in these hours of peril seemingly absent. The promise to Israel, “Thou shalt eat bread without scarceness” (Deuteronomy 8:9). To us, “Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for Him; verily thou shalt be fed” (Psalms 37:3; Psalms 37:7). “In the days of famine thou shalt be satisfied” (Ruth 1:19).
Outward appearances against the promises. Faith weak—he went down to Moab. Some suggest desire after gain led him. Dr. Cumming thinks that he fled from the sight of poverty and want around him. He went out “full.” Certainly strong reasons demanded for a change like this. Otherwise God says to such, “Why gaddest thou about so much to change thy ways?” (Jeremiah 2:36.)
Restlessness a very common sin. At the first approach of trial men grow impatient; seek a change in outward circumstances, or in doctrine; become offended even with Christ Himself (John 6:66).
Note.—One single restraint made Adam a wanderer from God. (See outlines on Ruth 1:2.)
III. May illustrate spiritual declension.
Elimelech a wealthier man than many of his neighbours, who bore the brunt of famine rather than expose their children to the seductions of heathen license (Cox). If all should do as he did, Canaan would be dispeopled (M. Henry). What was the cause in his case? Did he value the sanctuary privileges less, or the good things of this world more than they?
Note a principle in this. Men go down to Moab,
(a) Because the promised land itself seems to yield them scanty supplies. The narrow way not attractive in itself. A gospel that says by the mouth of its Master, “Sell all that thou hast,” and by one of its chief apostles, “Silver and gold have I none”—a service which demands honesty, though honesty should prove to be other than the best policy—truthfulness, though truth be an offence—must seem meagre in its rewards, alas to how many! They follow for awhile, charmed by the novelty of Christ’s kingdom. Sooner or later He is seen as “one not having where to lay His head,” a “root out of a dry ground.” Human nature asks large things (2 Kings 5:13). His gospel has chosen the weak things and things which are not (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). Scanty supplies a great secret of spiritual declension.
(b) Because of the rich abundance inviting them there. Possibly pinched by famine, and in all probability fearing to lose his flocks and herds, the rich grass lands on the other side of the Dead Sea proved irresistible to this man. Lot went down to dwell among the wicked cities of the plain for similar reasons—led of his own spirit and of his own judgment. To both men the journey was as disastrous as it was tempting. So Judas, Demas. Abundance is not everything. The world may seem to have it, does seem to have it even to the righteous (see Psalms 37:35; Psalms 73:5; Psalms 73:7; Psalms 73:12). A blight always upon it when the righteous seek it. Elimelech goes down to Moab to die there. Lot has to escape from Sodom “as by fire.” The young man who came to our Lord went away “sorrowful.”
Fuller observes: “It is lawful for men to leave their native soil, and to travel into a foreign country; as—
For merchants, provided always that, while they seek to make gainful adventures for their estates, they make not ‘shipwreck of a good conscience.’
For ambassadors, that are sent to see the practices and negotiations in foreign courts.
For private persons that travel with an intent to accomplish themselves with a better sufficiency to serve their king and country.”
No place is exempt from punishment, where sin is suffered to reign.
God can remove, by one means or another, men out of their homes and harbour. No man may think himself securely settled.
Fear of corporal wants will make men leave their homes, their native soil, their friends and kindred. How much more, then, for the love of eternal life, should we be willing to forsake all!”
It is lawful for the godly, in the time of necessity, to crave help or relief of the very enemies of God, so they be not polluted with their superstitions.
That the Lord doth ever provide for His faithful servants in all their miseries. Joseph sent beforehand to provide for his brethren (Genesis 41:45); Obadiah, who hid fifty of the prophets, and fed them in a cave (1 Kings 18:13); Elijah provided for (1 Kings 17:4-10; see also 2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
“When we go from home, it depends entirely on the will of God whether we shall arrive at the place of our destination. When we are in it, it depends no less on the Divine pleasure whether we shall ever again see the place from which we went out. ‘A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.’ Beware of bringing upon yourselves the punishment that came upon the proud King of Babylon, because he did not glorify that God in whose hand his breath was, and whose were all his ways. Do not say that to-morrow you will go into such a city, and buy, and sell, and get gain. Say rather if the Lord will.”—Lawson.
“It is an evidence of a discontented, distrustful, unstable spirit, to be weary of the place in which God has set us, and to be for leaving it immediately whenever we meet with any uneasiness or inconvenience in it. It is a folly to think of escaping that cross which, being laid in our way, we ought to take up. It is our wisdom to make the best of that which is, for it is seldom that changing our place is mending it.”—Matt. Henry.
“Now if any do demand of me my opinion concerning our brethren, which of late left this kingdom to advance a plantation in New England, surely I think as St. Paul said concerning virgins, he had ‘received no commandment of the Lord;’ so I cannot find any just warrant to encourage men to undertake this removal; but think rather the counsel best that King Joash prescribed to Amaziah, ‘Tarry at home.’ Yet, as for those that are already gone, far be it from us to conceive them to be such to whom we may not say God speed.’ I conclude, therefore, of the two Englands, what our Saviour saith of the two wines (Luke 5:39). ‘No man having tasted of the old presently desireth the new; for he saith, The old is better.’ ”—Fuller.
“The merchant, having obtained his bank, promiseth rest and security to himself; the husbandman, having gathered his fruits, never doubteth but he shall spend them, and provideth for more; the gentleman coming to his lands, thinketh his revenues and pleasant life will endure alway, like the apostles when Christ was transfigured in the Mount, presently they would build tabernacles of residence; but as the cloud came betwixt them and heaven, and bereaved them of their purpose, even so suddenly will death come and deprive you of your profits, call the merchant from his bank, the husbandman from his farm, the gentleman from his land, the prince from his kingdom.”—Topsell.
“Sometimes it dimly dawns upon us, when we see other men’s mischiefs and wrongs, that we are in the same category with them, and that perhaps the storms which have overtaken them will overtake us also. But it is only for a moment; for we are artful to cover the ear, and not listen to the voice that warns us of our danger,”—Beecher.
“What is this passing scene?
A peevish April day!
A little sun, a little rain,
And then night sweeps along the plain,
And all things fade away.
Man (soon discussed)
Yields up his trust,
And all his hopes and fears lie with him in the dust.
Then since this world is vain,
And volatile and fleet,
Why should I lay up earthly joys,
Where dust corrupts, and moth destroys,
And cares and sorrows eat?
Why fly from ill
With anxious skill,
When soon this hand will freeze, this throbbing heart be still?”
“There are evils worse than famine. What is the real misfortune of life? sin or want of food? sickness or selfishness? And when I see Isaac (Genesis 26:0) gaining from his want of food the heart to bear up and bear right onward, I can understand that the land of famine may be the land of promise, and just because it is the land of famine.”—Robertson.
“People do not leave their country for a mere whim. To forsake the homestead where the boys were born, to bid farewell to familiar well-tried friends, to leave the spot made sacred by religious worship, for a heathen country—it is hard! very hard! Elimelech and Naomi must have felt this.… These involuntary emigrants hoped to return speedily—when times were better. Little did they dream that three out of the four would be lying in their graves before ten years had passed. Their farewell was a final one. Oh! these plans of ours, what folly they appear to us when we look back to see how one touch has ruined them all! Our designs always need ‘if the Lord will’ written right across the face of them.”—Braden.
“One month in the school of affliction will teach thee more than the great precepts of Aristotle in seven years; for thou canst never judge rightly of human affairs, unless thou hast first felt the blows and found out the deceits of fortune.”—Fuller.
“Probably this family held on, trusting that prosperity would again smile; but it came not, and hope faded away. What were they to do? Terrible question! Crops gone, cattle gone; starvation stared them in the face.”—Braden.
“Urged by remembrance sad, and decent pride,
Far from those scenes which knew their better days.”
He, and his wife, and his two sons
Touches the whole household. The children bear the burden as well as their parents. In times of scarcity, the family a heavy burden. Christ uses this as an extreme case, “Woe to them that are with child and give suck in those days!” (Matthew 24:19.)
We have here,
I. An important step in the family history. Not lawful unless there had been a public calamity or some great private necessity (Maimonides). Nothing but necessity can dispense with a local relinquishing of God’s church, not pleasure, nor profit, nor curiosity (Bishop Hall). In moments like these, go not before God and Providence, but follow Him (Rutherford).
II. A united household in these trying times. Domestic union in the midst of the greatest distresses. Nothing can separate those whom God has joined. Grace finds its most appropriate sphere in the family life. Husbands and wives who aim at separate interests reproved here. Naomi willing to go even to a strange land. Saw the necessity. She was one of those wives whose law is their husband’s will in all things wherein the laws of God leave them at liberty (Lawson). A man and his wife should be like the two wheels of a chariot (Hindoo Proverb).
III. A parent’s responsibility in these critical changes. The results of Elimelech’s conduct were not confined to himself. His children either gained or suffered by it. No man lives to himself, sins to himself.
His care for his wife and children to be commended (1 Timothy 5:8). Did not leave them as the ostrich, to care for themselves (Job 39:16). He acted kindly, did he act wisely? One thing certain, his responsibility was increased by going down to Moab, where temptation was sure to assail his children. Possible to live like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, but how difficult!
“All worship not at idol feasts,
Whose lot it is to live in idol lands.”
David in his exile. Daniel and the three Hebrew children in Babylon. But how few come out untainted! Lot’s children seem to have carried the defilement with them when they left Sodom (Genesis 19:0).
This man went to sojourn, not to stay. God did not forsake him. The wanderers were fed. Josephus speaks of his “happy prosperity” in the land of Moab. There is a law of compensation, however, in connection with all this. He died there. His children married Moabitish women, and then died in exile. His wife returned empty to that place she had left (Ruth 1:21).
“The religious man may be considered in his family as the key-stone to the arch.”—Salter.
“Is such a man a Christian?” was asked of Whitefield. “How should I know?” was the answer; “I never lived with him.”
“The very tigress fostereth her young, and the helpless hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and exerts the full extent of her feeble powers in their defence.”—Macgowan.
“The godly in old time knew that their wives and children were as themselves; and as they were careful to cherish their own bodies, so they were mindful to nourish their own families.”—Topsell.
“An honest man careth for his wife and children as well as for himself.”—Bernard.
“We see the flesh of fishes remaineth fresh, though they always swim in the brackish waters.”—Fuller.
“If Elimelech had made inquiry, it is probable he would have found plenty in some of the tribes of Israel; and if he had had that zeal for God and His worship, and that affection for his brethren which became an Israelite, he would not have persuaded himself so easily to go and sojourn in Moab.”—M. Henry.
“Life is the first thing. God wishes no man to starve; and if his circumstances are such that, by remaining in them, he must suffer want and death, his path is clear—he must depart. Bishop Hall quaintly says, ‘the Creator and Possessor of the earth hath not confined any man to his necessary destruction.’ It may be our duty, in order to save ourselves from pecuniary difficulties, to sever the dearest ties.”—Braden.
“Now the devil knoweth that this is a blow at the root, and a ready way to prevent the succession of churches; if he can subvert families, other societies and communities will not long flourish and subsist with any power and vigour; for there is the stock from whence they are supplied both for the present and future.”—Manton.
“Families are societies that must be sanctified to God, as well as churches; and the governors of them have as truly a charge of the souls that are therein, as pastors have of churches. But, alas! how little is this considered or regarded! But while negligent ministers are (deservedly) cast out of their places, the negligent masters of families take themselves to be almost blameless. They offer their children to God in baptism, and there they promise to teach them the doctrine of the gospel, and bring them up in the nurture of the Lord; but they easily promise and easily break it; and educate their children for the world and the flesh, although they have renounced these, and dedicated them to God. This covenant-breaking with God, and betraying the souls of their children to the devil, must lie heavy on them here and hereafter. They beget children and keep families merely for the world and the flesh; but little consider what a charge is committed to them, and what it is to bring up a child for God, and govern a family as a sanctified society.”—Westminster Confession of Faith.
“Home is the chief school of human virtue. Its responsibilities, joys, sorrows, smiles, tears, hopes, and solicitudes form the chief interest of human life.”—Channing.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—
Ruth 1:2. And the name of the man (was) Elimelech. A descendant of Nahshon mentioned in connection with the erection of the tabernacle (Numbers 1:7). According to Jewish doctors, a noble and potent person. All names ending with “melech” (king) borne by distinguished persons (Lunge). Means to whom God is king (Keil). My God is King (Lange). My God is my King (Cox). God is King (Wordsworth). Josephus calls him Abimelech. Naomi, more correctly Noomi [LXX. Νωεμιν; Vulg., Noemi; Old Eng. trans. Noemi]. According to Talmudists, niece of Naason, prince of the tribe of Judah, and daughter of his brother Salmon (?). Means my pleasure or delight (Wright); pleasant, gracious (Gesen.); the lovely gracious one (Lange); happiness (Josephus). Mahlon, more correctly Machlon, the husband of Ruth. Means sickness (Wright), sick (Gesen.); the weakly (Keil); consumption (M. Henry). Not so (Lange); rather derived from מָהיל (machel) “circle dance,” Greek choros, and so may mean joy. Chilion, more correctly Kilion. (Sept., Χελαίων; Josephus, Χελλιων); means pining (Keil), destruction (Wright). Not so; should be referred to כּלַל, to crown, and so means ornament (Lange). Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah. Some of the older Jewish teachers not inappropriately render “Ephratim” by ευγενεστατοι [high-born] (Lange). Shews these were natives of the city or district around Bethlehem, not mere residents (comp. 1 Samuel 17:12; Judges 17:7). The place honourably distinguished, and Jesus Himself called an Ephrathite of Judah in Micah 5:2. Euphrates. Ephraim (Genesis 41:52). words having a similar derivation and meaning. (See also notes on Ruth 1:1.) The Ephraimites called Ephrathites (Judges 12:5; 1 Samuel 1:1; 1 Kings 11:26) (Wright). And they came into the country [field] of Moab, and continued there [literally, were there; Old Eng., abode there]. The Targum adds, and were there as princes. The route supposed to be down the Wady Sadier to Engedi, and then round the S.E. shores of the Dead Sea, as with modern travellers. Moab not so large as Huntingdonshire, and not so far from Bethlehem as is Huntingdon from London (Cox).
Theme—MAN PROPOSING, GOD DISPOSING
“And the name of the man (was) Elimelech, … Ephrathites of,” etc.
Names give an air of truth to the narrative (Lawson). Express in a very touching manner parental hopes and faith. Of especial significance among the early Hebrews. A really good name of unspeakable service to all who are capable of feeling its aspiration (Dr. J. Hamilton). But sometimes given in vain. When contrasting with the character, a continual humiliation.
I. That however others may propose, the final issues of life are with God and with the man himself.
These names remarkably significant and suggestive. But in what way? Elimelech means “my God is King,” and yet some take his life as illustrating the feelings and conduct of the spiritually dead; others, of the backslider driven by momentary trials from God’s ordinances down to Moab. Note (a) the irony of a good name when men fall short of its promises. At the present day, men baptized Martin Luther by their Protestant parents are found ministering at the altar of Rome (Braden. See extracts). Naomi means pleasure, delight, happiness, and yet she comes at best to be an illustration of sanctified affliction. Possibly the names of the whole family pitched in this exultant key (see notes), and yet their experience is in sad contrast.
(b) Events as they unfold often make vain all human forecastings. Even parental love not always prophetic. The name given with many fond anticipations, perhaps with much heart searching and prayer. That is all the human can do—the rest is in the hands of God.
The local designation of these Hebrews enforces similar lessons. They were Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah, a title as honourable as any an Israelite could desire. And yet under stress of circumstances Bethlehem-Judah changes to Moab, Ephrathites (probably meaning “high-born”) to exiles.
II. That it is not how men are called, but how they live, and what they are, which is the important thing.
A deadly heresy to rest satisfied with the outward calling of things. The conventional Christian hearing himself termed so continually, begins possibly to lay the flattering unction to his soul that he is such. The sweet delusion grows, eats into the heart of the man. No greater offence than to deny him that title. Translate it to mean “the Christ-like,” or even the “follower of Christ,” and what then? So the conventional church member bears as lofty a name as this, “My God is King.” A member of Christ, for the Church is “HIS body.” You may explain that bond to imply “My Saviour my Head” (Ephesians 4:15), and yet how many are satisfied with the mere name! This—
A strong delusion.—The “name to live, and are dead.”
A transparent folly.—Others see through it; if not, God does.
A cruel self-deception.—Born of presumption, fostered of hypocrisy.
A crowning impiety.—Disastrous, Laodicean, deadly (Revelation 3:15-19).
III. That men consecrated by the loftiest associations of the past come to these strange experiences.
Elimelech, of an ancient family, born in the most honourable of birth-places, dedicated seemingly from his youth upwards. His name should have taught him faith. Had he been true to that, all would have been well, and possibly he would never have gone down to Moab.
So those born as it were inside the Church, early dedicated to God, registered among His covenant people, and yet to-day they are prodigals in the far country, Cains with the brand upon them, though with something also which speaks of the old family relationship—at best Elimelechs in Moab—God mourning over them, as over Ephraim (Hosea 6:4) the departed glory of their youth, gone like “the morning cloud and the early dew”—asking, as of Israel, “How shall I put thee among the children, give thee a pleasant land?” (Jeremiah 3:19.)
IMPROVEMENT.—Sainted memories may become sad remembrances; mementoes of a better past, reminders of a glory which has been, and is departed. Men carry something with them from the past, must carry it. Does it come in to upbraid or to bless? How was it with this name Elimelech in Moab? Might have taught faith even there. But did it?
These patriarchs and early believers types of those still found in our midst. The history of the most insignificant not without meaning. They hold the mirror to all time, though the natural man, beholding his face as in a glass, straightway forgets what manner of man he is. Elimelech going down to Moab! Is the case without a parallel in our experience? “Let him that is without sin cast the first stone.”
“Great birth. good means, high name and fame, save not from falling either into sin or outward misery, if a better blessing than all these be not given men from God.”—Bernard.
“How happy must that man be whose God is King! He may be driven by famine, by persecution or otherwise far from the house of his God, yet he can never be banished to any place but where God is his King.”—Macgowan.
“In the Hebrew history are discernible three periods distinctly marked, in which names and words bore very different characters, corresponding to the periods in which the nation bore the three different appellations of Hebrews, Israelites, Jews.
“In the first, names meant truths, and words were the symbols of realities. The characteristics of the names given were simplicity and sincerity.
“The second period begins about the time of the departure from Egypt, and it is characterised by unabated simplicity, with the addition of sublimer thought, and feeling more intensely religious. The heart of the nation was big with mighty and new religious truth, and the feelings with which the national heart was swelling found vent in the names which were given abundantly. God, under His name Jah, the noblest assemblage of spiritual truths yet conceived, became the adjunct to names of places and persons. Oshea’s name is changed into Je-hoshua.
“In the third period, words had lost their meaning, and shared the hollow, unreal state of all things.”—Robertson (abridged).
“The meaning in names, not always true. Absalom meant ‘father’s peace,’ but the young man broke his father’s heart. Solomon called his son Rehoboam. ‘an enlarger,’ but he reduced the kingdom instead of enlarging it.”—Braden.
“The believing Church is Christ’s Naomi, His sweet and pleasant one, and He is her Elimelech, her God the King. For her He forsook the mansions of plenty and delight—with her He sojourned in a Moabitish world. amongst enemies to God; there He died an accursed death to accomplish her salvation; there He was buried to purify the grave for her use, rose again to trample on all her enemies, and is now gone to Bethlehem, the House of Bread, to prepare a place for His Noami.”—Macgowan.
Here also we may see that it was a custom of great antiquity in the world, that men and women should have several names whereby they were called, and that for these three reasons:
I. That they might be differenced and distinguished from others.
II. That they might be stirred up to verify the meanings and significations of their names. Wherefore let every Obadiah strive to be a “servant of God,” each Nathanael to be “a gift of God,” Onesimus to be “profitable,” every Roger “quiet and peaceable,” Robert “famous for counsel,” and William “a help and defence” to many; not like Absalom, who was not a “father of peace,” as his name doth import, but a son of sedition; and Diotrephes, not “nursed by God,” as his name sounds, but puffed up by the devil, as it is 3 John 1:9.
III. That they might be incited to imitate the virtues of those worthy persons who formerly have been bearers and owners of their names. Let all Abrahams be faithful, Isaacs quiet, Jacobs prayerful, Josephs chaste; every Lewis pious, Edward confessor of the true faith, William conqueror over his own corruptions. Let them also carefully avoid those sins for which the bearers of the names stand branded to posterity. Let every Jonah beware of frowardness, Thomas of distrustfulness, Martha of worldliness, Mary of wantonness. If there be two of our names, one exceedingly good, the other notoriously evil, let us decline the vices of the one, and practise the virtues of the other. Let every Judas not follow Judas Iscariot, who betrayed our Saviour, but Judas the brother of James, the writer of the General Epistle; each Demetrius not follow him in the Acts, who made silver shrines for Diana, but Demetrius (3 John 1:12) who had a “good report of all men;” every Ignatius not imitate Ignatius Loyola the lame father of blind obedience, but Ignatius the worthy martyr in the primitive church. And if it should chance, through the indiscretion of parents and godfathers, that a bad name should be imposed on any, Oh let not “folly” be “with” them, because Nabal is their name; but in such a case let them strive to falsify, disprove, and confute their names. Otherwise, if they be good, they must answer them. In the days of Queen Elizabeth, there was a royal ship called “The Revenge,” which, having maintained a long fight against a fleet of Spaniards (wherein eight hundred great shot were discharged against her), was at last fain to yield; but no sooner were her men gone out of her, and two hundred fresh Spaniards come into her, but she suddenly sunk them and herself; and so “The Revenge” was revenged. Shall lifeless pieces of wood answer the names which men impose upon them, and shall not reasonable souls do the same? But of all names I pray God that never just occasion be given that we be christened “Ichabod,” but that the glory may remain in our Israel so long as the faithful Witness endureth in heaven.
Theme—THE SOJOURN IN MOAB
“Nos patriæ fines, et dulcia linguimus area;
Nos patriam fugimus.”—Virgil.
And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
In weighing human actions, difficult to say what is merely an error of judgment and what an error of heart. The former slides imperceptibly into the latter. We take a false step—pride prevents our retracing it, habit comes in to perpetuate the mistake. Thus folly becomes sin and the cause of sin. Elimelech not to be severely condemned in that, driven by stress of famine, he went down to Moab. Very human this. What of his continuing there?
After all, a man must be judged by the standard of his own times. This would in some measure condemn Elimelech. [Jewish expositors do so almost unanimously.] The land given to Israel to inhabit, under special circumstances, with special promises (Deuteronomy 28:0). Would not the true Israelite have heard the call “to return” sounding in his ears continually? May we not say at least what was not of faith was of sin? Note. An error generally, though on the side of charity, when we impute the broad catholicity of Christianity to these early Jews. The traditions of his people, national feeling, education, all that distinguished the true Israelite, against this journey and sojourn. But he broke through all. Does not seem to have had any fear of dwelling among an idolatrous nation.
The danger subtle, unseen, often unrealized, but as often deadly. Malarias are dangerous just because they do not address themselves to any of the senses.
I. That the present choice may influence all the after life.
A mistake to put Elimelech outside the pale of ultimate salvation. But short of this, much which is instructive.
(a) A man’s error may be foolish without being final. Seems to be so here. The first of a succession of disasters. Peter’s denial a better example. So with the disciple’s cowardice, Jonah’s fleeing to Tarshish, etc.
(b) But a tendency in one false step to lead to a second, to a continuance in folly. Peter’s first denial led to a second, to a third. Here, journeying to Moab ends in dwelling there. Elimelech went to sojourn for awhile, the same reason led him to continue. The first temptation was to go, the second would naturally be to remain. Note. Habit makes the sin of the past the “easily besetting sin.” Lot lingered in Sodom; what wonder he afterwards lingered in Zoar? (Genesis 19:16; Genesis 19:19-23).
II. That after a false step in life, God’s mercies are not wholly denied us.
Elimelech was protected in journeying. The Moabites seem to have received him and his family with great kindness (cf. Deuteronomy 23:3, as shewing it might have been otherwise). Good also out of what may have been evil, in the case of Ruth.
(a) Divine providences seem to descend to our human levels. Follow even into Moab. God does not forsake His children in the hour of their folly. More strange still, the wicked are provided for in the midst of their wickedness (Matthew 5:45). Households which have become careless and godless have some place of refuge opening to them in the hour of need. We fail to embrace the wise guidance offered to-day; His hand is stretched out again on the morrow. Step by step we descend lower and still lower in the way of moral rectitude; His gospel can meet us in the last hour with the offers of salvation and mercy. Note. This should give no encouragement to men in going towards Moab, but may save us from despair if we are there. The folly which sins that grace may abound possibly finds a warning in the context.
(b) Men condemn, and so think themselves justified in neglecting; it is not so with God.
After the Divine lament, “I have nourished up children, and they have rebelled against me—gone away backwards,” comes the affectionate question of a father waiting to be reconciled, “Why should ye be stricken any more?” (Isaiah 1:1-5.) Nay, more; He follows the terrible accusation, “Your hands are full of blood,” with the tender appeal, “Come now, let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet,” etc. (Isaiah 1:15-18). No condemnation like His upon every soul that sinneth, and no compassion like His. It is this that gives point to the Divine declaration, “My ways are not your ways,” etc. (See context, Isaiah 55:8) So with Elimelech in Moab. Doubtless mercy followed while justice condemned. His piety may have been the “smoking flax” and the “bruised reed.” Rest assured it was neither “quenched” nor “broken.”
IMPROVEMENT.—To us the world offers its Moab continually. Forgetfulness of God is that far-off land (Augustine). Note. The filial spirit has died out in the breast of every prodigal before he leaves his father’s house. Distance from God is not in space, but in affections (Bede). Apostacy of the heart always goes before apostacy of the life. Is thy heart right? the important question. If not, the land of promise will sooner or later be the land of penury,—Bethlehem itself a place of weariness and want. To such, life cannot be otherwise than a sad departure from the heritage of God.
Another treatment of the same text.
“I see that all are wanderers, gone astray.
Each in his own delusion; they are lost
In chase of fancied happiness, still woo’d,
And never won.”—Cowper.
The history of Ruth begins with a story of wanderers from God—a sad but not strange commencement (Tyng). A common story (a) in God’s Word; (b) in human experience. We, too, know of a spiritual wandering from God, from His Word, from His Spirit, from His church and sanctuary, from His gospel, from Bethlehem, where Jesus is. A wandering more sad and fatal than this in the text. Those who go out “full,” to return like the prodigal in want (Luke 15:17), in bitterness of spirit (Ruth 1:20), having lost all. Or, sadder still, who never return. Jonah a wanderer, Manasseh, Demas. Nay, all men by nature wanderers (Isaiah 53:6). The wicked are emphatically called “wandering stars” (Jude 1:13).
I. See in what this wandering begins.
(a) Led by distrust rather than by immediate want. (See previous outlines.)
(b) By sight rather than by faith. No Divine voice comes to Elimelech, “Get thee out of thy country,” as to Abraham (Genesis 12:1), or as to Joseph, “Arise,” etc. (Matthew 2:20). No pillar of fire and cloud leads, as with Israel departing from Egypt. On the other hand, no angel stops the way, as with Balaam (Numbers 22:22-35). No miraculous providence hinders, as with Jonah. Probably his spiritual experience feeble and meagre, his life commonplace and unheroic. The better illustration of multitudes who wander away from sanctuary privileges. The very absence of the miraculous int hese critical moments, these times of choice, when life turns to the right hand or the left, itself suggestive. How many had to walk, even in those days, with nothing supernatural, nothing out of the ordinary, to guide; only the light of conscience. But faith can always speak, and did speak. Contrast Abraham’s wandering with Elimelech’s—this seeking a country with that mentioned in Hebrews 11:0. Said of God’s heroes, they became strangers and pilgrims, but “by faith,” and “seeking a better country” (Hebrews 11:16). Happy wandering and even sojourning in a strange country, when men can say they are “persuaded,” etc. (ib. 13). But sad when men leave Bethlehem for Moab, go out but to sojourn for awhile, and continue there.
(c) By discontent rather than duty. A common frame of mind with men, and the secret of much of our unrest. The unstable are always dissatisfied. Clouds without water are driven to and fro with every wind, and ships without ballast liable to the violence of every tempest (Westminster Conf. of Faith). Cain’s envy made him a wanderer. (See also Outline III., Ruth 1:1, div. II.)
II. See where this wandering leads. As in the parable, the son goes to hire himself in the far country. Possibly with Elimelech, also, wandering brought want. If so, another sentence may apply, “He would fain have filled his belly—and no man gave unto him.” The peril in Moab as real, though not as apparent, as that in Bethlehem; perhaps more real. The one a famine, the other a scarcity of all those things by which men truly live. Countless avenues besides famine to the human heart (Lawson). Which was the best, bread or faith, to have abundance or to have God? (Robertson.)
Note. We need never go far to sojourn in Moab (Tyng).
III. See how this wandering ends.
Notice (a) Journeying to Moab often means continuing in Moab, dying in Moab. Not said, that the Lord was with him, as with Joseph in Egypt. If so, all would have been well. Not said, how he lived, or even how he died. His life afterwards summed up in one short sentence, “He continued there.” Whatever his state of mind and circumstances, they became fixed, permanent.
Notice (b) That for some men there is no returning in life. HE DIED THERE. How much then may depend upon the moment’s choice! this present false step from the path of duty: all time; nay more, all eternity. In every sinful life, critical moments when the wandering begins. In that moment the path is turned aside, the bias given, and for ever it may be.
IMPROVEMENT.—Are we free agents? and do we choose our own path in life? God chooses the circumstances that surround it. And He has said the way of transgressors is hard. To the sinful He says, “Behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns” (Hosea 2:6). Are we froward? He will shew Himself froward (Psalms 18:26). Do we walk contrary to Him? He will walk contrary to us (Leviticus 26:23-24; Leviticus 26:27-28). Wandering from God means strife with God—a folly, a gigantic mistake (Isaiah 45:9.)
Bernard observes on these passages—
God, intending good to some in His secret counsels, may prosper that which others undertake with no good warrant. Elimelech’s misfortunes and sojourn in Moab the means of blessing Ruth. So also Jacob’s sons, in selling Joseph into Egypt, were providing a refuge for the family. Christ’s cruel death the world’s salvation.
That if men live where idolaters be, it is good to avoid the occasion of infection as much as may be. Some conjecture that Elimelech went not into the cities of the Moabites, but dwelt in tents. (Translate Fields of Moab. See notes on Ruth 1:1.)
That none are so churlish and unkind at one time to some, but God can incline their hearts at another time to others. These Moabites formerly hard-hearted to Israel.
That it is a praiseworthy matter to be harboursome to strangers. The barbarians commended (Acts 28:2; Acts 28:7; Acts 28:10), who received the apostle. Abraham, Lot, and Job praised for this. We are exhorted to it (Hebrews 13:2; Romans 12:20).
“What made it wrong for Elimelech to migrate to Moab, wrong according to the Old Testament standard, was that he was abandoning his place among the elect people to sojourn among heathen, whose social life, whose very worship, was unutterably licentious and degrading.… True, he is not directly blamed for his error in the book of Ruth, which is written in the most considerate and generous tone throughout; but that the writer of the book thought him to blame, and held the calamities which fell on him and his house to be a judgment on his sin, there is scarcely room to doubt.”—Cox.
“Oh these wanderings from sanctuary privileges and home delights, how lightly begun, how disastrous in the ending! There are those to-day who are flitting about like the poor dove from Noah’s ark, and finding no rest for the sole of the foot; spirits wandering self-tormented in desert places, and among the tombs, like that poor demoniac of old. And Christ’s message to such is as then, ‘Return unto thine own house, among thy kinsfolk and acquaintances, show forth what things God had done for thee.’ ”—B.
“Like wandering birds driven from their nest; like wandering stars rushing into darkness; like waves of the sea driven of the wind and tossed. Thus we wander in sin, we know not where, we know not to what. Forsaking the fountain of living water, we hew out to ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”—Tyng.
“To grasp at happiness is all our view;
Through different tracks her footsteps we pursue;
While each his own fallacious path approves,
As interest leads, or inclination moves;
Yet most through error lose the wished-for way:
Who sets out wrong must wander far astray.”
“For everywhere he is a Judas, with whom his worldly interest, his worldly ambition, prevail over his attachment to Christ and to Christ’s cause.”—Dr. Hanna.
“It was said of Athens, that it was ‘a good place to pass through, but a dangerous place to linger in.’ To the faithful Israelite, Moab could have been no more than this. But it is written of Elimelech, ‘He continued there.’
“As you value your souls, beware of the world: it has slain its thousands and ten thousands. What ruined Lot’s wife? the world. What ruined Achan? the world. What ruined Haman? the world. What ruined Judas? the world. What ruined Simon Magus? the world. What ruined Demas? the world. And what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”—Die, of Illustrations.
“Why should the professor of Christianity be found eagerly pursuing those trifles which even heathen have been found fleeing from? The world is rather a sharp briar to wound us, than a sweet flower to delight us.”—Secker.
“Ages have passed away; yet Moab exists in the shape of the world, its pleasures, its follies and vanities; the lust of the eye, the pride of life, the love of the world, that is Moab.”—Dr. Cumming.
“Let us not therefore abuse strangers, and make a prey of them, making an advantage of their unskilfulness in the language, and being unacquainted with the fashions of the land; like Laban that deceived his nephew Jacob in placing Leah for Rachel, and, to cloak his cheating, pleaded it was the custom of the country.”—Fuller.
“Romulus is said to have been nursed of a she-wolf; Hieron king of Syracuse, by bees; Semi-ramis, of birds; Habides, king of Tartesius, of a hind; Cyrus the Persian, of a bitch; Pelias, of a mare; Paris, of a bear.… We know how the Lord commended the strange Samaritan beyond the priest and the Levite, because he succoured the poor wounded Jew which had fallen among thieves.”—Topsell.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—
Ruth 1:3. And Elimelech … died. The conjunction seems to intimate shortly after his arrival. Certainly before the marriage of his sons. Josephus thinks, however, towards the end of the ten years’ sojourn.
Ruth 1:4. And they took them wives. The verb, though not Chaldaic, said to be peculiar to the later Hebrew, but found Judges 21:23 (Speaker’s Com.). Always used in a bad sense (Kitto). Of the women of Moab. And they transgressed the decree of the Lord, and married foreign wives, etc. (Chaldee Paraphrast). Probably justified by necessity (Speaker’s Com.). In violation of the Mosaic Law (Lange). Marriages with Moabitish women not forbidden like marriages with Canaanites in Deuteronomy 7:3 (Keil). Bertheau, Le Clerc, and others defend the act. Aben Ezra thinks that Orpah and Ruth were proselytes. Why make excuses for them? for Scripture does in no way represent them as holy men (Serarius, a Roman Catholic expositor). Traditum ferunt Judæi Ammonitam et Moabitam quidem semper fuisse interdictos, at feminas eorum statim permissas (Midrash Tillim). The name of the one (was) Orpah. Previous names genuine Hebrew, these cannot satisfactorily be explained from the Heb. (Keil). Means, turning the back? (Keil), a hind (Haller, Simonis), a mane (Gesen.), liberality (Wright). Ruth, Ancestress of the Singer (Dante). A Jewish tradition that Ruth was the daughter of Eglon, king of Moab. Chaldee paraphrast adopts it. A higher honour in that, like Eve, she is to be mother of the chosen seed. God not only wrote her name in the book of life in heaven, but also prefixed her name before a book of life on earth (Fuller). Means vision or beauty (Gesen.). Either to be considered a contraction for רְאוּה, appearance, beauty; or still better, as a contraction for רִעוּה, a female friend, or as an abstract friendship (Wright). A conjecture that Ruth is an ancient form of the Greek ροδον, the Latin rosa, redness (Lange, Cox).
It is imagined, and not without probability, that Mahlon and Chilion are the same as Joash and Seraph, who married in Moab (1 Chronicles 4:22).—Adam Clarke. So Aben Ezra.
Ruth 1:5. And Mahlon and Chilion died. Cut short because they married strange women (Chaldee Paraphrast). Wright translates, and also the two of them died. The גם carries us back to Ruth 1:3. Was left of (from). Was bereaved of. “Almonah,” which we render widow, signifies “dumb” (Macgowan).
Theme—THE FIRST BREACH IN THE FAMILY CIRCLE
“There never breathed a man who when his life
Was closing, might not of that life relate
Toils long and hard.”—Wordsworth.
And Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died.
The story grows intensely sad (Braden). Death steps in here as elsewhere. They had escaped one danger only to fall into another sorrow. How true the narrative is to human experiences! The text eloquent in its simplicity, the chapter full of those contrasting lights and shadows which cling to human history.
I. See how much there is uncertain in connection with life. (a) As to its circumstances. I have seldom seen a tree thrive that hath been transplanted when it was old (Fuller). Changing our place is not always mending it (M. Henry). Could Elimelech have foreseen this end of all his wanderings, would he have undertaken the journey? But no! he went forward as we do. (b) As to its character. Different estimates as to this. Cox says, “He lost his life while seeking a livelihood—found a grave where he sought a home—judgment apparently treading on the very heels of offence.” But——? Those actions not ungodly which are unsuccessful, nor those pious which are prosperous (Fuller). He would have died, whether he sinned or not, in coming to Moab. The lawfulness of an action is not to be gathered from the joyfulness of the event, but from the justness of the cause for which it is undertaken (Fuller). Poor man to suffer want in his life, and be maligned after death (Braden). Note. Something of this uncertainty invests every life. We are mysteries one to another—our actions but imperfectly understood, our characters imperfectly estimated, our lives misread. Christ says, Judge not, etc. (Matthew 7:1). (c) As to its continuance. We know not what a day, etc. The only thing certain in that future is death. (α) We cannot escape it. Elimelech could avoid the arrows of famine in Israel, yet he could not shun the darts of death in Moab. (β) We cannot prevent it. With this man the journey accomplished, the project seemingly successful; but what of that? He that lived in a place of penury must die in a land of plenty (Fuller). Note. With Elimelech the mystery of sorrow and exile ends in the crowning mystery of death. The first journey to Moab, at his own desire, his own time; the second unexpectedly at God’s.
II. See how much there may be uncertain in connection with death. The Bible tells us very little of the closing scene (Robertson). One short sentence here concludes the history. (a) We know little of this man’s life. Was he one of those—
“Whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster”?
Then a warning to the afflicted, that sorrows bring no exemption from death. Was he one who wandering sinfully, always purposed to return? A lesson to the procrastinator here. Or one having taken the false step, and for whom there is no repentance, no return? Then an example of God’s dealings with the reprobate. (b) We know less of his death. Simply the place, and possibly the time. He died in the place to which he had wandered from Bethlehem, and in all probability just as he conceived his purpose in coming there accomplished. (c) We know nothing of his eternal destiny. Multitudes live like this, die like this, die and “give no sign.” The life such that you can form but an imperfect estimate of the character and the destiny—only hope the larger charitable hope, which rests upon the infinite mercy of God. The death sudden, or from attendant circumstances such as to give no chance of forming a judgment. Note. To be uncertain on some questions is itself decisive. Christ says, “He that is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). The uncertainty here may be merely historic. Instructive even then.
“Once in the flight of ages past
There lived a man, and who was he?
Mortal, howe’er thy lot be cast,
That man resembles thee.
He suffered—but his pangs are o’er;
Enjoyed—but his delights are fled;
Had friends—his friends are now no more,
And foes—his foes are dead.
He saw whatever thou hast seen;
Encountered all that troubles thee;
He was—whatever thou hast been;
He is—what thou shalt be.
The rolling seasons, day and night,
Sun, moon, and stars, the earth and main,
Erewhile his portion, life and light,
To him exist in vain.
The annals of the human race,
Their ruins, since the world began,
Of him afford no other trace
Than this—there lived a man.”
IMPROVEMENT.—When life is past, it is all one whether it has lasted two hundred years or fifty (Dr. Newman). Death levels all distinctions, thwarts the best laid plans, will come in with us as with Elimelech, to write vanity across our most cunningly laid schemes. What is our life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and then vanisheth away. Learn (a) amid the many trials of life to remember the greatest is yet to come. (b) Before the want we dread, death itself may be here. (c) Are you obliged to leave your native fields? you may have to leave the world itself (Lawson).
“Which, I wonder, is the better lot, to die prosperous and famous, or poor and disappointed? To have, and to be forced to yield; or to sink out of life, having played and lost the game? That must be a strange feeling, when a day of our life comes, and we say, ‘To-morrow, success or failure won’t matter much; and the sun will rise, and all the myriads of mankind go to their work or their pleasure as usual; but I shall be out of the turmoil.’ ”—Thackeray.
“When Socrates was urged by his friends to escape from the prison where he was condemned to die, he answered, ‘Tell me of a land where men do not die, and I will escape to that.’ ”—Tyng.
“There is a tradition of an Indian chief, who, with his tribe, fled before the prairie fires, till he had crossed a broad river, when he struck his tent-pole into the ground, and cried ‘Alabama!’ (Here we may rest!) He was no prophet. Hostile tribes overpowered them; and they found only graves where they sought a home. This is, maybe, a parable of the soul; for it earth has no Alabama.”—Die, of Illustrations.
“Death is a friend of ours; and he that is not ready to entertain him is not at home.”—Lord Bacon.
“Death argues not displeasure; because he whom God loved best died first.”—Bishop Hall.
“It is hard to die when the time is not ripe. When it is, it will be easy. We need not die while we are living.”—Beecher.
“It is said that Guerricus, hearing the passage read in church, beginning, ‘And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years,’ and ending ‘the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty and nine years, and he died,’ went home and began immediately to prepare for death.
“The ashes of an oak in a chimney are no epitaph of that to tell me how high or how large that was, what flocks it sheltered while it stood, what men it hurt when it fell. The dust of great men’s graves is speechless too; it says nothing; it distinguishes nothing.”—Donne.
“There is a moment when a man’s life is re-lived on earth. It is in that hour when the coffin-lid is shut down just before the funeral, when earth has seen the last of him for ever. Then the whole life is, as it were, lived over again in the conversation which turns upon the memory of the departed.… or the most part, when all is over, general opinion is not far from the truth. Misrepresentation and envy have no provocation left them. What the departed was is tolerably well known in the circle in which he moved.”—Robertson, “Israelites’ Grave in a Foreign Land.”
“ ‘May it please your Majesty, Jenkyn has got his liberty.’ Upon which the king asked with eagerness. ‘Aye, who gave it to him?’ The nobleman replied, ‘A greater than your Majesty, the King of kings;’ with which the king seemed greatly struck, and remained silent.”—Death of the Rev. W. Jenkyn, 1685.
“Death does not always give warning beforehand; sometimes he gives the mortal blow suddenly—he comes behind with his dart, and strikes.… Eutychus fell down dead; death suddenly arrested David’s sons and Job’s sons; Augustine died in a compliment; Galba with a sentence; Vespasian with a jest; Zeuxis died laughing at a picture of an old woman which he drew with his own hands; Sophocles was choked with a stone in a grape.”—Brooks.
“A man may escape the wars by pleading privilege of years, or weakness of body, or the king’s protection, or by sending another in his room; but in this war the press is so strict, that it admits no dispensation. Young or old, weak or strong, willing or unwilling, all is one, into the field we must go, and look that last enemy in the face. It is in vain to think of sending another in our room, for no man dieth by proxy; or to think of compounding with death, as those self-deluded fools did (Psalms 28:5) who thought they had been discharged of the debt by seeing the sergeant. No, there is no discharge in that war.”—Flavel.
“Nihil prodest ora concludere et vitam fugientem retinere.”—Hierom.
“Where men think to preserve life, there they may lose it as Elimelech; fleeing from the famine in Israel, he died where plenty was in Moab.”—Bernard.
“No outward plenty can privilege us from death.… God can easily frustrate our fairest hopes, and defeat our most probable projects, in making those places most dangerous which we account most safe and secure; causing death to meet us there where we think furthest to fly from it.”—Fuller.
And she was left, and her two sons.
Another instance of the wonderful subservience of the events of human life to the righteous purposes of God. God deals with Naomi in this way; not in anger, but in love. Recognize the Divine agency, and see something of the Divine plan. First famine, then exile, then bereavement. Naomi a Christian, but what is called a backsliding Christian; one under a cloud, one who had proved to some extent untrue, undutiful, unthankful; bitterly chastened, and therefore eventually reinstated in her forfeited privileges (Dr. Cumming). Not necessary to take this view of her character in looking for a Divine purpose in this sad event. Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth (Hebrews 12:6). Bereavements natural, inevitable, common, familiar. None the less they have a meaning, and come to us pregnant with important lessons.
I. See how much there was that must have seemed severe in this bereavement. Naomi left a widow—the husband, friend, counsellor, head of the household, gone. The widow’s lot always a bitter and lonely one. Especially so here. Naomi a widow in a strange land—far from home and sanctuary. Notice. (a) That sorrow is natural under circumstances like these. A mistaken notion to think that grief in itself is sinful. It is undue, rebellious sorrow which is to be rebuked, sorrow without faith, grief which sees no future, nothing beyond the past and the present. One pregnant instance at least of a holy sorrow at the grave, “Jesus wept.” (b) That affection for those taken away is still natural. Unreasonable to think that the family bond is broken at death. They are “loved ones” still, though “loved ones gone before.” A danger in this. Affection at these times may become morbid, a matter of mere sentiment. Modern spiritualism in many family circles the perversion of what is in itself true and right; love for the dead, and then a craving for a material manifestation of the loved ones. Note. It is not the intensity of our affection, but its interference with truth and duty, which makes it sinful. No man ever loved child or brother or sister too much (Robertson). (c) That religion comes in to sanctify alike the sorrow and the affection. It says of those taken away, “Blessed are the dead,” etc. (Revelation 14:13), and of the faithful remaining, “We which are alive shall be caught up together with them: so shall we ever,” etc. (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Perhaps we never love truly until we learn to love with all the deep fulness of a sanctified affection. Especially is this true in circumstances like those in the text. That higher affection sustains and elevates the lower human one, casting round it a glory which mere personal feeling could never give (Robertson).
II. See how much there was especially to be regretted in this bereavement. To pass beyond the great loss itself. To the mother a multiplicity of new cares and anxieties involved (a) in the training up of her fatherless offspring. A mother’s task always a difficult one. Much more then a widowed mother’s. The strong commanding voice hushed in death. The will which ought to be the supreme authority in the household missing. Possibly this one reason why Paul lays stress upon widows who have children learning “first to shew piety at home” (1 Timothy 5:4). This the more necessary since the father’s character and influence is absent. (b) In doing this amid the surrounding circumstances. Journeying to Moab involved much, and perhaps nothing more serious than this. A cheerless prospect to Elimelech in dying, this of leaving his widow and orphans among strangers and heathen, and well for him only if he had strong faith in the God of the fatherless (Psalms 27:10). Even Elimelech must have known His promise: “If they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry” (Exodus 22:23). Note.
(1) A caution to those who have kindred responsibilities. When you choose your place of abode, if you have families, let this be one principal consideration, where you will leave them if God should call you out of the world (Lawson).
(2) A warning to Christians who lead their children into the midst of worldly surroundings. We wonder sometimes why the children of sainted parents fail to grow up in the fear of God. The secret here and in this: led into the world, and left there, as Elimelech’s children in Moab.
III. See how much there was merciful, after all, in connection with this bereavement. Her children left to her. The family circle broken into, but not destroyed. Two sons to support her declining years. And by-and-by Orpah and Ruth are introduced into the bereaved household. Note. The wonderful way in which the breaches made by death are repaired by Divine mercy, now and always. The family circle, like the ark of Noah, survives amid the wasting waters of universal change (Dr. Lee).
Doubtless the affliction itself had its spiritual use. Preparatory to the “I will arise” (Ruth 1:6). Manasseh’s woes drove that erring monarch to God (2 Chronicles 33:12). With the righteous, grief makes sacred. Joy may elevate, ambition glorify, but sorrow alone can consecrate (H. Gresby).
Bernard on this verse—
And Elimelech … died.
That death is the end of all, and spareth none (Job 21:33; Ecclesiastes 7:2; Ecclesiastes 6:6; 1 Corinthians 15:51); for all have sinned (Romans 5:0); and death is the reward of sin (Romans 6:0).
That a full supply of bodily wants cannot prevent death. This man in Moab, where there was food enough. The rich glutton also (Luke 16:22). The rich man with his barns full (Luke 12:20). Life depends not upon the outward means, for then the rich and mighty would never die.
That where men think to preserve life, there they may lose it. Fleeing from famine in Israel, this man died where plenty was, in Moab. Where we may count ourselves secure, there death may take us away.
That it is a grace to be called the husband of some women. Such an one is a crown to her husband (Proverbs 12:4). The foolish woman rottenness to his bones (Proverbs 12:4).
That grace in one prevents not death in another. Married persons not appointed the same length of days. We come not together, and we go not together.
That it is a great cross for a woman to lose a good husband. In this the wife loses her head, her guide, her stay and comfort.
And she was left, and her two sons.
That albeit death is due to all, yet it seizeth not upon all at once.
That the Lord in afflicting His children sweeteneth the same with some comforts. In dealing with Naomi, He took away her husband, yet left her two sons; and afterwards, when He took them away, gave her an excellent daughter-in-law. A bitter affliction for Joseph to be sold of his brethren, but it was sweetened with Potiphar’s favour.
“Bereavements at home are sorrowful enough, even when the tenderest sympathy beams from the eyes of friends, and all those gentle healing agencies which love has ever at command are striving to bind up the broken heart. But to bury one’s precious dead in a foreign country, away from all the blessed associations of home, is a test under which the strongest spirit may well bow down.”—Braden.
“For by the hearth the children sit
Cold in the atmosphere of death,
And scarce endure to draw the breath,
Or like to noiseless phantoms flit.
But open converse is there none,
So much the vital spirits sink,
To see the vacant chair, and think
How good! how kind! and he is gone.”
“Here we see how mercifully God dealt with Naomi, in that He quenched not all the sparks of her comfort at once; but though He took away the stock, He left her the stems; though He deprived her, as it were, of the use of her own legs, by taking away her husband, yet He left her a staff in each of her hands, her two sons, to support her. Indeed, afterwards He took them away; but first He provided her a gracious daughter-in-law. Whence we learn, God poureth not all His afflictions at once, but ever leaveth a little comfort; otherwise we should not only be pressed down, but crushed to powder under the weight of His heavy hand.”—Fuller.
“Life passes, riches fly away, popularity is fickle, the senses decay, the world changes, friends die. One alone is constant; One alone is true to us; One alone can be true.”—Dr. Newman.
“God out of these things is bringing forth in us that diviner tenderness which can only characterize the matured and chastened Christian. The time is indeed short, and it is well for us to be made to feel it.”—B.
“Suffering in this world is both remedial and penal. When it is rightly received, it is remedial. When it is resisted, it becomes penal to him who resists, and admonitory to the spectator.… There are two ways of escaping from suffering—the one by rising above the causes of conflict; the other by sinking below them. The one is the religious method; the other is the vulgar, worldly method. The one is called Christian elevation, the other stoicism.”—Beecher.
“When the bridge is finished, the timbers and scaffolding upon which it has rested are all removed. So God is removing these earthly props of ours, one after another, and for two reasons as regards ourselves. First, that we may learn the great lesson of self-reliance in human life, but chiefly that we may learn to rest above all on Him.”—B.
Theme—MARRIAGES IN MOAB
Is like a banqueting-house, built in a garden,
On which the spring flowers take delight
To cast their modest odours.”
And they took them wives of the women of Moab.
The father’s death did not arouse these Israelites in their wanderings. The sons thinking of marrying when possibly they ought to have been thinking of returning. Note. (a) Every cross bringeth not men home again (Bernard). First the loss of the father, then the marriage of the sons, the wedding feast seemingly following hard upon the funeral. How true to human life! Note (b) Sojourning in Moab meant friendship with the Moabites, marriage with their children. Little else could be expected. [The Old Testament seems to intimate that the daughters of Moab were fair to look upon.] The two sons in Moab did as Moab did,—married Gentile women, not caring whether they wore idolaters or not (Dr. cumming). Is this the explanation? or is it that Elimelech and his family were, after all, lights in the midst of a croked and perverse generation?—attracted Ruth and even Orpah for a while. New joys indeed in store for Naomi, yet these mingled with many anxious questionings, which a godly parent’s experience alone may interpret.
I. Take the brighter and more charitable view of these marriages. The act simply considered as following out the usual course of human life not at all reprehensible. Rather to be viewed favourably—the loss of one comfort supplied by the enjoyment of another. Judged by its circumstances and surroundings, much to be said in its defence. The main question of right and wrong lies farther back, as to whether they were justified in coming to Moab. Lawful for Israelites to marry foreign women under certain exceptional circumstances, as, e. g., those taken in war (Deuteronomy 21:10-11). No direct command against Moabitish women, as against the Canaanites (Deuteronomy 7:3). Better marry than do worse. Judged by its results, the answer favourable. Salmon did well in taking Rahab. Mahlon could have found no less a treasure in Ruth. By this act the young men did much to endear themselves to a people who had evidently received them kindly. Orpah and Ruth, wild branches—it was something to graft them upon the stock of the true Israel. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:13-14.)
II. Look at the darker possibilities connected with marriages like these. Bishop Hall strongly condemns such unions (see “Contemplations,” vol. i., pp. 210, 211). Note. (a) Does not appear that the godly mother had any hand in the matter. Seemingly their own act: “They took them wives.” The influence which won over Ruth may have belonged to after years, and to Naomi’s character and life (Ruth 2:12). The sons themselves possibly having lost all which ought to distinguish the true Israelite. Such marriages fraught with great danger, even if overruled for good. The decisive step taken, and the future has to decide whether for good or evil. Note. (b) In the most favourable view, these young men to blame, unless they had credible evidence their future wives were cordially disposed towards the worship of God. The wife’s influence often more subtle, and even more powerful and lasting in religious matters, than the husband’s. The strength of Samson, the wisdom of Solomon, not sufficient to withstand it when used for evil. Note. (c) Impossible to say what was the effect upon the young men themselves. Judging from the influence of Eve over Adam, etc., we fear it was evil (Dr. Cumming). Would naturally tend to lengthen the sojourn in Moab. Mahlon and Chilion exceptionally fortunate in their wives (Cox). Strange if they should have deteriorated, while Orpah and Ruth were benefited; yet not impossible—not unlikely. Characters assimilate, mutually act and react upon each other—give and take, especially when the bond is as close as that of marriage.
III. Improvement. To the Christian the command is, “Be not unequally yoked,” etc. (2 Corinthians 6:14). His privilege “to marry in the Lord.” This safe—without offence—within the sphere of the promises. (See next outline.)
Braden on this:—
Mahlon married Ruth, Chilion Orpah. Little is known of either, perhaps they were sisters—the parents’ names not mentioned. Both natives of Moab, and heathen—appear to have remained so while in their own land. (See Ruth 1:15.)
The question asked, Were these two young men right in marrying heathen women? Some writers justify, others condemn. A plausible case can be made out in their favour: great distance from Bethlehem, absence of Jewish maidens, uncertainty of their return, naturally diminished interest in their native land, arising from long residence in Moab, the fact that there was no distinct commandment against marrying a Moabitess, though there was against marrying a Canaanite—all good reasons for pleading on their behalf. More, Boaz married Ruth afterwards, and God made her ancestress of Christ. Yet were not absolutely free from blame. God overruled for good, still they erred. This nation under a curse, excluded from the Jews (Deuteronomy 23:3). Ezra rent his garment, etc., under similar circumstances (Ezra 9:0). No doubt, to marry a heathen a sin in the eyes of the Jew.
A practical question started: Should a professing Christian marry one who makes no such profession? “Whatsoever is not of faith is of sin.” If you are not firmly convinced the step is right, then for you it is sin. Does the N. T. lay down any law? No direct utterance on the subject to be discovered. Paul’s warning (2 Corinthians 6:14), “Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers,” etc., often quoted against such mixed marriages, but does not specifically refer to them. The apostle arguing as to the whole relationship of life, urging that the Christian Church should be separated from heathen associations. The greater, however, included in the less. The law applicable to the entire life peculiarly touches marriage.
It may be answered, “Times have changed, the broad line of demarcation between believer and unbeliever no longer exists. Heathen are not found among us; non-professors moral and reputable in life, and can hardly be designated “unbelievers.” True, no doubt. The lines between the Church and the world faded, a mutual movement towards each other. Many see no wrong in marrying one who appears to be everything but a professor of religion. A mistake to burden consciences by asserting that any course of conduct is sinful if the vexed matter is fairly open to doubt. Tends to produce a reaction, in which sacred principles are themselves thrown aside.
This, however, may be maintained, that mixed marriages are eminently inexpedient and very dangerous. A want of sympathetic religious convictions between husband and wife injuriously affects their sacred relationship. True marriage rests on common admiration and sympathy—a union of hearts. If religion, which concerns the deepest emotions and noblest thoughts, is excluded, the union disastrously incomplete, the real foundation insecure. Love which rises from other things meagre, partial, unsatisfactory—the richest cords of the soul untouched. That which one esteems as the best thing in life, the other may not possess—a perpetual craving for sympathy where it cannot be given. The hindrances and sorrows springing from this spiritual isolation incalculable. Man and wife do not understand each other. Look at numberless experiences from opposite standpoints—motives imputed, sneers at saintliness uttered perhaps on one side, and denunciations at godlessness on the other. Multitudes of family quarrels arise from want of spiritual union, and the highest aspirations of the godly soul perpetually thwarted. Then the education of the children perplexing; the example of the one nullified by the conduct of the other. To marry an unbelieving husband or wife may involve the future destiny of the offspring. If the children grow up in the fear of God, it will be in spite of the bad example of one parent.
It may be said that many wed hoping to produce a change. They may be instrumental in the conversion of the beloved one—a beautiful but most delusive hope. Can instances be quoted? Their scarcity contrasts most painfully with the multitude of failures. Religious influence generally less after marriage than before. The charm strangely disappears, the same words irritate. More difficult to speak upon these themes, lest there should be some taunt about inconsistency. Easier to address strangers about Christ, than our own households. The home friends know our failings—do not see our struggles against them. Decision for God the great pre-requisite for a happy and useful marriage, far better than beauty—intellect—wealth.
(Condensed by permission from “The Beautiful Gleaner.’ ”)
“Here we see the fashion of the world. Mankind had long ago decayed, if those breaches which are daily made by death were not daily made up by marriage.”—Fuller.
“And thus the world moves on—deaths and marriages, marriages and deaths. The household which to-day mourns as though all joy had taken flight for ever, to-morrow resounds with the laughter of many voices at a new-born happiness. The faces all tear-stained yesterday are bright with smiles to-day. The bell which slowly tolled the funeral knell an hour ago, now rings out the joyous wedding-chime. So it must be, so it ought to be. Probably life would lose half its beauty but for this alternation of shadow and sunshine; at least, this we know, that human hearts need both the darkness and the light, or they will not grow to that perfection of truth and purity which God has designed they shall attain. Elimelech died, the sons married. It is a simple statement, yet a whole world of change is involved in it for that small household.”—Braden.
“Hail, wedded love, mysterious law, true source
Of human offspring, sole propriety
In paradise of all things common else,
By thee adulterous lust was drawn from men
Among the bestial herds to range; by thee,
Founded on reason, loyal, just, and pure,
Relations dear and all the charities
Of father, son, and brother, first were known.”
“Wherever found, women are the same kind, civil, obliging, human tender beings, inclined to be gay and cheerful, humorous and modest.”—Ledyard.
“True marriage rests on common admiration and sympathy; it is the union of hearts in the bonds of holiest love. If, however, religion, which concerns the deepest emotions and noblest thoughts, is excluded, the union of the two natures is disastrously incomplete, the real foundation of married life becomes fearfully insecure.”—Braden.
“Marriage has less of beauty, but more of safety, than the single life. It hath not more ease, but less danger; it is more merry and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strength of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful.… It is that state of good to which God hath designed the present constitution of the world.”—Jeremy Taylor.
“The woman’s cause is man’s. They rise or sink
Together. Dwarfed or godlike, bond or free;
If she be small, slight-natured, miserable,
How shall men grow?… Let her be
All that not harms distinctive womanhood;
For woman is not undeveloped man,
But diverse. Could we make her as the man,
Sweet love were slain, whose dearest bond is this,
Not like to like, but like in difference;
Yet in the long years must they liker grow;
The man be more of woman, she of man,
Till at the last she set herself to man
Like perfect music unto noble words.”
“——An unlessoned girl, unschooled, un-practised;
Happy in this, she is not yet so old
But she may learn; and happier than this,
She is not bred so dull but she can learn;
Happiest of all, is, that her gentle spirit
Commits itself to yours, to be directed
As from her lord, her governor, her king.”
“When a woman marries a man that is ungodly, wrong as it is, we may indulge a reasonable hope that he through her influence will become a Christian. But it rarely happens when a man marries a woman that is not a Christian, that she becomes a Christian; rather he sinks down to her moral level.”—Dr. Cumming.
“A good wife is heaven’s last, best gift to a man; his angel of mercy, minister of graces innumerable; his gem of many virtues, his casket of jewels.”—Jeremy Taylor.
“No doubt it is a truism to say that in any case marriage is a solemn thing. We smile and jest over it; the prospect of a wedding always awakens good-humoured remark; festivities appropriately accompany the celebration; yet we cannot lose sight of the grave importance of the event itself. Two human beings of differing temperament and education stand before God and clasp hands, covenanting ‘to be faithful even unto death.’ Henceforth the making or the marring of each other’s happiness rests with that husband and wife. Henceforth they are bound by a tie strong as the law itself, and no discovery of incompatibility of character, no change of temporal circumstances, no mere inconveniences of position, only distinct criminal acts, can ‘put asunder’ ‘what God hath joined together.’ Well, therefore, does the Service declare that it should ‘not be taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.’ ”—Braden.
“Marriage is the best state for man in general; and every man is a worse man in proportion as he is unfit for the married state.”—Dr. Johnson.
“He that goes far to marry, goes to be deceived or to deceive. The day you marry you kill or cure yourself.”—Spanish Proverbs.
Theme—THE SECOND GREAT BEREAVEMENT
“Is God less God, that thou art left undone?
Rise, worship, bless Him, in this sackloth spun,
As in that purple!”—Mrs. Browning.
Then died these two also.
Thus far the book of Ruth resembles that symphony of Beethoven, in which the song of birds, the cheerful hum of a holiday crowd, … are hushed by the crash of a sudden and threatening storm (Cox). Scarcely so: all along there has been the undertone of sorrow, affliction following affliction. But we can imagine years of happy prosperity (possibly ten) in Moab, since the last great calamity (Ruth 1:3). Now a further trial—to Naomi the climax of all which has gone before, a more terrible famine than that in the land of Israel.
I. We have Death here once again in the family circle. Three sepulchres now attest his melancholy ravages (Eadie). This time the sons taken in the flush of manhood; not as the father, who might well have anticipated his end. Note. (a) Even the young man’s life a vapour. Death no respecter of youth, or strength, or beauty. The blossom as subject to be nipped as the flower, the spark to be extinguished as the flame. Was it the “joy” and the “ornament” (see note on Ruth 1:2) of this household God took, or the “weakly” and the “pining” ones? Was the death sudden, or ushered in by signs of failing strength, as the latter interpretation of the names would seem to intimate? The Scripture language severe in its brevity, but touching in its simplicity, “Then died these two also” (see notes)—died in banishment, from their fatherland, perhaps from their father’s God. (b) The young man’s plans vanity. Escaped famine, but death overtook them. Founded their houses in Moab, Moab became their grave (Lange). Probably determined not to return home until the famine was over; when it was, they themselves were no more (Lange).
II. We have separation once more in the household life. Husband from wife, children from a fond parent. With Naomi, first it had been separation from kinsfolk and acquaintances, then from husband, now from her sons. Thus the Divine hand is removing one after another the ties which bind her affections earthward. Note. A warning against seeking unmitigated satisfaction in family joys. We should live together as those who may be called upon to separate at any moment. Rather as those who look for a union beyond the separation (1 Thessalonians 4:14).
“The love that rose on stronger wings,
Unpalsied when he met with Death,
Is comrade of the lesser faith,
That sees the course of human things,
That all, as in some piece of art,
Is toil co-operant to an end.”—Tennyson.
III. We have still further separation in a foreign land. New afflictions added to Naomi’s former griefs—loss upon loss, trial following trial. The grief of the two younger widows not mentioned—speechless before a more majestic sorrow than its own. “And the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.” The desolation of bereavement never more vividly pictured than by these touching phrases (Braden). To heighten the picture, what little wealth had remained would seem to have vanished. Poverty comes in upon them “like an armed man.” Note. (a) The case by no means singular, even though the afflictions are complicated. Bereavement! in what household is the shadow unknown?
“Too common! never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.
The widow’s story too familiar! Note. (b) These providences mysterious—inscrutable. Only on all theories of human life, the atheist’s among the rest, they face us, and we must bow to them. Explain it or not, here is the fact. And happy those alone who can say, as Naomi appears to have done, “Although I have lost the gift, I have not lost the GIVER (Dr. Cumming). Faith only, though it be “but as a grain of mustard seed,” can give consolation in such hours. Note. (c) Some comfort remaining even to the most forlorn and desolate. The sons’ wives left in the household—human love side by side with Divine care.
“Oh weep no more! there yet is balm
In Gilead: love doth ever shed
Rich healing where it nestles, spread
O’er desert pillows some green palm.
God’s ichor fills the hearts that bleed,
The best fruit loads the broken bough,
And in the wounds our sorrows plough,
Immortal love sows sovereign seed.”—Gerald Massey.
Improvement. (a) When heavy calamities befall, beware of speaking or even thinking unadvisedly of them. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth,” etc. (Genesis 18:25). Our best thoughts sometimes presumptuous on these matters. (b) The love or hatred of God not to be estimated by what we see of His doings. (c) Let none because of youth put far off the day of death (Bernard). The question of early death is one about which no like mystery hangs (Braden). Some He takes away from the evil of the world; others for reasons beyond our present knowledge and judgment. (d) Those least expected may be most likely to go soonest. Remember now, etc. (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
M. Henry on this:—
That wherever we go we cannot outrun death, whose fatal arrows fly in all places.
That we cannot expect to prosper when we go out of the way of our duty. He that will save his life by any indirect course shall lose it.
That death, when it comes into a family often, makes breach upon breach. One is taken away to prepare another to follow; that affliction not duly improved, God sends another of the same kind.
That the Lord gave them time to marry and to enjoy their marriage for some space, though they made no better use of their father’s death. Thus good and patient is God unto men for their bettering.
That when God hath proved men in patience, and they will not make right use thereof, then will He take them away.
That God can, and sometimes will, cut off young men in the flower of their youth. So Nadab, Abihu, Hophni and Phinehas, Amnon, etc. Some for their own sins, as Absalom; others for their father’s, as David’s child (2 Samuel 12:14) and the sons of Saul.
“The end of one sorrow is the beginning of another, like the drops of rain distilling from the top of a house, when one is gone another followeth; like a ship upon the sea, being on the top of one wave presently is cast down to the foot of another; like seed, which being spread by the sower is haunted by the fowls, being green and past their reach is endangered by frost and snow, being past the winter’s hurt, by beasts in summer, being ripe is cut with the sickle, threshed with the flail, purged in the floor, ground in the mill, baked in the oven.”—Topsell.
“The good husbandman may pluck his roses and gather in his lilies at midsummer, and for aught I dare say in the beginning of the first summer months; and he may transplant young trees out of the lower ground to the higher. What is that to you or me? The goods are his own.”—Rutherford.
“With many it is ebb water before the tide be at the full. The lamps of their lives are wasted almost as soon as they are lighted. The sand of their hour-glass is run out when they think it is but newly turned.”—Secker.
“Oh! these earthly separations from those we love, how terribly do they scald and wear the heart! day by day to see those things laid out, as it were, in such stony, death-like forms, which used to lie about here and there, in that sweet abandonment of daily life.”—Power.
“ ‘Death strikes with equal foot the rustic cottage and the palaces of kings.’ After ten years, in which the members of this notable family seem to have opposed a constant face to the austere and threatening brow of misfortune, and to have grown the dearer to each other for the sorrows and calamities they shared together, Mahlon and Chilion, still young men, followed their father to the grave, and Naomi was left a childless widow. Songs of mirth were exchanged for songs of mourning. The three men of the household had gone to their long home, and the three bereaved women were left to weep together, and to comfort each other as best they might.”—Cox.
“Even young men in the prime of their age are subject to death. The sons of Jacob, when they came to the table of Joseph, sat down, the eldest according to his age, and the youngest according to his youth: but Death observes not this method; he takes not men in seniority, but sometimes sends them first to the burial that came last from the birth, and those that came last from the womb, first to the winding-sheet.”—Fuller.
“He the young, the strong, who cherished
Noble longings for the strife,
By the wayside fell and perished,
Weary with the march of life.”
“Hush! listen! let the heart in silence learn
How that of all things fair Time hath no certain hold:
The fairest flower, the greenest leaf, may fade.
Death is a ravening wolf, sparing no earthly fold.” B.
“Death is the solemn thought of the world. Let it be ever so vulgarized or common; still beneath the tent of the eastern emir, or in the crowded cemeteries of the capital, death is an awful arresting thing. While civilization has robbed other horrors of their wonder, death is still the insoluble event. But here we have something more than death; we have separation.… Death becomes awfully credible when those we are accustomed to live with die. We feel then as those tell us they have felt who have experienced an earthquake. The earth, the most stable of things, becomes to them unstable, and to us the solid life becomes hollow, and ‘I may be the next’ is the first thought.”—Robertson.
“God keeps a niche
In heaven to hold our idols; and, albeit
He brake them to our faces and denied
That our close kisses should impair their white,
I know we shall behold them raised complete,
The dust swept from their beauty—glorified,
New Memnons singing in the great God-light.”
“When you and I die, Providence will not be buried in our grave; the ‘Redeemer liveth.’ We entrust to Him our eternal life, shall we not entrust to Him our dearest earthly relatives? He will be a husband to my beloved wife, and a father to my children, when I can no longer look after them; His gracious presence will cheer them in solitude, shield them in danger, guide their inexperience through untrodden paths in the darkest night.”—Dr. Waugh.
“Before we had the particular losses of Naomi, now we have them all reckoned up in the total sum. “A threefold cable,” saith Solomon, “is not easily broken,” and yet we see Naomi’s threefold cable of comfort, twisted of her husband and her two sons, broken by death. Of the two sexes, the woman is the weaker; of women, old women are most feeble; of old women, widows most woful; of widows, those that are poor, their plight most pitiful; of poor widows, those that want children their case most doleful; of widows that want children, those that once had them and after lost them, their estate most desolate; of widows that have had children, those that are strangers in a foreign country, their condition most comfortless. Yet all these meet together in Naomi, as in the centre of sorrow, to make the measure of her misery ‘pressed down, shaken together, running over.’ I conclude, therefore, many men have had affliction—none like Job; many women have had tribulation—none like Naomi.”—Fuller.
“High up the mountain slopes of Chamouni there is a plain covered with verdure and flowers. Thither the shepherds of the Alps drive their flocks. At one point of the ascent the rocks rise almost perpendicular. When the flock arrives at this point, none is bold enough to venture; but the shepherds gather the lambs in their arms, and toss them upon the plain; the whole flock clambers after them, and soon is feeding upon the rich herbage, or ruminating beneath the ‘rose-trees of the Alps.’ Bereaved parents, the lamb of your love has been carried up, and beckons you to follow where are flowers sweeter than those of the Alps, and air and sunshine purer and brighter than is found up in Chamouni.”—Dic. of Illustrations.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—
Ruth 1:6-7. Then [and] she arose. She arose in order to return. Et surrexit ut in patriam pergeret (Vulgate). With her daughters-in-law. Both the young women set out with the intention of going to Bethlehem (Bertheau and others). That she might return. לָשׁוּב (to return) applies strictly and grammatically to Naomi only. For she had heard. By the month of an angel (Targum). The cause of her rising to return was not the death of her sons, but the message (Speaker’s Com.). That the Lord had visited, etc. Because of the righteousness of Ibzan the judge, and because of the simplicity of the pious Boaz (Targum). פקֹד occurs repeatedly for such a return of Divine remembrance (Lange). The language (comp. Luke 1:72; Luke 7:16), especially in the LXX., can hardly fail to draw the mind onward to that used in connection with the coming of Christ (Wordsworth). In giving them bread. Psalms 107:35-37; Luke 1:68. From the turn of the language it may properly be inferred that the famine was not the result of war, but of drought (Lange). And they went on the way. And they already went, etc. (Lange). From this verse it appears plain that all started out for the land of Judah (Bertheau)? Until now Naomi had looked on her daughters-in-law as only bearing her company for a while (Dr. Cassel, in Lange). The journey to the borders of their own land would probably be an act of oriental courtesy, whether they intended to proceed further or not (Speaker’s Com.). The sense here demands that this should be read with the following verse: i.e., “On their way Naomi said,” etc.
Theme—THE AWAKENING IN MOAB
“Ah, graceless heart! would that it could regain
From the dim storehouse of sensations past
The impress full of tender awe, that night
Which fell on us! It was as if the Christ
Had been drawn down from heaven to track us home.”
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law.
No rest, no comfort, no profit in Moab. Perhaps Naomi had said, “I shall die in my nest” (Job 29:18). Not so, the nest is broken up. Now she was ready to say, “I would rather have been a beggar in Canaan, with my husband and my sons about me, than be the possessor of everything in Moab without them” (Tyng). Note. How vain and empty the world will seem to us when the day of a similar awakening comes! (Luke 15:16-17.) Enjoyment gone, wealth vanished, hope departed, loved ones taken away, Moab begins to shew itself in its real character. Like the prodigal, Naomi “came to herself,” and remembers now that there is bread enough and to spare in the Father’s house.
We have here—
I. The result of a mind’s transition. “She arose,” a decided, and, in this case, a decisive step. The expression similar to that used in Luke 15:0. In all probability there would be several preliminary stages: first, the longing for home, then the resolve, then the act. Note. (a) Right purposes are good so far as they go; to be profitable they must be followed by prompt and decisive action. This is especially true in the critical moments of humanlife. Note. (b) It is time to leave the place of our abode when the godly are taken away, and none left but the wicked to converse with (Bernard).
The awakening, no doubt, was painful; but mark, it is the beginning of a new life. Naomi’s experience a very common one,—through sorrow to repentance, through bitterness to decision. Note. (c) Adversity saves multitudes whom prosperity would possibly have destroyed. The world becomes distasteful, the pleasures of Moab delight us no longer, rather they weary us. Then comes the old longing for home. Many a prodigal, many a backslider, has been brought to himself again in this way. Note. (d) Such awakenings are the work of the Holy Spirit, though brought about by natural causes. Possibly she had heard the Divine voice saying, “Arise ye, depart,” etc. (Micah 2:10, Isaiah 52:11) in a still more unmistakable manner. A simple word aroused Jacob, and sent him back to Bethel (Genesis 35:1). The best men need such at times. (See next outline.) We have here—
II. The influence of a right and wise decision, not only upon her own course of action, but upon “her daughters-in-law.” If Elimelech’s going to Moab had been the fatal thing in connection with his sons, Naomi’s return is to be a blessing to one of the wives at least. This influence argues much in favour of Naomi’s piety (cf. Ruth 1:16) and her sweetness and beauty of character. Note. The truly virtuous are of an attractive power (Bernard). Goodness, even among infidels, will make itself friends. Orpah and Ruth ready to forsake their kindred, their country, and even their own mother, for a stranger whose affinity died with her sons (Bishop Hall).
We have here—
III. The reason of this immediate and decisive step. She had heard that the Lord had visited, etc. Note (a) that God’s mercy is here as elsewhere the keynote of man’s return. The pious Hebrew saw God in all things (Cox). Second causes had not as yet hidden the Almighty. A lesson for to-day;
(1) in temporal affairs.
“Happy the man who sees a God employed
In all the good and ill that chequers life.”—Cowper.
(2) in spiritual matters. In the larger sphere of human history, the fact that God has visited His people (Luke 1:68) is the great reason for man’s return unto Him. More than this, (b) We never shall return unto Him until we have seen the hand of God in human affairs. Naomi’s faith quickened her footsteps homeward, a faith which came by hearing: “She had heard.” She believed, and a simple trust in God solved all her difficulties. Hence “she arose.” The reasons for her remaining in Moab had ceased, if they ever existed. Now it was dangerous to remain. See the hand of God in all this leading her (Isaiah 57:18). Recognize it even in the rumour, etc. Trifles in the moment of indecision may be angel-hands, guiding us homeward and Godward, Note (c) Not all that is in Moab can keep the godly there, when God calls them away (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).
Bernard on “How that the Lord had visited His people”:—
That God seeth His people in adversity and want, and cometh in His due time to help them. We are not to think ourselves forgotten in great extremities (Exodus 3:7-8), but rest in the stability of His love and promises.
That God hath ever had more specially a people for His own, called His people, called the sons of God (Genesis 6:0). Not chosen out of any merit in them, but of His mere love (Deuteronomy 7:8; Ephesians 1:4).
That corporal food and the necessaries of this life are God’s gift. (Deuteronomy 11:14-15; Hosea 2:8-9; Joel 2:19). He makes the earth fruitful. Man without Him can do nothing (Psalms 127:2; Haggai 1:6; Deuteronomy 8:18).
Fuller on this—
By bread is meant all sustenance necessary for the maintaining of our lives, whereof bread is the chiefest. As the temple of Dagon principally leaned on two pillars, and fell to the ground when Samson took them away, so the buildings of our bodies chiefly rely on bread and water for outward sustenance, which being taken away, they cannot but presently decay. Let others, therefore, wish those dishes which curiosity hath invented rather to increase than satisfy hunger, which are more delightsome to the eye than pleasing to the palate, yet more pleasing to the palate than wholesome to the stomach; let us pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Bread is a dish in every course: without this can be no feast, with this can be no famine.
“In all the ways of earthly feeling which man can take in order to seek his happiness, he must sooner or later fall into a death-like absence of joy; it becoming clear to him that he has fallen into a grievous delusion.”—Lange.
“There had been a famine in Judah, but ah! she found a far worse famine in Moab.… Her poverty when she arrived back again seems to argue other troubles besides bereavement.… Far better was this beginning of a return with conscious emptiness to God than her former going out ‘full.’ ”—Tyng.
“We know not precisely how the change was effected.… Perhaps the Divine Spirit wrought by the power of memory, thawed the ice away from the frosted spirit by sunny pictures of the past—by the vision of the ancestral home.”—The Prodigal Son, Morley Punshon.
“Whilst her husband and her sons lived, I hear no motion of retiring home; now these earthly stays are removed, she thinks presently of removing to her country. Neither can we so heartily think of our home above, while we are furnished with these worldly contentments; when God strips us of them, straightway our mind is homeward.”—Bishop Hall.
“How often is it that in this way the darkest day is the beginning of the brightest life. Reverses, difficulties, trials, are often amongst God’s best blessings. From the loss of property is brought out very often the latent energies of character, a power to suffer and to act which, in the querulous being, without a wish ungratified, you would have scarcely said existed at all.”—Robertson.
“To Naomi there comes the voice, ‘Arise, this is not your rest, it is polluted.’ Like the prodigal, for the first time she felt in her heart, if she did not give utterance with her lips, ‘I will arise and go to Bethlehem, the house of bread, my Father’s house.’ ”—Dr. Cumming.
“It has been well and beautifully said that woman has no life but in her family. While her husband and sons lived, their home was hers—there was the scene of her duties, there of her affections; but now those ties were broken, she was called on to act for herself; and with energy and with dignity she did act. Israel was her proper home; and now it was seen, perhaps for the first time, that her heart was there.”—Macartney.
“All are not taken; there are left behind
Living beloveds, tender looks to bring
And make the daylight still a happy thing,
And tender voices to make soft the wind:
But if it were not so—if I could find
No love in all the world for comforting,
Nor any path but hollowly did ring
Where ‘dust to dust’ the love from life disjoined,
And if, before those sepulchres unmoving,
I stood alone (as some forsaken lamb
Goes bleating up the moors in weary dearth),
Crying, ‘Where are ye, O my loved and loving?’—
I know a voice would sound, ‘Daughter, I AM;
Can I suffice for HEAVEN, and not for earth?’ ”
“When Naomi, the aged widow, proposed to return to Bethlehem, the two young widows were so charmed with her faith, so struck with her meek submission beneath a load that would have crushed the strongest giant in the land of Moab, so convinced that this aged widow had some spring of consolation that the world had not, some sweet source of peace that they knew not of, that both the young widows, under impulsive attachment to a beautiful character, resolved at all hazards to go with her.”—Dr. Cumming.
“I suppose when any messenger arrived in Moab out of the land of Canaan, Naomi did presently repair unto him and load him with questions concerning the estate of her country. For nine years Naomi had no news, but of want and scarcity; yet the tenth year there came a man who brought her word that the valleys began to laugh and sing with plenty.”—Fuller.
“Let none therefore pretend in needless excuses to linger in the land of Egypt when they may return unto the honey-flowing land of Canaan. Joseph must not tarry, with his wife and son, when he is dead that sought the life of the child.”—Fuller.
Theme—THE HOMEWARD PILGRIMAGE
“What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind
In the primal sympathy
Which having been ever must be,
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering,
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.”—Wordsworth.
Wherefore she went forth out of the place.
The real commencement of the narrative as it concerns the true history of Ruth. All else preparatory, explanatory, introductory. A fresh starting-point in the history of Naomi. Poor, solitary, and almost broken-hearted,—yet this is the most promising hour of her life. Her prosperity dates from it, begins to dawn when the night of affliction seems darkest. Divine wisdom has put a boundary to this deep sea of affliction, and said, “Here thy proud waves shall be stayed.” Christ suffered Peter to sink, not to perish—Jonah to be overwhelmed, not destroyed—sent Titus lest Paul should be swallowed up of sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:6). Note. No state so bad, no circumstance so desperate, as to be considered altogether hopeless. With God’s children the smoking furnace of temptation usually precedes the smiling lamp of gospel consolation.—Macgowan.
In connection with this return, notice—
I. The thought and purpose. The home ties which bound Naomi to Moab exist no longer. Her husband dead; like Israel, happy only as she realizes that her Maker is her husband (Isaiah 54:5), all things are ready, and now her face is set towards Bethlehem. Returns like these the human response to the Divine appeal, “I am married unto you” (Jeremiah 3:14). When they spring up in the heart of the true Israelite, where else can they lead but to the land of the sanctuary and the promises? Necessary then and always that men should renew their spiritual youth—trace back the path until they have assurance that they are standing on holy ground. Jacob responded to a similar appeal, and went back to Bethel, the place of the covenant (Genesis 30:0). Note. (a) Homeward with such often, perhaps always, means Godward. Life seems to move in a circle sometimes, departing only to come back again; wandering afar to return at length, finding itself at last at the point from whence it started. Christian experience knows something of this. With many, as years advance, there is a return to the old landmarks, to the simplicity of old experiences, to the faith and theology learnt around a mother’s knee. You may picture many an experience in this way—an oasis of childhood and an oasis of old age, and between them the barren waste, scorched of passion, and laid desolate of sin, which men call life. With Naomi, and with all, the past irreparable, but the future availing. Note (b) in connection with this return, the Divine intention must have embraced two things—
(1) The renewal of a past consecration;
(2) The revival of a past spiritual life.
II. The significant fact. Men may rise from this lowness and deadness, to this earnestness and newness of life, in a moment and with a word. Samson is caught in the Delilah spell, and bound with the Philistine bonds, but something of the old strength lingers (Judges 16:8-15). Note. (a) A plain distinction between the true Israelite and those who know not God—enough for hope, not enough for presumption. The child carries the home instincts wherever the path may lead; the alien has never known them, though he lives in the Father’s house. Naomi an illustration of this. Life without God, a desert to which the sweet rains of heaven bring no fertility. But life with this thought of God in the heart, hidden, slumbering, like the parched and thirsty earth, which may revive again in the time of the latter rain. Naomi’s past history in Moab may have been a dead and barren one. In no single point had her condition been improved by the change. Her experience the type of a very common Christian experience. The freshness of first love—gone. The glow of zeal and the ardour of devotion—a thing of the past. The joy of believing—well-nigh forgotten. Now love has torments, and faith is full of fears, and devotion is a burden. Note. (b) For such there is a return:
(1) it may be now;
(2) it may be accepted;
(3) it may be final and for ever. We are to think of it as necessary—as not impossible—as not too late.
“In December, the days grow shorter till the twenty-first, the shortest day, when, at a precise moment, the sun pauses and begins to return towards the north.… So there is a precise moment when the soul pauses in its departure from God, and begins to return towards Him. The fruits of that return may not be at once visible; there may be long interior conflicts before the coldness and deadness of the heart is overcome; but at length the good will triumph, and instead of winter and desolation, all the Christian graces will spring up in the summer of divine love.”—Beecher.
“With fettered steps we left our pleasant land,
Envying our fathers in their peaceful grave.
The strangers’ bread with bitter tears we steep;
And when our weary eyes should sink to sleep,
‘Neath the murk midnight we steal forth to weep.…
The born in sorrow shall bring forth in joy;
Thy mercy, Lord, shall lead Thy children home,
And Canaan’s vines for us their fruits shall bear,
And Hermon’s bees their honeyed stores prepare.”
“Like Bunyan’s pilgrim when he had slept in the bowers of ease, there is to be that humiliating journey, which is not forward, but backward, until the lost treasure has been recovered.”—B.
“The Bethlehem of the past may become the Bethlehem of the future, once again ‘a house of bread’ to God’s chosen people, if they will only turn their faces thitherward. It may seem a pilgrimage of penitence and sorrow—the path slopes backward and downward—but new consecration is new life, and this is the repentance which needs not to be repented of.”—B.
“As in music there are particular keynotes, so also in the whole wide life of the world and of man. Life has a deep keynote which answers to the note of life in its bloom. It is called return—return to God—return home—and it is accompanied with a longing after home.”—Lange.
“She arose to return, not to another idolatrous land, but ‘home.’ ”—Tyng.
“Memory is busy, and upon her painted fancy she pictures the home-scenes of the happy past.… Anxiety is busy, and she projects her wonder into the nearing future, and speculates upon the probabilities of her reception.”—Punshon.
“There is not a trouble so deep and swift-running that we may not cross safely over, if we have courage to steer, and strength to pull.”—Beecher.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Ruth 1:8; Ruth 1:10. And Naomi said [Then said Naomi] unto. The first recorded utterance of Naomi. Cox imagines them having reached the ford of the Arnon [N. boundary of Moab], or perhaps the fords of the Jordan [E. boundary of Judah]. Go, return each. Shews that they were not natural sisters (Bernard). To her mother’s house. The mention of the mother’s house, which the separation of the women’s house or tent from that of the men facilitates, is natural.… has more tenderness.… does not imply the death of their fathers (Speaker’s Com.). Ruth’s father was still alive (Ruth 2:11) (cf. Leviticus 22:13). The Lord deal kindly with you. Lit. Jehovah do kindness with you. In עִמָכֶם the suffix is masc., although referring to women, a colloquial inaccuracy found in conversations (Lange). With the dead. The Papists expound it, that these women did fast and pray for the souls of their deceased husbands (Fuller). The sense is in all probability, “You have been kind to your husbands, who now are dead, whilst they were living.” Fuller thinks, however, that more may be implied. The Lord [Jehovah] grant you. The pronouns in these verses are surprisingly corrupt in the Hebrew (Kennicott). Originally colloquial inaccuracies (Gesen.). [See Intro. par.
2.] So with the verbs. When courage, virility, fortitude, efficiency, or the like, is intended to be predicated of females, these verbs are put in the masculine gender (Prof. Lee). All but two of these inaccuracies are actually found in conversations (Lange). Ye may find rest [a resting-place] each in the house of her husband. She wished them happier marriages than they had with her sons, who were so soon taken from them (Josephus). In the East of antiquity, the position of an unmarried woman a very unhappy and perilous one (Cox). The Hebrews spoke of the husband’s house as a woman’s “menuchah,” or “rest,”—her secure and happy asylum from servitude, neglect, license (Cox, Lange). On the construction see Gesen. 130. Then she kissed them. To take leave of them (Keil). So Genesis 31:28; Genesis 31:55; 2 Samuel 19:39; Acts 20:37. Gave them her parting kiss, as the Jews call it (Gill). A rejection of every form of homage proceeds from superstition rather than from Scripture usage (Macgowan). And they said, “Surely.” כּי before a direct statement serves to strengthen it, and it is almost equivalent to a positive assurance (Keil, Wright). Not true in all cases (Lange). Dr. Cassel trans, “for,” but first supplies, “We will not turn back.” Best taken like οτι in the New Testament before words directly quoted (Lange). Not so, but to be translated as “certainly” (Wright); “nay” (Geddes, Cox); in an adversative sense as “but” (Rosen.). We will return. To be proselyted (Targum).
Theme.—THE FIRST TRIAL OF AFFECTION
“O friendship! of all things the
Most rare, and therefore most rare because most
Excellent; whose comforts in misery
Are always sweet, and whose counsels in
Prosperity are ever fortunate.”—Lilly.
And Naomi said, … Go, return each to her mother’s house.
The farewell greetings of friends, the words spoken in parting—everything connected with such moments—will tend to draw out our truer and deeper characteristics, as well as our tenderest and holiest feelings. Having travelled some distance, Naomi’s unselfish nature manifests itself (Braden). Silence has commended her virtues so far. It would seem she had not urged Orpah and Ruth to go with her even to this distance. We are not to see her, however, in what follows, as careless of their best interest. They are to go willingly and knowing what lies before them, if they are to go wisely. The Targum puts this in a very striking manner [cf. Crit. Note on Ruth 1:16]. Of course their presence would have been a comfort to Naomi. But note. A true lover is loath to disadvantage friends for the sake of private interests (Bernard).
We have here—
I. The care and thoughtfulness of a generous spirit for the outward estate of others. She knew they had friends in Moab, none in Judah. Even a friendship like hers could scarcely supply the place of a mother’s love. Go, return each to her mother’s house. To go forward with her might be for the saving of their souls. Might there not also be something of selfishness in this? Note. Our efforts for the good of others need to be watched very narrowly when they coincide with our own interests. Selfishness the most subtle and insidious of all sins. Judas an instance of one who under a plausible pretext cloaked the most mercenary motives (John 12:6). If Naomi errs at all, she errs on that side which demands a sacrifice of her convenience and feelings. Her sense of justice and love towards these young warm-hearted women will not allow her to reap any advantage at their cost (Braden). She would not have them come to Bethlehem merely on her account. Notice. (a) Self-love contrary to Christ’s commands; against the true fellowship of Christians one with another; contrary to the end of our calling (1 Corinthians 10:24; 2 Corinthians 12:14; Ephesians 4:28). (b) A sin as between man and man. Contrary to that care which God commands for the preservation of other men’s estates (Deuteronomy 22:2-4; Exodus 23:4-5). (c) A sin as between man and God. Self-love is idolatry. Note. True religion will shew its influence in every part of our conduct; like the sap of a living tree, which penetrates the most distant boughs.
II. A fair test and trial of the fervour and sincerity of those who have already been influenced towards good things. The deepest religious interests were involved. A choice like this not to be made lightly and from mere personal motives as towards ourselves. Our social influence may be consecrated, but questions like these are to be decided on a higher ground.
Naomi would try (a) the strength of their affection to herself. Rather she would see (b) whether nature wrought more powerfully than grace (Bernard). So Christ tried those who followed Him (Luke 9:57-58). The young ruler (Mark 10:17-22). Note. With those who have been led towards holy things by the force of a noble and consecrated life, a similar time of testing is sure to come. The Saviour puts it in one strong and expressive phrase (Luke 14:26). The hour arrives when every secondary consideration, every subordinate motive, is counted as nothing in the balances. The momentous question stands on its own merits, and asks of us a deliberate choice. Notice that the same issues were involved here as upon Carmel (1 Kings 18:21).
“It is no sign of friendship to draw others into any calamity for our comfort’s sake, however much they may press it. Bear the burden bravely alone, if it be possible, and do not crush another heart, though it plead with generous sympathy to share the load.”—Braden.
“Naomi could not be so insensible of her own good as not to know how much comfort she might reap to the solitariness both of her voyage and her widowhood by the society of these two younger widows, whose affection she had so well tried; even every partnership is a mitigation of evils; yet so earnestly doth she dissuade them from accompanying her, as that she could not have said more, if she had thought their presence irksome and burdensome. Good dispositions love not to pleasure themselves with the disadvantage of others; and had rather be miserable alone, than to draw in partners to their sorrow; for the sight of another’s calamity doth rather double their own; and if themselves were free, would affect them with compassion. As contrarily, ill minds care not how many companions they have in misery, nor how few consorts in good; if themselves miscarry, they would be content all the world were enwrapped with them in the same distress.”—Bishop Hall.
“A sound-hearted friend will follow the apostle’s advice, not seeking his own, but his friend’s welfare. True love will not make worse, where it cannot make better.”—Bernard.
“Many give counsel like lawyers for their fees, but few like Naomi for their conscience. She loves their company well, but counsels their safety better.”—Topsell.
“It is harder for me than for you that we must part. But the hand of the Lord is gone out against me. I have no hope for the future. I must walk my darkened path alone. But you, you may still find an asylum with the people of your own race. Go then and return each to her mother’s house.”—Cox.
“Maternal love knows best how to comfort a daughter in affliction.”—Keil.
“Here we see widows, if poor, are to be maintained by their parents. These widows (1 Timothy 5:16) were not to be burdensome to the Church, but to be relieved by their own kindred.”—Fuller.
“If religion does not make us lovely and amiable in our family relations, it does nothing for us, but deceives us to our ruin.”—Simeon.
“Ittai the Gittite, when following David in his flight from Absalom, was urged to leave him, as Elisha also was repeatedly by Elijah, previous to his assumption to heaven. There was no positive duty lying upon them, or, at all events, none which David and Elijah were not at liberty to dispense with.”—Simeon.
Theme.—A BENEDICTION AND A VALEDICTION
“Wouldst thou from sorrow find a sweet relief?
Or is thy heart oppressed with woes untold?
Balm wouldst thou gather for corroding grief?
Pour blessings round thee like a shower of gold.”—Charles Wilcox.
The Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt, etc.
The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, etc.
A scene now begins of unequalled tenderness and amiableness (Lange). The inspired words, “She openeth her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness” (Proverbs 31:26) truly verified in Naomi. The speech seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6), her words breathe all the fervour of piety and the warmth of a self-denying love. We find in them (a) a generous recognition of the worth of these two young women, and (b) an affectionate regard for their future welfare. This generous, unselfish spirit, one of the secrets of Naomi’s influence. Note. If we had more like Naomi in the Church, we might expect to win more like Ruth from the world. See how takingly love behaves itself in every condition, on every occasion, to every person, and about everything (Pennington). It sees God in all things, and all things in God.
The text contains,
I. A prayer. Like David, her eyes are unto the Lord (Psalms 25:15). She could not part without praying with and for them (Macgowan). Poor and destitute, she had no other means of requiting their kindness (Fuller). No other was necessary. A prayer like this better than all gifts. Goes up in a shower of tears, but descends in a shower of blessings—returns laden with comfort, like the southern winds in Egypt, whose wings are charged with the sweet odours of spices (Penn).
Notice. Naomi prayed with equal earnestness for both. Did not know which the Lord had chosen (Macgowan).
She asks for them (a) The favour of God; His kindness, smile, benediction—all the Hebrews would include under their beautiful phrase, “The light of His countenance (Numbers 6:26; Psalms 4:6; Psalms 40:3; Psalms 89:15); (b) The comforts and blessings which with God’s approval would flow from a second marriage. Only in the house of a husband could a woman be sure of respect and protection (Cox). (See Crit. and Ex. Notes.) The prayer agrees with the apostle’s direction (1 Timothy 5:14), which applies to young widows like Orpah and Ruth. (c) And these in the measure they had meted to the dead (cf. Matthew 7:2; Colossians 3:23-24) and to her.
(1) Duties honourably fulfilled in the past come in to bring a blessing upon us in the present. Who would not wish for a similar commendation to this of the text? especially with regard to our treatment of the dead. They had given good measure, pressed down, running over; now it is returned to them. When mothers-in-law will thus freely testify of their sons’ wives, it is evident that duty has been nobly fulfilled; for they usually set up a high standard (Braden). An instinctive conviction in every heart that God will reward us according to our treatment of others (Judges 1:6; Romans 2:15; cf. also Exodus 21:23-25; 1 Samuel 15:33; James 2:13).
(2) That dutiful conduct has few sweeter rewards in this world than its acknowledgment. Even aliens to the hope of Israel have experienced this. Ruth does not appear to have exceeded Orpah in affection for those who were gone. The commendation shared equally by both. Shews, on the other hand, that moral and social virtues, and the faultless discharge of the duties of this life, offer no suitable ground for the hope of salvation. How many wives, as tender and sympathetic as Orpah, have gone back again, and been unfaithful to the little light which has shone upon them from God! Yet, even with these, no act of kindness, no self-sacrifice, no silent deed of love, is unknown to Him.
(3) That prayer for us gains warmth and power by what men see in us. Every wish is a prayer with God (Mrs. Browning). The warmest wishes will in the main follow the most worthy. Live well! and the prayers of the good will gain in faith and confidence. So Paul evidently regarded Timothy (2 Timothy 1:3-6).
The text contains,
II. A valediction. Her motherly benediction was the best valediction (Trapp). She blesses them not in the name of Chemosh, but in the name of Jehovah (Lawson). Gold and silver she had not for them, but that which was better, heartiest orisons and well-wishes (Trapp). A heart impelled by love and self-devotion does much to invest the scene with its sacred charm. No priest like Mclchisedec, yet Naomi blesses them as the patriarch blessed Abraham—as Simeon blessed the infant Christ and His mother (Luke 2:34), with like faith, and a like trust in God (Luke 2:28)—as Elizabeth blessed Mary (ib. Luke 1:42-45).
Note. Love amid its own sorrows will still think of the welfare of others. Has a word of comfort and kind wishes in what is intended to be the hour of separation. We get a glimpse here
(1) Into a family life that may serve as a model for all (Lange). What a picture of peace and happiness does it suggest! The women have not only heard the religion of Jehovah confessed in Moab, but they have seen the expression of it in the life (Lange). Never more so than now.
(2) Into the way in which the godly used and made memorable the separations which come in life (cf. Genesis 28:1-3; Genesis 31:55; Genesis 43:14). So Paul commended the elders of Ephesus to God (Acts 20:32). So Jonathan separated from David (1 Samuel 20:42). Men do it now, but not with that reverence and earnest desire meet and befitting in such a case (Bernard).
Bernard on this—
That it is a duty to pray for those who do either us or ours good (Ruth 2:12; 1 Samuel 25:33; 1 Samuel 24:19).
That, at parting, friends are to pray one for another (Genesis 28:1-3; Genesis 31:55; Genesis 43:14; Acts 20:36).
That the godly are persuaded that the Lord is a merciful rewarder of the duties of love which one doth toward another (Colossians 3:24).
That children should so well deserve of parents, yea, though but parents-in-law, as that they may be moved heartily to pray for them.
That God will not only barely reward, but so deal with us as we deal with others.
As ye have dealt with the dead and with me.
That daughters of a bad race may prove good wives and good children-in-law sometimes.
That good and truely loving wives love their husbands’ parents for their husbands’ sake.
The Lord grant you that ye may find rest.
That godly and wise friends pray not only in general, but in particular, as they know them to stand in need, for whom they pray.
That godly mothers-in-law are hearty well-wishers to their children-in-law.
That second marriages are lawful.
That husbands are to be their wives’ rest.
That it is God’s blessing to be peaceably married.
Fuller remarks on kindly … as ye have dealt with the dead:—
A godly man dying, leaves behind him,
First, his body; to which we must be kind by burial and lamentation.
Secondly, his estate; to which we must be kind by careful and faithful administration.
Thirdly, his children, friends, or kindred; to whom we must be kind by love and affection.
Fourthly, his faults and failings; to which we must be kind by silence and suppression.
Fifthly, his memory and virtues; to which we must be kind by congratulation, commemoration, and imitation.
“Prayer eases the soul in times of distress, when it is oppressed with griefs and fears, by giving them vent, and that in so advantageous a way, emptying them into the bosom of God. The very vent, were it but into the air, gives ease; or speak your grief rather to a statue than smother it; much more ease does it give to pour it forth into the lap of a confidential and sypathising friend, even though unable to help us; yet still more of one who can help; and of all friends, our God is, beyond all comparison, the surest, and most affectionate, and most powerful.”—Leighton.
“The words of parting friends, who are likely never to meet again, make an impression not to be erased. They are like the words of the dying; for our friends are dead to us when we see them no more.”—Lawson.
“Our duties which we discharge to parents or husbands are as pledges before the Lord to do good unto us.… Goodness procureth goodness, and evil begetteth evil, like as birds breed birds, and fishes fishes.”—Topsell.
“When the tribe of Reuben, Gad, and half Manasses erected the altar Ed at the passage over Jordan, it startled all the rest of the tribes, as if under it they had hatched some superstitious design; whereas indeed the altar was not intended for sacrifice, but was merely an altar of memorial, to evidence to posterity that these two tribes and a half, though divided from the rest, were conjoined with them in the worship of the same God. In like manner, when some ministers thank God for the departure of His servants, some people are so weak, and some so wilful, to condemn such for passages of Popery, as if superstitious prayers were made for their departure; whereas, indeed, such congratulation, on the contrary, speaks our confidence on their present bliss and happiness, and continueth the Church militant with the Church triumphant, as the completing one entire Catholic Church of Jesus Christ.”—Fuller.
“It is the best remembrance of our dead progenitors to follow their virtues. St. Paul cannot look upon Timothy, but presently calls to mind his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, though the latter, no doubt, was long since departed.”—Fuller.
“Men and women were joined in marriage (Genesis 2:0) to the end to be a mutual help one to the other; but many prove such helpers as the king of Assyria did to Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:21), of whom it is said, ‘He distressed him, but helped him not.’ ”—Fuller.
“A man’s best fortune or his worst is his wife.”—English Proverb.
“It is an honour to the deceased sons, Mahlon and Chilion, that they made such a selection of wives; but they must also have been worthy of the enduring love they awakened, notwithstanding that there were no children to strengthen the bonds of affection. The attachment of the Moabitish women, Ruth and Orpah, to their new family must be grounded on psychological facts, with a knowledge of which exegesis cannot dispense. The Moabitish women had entered into an Israelitish house, and had breathed the beneficent atmosphere of a family of Judah. Marriage and family life form the real mirror of religious belief and worship. Hence the apostle, in his sublime manner, arranges the relations of husband and wife by referring to the love of Christ for His Church (Ephesians 5:22). Ancient Israel therefore distinguished itself from the inhabitants of Canaan, not merely by the name of its God, but by its life at home in the family, by faithfulness and love to wife and child. Purity and morality in marriage were the necessary results of faith in the only living God.”—Lange.
“The unhappy relations between daughter and mother-in-law, elsewhere usual, must in general have been unknown in Israel. Otherwise the prophet could not represent it as a sign of the extremest social ruin that as the son against the father and the daughter against the mother, so (Micah 7:6) the daughter-in-law rises up against the mother-in-law.”—Lange.
“The mother-in-law has forgotten that she was ever a daughter-in-law. The best mother-in-law is one who is dead.”—German Proverbs.
“Here we learn. God, in the rewarding of the good deeds of His servants, dealeth with them accordingly as they have done with others. Yet far be it from us to suppose that in our stained and imperfect works there is any meritorious virtue, which deserveth that God should proportion a reward unto them; but this freely proceedeth from God’s favour, who, to encourage us in well-doing, will not suffer a cup of cold water to pass without its reward. Do we desire, then, to leave dutiful children and faithful servants hereafter? Let us be dutiful to our parents, faithful to our masters. On the other side, hath God afflicted us with Zibahs to our servants, and with Absaloms to our sons? Let us reflect our eyes on that which is past, and call ourselves to account, whether we formerly have not been unfaithful to our masters, undutiful to our parents: no doubt we may then take up the confession of Adonibezek: ‘As I have dealt with others, so the Lord hath done to me.’ ”—Fuller.
“Benign restorer of the soul,
Who ever fliest to bring relief,
When first we feel the rude control
Of Love or Pity, Joy or Grief.”—Rogers, On a Tear.
Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voice and wept.
In every life these sudden outbursts of feeling. The clouds do not gather and the showers fall more naturally than sorrow expresses itself in tears. Christ Himself has shewn us that even a perfect humanity is not outside the realm of this law (John 11:0). Note. (a) Apathy is not fortitude. The Christian is no Stoic. Firmness with him is to exist side by side with the tenderest susceptibilities (Ecclesiastes 3:4; Ecclesiastes 7:2; Romans 12:15).
Times even when a loud and demonstrative sorrow like this is appropriate; They lifted up their voice and wept. So the Ephesian elders said farewell to Paul (Acts 20:37-38), “sorrowing most of all that they should see his face no more.” So with these three widows. Their love was a passion of the heart, breaking forth into wailing and weeping (Bernard). Note. (b) Community of trials unites human hearts, as fire unites metals (Dr. Waugh).
I. At the recollection of the many endearing and joyful circumstances of the past. Their tears a tribute to the love which bound them so closely together to the memories they shared in common, and to “the dead,” with whom they had dealt so faithfully. The very joy which had been theirs comes in now to enhance their sorrow. Naomi’s reference to the past (Ruth 1:8) probably the key to this affecting scene.
II. At the realization of their poverty and defenceless condition. So far, however, love was strengthened rather than abated by their trials. Affliction had evidently drawn them closer together. Note. There is a charitable and holy weeping for the miseries of others (Bernard), and of our own.
III. At the very thought of a separation as possible. Adieu!—more tears have been shed at that word than at the utterance of any other. Separation!—a mysterious, if a familiar subject. Its shadow seems to have fallen upon the spirit of Christ Himself as He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. With these young women, Naomi’s kiss meant their dismissal, and they wept at the thought of parting with one who had so endeared herself to them. Note. One of the sorest afflictions incident to this life is the everlasting separation of those who are mutually dear to each other (Lawson).
IV. In protestation of their fidelity. Possibly the bitterest trial of all with both was that Naomi should doubt their willingness to go with her, and thus put it to the test. The event (Ruth 1:14) proved that Naomi was right. So Peter viewed the words of Christ (Mark 14:27-31), and protested “the more vehemently.” Note. Tears are not always a proof of an enduring fidelity. Orpah and Peter both sincere, but mistaken. So present sorrow for sin is not to be taken always as a sign of ultimate repentance. Many who have wept with Christ, it may be, as well as many who have done wonderful works in His name, will be found at last saying, “Lord, Lord, open unto us” (Matthew 7:22; Luke 13:25).
Bernard on this—
Then she kissed them. This action we may find fourfold: carnal, as in fleshly lust; hypocritical, as it was with Job and Judas; holy, of which the apostle speaks (1 Corinthians 16:20); or civil, as here used at the meeting of friends (Genesis 29:11; Genesis 33:4), at their departing (Genesis 31:55). It was honestly used to testify love and unity; therefore in the primitive Church, before they received the sacrament, they thus saluted one another.
And they lifted up their voice and wept.
Weeping is used in Scripture—I. To express sorrow at the parting of friends (2 Kings 13:14; 1 Samuel 20:41); II. For very joy (Genesis 45:14; Genesis 46:29; Genesis 29:11); III. In pity and compassion at the misery of others (Job 30:25; Jeremiah 4:19; Luke 19:41); IV. At the apprehension of kindness (1 Samuel 24:16).
“Observe the beautiful simplicity of Scripture, which counts it not a thing unmanly to own that Abraham, the stern, iron-hearted saint, has wept. Joseph ‘lifted up his voice and wept,’ Jacob, Peter, Christ, are all said to have wept. Contrast this with the conventional feeling which represents grief as unworthy manhood.”—Robertson.
“Tears! what are tears? The babe weeps in its cot;
The mother singing; at her marriage-bell
The bride weeps, and before the oracle
Of high-faned hills the poet has forgot
Such moisture on his cheeks. Thank God for grace,
Ye who weep only! If as some have done,
Ye grope tear-blinded in a desert place,
And touch but tombs,—look up! those tears will run
Soon in long rivers down the lifted face,
And leave the vision clear for stars and sun.”
“Who never wept”—What right have you to say that of angels? None! I own to none in revelation, none in reason, none in anything, except a spontaneous and universal idea.”—Elihu Burritt.
“Through the dim windows of affliction how changed is the aspect of the world! bow cold, and grey, and desolate, all its radiant glory departed, all its beauteous hues reduced to one dull leaden sadness! The tears of sorrow are like spiritual lenses, shewing us the world in its true character, as a poor, empty, unsatisfying thing.”—Anon.
“It is better for a Christian to be sorrowful, than secure as the people of the world are.”—Luther.
“Adversity is the only furnace of friendship. If love will not abide both fire and anvil, it is but counterfeit: so in our love to God we do but crack and vaunt in vain, if we cannot be willing to suffer for Him.”—Bishop Hall.
“The observation here may be the same which the Jews collected (John 11:0), which, when they saw our Saviour weep for Lazarus, they said, ‘Behold how He loved him!’ So these tears in this place were the expression of their affection. Sorrow, like the river of Jordan in the first month, did overflow the banks, and streamed water down their checks.”—Fuller.
“She dismissed them with great affection: she kissed them, wished she had somewhat better to give them, but silver and gold she had none. However, this parting kiss shall be the seal of such a true friendship as (though she never see them more) she will while she lives retain the pleasing remembrance of. If relations must part, let them thus part in love, that they may (if they never meet again in this world) meet in the world of everlasting love.”—Matthew Henry.
“What precious drops are those
Which silently each other’s track pursue,
Bright as young diamonds in their infant dew?”
“The rose is sweetest washed with morning dew,
And love is loveliest when embalmed in tears.”
Theme.—THE PROMISING COMMENCEMENT
“Call to thy God for grace to keep
Thy vows, and if thou break them weep—
Weep for thy broken vows, and vow again,
Vows made with tears cannot be still in vain.”—Herbert.
And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee.
Youth is the season of warm and generous emotions. Renewed proofs of Naomi’s affection only bind these young women to her with stronger ties (Braden). Such a love a chain not easily broken (Braden). Note. (a) In all this we are to see the reward of a godly affection and a consistent walk. Piety, wherever found, has the power to win the hearts of people (Starke). She won love because she was Naomi, “pleasant” (Lange). She cherished no vanity, sought no strife, and did not wish to rule; hence she had peace and love (Lange). (b) We should so live that others by our good example may be drawn to love the truth (Genesis 34:31; Luke 8:16). Naomi’s character sheds a lustre upon a whole nation. For thy sake we are drawn in love with the whole people (Topsell). Besides, to follow and go with Naomi, meant to serve the Lord. So Ruth understood it afterwards (Ruth 1:16), and we can scarcely imagine Orpah intending to serve Chemosh now she resolves to go forward with Naomi. (c) Many infidels and carnal persons are sooner drawn to the Lord by the works which they see than by the words which they hear (Topsell).
I. An apparent agreement. They walk together—journey on the same road, are engaged in the same object, apparently with the same results. Now they protest in the same language. Worthy of attention, that their first utterance recorded by the inspired writer is a vow of fidelity to Naomi. Their choice voluntary, made with seeming deliberation, and after being urged very earnestly and affectionately in a contrary direction.
See in this—
(1) An encouraging and happy commencement. Naomi can rejoice for the present, in not knowing the difference between them, and the Divine record gives no sign as yet. God only knows the Orpah from the Ruth at this stage, outwardly there is nothing to distinguish them. Note. It is ours to rejoice in the beginnings of good things, irrespective of after results. Not for us to turn any back (Tyng). We should encourage and not suspect, rejoice rather than criticize. The Christian is the sower of the good seed, not the separater between the tares and the wheat. God’s command to-day, Let both grow together until the harvest (Matthew 13:30).
(2) A purpose good and commendable so far as it was carried out. We will return, etc. So they both said, and said as they thought (Trapp). No reason to doubt the sincerity of either (Lawson). For awhile they travelled happily and affectionately together, and there seemed no prospect of their separation. So in the heavenward journey with the believer and the mere professor. Whatever can be done in religious appearance in the world, and without an absolute separation of the heart from the world, they may have in common (Tyng). Journey together to the very extremities of Moab. Note. We mistake life, and read it amiss, when we look for those fine distinctions between the righteous and the wicked which shall one day be made apparent.
We have here—
II. A startling contrast. Undeveloped, unseen as yet, but real and already apparent in the eyes of God. Orpah upon second thoughts did otherwise (Trapp). The impulse with her good, but frail. She lacked the deep earnestness of Ruth. The seed sprang up, but it withered “immediately” (Matthew 13:5-6). Her choice the result of passion, and an earthly affection, not rooted in longings after God and the true Israel, as with her sister-in-law (Ruth 1:16). She loved Naomi, but even with all this her affections were back in Moab. And so even now the thorns were springing up which were to choke the good seeds of a noble resolution, made and partially carried out.
So in spiritual things it is not every blossom which comes to fruit. They fall away (Luke 8:13) speedily, miserably, inexplicably, irrevocably. Note. A conversion in the understanding, sentiment, or imagination may be a flower, but will be fruitless (Oosterzee). The promise is not the performance; beginning well is not always a sign of ending well. There is a great difference between the same mind at different times. Saul in a passion promised fair (1 Samuel 24:16-17; 1 Samuel 26:21), but David knew there was no trusting to either his tears or his talk (Trapp). Note. Strong passions, without a settled judgment, commonly produce weak resolutions (Matthew Henry).
(1) How short-lived are the noblest purposes when made in our own strength! Like the morning cloud and the early dew (Hosea 6:3). Orpah and Ephraim, types of those only too common in our churches.
(2) We ought not to mistake every determination to walk with God’s people as a sign of true grace. Regeneration is a change of heart, not a mere momentary change of habit. (See also on Ruth 1:14.)
Macgowan on this—
I. Promises of speech and purposes of heart, whether to God, to His Church, or to individuals, ought to go hand in hand. If a man’s word does not express his meaning and bind him, nothing can.
II. Promises and purposes often proceed from passion instead of principle. Exemplified in young converts who have a passionate regard to the person or manner of a preacher. Saul, overcome with David’s kindness, promised that he would not seek his hurt.
III. Promises and purposes proceeding merely from passion soon fall to the ground. “I go, sir,” one said in the Gospels, and “went not.” Some persons melting under the ministry of the word as a summer brook (Job 6:15-20). A changed heart necessary to perseverance. Saul may have religious fits, and Jehu much zeal; for want of a regenerated nature both come to nothing.
Bernard on this—
I. Surely we will return. An earnest affection suffereth not easily a separation from the party affected. True love liveth in the party beloved, and can no more forsake him than it can forsake itself.
II. With thee. It is better to have the company of one sound Christian, than to enjoy the fellowship of a world of worldlings. Jonathan took more delight in one David than in the society of all his father’s house. The godly are such as go the way to eternal life. Whosoever looks for them must keep them company thither.
III. Unto Thy people. There is a right in every particular member to the Church, as in the Church to every member, and all to Christ, and Christ to them (1 Corinthians 12:12).
IV. On the whole verse. In passionate affection more will be spoken than acted. Both women say the same thing; but yet upon more deliberation one of them calleth back her word. Passion causes men to speak unadvisedly. They are not themselves.
“What a pleasing sight to see relations walking hand in hand in the fear of the Lord from Moab to Canaan—from this world, doomed to destruction, to the upper regions, the seat of rest and felicity!—Macgowan.
“The wise and foolish virgins both take their lamps and go forth to meet the bridegroom. Thus all go together on the way to return unto the land of Judah. As far as this journey lies still within the limits of Moab, so far they may unite to go.”—Tyng.
“At Preston, at Malines, at many such places, the lines go gently asunder: so fine is the angle, that at first the paths are almost parallel.”—Dr. J. Hamilton.
“Many listen together to the preaching of the word of God. Many feel together the burden of personal affliction and distress. Many are made to see their danger, and to remember their responsibility to God. Many appear to feel the guilt of their past sinful life, and to be really aroused in their mind and conscience to the necessity of obtaining salvation. Anxious, excited, apparently earnest and sincere, they set out upon their journey back to the gracious Being whom they have so long neglected. Yes, they really set out, and appear to set out sincerely.”—Tyng.
“How many of these young travellers have I seen! The Church delights over them, the pastor rejoiced in them; Christian friends were encouraged by them; the brightest and most blessed hopes clustered around them.… For a season they must be allowed to go on together. Awakened, convinced, interested in religion, apparently equally determined, they set out well.”—Tyng.
“So from the heights of will
Life’s parting stream descends,
And, as a moment turns its slender rill,
Each widening torrent bends.
From the same cradle side,
From the same mother’s knee,
One to long darkness and the frozen tide,
One to the peaceful sea.”—Holmes.
“What a strange and perplexing medley this world is! and how the confusion would be increased, could we read the hearts of men aright, and distinguish the destinies shaping themselves to-day for that other and never-ending life! Here is one who by the grace of God is seeking a crown of unfading glory, yonder one who shall assuredly wear the crown of everlasting reproach; here a spirit climbing heavenwards, there one going down deliberately to the home of eternal darkness. And they dwell to-day side by side, linked by the various ties of social and family life, in the same street, in the same house, it may be, bound together in the closest bonds of love and friendship. To men the difference is but a slight one; with God the distinction is seen as the beginning of a never-ending separation.”—B.
“Man oft resolves and re-resolves, yet dies the same. Hell is paved with good intentions.”—Luther.
“Man is but man, unconstant still, and various;
There’s no to-morrow in him like to-day.
Perhaps the atoms rolling in his brain
Make him think honestly this present hour;
The next a swarm of base, ungrateful thoughts
May mount aloft.”
“A variety of minerals exhibit translucency only on their edges. The central mass is dark; but, holding the specimen up to the light, light is transmitted dimly through the thin edges. Marble, flint, or hornstone are examples. These symbolize the man who has been brought so much under the influence of Christianity that it has modified his external conduct, produced some regard for true piety, led to some outward reformations, and caused him to adopt some of the forms of religion. Yet the darkness of unregeneracy reigns within. Friends, and possibly the man himself, mistake the rays that struggle through the edges of his character for genuine Christian experience.”—Hitchcock.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Are there yet sons? etc. In allusion to the custom of a man raising posterity to his deceased brother by taking his widow (Adam Clarke, Jarci, Wright, Keil). Probably this custom obtained among other nations (Patrick, Scott). Known among the Gentiles before it was given to Israel (Gill, Speaker’s Com.) (cf. Genesis 38:8; Genesis 38:26; Deuteronomy 25:5). That law respects a brother by the father’s side, and not by the mother’s only (Aben Ezra, Carpzov). Not binding on a brother as yet unborn (Gill, Carpzov, etc.). Evidently, however, extended beyond the brother in the strict sense, and applied to the nearest relative, Boaz (Speaker’s Com.) Deuteronomy 25:5, probably to be understood in this wider sense. Turn again [return] go [to your own people] (Targum). If I should say. Rather, suppose that I should say I have hope that I were even to be married this very night, and were even to bear children (Bishop Horsley). In English we might imitate the sentence thus: For (let us suppose) I say I have hope; I have a husband; I have children; will you, etc. (Lange). Another reference to a Levirate marriage, possibly. So Keil, Wright, etc. Not so Rosenmuller, Carpzov. (See on Ruth 1:11.) If I should have an husband, etc. If I were with an husband, etc. And should also bear sons. Shall I yet have any more sons that I may give them to you? (Syriac.) Perhaps you think that I will marry, and that sons will be born to me (Arabic).
Ruth 1:13. Would ye tarry. For לָחֵן read the masculine לחֹם (Houbigant, Bishop Horsley). Rather to be taken adverbially, as “therefore.” “Would you therefore wait,” etc. (Maurer, Rosen., Gesen., Bertheau, Wright). The rendering of the English version (after Sept., Vulg.), “for them” is very improbable (Lange). Omit “for them,” and translate “under these circumstances,” or briefly “then” (Lange). Would ye tarry on these accounts, for these reasons? (Wordsworth.) Would you stay [for them (omit)] from having? etc. Would you therefore shut yourself up, so as not to have an husband? (Wright.) עָגַן From the Chaldean, “to keep back,” “to shut up” (Wright). Does not occur elsewhere in Hebrew. As virgins before their marriage lived in seclusion, so widows who were betrothed to children, while waiting for their coming of age, should keep themselves at home, lest any suspicion should attach to them (Le Clere). And will you be hindered from being married? (Syriac.) Will you be kept back by them from marrying? (LXX.) It grieveth me much. It is much more (Lange), far more bitter to me than to you (Wright, etc.). For it has gone much more bitterly with me than with you (Keil). As in the Authorized Version (Gesen., Bertheau). It may be a trial to you to leave me, but it is a still greater trial to me to be deprived of you; but it must be done, since, etc. (Tremellius, Junius). The LXX. has υπερ υμας, not υπερ υμων; and so Syriac, Arabic (comp. Genesis 19:9). You may have husbands and children, but I can never expect to have either (Wordsworth). The hand of the Lord. Generally signifies the means whereby He accomplishes His counsels (Topsell).
Theme—THE SECOND TRIAL OF AFFECTION
“I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fallen into the scar, the yellow leaf:
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have.”—Shakespeare.
“Our voluntary service He requires,
Not our necessitated; such with Him
Finds no acceptance, nor can find; for how
Can hearts not free be tried whether they serve
Willing or no?”—Milton.
Ruth 1:11.—And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters, etc.
Ruth 1:12.—Turn again … go; for I am too old, etc.
Ruth 1:13.—Would ye tarry for them [Heb. therefore,] etc.?
Here we see in Naomi the same non-proselytising spirit which characterizes her descendants down to the present day (Anon.). Scarcely so. Rather the spirit which would convince before it converts, which loves too well to persuade unwisely, which knows that a conversion made outwardly and in seeming only, is but the beginning of a future apostacy.
Note. (a) To decide any important question on wrong issues or false expectations is inevitably to find the ground hollow under our feet by-and-by.
(b) Love which deals faithfully with us in such moments is likely to prove faithful to us hereafter. It may wound, but it does so with good reasons (Proverbs 27:6).
(c) Love can say “no” sometimes, even when no means “separation.”
With Naomi, in fairness to them, she says “return,”—but in her affection she calls them “daughters.” She can do the latter, but she can do nothing more. They could enter into her house, but not into Israel’s national life (Lange). This the key to what follows. In her own mind, if they go forward with her, the prospect, humanly speaking, is hopeless.
Notice. Grief often says many really unnecessary things in order to conceal others which it dares not say (Lange). When she says that there is no hope for them in herself [i.e., in husbands being born them through her], she implies there will be none elsewhere in Israel. At best they could only be as widows shut up (see Crit. Notes), waiting for a husband never to be born. A dreary prospect even to Naomi. The climax of grief shows itself in the climax of impossibilities adduced (Lange).
I. A test of true love. If they go forward,
(1) They must die to their own interests. Do not indulge romantic hopes—visionary expectation which can only end in disappointment (Lawson). What her sons had done in Moab was not customary in Israel (Lange). She loves them too much to deceive them,—would rather part with them than do this, or even allow them to deceive themselves; if they go with her, they must go forward with a similar and kindred spirit of self-denial. Note. Thoughts ripened into resolves by serious consideration are likely to be kept (M. Henry).
So Christ dealt with His disciples. He said, “Foxes have holes,” etc. (cf. Luke 9:23-24; Luke 9:58). So a faithful pastor will deal with young converts.
The test here plain, sincerely meant, and founded, as the issue shews, upon good reasons. Naomi’s words follow, and are in agreement with the outward circumstances. We see, too, that they follow the leadings of Divine Providence. To do the one is often, and if we could rightly read the outward circumstances would always be, to do the other.
Note. (a) God sometimes hedges up the path so that there is nothing before us but the strait gate of self-denial. Especially is this true of the spiritual life. Stript of all, we enter the kingdom of God. The gate strait, the way narrow.
“Heaven’s gates are not so highly arched
As princes’ palaces. They that enter there
Must enter on their knees.”
(b) To be joined to the hope of the true Israel of God, we must be ready to deny ourselves of everything else. Esau sold his hope for a mess of pottage. So Orpah.
(2) If these young women are to go forward with Naomi, love itself must bring its own and only reward. Not a single inducement is held out, not a single promise made. Naomi would be theirs, nothing more. It is this that sends Orpah back, but suffers Ruth to go onward. And why? Orpah saw herself, while Ruth saw only the beloved one (Lange). She went with Naomi, though alone, because she loved Naomi alone.
How true all this is of a real affection for Christ! In love as in life He will be the first and the last. (Comp. Matthew 6:24, with Matthew 23:10; John 21:15; John 21:22.)
We love not Christ at all, unless we love Him above all (Augustine). Compare the Saviour’s description of the stony-ground hearer (Matthew 13:20-21), as seen in the conduct of the Jews (John 6:60-66), with the words of Simon Peter on that occasion (John 6:67-69).
II. A test of character and motives. Free will is essential to virtue; and that free will may be fairly exercised, there must be no concealment. It must be able to sit down and count the cost. One test is not sufficient. Naomi’s words search Orpah through and through, from many sides and in many ways. Did she desire “rest in the house of a husband”? (Ruth 1:9.) Hitherto this may have seemed possible to her in going forward. Not so now, and she must see it! A dreary blank hopelessness in this direction, the secret of Orpah’s return to Moab.
Of this return notice—
(1) Persuasions which fall in with our own desires are readily accepted.
(2) And that until these come we have not been truly and really tested.
(3) The strongest and purest motives are the only enduring ones.
So in Christian life. Time, and circumstances, and the unfolding of events around us, must and will come in to test the momentary decision for Christ.
Note. This is God’s ordinary and deliberate plan in dealing with men in life.
If heaven could be won by a single struggle, by a single determination, the work would be easy. But experience does for us what Naomi did for these. The test possibly not very severe at first,—the victory on our side (cf. Ruth 1:8-10). Sooner or later we are met by a prospect as blank on the human side as this (Luke 9:23; Mark 10:21). What then of our better resolutions and vows?
We have here—
III. A test involving the deepest and most solemn issues.
(1) Decisive between God and Chemosh. So Orpah understood it, for she went back “to her gods.” So Ruth understood it (Ruth 1:16).
Note. (a) The human love is made the pivot on which a higher affection turns and hangs—the human selfishness or unselfishness decisive of more lasting questions. A principle connected with this, love for the creature leading to and shewing a capacity for, love to the Creator (cf. 1 John 4:20). More particularly must this be seen in a lasting and unselfish affection for the godly.
Note. (b) We may love the image of Christ in His servants, though we have not yet understood the full meaning of our affection. This Ruth’s position. Her affections leaned in that direction, and she was ready to embrace all it involved (Ruth 1:16-17). Another extreme of character shrinks from all contact with Christ’s disciples. A third type exists, in those who love God’s people but merely on the human side. This Orpah’s danger. Note. Earthly affections are frail at best, and often mingled unconsciously with much that is selfish. Such characters fail ignominiously in moments like these.
(2) Decisive seemingly for time and eternity. A choice of mere outward circumstances may involve issues which are to last throughout eternity. Opah took Moab and all that Moab implied and included; Ruth, Israel. This last test seems at first a trifling one; judge it by its results! So always in spiritual things. When we choose the lower path, what is it but that we turn our back upon a higher? The momentary action decisive, the tendency fatal. Christ would give to the world the kingdom of heaven, but they will have the kingdom of earth, and here they part (Luther).
Bernard on this—
That in giving counsel to or fro, it is good so to speak as may declare love and respect to the parties.
That it was a custom among the Jews, for parents and children to speak most commonly one to another in the nearest and dearest terms of love.
That it is a point of wisdom to ask ourselves, Why we will do this or that thing, before we undertake it, or resolve upon it.
That the true, honest-hearted, and such as fear God, in the kind offers of their friends, deal truly with them, and will not lead them into vain hopes.
That worldly respects are not the motives which should induce any to join themselves with God’s people.
That the wise will not make promises rashly for others, nor persuade to more than they well know.
On the point of marriage, as taught here—
That while a woman hath hope of children she may marry.
The marriage is for them that are grown up for it and are marriageable.
That it is not good for such as intend to marry to defer off too long.
That a godly and wise mother-in-law cannot only be willing, but also will persuade her children-in-law should marry again.
“Till this advice was given, the soundness and sincerity of Ruth’s religion did not appear; nor did the rottenness of Orpah’s profession discover itself.”—Macgowan.
“Naomi would not willingly leave her widowed daughters-in-law in Moab. Though she apparently discourages them, it is with the manifest design that they should go with her upon motives that should be permanent and not disappointing.”—Tyng.
“She discharges her difficult task with infinite delicacy. They, of course, had no thought of marrying any sons that might be born to the widowed Naomi. Such a thought could not possibly have entered into their minds. Why then does Naomi lay such emphasis on the utter unlikelihood of her having sons, and of their waiting for them even if she should have them? Simply to convey to them that, if they went with her, they mould have no hope but in herself.”—Cox.
“The surprising delicacy with which this is done is such as to shew clearly how truly a religious love educates and refines. The ultimate cause of the grief occasioned by the separation lies after all solely in the fact that Ruth and Orpah are Moabitesses. Naomi could not bear to tell them that if they, as daughters of Moab, went with her to Israel, they would find themselves in a less hospitable situation than they had hitherto enjoyed. She is too tender to remind these good children of the fact that Israel does not sanction connections with Moab.”—Lange.
“Orpah and Ruth are themselves aware of all that Naomi says to them in these verses. In wishing to go with her, they cannot possibly have a thought of building hopes on sons as yet to be born to Naomi by another marriage. But—and this is what Naomi would make them feel—any other hope than this vain one, they as Moabitish women could nut have in Israel. If I myself—she gives them to understand—could yet have sons, I would take you with me. My home would then be your home too. To me you are deardanghters-in-law, whether in Israel or in Moab, but other prospects have you none. She heaps up improbabilities in order to indicate in this veiled manner that this was nevertheless the only possible ground of hope for them in Israel.”—Lange (condensed).
“We see these young travellers meet with many discouragements to their return. How earnestly Naomi argues with them to search what manner of spirit they were of! How kindly she presses them to go back and find their shelter and their rest among the friends they were leaving! How she presses upon their remembrance that she has nothing to offer them, no hopes, no promises to hold out of present or prospective worldly gain! How she mingles the expressions of her gratitude and her grief in order the more effectually to impress them with a conviction of the earthly poverty of her journey! Again and again she kissed them in token of farewell. Again and again they wept in protestation of their fidelity and determination. How affecting and how promising seems such an interview! Read again these pathetic verses. Did Naomi really wish to discourage them? Did she really desire them to go back? Was she willing to leave them in Moab? Did Orpah gratify her more than Ruth? Far from this. She would try their faith and affection. She would know what was in their heart. She would see how long and how truly she might trust them hereafter. And therefore she lays before them the sorrows of the journey and the barrenness of the earthly prospect.”—Tyng.
“We cannot [but] notice here what seems an interesting fact—the thorough tolerance of Naomi. She indicates not the slightest shadow of intolerant dictation or overbearing advice, the most obnoxious form that advice can take. She recognizes in the two, when then say they will return with her, their indefeasible right, though her own children by marriage, at least to think and to decide for themselves. She felt her business was to give them clear and trustworthy information, but not to exercise even maternal influence in precipitating what they might blame her for when they came to taste the possible bitterness of her position, and to experience poverty, it might be, with the knowledge of the true and living God. She sets to us a most righteous example. Never try to coerce the judgment, or to force the conscience, even of the nearest and dearest; a victory gained at such expense is worse than a defeat. Respect the intellect, revere the conscience; say what you would like, urge what you would prefer, but leave to each individual connected with you perfect liberty to decide and act for themselves. To tempt, to coerce, or compel by fear, or by reward, or by force, is to intrude your hand into the holy place which the human conscience is, even in its aberration,—to lay a rude hand, as it were, upon the ark of God, and to assume prerogatives for yourself which God alone is exclusively competent to exercise.
“As there was to be no coercion or violence on the part of Naomi, there was on the other hand to be no concealment. There are two ways of bringing another over to what we like; we may either coerce the person, which is most criminal, or we may conceal—which is most dishonest—the actual state of things, and draw over to us unawares one who will afterwards, on discovering facts as they are, repent and regret the step. Naomi was candid. She shews them that there was no earthly prospect whatever of bettering their condition.”—Dr. Cumming.
“I cannot think very highly of Naomi’s character when I see the advice she gave to her daughters. She loved them, it is true; but her love was of too carnal a nature; for she had more respect to their temporal welfare than to the welfare of their souls. Should not the advice of Moses to Hobab have been hers to both of them, “Come with me, and God will do you good”? (Numbers 10:29-32.) Naomi, thou hast given us a picture too often realized in the present day: in her we see a mother more anxious about the providing of husbands for her daughters than the saving of their souls.”—Simeon.
“A Jesuit might raise the question, is it wise to tell the whole truth under circumstances like these? The Christian conscience is satisfied in knowing that it cannot be sinful.”—B.
Theme.—RESIGNATION IN SUFFERING
“Oh, ’Tis good
To wait submissive at Thy holy throne,
To leave petitions at Thy feet, and bear
Thy frowns and silence with a patient soul.”—WATTS.
Nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me … that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.
Three widows remaining, the solemn and affecting monuments that God will not be forgotten. Here is the end of all the wanderings of the past! Naomi’s sorrow, bitter as it is, intensified by the helplessness of those who have shared her calamities with her, her afflictions finding an increasing heaviness because of her unselfish desires for their welfare. [Some translate, “It is far more bitter to me than to you,” or, “It has gone much more bitterly with me than with you.”] God has reduced me to such mean services that I can do nothing for you (Gill). Note. (a) To a gracious spirit it is an increase of sorrow to see others involved in the fruit of our sins. The heaviest burden of many a parent’s heart explained in this (cf. 2 Samuel 12:15-23). Even a monarch’s crown brings no exemption from the law (2 Samuel 24:17). (b) True love takes to heart a friend’s afflictions in its own troubles (Bernard). Human life, alas! shews too often the other extreme, a hardness and callousness of heart to all the expressions of Divine displeasure as they concern ourselves, and a total insensibility to the result of our sin, as it may affect others. (c) Calamities like these not only bring sorrow for the dead, but grief for the living.
I. The source of this affliction. Men generally see in details like these (Ruth 1:1-5) the natural and ordinary sequence of events. Naomi saw something else beyond and behind, infinitely more worthy of note. Her loss proceeded from no other by-causes, but from the hand of God (Fuller). As the showers come from the clouds, so her afflictions from the Lord (Topsell). Why doubt this, though they had stolen upon her a thousand times more naturally, gently, and insensibly, were that possible? Stoics ascribe calamities to inevitable fate; Epicureans and atheists, to blind fate; Philistines, to chance; Christians, to that One by whom the very hairs of our head are all numbered (Macgowan). Note. This is one of the distinguishing marks of God’s children in all ages. Afflictions come of the Divine hand. Their measure, their continuance, their purpose, all appointed of Him “with whom we have to do.”
A caution necessary here. God’s people may sometimes without good reason think that the hand of the Lord is gone forth against them (Lawson). Job thought so when the hand of Satan had despoiled him of his substance and his children (Job 1:12; Job 1:21; Job 2:6; Job 2:10). So also there is a slothful way of giving assent to Divine judgments. We say it is His hand when it is the hand of our own sloth and folly. Eli, with a resignation which would have been beautiful under other circumstances, said, “It is the hand of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:18). Note. This a common phrase in the mouth of the wicked. Under this covert we often hide our impatience as well as our sinful carelessness.
II. The spirit in which afflictions should be borne. (a) With resignation. Naomi does not complain. Seems to bow to the inevitable future. Doubtless found comfort in the fact that it was the hand of the Lord—that God, with whom is mercy, and not another, had wounded her heart. Note. Every other way of receiving chastisement folly and madness (Acts 9:5; Isaiah 1:5; Romans 2:4-5). (b) With candour. She acknowledged evidently the sinful cause of all the discipline through which she has passed as in herself—“the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Otherwise the passage reads like an accusation against God. Note. Some have even represented life in this way as a conflict with God (cf. Job 9:34; Job 13:21; Job 16:12-21, etc.). A terrible thought, if true, and there is a sense in which it is true of the wicked. Naomi, however, looked upon her afflictions as a judgment for lingering in the country of Moab (M. Henry). (c) With wise thought-fulness. She obeys and returns (M. Henry). (d) With unselfish care and regret for the evil estate of others. Grief too often hardens the heart to all other sorrow outside our own. It is not so here. Naomi’s gentle unselfish spirit shines out conspicuous among the Old Testament saints. It grieveth me much for your sakes.
Topsell on this:—
First, that all our afflictions come from the Lord, that He might chastise His own, and confound the ungodly (Job 34:36). Neither the godly escape, nor the wicked go scot-free (Deuteronomy 31:18). This the confession of Moses and of David, a man more exercised in trouble than all the world beside (Psalms 119:71).
Secondly, that the godly are so patient in all their tribulations, even from this consideration, that the Lord’s hand afflicteth them (2 Samuel 16:10-12; Job 2:10).
Bernard on this:—
The most godly sometimes take their afflictions very heavily (Job 3:0; Jeremiah 20:9-12).
Afflictions are the more grievous for friends wrapped therein, so as one cannot help another.
That all afflictions come by the power and providence of God—as by a hand upon us (Lamentations 1:12-17; Amos 3:6; Amos 4:6-11; 2 Chronicles 15:6).
That the godly in common calamities take themselves to be especially chastised. This good woman applied the whole cross to herself. They think upon their own sins, and not upon other men’s misdeeds.
“And if there be some things which we believe to be inflicted by the Lord, to whom can we render our patience better than to the Lord? Nay, He teacheth us to rejoice moreover, and to be glad in that we are thought worthy of Divine chastisement. As many as I love, saith He, I chastise. Oh, blessed is that servant on whose amendment the Lord is bent; with whom He deigneth to be angry; whom He deceiveth not by hiding His admonitions from him!”—Tertullian.
“Patience … adorneth the woman, approveth the man; is loved in the boy, praised in the young man, respected in the old; is beautiful in every sex, in every age. Come now, let us describe her form and her demeanour. She hath a countenance serene and placid; a forehead smooth, contracted with no wrinkle of grief or of anger, her brows evenly and cheerfully relaxed, her eyes cast down in humility, not in melancholy. Her mouth beareth the seal of honourable silence. Her colour is such as those have who are free from care and crime.”—Tertullian.
“God Almighty in mercy makes this world unpleasing to good men by affliction, that they may set the less value upon it. This is the voice of the rod, and of Him that hath appointed it, which every wise man ought to hear and answer with all obedience, submission, and thankfulness; and when affliction hath wrought this effect, its business is in a good measure ended, and for the most part it is thereupon eased or removed.”—Hale.
“ ‘Oh,’ saith the people, ‘God hath justly sent this plague for the corruption of the magistrates.’ ‘It is justly inflicted,’ saith the magistrate, ‘for the disobedience of the people.’ ‘Herein,’ saith the poor man, ‘God hath met with the oppression and extortion of the rich. ‘Herein,’ saith the rich man, ‘God hath paid home the muttering and the repining of the poor.’ ‘Now,’ saith the prodigal, ‘God punisheth the covetousness of old men.’ ‘Now,’ saith the old man, ‘He scourgeth the prodigality of such as be young.’ Far otherwise Naomi, who, though the arrows of God did glance and rebound, to the wounding of Orpah and Ruth, yet she thought herself was the mark at which God did level His shafts. ‘the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.’ ”—Fuller.
“We are never nearer to God than when we are lowest in our own estimation; and never more pleasing to Him than when we abhor ourselves, and repent in dust and ashes.”—Charles.
“To be dejected is natural; but to be overcome by dejection is madness, and folly, and unmanly weakness. You may grieve and weep, but give not way to despondency, nor indulge in complaints. Weep as wept your master over Lazarus, observing the just limits of sorrow which it is not proper to pass.”—Chrysostom.
“He who possesses religion finds a providence not more truly in the history of the world than in his own family history; the rainbow which hangs a glistening circle in the heights of heaven is also formed by the same sun in the dewdrop of a lowly flower.”—Jean Paul Richter.
“Disappointments meet us at every turn; where we expected we should be particularly favoured with helps and advantages.… we behold ourselves left destitute; so that we have no more a place of refuge upon earth, no more a dear counsellor or friend who is as our own soul. By this means we are compelled, as Noah’s dove was, by the wide watery waste which did not afford a single resting-place, to fly to the Ark, and to take shelter there.”—Venn.
“Be still in sorrow! As God wills!
Let that thy motto be;
Submissive ’neath His strokes receive
His image stamped on thee.
Be still in God! Who rests on Him,
Enduring peace shall know,
And with a spirit glad and free,
Through night and grief shall go.”
“And if in our unworthiness
Thy sacrificial wine we press;
If from Thy ordeal’s heated bars,
Our feet are seamed with crimson scars,
Thy will be done!
Strike, Thou the Master, we Thy keys,
The anthem of the destinies,
The minor of Thy loftier strain,
Our hearts shall breathe the old refrain.
Thy will be done!”
“The good we have enjoyed from Heaven’s free will;
And shall we murmur to endure the ill?”
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—And they lifted up their voice and wept again “exceedingly” (Dr. Cassel), “still more” (Luther). As in E.V. (Lange). (See on Ruth 1:9.) Much affected with the tender things Naomi had said (M. Henry) (cf. Genesis 29:11). And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law (και επεστρεψεν εις τον λαον αυτης), [and returned to her own people] (LXX.). So Vulgate, Arabic, Syriac. Unquestionably found in their MSS (Bp. Horsley). So Dathe, Houbig, Booth. Not so Wright. Lange supplies, “and turned back.” As it stands, the sentence seems incomplete. Buxtorf contends, however, that the return is implied in the act of kissing. Naomi’s kiss (Ruth 1:9) evidently meant “return,” and so Orpah’s may be understood to say “farewell.” The last sad kiss of a tearful separation (Steele and Terry).
But Ruth clave unto her, followed her (LXX.), stayed by her (Luther). Her person was, as it were, glued unto Naomi, as the force of the Hebrew words is (Bernard). In Psalms 63:0, the same word is rendered “followeth hard.” No fresh demonstration of affection, but she clave, etc., not merely because of a tender affection for her mother-in-law, but also a yearning desire to know more of the God and land of Israel (Steele and Terry). The conversion of Ruth probably commenced at this time (A. Clarke). She had been a proselyte before (Rambachius, Aben Ezra). Ruth (see Intro., par. 4, 5; and Crit. and Exeg. Notes on Ruth 1:4). In his genealogy of our Lord, St. Matthew inscribes the name of only four women—Thamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba [literally only three are mentioned by name, and these three are foreigners (Kitto), Bathsheba being designated as “her of Urias”]; and among these four, Ruth easily holds the pre-eminence (Cox). Thamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba, were all women of dubious virtue (Cox). Ruth is, in some respects, one of the most interesting female characters of the Bible (Kitto).
Theme.—THE CRISIS AND THE CONTRAST ONCE AGAIN
“ ‘Twixt two worlds, like a star, life shines;
A little star with fading light;
Above, o’erbending day; beneath,
The deep abyss of endless night.
And who shall hymn its praise aright,
If it enfold eternal bliss?
What notes express the funeral dirge,
If it the future crowning miss?”—B.
And they lifted up their voice and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clave unto her.
Insensibility in certain circumstances is not fortitude; it is savageness and stupidity, or something worse (Toller). Their tears here their ornament and their honour. Both wept again (cf. Ruth 1:9); alike in the signs of their affection, not so in the actions which follow. Probably Orpah’s grief was the more demonstrative (Ruth 1:10), especially so now. Note. (a) That all outward sorrow giveth not certain witness of the soundness of the heart (Bernard). Saul’s weeping to David (1 Samuel 24:16). Ishmael, the son of Nethaniah, in his tears a deep dissembler (Jeremiah 41:6-8). (b) The difference between mere kindness of manner and self-sacrificing love most vividly depicted here (Speaker’s Com.).
“And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law,”—the customary salutation in saying farewell. Previously Naomi had kissed Orpah (Ruth 1:9). They parted possibly without a word. Too much overcome to speak, the natural and usual sign of affection comes in to say that which words cannot.
“Oh! when the heart is full; when bitter thoughts
Come crowding thickly up for utterance,
… The poor, common words of courtesy
Are such a very mockery.”—Willis.
Note. (a) An evidence here that affection survives a difference of opinion (Dr. Cumming). Separation, even on the most vital points of religion, does not necessarily mean alienation of heart; just as distance, either in time or space, does not necessarily affect true love. The adoption of a false religion must not deaden affection, or break up the courtesies of social intercourse (Dr. Cumming). (b) Farewell may be spoken and received, even when we think it spoken unwisely, without anger. No dispute here, no bitter feeling in the mind of either. (c) Second remonstrances may succeed where previously our entreaties and persuasion have met with apparent failure. This is true whether for good or for evil.
We have here again (cf. on Ruth 1:10)—
I. A marked and strong contrast. Orpah going back in tears, perhaps in despair (cf. Matthew 19:22); Ruth going forward in resolute self-sacrifice, though from the human side without hope; the one to the pleasures and delights of the past; the other, true to the little light already given, onward to a better future.
(1) Points to an underlying though unseen difference in character and faith. Orpah preferred the sensuous to the spiritual; Ruth, the unseen to all she knew as lying behind her in Moab (cf. Ruth 1:16-17). Orpah sought rest in the “house of a husband;” Ruth, rest with the Israel of God. Orpah could not easily understand the force of a great moral or intellectual obligation (Cumming); Ruth determined to follow love wherever it might lead her. In Orpah we have nature in its most hopeful aspect; in Ruth we begin to see the dawnings of grace. Note. Where and how a child of sense differs from a child of the Spirit. (α) In the want of steadfastness, (β) In clinging to self after all in the decisive moments of life. (γ) In love of the world behind when the final hour of choice has come. (Cf. on Ruth 1:10, div. II.)
(2) Suggests a very common contrast between natural gifts and grace. The one makes a man, the other a Christian. Orpah’s religion was passion; Ruth’s, principle. Orpah’s illustrates mere profession; Ruth’s, decision for God. Orpah the type of the beautiful, affectionate, fair, but frail ones of this world. Much that is good, only the touch of the defiler is there. Ruth the representative of the noble, enduring, and self-sacrificing spirit God only can bestow.
We have here—
II. A final separation. Brought about by natural causes, but involving spiritual and even eternal issues. (See on Ruth 1:11-13, div. III.; also p. 57.) Onward with Naomi means Godward, and so heavenward. Like Abraham, Ruth becomes through her fidelity “heir of the promises,” and ancestress of a long line of kings, ending in the Shiloh that was to come. What does backward mean? And yet all depends upon the choice of the moment. A painful but inevitable crisis (Tyng). They have dwelt together, suffered together, journeyed side by side. Yet now they must separate, and here they have come to the decisive point. Their paths lie apart. For the future, their aims, direction, the issues of their lives, wide as the poles asunder.
Note. (a) A time like this in the soul’s history. The sinner comes to a point where he must either go forward and confess, or backward and deny, the hope which is in Christ Jesus. He stands, like Orpah, irresolute, deciding now for and now against. But sooner or later the irrevocable decision comes, and all the future hangs upon that.
(b) A time like this in the history of all human friendships. A separation as certain, and as final; if not before, then in that great day when the sheep are divided from the goats (Matthew 25:32).
(1) Often brought about by religious influences in this world. The Ruths go forward to new and holier companionships; the Orpahs back again to the sinful associations of Moab.
(2) Sometimes by outward circumstances, the exigencies of human life, and the providential leadings of God.
“There is no union here of hearts
That finds not here an end.”
(1) the necessity for an instant and wise decision in these critical moments;
(2) That the plausible choice, like Orpah’s, is not always the wise one;
(3) That all connexions, all enjoyments, all worldly pursuits, should give place, as with Ruth, to the sweet and endearing influences which draw us towards God.
Fuller on this (condensed):—
These words contain two general parts;
(1) A blazing meteor falling down out of the air;
(2) A fixed star fairly shining in the heaven.
That thou mayest finally persevere observe these four rules—
Utterly renounce all sufficiency in thyself. Who but a madman will nowadays warrant the paper shields of his own strength, that knows that Adam’s complete armour of original integrity was shot through in Paradise?
Place all thy confidence on the undeserved mercy of God. Perseverance cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor as yet from the south; but God suffereth one to fall, and holdeth up another. The temple of Solomon had two pillars; one called Jacin (“The Lord will stablish”), the other Boaz (“In Him is strength”). So every Christian—the temple of the Holy Ghost—is principally holden up by these two pillars, God’s power and will to support him. Wherefore in every distress let us cry out to God, as the disciples did to our Saviour in the midst of a tempest, “Help, Master, or else we perish!”
Use all those means which God hath chalked out for the increase of grace in thee; as prayer, meditation, reverent receiving the sacraments, accompanying with God’s children, reading, hearing the word, etc.
Always preserve in thyself an awful fear lest thou shouldest fall away from God. Fear to fall, and assurance to stand, are two sisters; and though Cain said he was not his “brother’s keeper,” sure I am that this fear doth watch and guard her sister assurance. Faulus est gradus certitudinis, quantus sollicitudinis: they that have much of this fear have much certainty; they that have little, little certainty; they that have none, have none at all. It is said in building, that those chimneys which shake most and give way to the wind will stand the longest: the moral in divinity is true; those Christians that shiver for fear by sins to fall away may be observed most courageous to persist in piety.
IMPROVEMENT.—Let us therefore “work out our salvation with fear and trembling:” ever trembling, lest we should be cast to hell; ever triumphing that we shall come to heaven: ever fearful, lest we should fall; ever certain that we shall stand: ever careful, lest we should be damned; ever cheerful that we shall be saved.
“Look at that sad group of three tearful widowed women standing in the highway debating this question, Shall we say farewell or not? Is it not a scene for any painter? No, not for any painter, but for one whose soul can sympathise with womanly grief. and whose hand has skill enough to portray that pathetic mingling of sorrow and love. How he would sketch the varied expressions in those faces! Naomi with eyes full of eager entreaty, and lips quivering with pain; Orpah moved to weeping, yet perplexed, wondering what decision to make, and casting a glance ever and anon back on the road they have come; Ruth standing, grasping her mother’s hand with unwavering resolve in every line of her face and attitude. It is a sacred moment, an hour of suspense, on which depends a future that no prophet’s eye hath discerned.”—Braden.
“We have [here] a very striking and instructive instance of the distinction between mere amiableness of natural temper and religious principle. Forming your opinion of them from the whole of the former part of the history, you see nothing to choose between them. Both of them appear to great advantage, most amiable and well-disposed young women; excellent wives, and kind and affectionate daughters-in-law. But when put to the test, you see the difference. Orpah appears to have had every natural excellence that Ruth possessed, but it was not grafted on religious principles. Ruth was not only as amiable as her sister-in-law, but knowledge of the true God appears to have reached her heart.… The one was a lovely heathen, the other what we should call in this day an amiable Christian.… Orpah was like the young man whom Jesus loved for his amiable qualities, but who went away sorrowful; Ruth was like Mary, who chose the better part, that could not be taken away from her.”—T. N. Toller.
“It might be said with a certain degree of truth, that the same cause induced Orpah to go, and Ruth to remain—the fact, namely, that Naomi had no longer either son or husband. The one wished to become a wife again, the other to remain a daughter. Few among the natural children of men are as kind and good as Orpah; but a love like that of Ruth has scarcely entered the thoughts of poets. Antigone dies for the love of her brother; but the life which awaits Ruth was more painful than death. Alcestis sacrifices herself for her husband, and Sigune persistently continues in a solitary cell, with the corpse of her lover whom she had driven into battle, until she dies; but Ruth goes to a foreign land, and chooses poverty, not for a husband or a lover, but for the mother of him who long since was torn away from her. She refuses to leave her for the very reason that she is poor, old, and childless. Naomi, having lost her sons, shall not on that account lose her daughters also. Rather than leave her to suffer alone, Ruth will starve with her or beg for her. Here is love for the dead and the living, surpassing that of Alcestis and Sigune. That Ruth docs for her mother-in-law, what as the highest filial love the poet invents for Antigone, when he represents her as not leaving her blind father, is in actual life almost unexampled. Nor would it be easy to find an instance of a deeper conflict than that which love had to sustain on this occasion. The foundation of it was laid when Elimelech left his people in order not to share their woes. It was rendered inevitable when, against the law of Israel, his sons took wives of the daughters of Moab. It broke out when the men died. Their love for their Israelitish husbands had made the women strangers in their native land; and the love of Naomi for her Moabitish daughters made her doubly childless in Israel. Nationality, laws, and customs were about to separate mother and daughter-in-law. But as love had united them, so also love alone has power to solve the conflict, but only such a love as Ruth’s. Orpah escaped the struggle by returning to Moab; Ruth ends it by going with Naomi.”—Lange.
“Longing for knowledge,
Thirsting for truth,
Loving fair virtue,
Saying like Ruth,
‘I will go with thee,
Thine shall be mine;’
Friendships it may chance
New worlds shall open,
Bright with a sheen,
Decked with a glory,
Eyes have not seen;
Clearer the sunshine,
Lighter the shade,
Daily and hourly
O’er life’s way made.
True to thine own self,
True to thy God,
Treading the pathway
Good men have trod;
All the past for thee
All the past in thee
All that is worthy,
All that is true,
In thy right deed
And unborn blessings
Springing from thine,
Gladden the morrow,
Make it divine.”—B.
“Nature in its highest endowments and improvements is infinitely below grace. There are some believers in Christ whose natural tempers are never refined to such a degree as we might expect from their religious principles; yet they shall dwell for ever in the regions of love. There are other men whose natural tempers are affectionate and humane. Perhaps they are improved by all the advantages of a polite and learned education. Thus they acquire an uncommon degree of respectability in the world, and yet continue destitute of faith in Christ and love to God. With all their attainments they are still in a miserable condition. The love and esteem of men will not secure them from the wrath of that God whose service they neglect, and whose Son, the only Saviour, they despise,”—Lawson.
“Like Martha and Mary of New Testament history, Orpah and Ruth represent two different types of character. Orpah’s home attachments, and desire to find rest in another husband’s house, control and limit her life influence and action. Ruth’s loftier spirit discerns in the God of Israel the fountain of a purer religion than the Moabitish idolatry affords, and she gladly forsakes father and mother, and sister, and native land, to identify herself in any way with the people of Jehovah.”—Steele and Terry.
“Some habits and practices of godly men may be easily counterfeited. Yet I think that there are certain virtues of God’s children which are perfectly inimitable. To bear ‘reproach for Christ,’ and to suffer wrong patiently, is to my mind very much like ‘the root’ in practical godliness.… See there a young man who has risked losing his situation because he will not conceal his attachment to Christ. Such as these are sometimes brought into great straits. They do not see any precept that plainly says, ‘Thou shalt do this,’ or ‘Thou shalt do that.’ But they find they must do one thing or the other. They make their choice, and it is against their worldly interest, but it is done for the love they bear to a Saviour’s name. Little faith takes a strong grip. Oh! I cannot doubt the root of the matter is found in them.”—Spurgeon.
Theme.—THE FAILURE OF A MERELY EARTHLY AFFECTION
“Oh heart of ours! so weak and poor,
That nothing there can long endure;
And so their hurts find shameful cure,—
While every sadder, wiser thought,
Each holier aim which sorrow brought,
Fades quite away, and comes to nought.”—Trench.
“Thy soul shall have her earthy freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life.”—Wordsworth.
And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law [and went back to her own people, LXX.].
A little entreaty will serve to move nature to be good unto itself (Bishop Hall). So with Orpah. No other persuasions have been used but worldly reasons taken from marriage. She that even now, for the love of people and mother-in-law, would go as far as the farthest, for the cogitation of a heathen husband forsaketh both God and people and mother and sister (Topsell). Alas for human nature, for here is the type! Men follow the higher and nobler instincts of the heart for awhile; but how often is it that afterwards inducements of worldly prosperity or comfort come in to turn them aside, and to lead them back to the world! And alas, too, for the fickleness of our best resolutions (cf. Ruth 1:10), if unaided by Divine grace!
See here, then—
I. An instance of instability and inconstancy. Orpah a reed shaken with the wind (Braden).
(1) She must have been untrue to her convictions. Men do not go so far as this towards the true Israel, without seeing enough to encourage them in still going forward. We may pity, but pity must not warp the judgment. We may even excuse in some measure. But the true reason of such “returns” found in the apostle’s words, “They went out from us,” etc. (1 John 2:19).
(2) She certainly was untrue to her affections. And untrue to the lower love, how could she be true to the higher hope of Israel? (cf. 1 John 4:21.) Seeking the things that were her own, she left behind her the things that were Christ’s (Philippians 2:21).
Note with such—(a) A change of mind evidently underlies this outward change of purpose. Man in himself fickle as the wind, especially in those things which concern his best welfare. “Ye did run well,” etc. (Galatians 5:7)—a common and necessary exhortation always.
Note. (b) The necessity for a decision is the signal for a retrograde movement (M. Timson). They begin to go backward precisely as they begin to understand what is really involved in going forward. So with those who followed Christ (John 6:60-66). When they heard that discipleship meant faith in Him (ib. 63), and a Divine power working in themselves (ib. 65), they stumbled at the saying, and “walked no more with Him.” They “went back,” as Orpah did. Such minds will go a certain length in positive duty, and yet always draw back from a really decisive act (M. Timson).
Note. (c) In some feeble way there will be an exhibition of actual love for the course which is nevertheless renounced (M. Timson). Orpah wept, and Judas bitterly repented. The vision of things divine haunts them even as they return into the darkness they have chosen (M. Timson). And inspiration sends after them the solemn words of warning, “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38). Notice then the perilous position of those who stand in the critical moments of life—on the boundary-line of God’s Israel, and yet with love to the Moab behind hidden in the heart. Orpah the type of a mind half awakened to the things of God (M. Timson).
II. An illustration of apostacy. Orpah neither cold nor hot, like the Laodicean church (Macgowan). Puts her hand to the plough, but looks back again; and such are unworthy the kingdom of heaven. Like Judas with Christ, she is loving enough to kiss, but not to cleave to Naomi.
Notice as significant—This going back
(1) her own choice,
(2) deliberately made,
(3) respectfully expressed,
(4) freely and finally carried out (1 John 4:21).
So with many to-day. They forsake the world apparently; join themselves to God’s people; travel towards the heavenly Jerusalem; seemingly profit in religion, but they have no stability, “no root in themselves,” as the gospel expresses it (Matthew 13:21). Easy Christianity, half-hearted Christianity, external Christianity apostatizes, and well it may! Without vital change, men return to the world, to their old state and ways (Hebrews 3:12). They return speedily, and as certainly as Orpah went back to Moab (John 6:66). And this in the face of all their protestations (Ruth 1:10).
Note. (a) Professions are like bills; you judge their worth by the names they bear, the firms by which they are issued (Braden). (b) What is soon ripe is soon rotten (M. Henry).
III. An illustration of the causes and consequences of apostacy.
(1) The causes. With Orpah the reasons for this return to be found (a) in her inclinations. Hence she is easily persuaded to yield to these. She prefers her pagan connections, after all, to the privileges of the house of Israel. Puts her country, her kindred, and her god [Chemosh] before all else. Eve lost Paradise for an apple, and the Gadarenes will lose Christ rather than their swine (Bernard). Such is man’s choice naturally. A warp in the nature, a proneness to meaner things. (b) In her supposed interests. She went as far as consisted with her hope of carnal enjoyment (Macgowan). But when the prospect of a husband in Israel was for ever put aside (Ruth 1:12-13), then she returned to Moab, where there still might be hope (Ruth 1:8-9). Note. An inability to deny herself the key to this “going back.” Orpah like many now, who are almost but not altogether Christians. They follow Christ to a great length, but cannot forsake all for Him; are willing to part with much, but not with everything; go as far with Him as costs no pain and calls for no complete self-denial, but stumble at a daily “cross-bearing,” and that following Him through good and evil report which He demands (cf. Luke 14:26; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15, etc.). (c) In the threatened inconveniences. Orpah a type of those who have a sensitive hatred to suffering (Braden).
(2) Its consequences. She “goes back,” and the separation becomes wider every hour. So an awakened and convinced mind can never abide at the line where a Saviour is refused (Tyng). No permanency in that state. She goes back to her own people. So apostates return to the old companionships and associations of the past; to the haunts of dissipation and delight (2 Peter 2:22); to the folly and frivolity of the past (2 Timothy 4:10); to covetousness and ever-increasing greed (2 Peter 2:15-16); to unbelief and hardness of heart (2 Timothy 2:17); to open hostility and hatred of the truth (ibid.). She goes back to her god. Chemosh preferred to Jehovah—a being without existence, having eyes and yet seeing not (Isaiah 44:0), to the Lord of heaven and earth. Note. Apostates begin in the spirit, but end in the flesh (Lawson). How true the apostle’s words of such, “The latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20).
(1) We are not easily to entertain men as sincere, because they have made a fair show in religion for a time (Bernard).
(2) An amiable temper or an affectionate behaviour will not compensate for perseverance in the heavenward calling. Being almost a Christian never conducted any man to heaven (Macgowan).
(3) Those who at first were forward in religion, may afterwards altogether fall away (Fuller). Asa possibly an illustration of this (2 Chronicles 14:10-12). Note. Many leave Christ with a kiss, who would shrink from betraying Him as Judas did.
Price on this (condensed):—
Theme.—ORPAH, OR THE MERE PROFESSOR
An onlooker not able to discover the difference between Orpah and Ruth so far. Begins to appear now. The crisis has come. Both had made professions (Ruth 1:10). Here the difference is made apparent.
I. We learn that it is possible to go a long way towards Christianity, and yet not to be a Christian. To be born, educated, and dwell in Christian house-holds, these are great blessings, but do not constitute or make a Christian. It will not do to be almost, we must be altogether, decided for Christ. The cup that is almost sound will not hold water. The ship that is almost whole will not weather the storm. To be almost a son is to be a bastard. To be almost a Christian is to be almost saved, and to be almost saved is to be altogether damned. Nothing will save us short of being in Christ. Feelings, sentiment, profession, are all good if they spring from a living faith in Jesus Christ; without this they are worse than worthless.
II. We learn that it is possible to deceive ourselves, and to think that all is right, when in truth all is wrong with our souls. Hardly possible that Orpah played the conscious hypocrite. She meant what she did when she became a proselyte—did not deliberately act a part. Feeling and sentiment [love for her husband] blinded her eyes. Now that which looked like principle proves itself passion. Discovers that she had deceived herself. Love to God, which she had thought supreme in her heart, subordinate to the love of Moab.
This often so with men; they are not hypocrites, they are self-deceivers. Education, circumstances, the force of influences around them, produced an emotional religion which they mistake for vital godliness. They hear with joy like the “stony-ground hearers.” We do such an injustice, if when we see them going back we point the finger of scorn, and cry “hypocrite.”
III. We learn that our religion will not profit us at all unless it be characterized by perseverance to the end. Orpah stands with Jehu, Judas, Demas, Hymenæus, Alexander, and Philetus—Beacon lights! Their word to us is this, “Beware!” No grace, however bright and precious, will take us to heaven without perseverance. Language cannot adequately set forth the misery of the man who apostatizes. The latter end of that man is worse than the beginning (2 Peter 2:20-22). Conscience becomes hardened, etc.
IMPROVEMENT.—Is our profession a mere profession or the fruit of a living faith? Brought by circumstances to the boundary-line between life and death, have we stopped there? The Bible full of such instances. Felix trembled; Balaam prophesied; Herod heard gladly; Judas sat at the sacramental table with our Lord! Whatever we do, we must not stop short of conversion; if we do, we perish. We must not be content with a mere outward reformation; we must seek that radical and entire change in the soul, of which the Holy Spirit is the author.
Bernard on this—
It is easy to make signs of love, but not to shew the true fruits of love.
Worldly respects are great hindrances in the course of godliness.
An unsound heart may for a time make a fair show in the way to Canaan, but yet turn back at the last.
Such as want soundness towards God for religion, may yet have otherwise commondable parts in them.
“In the first half-awakened state of the mind, and before Christ has been seen in the vision of a true faith, to go away, or to cut oneself off from the human teacher and friend, is to cease from the spiritual good already attained. It may be that Orpah did not realize this at the time, or that she was but partially conscious of it; yet it was present, and the mightiest element in the question upon which she was called to decide. She was not the first, nor the last, who, in forsaking a friend, forsook also a true teacher and guide—one whose love would have been the guarantee of the quality of the higher influence exerted.”—M. Timson.
“Is this she which even now was so promising in her words, and so passionate in her weeping? See how soon a forward professor may turn to a fearful apostate. Though she standeth or falleth to her own Master, yet, as the Psalmist saith, ‘I am horribly afraid for those that forsake Thy law’ so have we just cause to suspect the fearful final estate of Orpah.”—Fuller.
“Orpah had left her heart in Moab, with its follies, its frivolities, its amusements, its dissipations, its sights, festivals, and fêtes; its idol temples, shrines, and altars. Her heart was so full of these, that she could not detach it from them; and therefore she returned to her gods, her people, and her country.”—Dr. Cumming.
“The bright morning does not always shine unto the perfect day; the sweetest spring-bud of promise does not always ripen into precious fruit. The seed that was cast on stony ground grew rapidly up, but withered in a moment. Orpah’s decision was the decision of impulsive feeling, of filial affection; it was strong suddenly, it grew up in an instant, and in an instant it perished.”—Dr. Cumming.
“On second thoughts her enthusiasm cooled down, I daresay she said within herself, ‘It was not enthusiasm—it was simply fanaticism, and I have now come to a better mind.’ One would gather from the conduct of Orpah that she had feelings, not very deep affections, strongly rooted in her nature; pure passions, but not yet consolidated into fixed principles; resolutions that had no anchorage in her heart, no hold of her inmost and her deepest nature. She was vacillating, impulsive, very likely sentimental; her tears and smiles followed each other in rapid transition. She was easily swayed; the victim of feeling and momentary impulse; repenting at her leisure what she had accepted in a hurry.”—Dr. Cumming.
“If the soul be not changed, though there may for awhile some religious colour appear in the man’s face, he will at last return to his former habit.”—(Spiritual Bee) Penn?
“I have somestimes seen a blazing comet much outshining other stars, and attracting the eyes of men to behold with wonder, which yet by its decay and vanishing awhile after hath appeared to have no true place among the stars, but in the lower region.”—(Spiritual Bee) Penn?
“Gifts, affections without Christ.… They are the fair flowers and perfumes which only make more terrible the death-pyre.”—Wadsworth.
“Men said to-day of one who sinned, ‘What may
This mean? What sudden madness overtook
His brain, that in a moment he forsook
The rectitude which until yesterday,
Had made his life a beacon by the way
To common men?’ I answered, ‘We but look
On surfaces. Temptation never shook
One soul whose secret hidden forces lay
Firm centred in the right. The glacier bides
For ages white and still, and seems a part
Of the eternal Alps. But at its heart,
Each hour, some atom noiseless jars, and slides,
Until the avalanche falls with thundering weight.
God only knoweth the beginning’s date.’ ”
“They fall deepest into hell who fall backwards into hell.”—Bunyan.
“Καταφιλειν ουχ εστι φιλειν, saith Philo. Apostates betray Christ with a kiss, temporaries forsake Him, and embrace this present world.”—Trapp.
“Faith is the champion of grace; but what is it worth if it faint and fail? Love is the nurse of grace; but what will it avail if it decline and wax cold? Humility is the adorner and beautifier of grace; but what will it profit if it continue not unto the end?”—A Puritan Divine.
“As the worst travelling is when the road is frozen after a thaw, so those are frequently the most hardened who have had some convictions, who have had some knowledge of the Gospel, and some religious affection, and have then relapsed into their natural hard-heartedness.”—Arrowsmith.
“Every one is rather a Naomi to his own soul, to persuade it to stay still, and enjoy the delights of Moab, rather than to hazard our entertainment in Bethlehem. Will religion allow me this wild liberty of my actions, this loose mirth, these carnal pleasures?”—Bishop Hall.
“His heart he cannot, will not, give to Christ. Anything else he will do. But nothing else will avail him anything. He will be baptized. But baptism cannot save him. He will be confirmed. But that is not salvation. He will come to the table of the Lord. But there is no salvation for him there. He will fast and pray. He will toil and labour in his own self-righteous plans. He will try to cleanse the outside of the cup and platter, and resolve to work religions works. But all this is not salvation. And here he must separate from the people of God, though they have travelled long together. They must go on, and he will not.”—Tyng.
“You have seen a ship out on the bay, swinging with the tide, and seeming as if it would follow it: and yet it cannot, for down beneath the water it is anchored. So many a soul sways towards heaven, but cannot ascend thither, because it is anchored to some secret sin.’ ”—Beecher.
“The soul’s birthright is not cast away by a momentary weakness or folly,—one act such as this before us may decide the woful transaction, but a hundred minor actions and thousands of thoughts of wrong have gone before it to make it possible.… Temptation. when it comes upon a man well-grounded, leaves him as the wave leaves the rock over which it has rolled; but when principles are already undermined, a trivial temptation, a single wave, is often enough to complete the ruin.”—H. Wonnacott.
Theme.—THE CONSTANCY OF A DIVINELY-KINDLED LOVE
“True friends, like ivy and the wall it props,
Both stand together, or together fall.”—Die. of Poetic Illustrations.
“Without a murmur I dismiss
My former dreams of earthly bliss;
My joy, my consolation this.
Each hour to cling to Thee.”—Mrs. Elliot.
But Ruth clave to her.
The Scriptures are seminally brief (Lynch). A phrase here expresses a love and heroism which has seldom been equalled and never excelled in human history. “Ruth clave to her.” The force of the Hebrew word is to be knit as man and wife inseparably (Bernard) [cf. Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5, where the word is used in this connection]. So Onesiphorus clung the more closely and tenderly to Paul, when Phygellus and Hermogenes, with all who were in Asia, turned from him in the hour of his distress (2 Timothy 1:15-16).
Note. (a) The heart has reasons which the reason does not comprehend (Pascal). Who can explain, much less justify at the time, a sublime and self-sacrificing choice like Ruth’s? All outward appearances are against it,—the choice would not be heroic were it otherwise.
(b) But a deathless love such as this has always in the end proved its own vindication. So when the soul cleaves to Christ, it is influenced by motives which the understanding but imperfectly estimates, and which the carnal mind fails altogether to comprehend. The Saviour Himself offers the true explanation, that “wisdom is justified of her children” (Matthew 11:19). Yet in this is the real test as to whether we walk by faith or by sight. If you would believe, you must crucify that question, “Why?” (Luther).
(c) Every theory which fails to appreciate that man is a spiritual being, influenced in other ways than mere external ones, must inevitably misread and misinterpret human life. If this life is all, what profit in self-denial, what promptings towards virtue, that can seriously command our attention for a moment? On the sceptical theory, Ruth’s choice a mere impulse, and not even her after-success and prosperity can redeem it from the charge of folly. And yet what heart fails to estimate the incomparable superiority of Ruth to Orpah? The heroic in history, that which men have admired and loved in all ages, that which has made human progress possible, and left a halo of glory around the past, is mirrored here. That which is best in human fiction finds its counterpart; that which is noblest in life, its image and semblance. And all is explained and accounted for if we see in Ruth one chosen out of a far country, and from among a strange people, that she might become an Israelite indeed—one yielding to the Divine impulses, and listening to the Divine voice, though unable as yet to interpret its full meaning. “Forget also thine own people and thy father’s house; so shall the king greatly desire thy beauty; for He is thy Lord: and worship thou Him” (Psalms 45:10-13).
We have here—
I. The choice of true love. Orpah’s stone of stumbling and self-denial seen as a jewel flashing with heaven’s own light to Ruth. Naomi so precious in her person and influences as to be clung to, be the consequences what they may. The choice a kindred one to that of Moses in its faith and self-sacrifice. (Choosing rather to suffer affliction, etc., Hebrews 11:25.) Can we be far wrong in seeing in both the same underlying religious convictions, as coming in to decide the choice? If so, it is a mistake to say that love for Naomi merely led her to become a Jewish proselyte. Note. (d) Love may be spiritual and God-given, and yet perfectly natural in its way of development.
Notice of this choice,
(1) That it was not that of impulse, but of conviction. Nothing can shake her resolution. The love that has brought her so far with Naomi kept her steadfast now, and to an affection like hers decision becomes more and more easy. Note. (a) Affections are the great deciding influences in life. Hence Paul says, “Set your affections,” etc. (Colossians 3:2). And (b) The supreme affection is the great central power in human life. Everything else responds as by a law of gravitation to that. Hence, if it be toward Moab and the world, as with Orpah, everything around us will lead us backward; if it be towards the hope of Israel and God, onward and forward as with Ruth.
(2) That it was not the influence of mere sentiment or excitement. The choice made with a full determining to abide by it, come weal or come woe, for ever (Price). She had counted the cost. Probably, as a Moabitess, she might have to bear cold looks and harsh treatment (Price). Significant that she was called afterwards Ruth the Moabitess (cf. Ruth 2:2; Ruth 2:12, etc.), the designation of an alien and one outside the covenant. Note. Steadfastness essential to the formation and manifestation of a religious character (Toller). Piety must be such as to stand the test of time.
(3) That it was not biased by any selfish hope. The same gloomy prospect before her which had deterred Orpah from going forward. But like that one who cried out “so much the more” because of discouragements, Ruth clave to Naomi the more steadfastly, in spite of threatened affliction and seeming opposition. Seems to say, “Be the sacrifice ever so great, I am ready to make it; I shall delight in making it” (Simeon). Note. (a) A true and steadfast convert to Israel follows very naturally in one who has stood such a testing of the natural affections. (b) The portion of Israel and of Christ not a barren choice, though it may look so for the present. Such are to receive “a hundredfold” (Matthew 19:29). The promise literally fulfilled in the case of Ruth.
We have here—
II. An instance of more than filial piety. Almost as marvellous in what it leaves as in what it clings to. She realizes, doubtless, a keen sense of her mother-in-law’s forlorn condition; but only the more vividly to become conscious of Naomi’s worth and her own duty. Her natural affections are to be seen as an open door leading towards faith and God. Note. (a) The next degree unto godliness is the love of goodness (Bishop Hall). He is in a fair way to grace, that can value it (ibid.). (b) There are circumstances in which we are called to stand to certain people in the place of God (Braden). Parents have to do so to their children. They have to learn of us before they can learn of Him (ibid.).
(1) The expulsive power of a new affection. Transforms her whole nature, changes the tenor of her whole life. Love is a marvellous magician (Braden). Note. (a) It is not what we take up, but what we give up, which makes us rich (Beecher). Only with renunciation life, properly speaking, can be said to begin (Carlyle). Mark, too, (b) The higher good can only be gained by the sacrifice of the lower (M. Timson).
See here then
(2) A sacrifice almost unequalled in its severity. The old nature against her, the force of habit, and all the early associations of the past. Yet love triumphs over all. Put to the trying alternative, either to forsake her mother-in-law and the hope of Israel, or all that was behind her in Moab, she does not hesitate for a moment. The religious aspect of the question comes in here. This alone could justify her leaving her own mother for a comparative stranger. Remember what Moab was, and in this higher aspect Ruth’s choice is completely vindicated.
III. An illustration of the entire surrender of ourselves to God. We have a final separation from Moab, and a complete devotion to Naomi. So David clave to the sanctuary (Psalms 27:4). So Paul to Christ (Philippians 3:7-9), and to the way of salvation. “This one thing I do,” he said (ibid. 13).
See what a real determination for God and religion is (cf. 16). It does not consist in rash promises, in hasty resolutions, in transient feelings, however strong, but in what the Scriptures call “a full purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord,” a fixedness of soul upon matured conviction (Toller). To this Barnabas exhorted the Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:23). Note. (a) To know Christ truly is to need Him eternally. Whoever has tasted Him can never again live without Him (Lange). No going back to the “beggarly elements of the world” then! (b) Only those who are cleansed by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost will cleare to Christ and His believing Church in the dark and clouded day of adversity (Macgowan).
(1) Away with all mere affection which kisses, but does not cleave to Christ! Clinging to Him is the only test of true love (John 15:0). All else counterfeit,—this the only conclusive sign that we are His.
(2) See too the necessity for decision. To make a beginning in the right direction is a great thing (Beecher).
(3) Learn also the power of resolution; it silences temptation. Those that go in religious ways without a steadfast mind stand like a door half open, which mocks a thief; but resolution shuts and bolts the door (Miniature Com.).
“Blessed is Ruth, who so clave to her aged mother-in-law that she would not leave her until death. For this reason, Scripture indeed has justly extolled her; but God has beatified her for ever. But He will judge, and in the resurrection condemn, all those wicked and ungodly daughters-in-law who deal out abuse and wrong to their parents-in-law, unmindful of the fact that they gave life and sustenance to their husbands.… If therefore thou lovest thy husband, O wife, then love them also who gave him being, and thus brought up a son for themselves and a husband for thee. Seek not to divide the son from his father or mother, lest thou fall into the condemnation of the Lord, in the day of awful inquest and judgment.”—Origen.
“Neither self-interest, nor hope, nor vanity mix themselves up with this love. It is a purely moral and spiritual love, of which no other instance is on record. It is in fact the love of those whom God by His mercy has won for Himself, and who love God in their brethren. It is the evangelical love of the apostles, who loved Greeks and Franks, Persians and Sythians, as their own flesh and blood. Such love as this followed the steps of our Lord, and tarried where He was, Confession, martyrdom, prayer, and every brotherly thought or deed, spring from the love of the converted heart.”—Lange.
“Love is above all, and when it prevails in us all, we shall all be lovely, and in love with God, and one with another.”—Penn.
“Lead men through love to love. For love cultivates and preserves the true and the good by doctrine, life, prayer, watchfulness, and by a thousand other inventions of its inexhaustible genius.”—Sailer (quoted in Lange).
“If moral virtue could be seen with mortal eyes, it would attract all hearts to it.”—Plato.
“A spiritual relationship is never so close and so strong as when the persons are related also by strong natural sympathies.… Now and then it has happened that this harmony has been so strangely complete, that each has loved the other literally as his own soul, and felt indeed as though there were but one soul between them. The fact is, that the one spirit enters into and affects similar natures so similarly, that when either speaks out of his deepest life, he equally speaks the experience of the other. When these similars by nature are apprehended by the Second Adam, and the sweet life of eternity springs up in their hearts, the relation becomes one of unutterable endearment.… Every step of their spiritual progress relates them more and more essentially.”—John Pulsford.
“’Twixt that, long fled, which gave us light,
And that which soon shall end in night,
There is a point no eye shall see,
But on it hangs eternity.
This is that moment—who can tell
Whether it leads to heaven or hell?
This is that moment—as we choose,
The immortal soul we save or lose.
Time past and time to come are not;
Time present is our only lot;
O God! henceforth our hearts incline
To seek no other love than Thine.”
“Think not too meanly of thy low estate;
Thou hast a choice; to choose is to create!
Remember whose the sacred lips that tell,
Angels approve thee when thy choice is well.”
O. W. Holmes.
“A few forsake the throng, with lifted eyes,
Ask wealth of heaven, and gain the real prize—
Truth, wisdom, grace, and peace, like that above,
Sealed with His signet, whom they serve and love.”
“Blest with this followship divine,
Take what Thou wilt, I’ll ne’er repine;
E’en as the branches to the vine,
My soul would cling to Thee.
Far from her home, fatigued, oppressed,
Here she has found her place of rest;
An exile still, yet not unblessed,
While she can cling to Thee.”
“A few years ago, and you were not; a few more, and on this stage of life you will be no more. Much has been done, much is yet to be done in the interval. You arc now at the outset of womanhood. Woman’s duties, woman’s strange and mixed destiny of suffering, feeling, and deep life, is beginning.”—Robertson.
“They say that when the temperature has gone down below the freezing-point, water will remain apparently the same. and yet that it will congeal at a touch and in a moment. So with the changes and transitions in human character and life. They go on silently and invisibly, until sonic crisis in outward circumstances brings them suddenly to maturity.”—B.
“Thus it is that in some decisive moment every soul that attains salvation makes its choice, by which it adopts the true Jehovah as its portion. It abandons all the former idolatries of its life, and becomes a true worshipper of the true God.”—Steel and Terry.
“So a soul that is truly brought to Christ affectionately loves Him and heartily cleaves to Him, resolves in the strength of Divine grace to follow Him whithersoever He goes or directs, and is desirous of having communion with none but Him.”—Gill.
“Ruth’s attachment was worth ten thousand of Orpah’s kisses. The young nobleman in the Gospel treated our Lord with high respect; but all this availed him nothing, for he would not sell his possessions at Christ’s command, and become a follower of Jesus. Happy were the apostles who continued with Him in all His temptations. They left all, and followed Him. What they left was little; but that love which disposed them to leave all was highly valued by Him, and they received a hundredfold of recompence even in this world.”—Lawson.
“The story of Ruth has shed a peaceful light over what else would be the accursed race of Moab. We strain our gaze to know something of the long line of the purple hills of Moab, which form the background at once of the history and of the geography of Palestine. It is a satisfaction to feel that there is one tender association which unites them with the familiar history and scenery of Judea—that from their recesses, across the deep gulf which separates the two regions, came the Gentile ancestress of David and the Messiah.”—Stanley.
“Ruth is a prophecy, than which none could be more beautiful and engaging, of the entrance of the heathen world into the kingdom of God. She comes forth out of Moab, an idolatrous people, full of wantonness and sin, and is herself so tender and pure. In a land where dissolute sensuality formed one of the elements of idol worship, a woman appears as wife and daughter, chaste as the rose of spring, and unsurpassed in these relations by any other character in Holy Writ. Without living in Israel, she is first elevated, then won, by the life of Israel, as displayed in a foreign land. Amid surrounding enmity and jealousy toward Israel, she is capable of being formed and attracted through love.”—Lange.
“What can you do, but faithfully and simply follow Him who has said, ‘Whosoever loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me’? You must go forth with Ruth, and leave those who, rejecting Jesus, will not go with you. You must follow the Lord fully, though you follow Him alone among your earthly connexions.”—Tyng.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—And she [Naomi] said, Behold thy sister-in-law, i.e., wife of a husband’s brother; no English word exactly answering to the original Hebrew. The same word is rendered brother’s wife (Deuteronomy 25:7; Deuteronomy 25:9), being the feminine of that rendered (ib. 7) husband’s brother (Speaker’s Com.). Unto her gods [god]. “And to her god” (Luther’s Bible). The singular is to be preferred (Lange). Adam Clarke thinks that both Orpah and Ruth had been idolaters so far. With Ruth, however, a leaning towards the God of Israel and His laws (Keil). Wright argues from these words that Naomi viewed idolatry without serious disfavour, at least as practised by others. This held upon insufficient data. Naomi’s words do not necessarily contain any recognition of the Moabitish deity, or indicate (as Wright suggests) that she was possibly led astray by the false idea that Jehovah was only the God of Israel (Lange). Was Jephthah then (Judges 11:21; Judges 11:24) similarly led astray.’ (Lange.)
Return thou. Serious in her intentions, sincere in her advice (Keil). Perhaps said merely to prove Ruth’s constancy (Speaker’s Com.). (Cf. Joshua 24:15-19.; 2 Kings 2:2-6). Spoken that it might be made clear whether she would adhere steadfastly to the God of Israel (Seb. Schmidt). Not that she desired her to return, but to try her sincerity (Gill). She had simply the earthly prosperity of her mother-in-law in her mind (Keil, Carpzoe).
Theme.—THE THIRD AND LAST TRIAL OF AFFECTION
“What though the world unfaithful prove,
And earthly friends and joys remove?
With sure and certain hope of love,
Still would I cling to thee.”—Mrs. Elliot.
And she [Naomi] said, Behold thy sister-in-law is gone back.… Return thou, etc.
How sad is the history of a return to Moab (Tyng), both in its effects and in its influences! With Orpah, to go back to her people was to return to her gods. And yet how pregnant with meaning! Evident now that Orpah had mistaken a mere momentary feeling (cf. Ruth 1:10) for something deeper and more lasting. Evident, too, that Naomi’s suspicions and surmises were correct. Note. (a) The “return” justifies the tests (Ruth 1:8-9; Ruth 1:11-13). Very naturally, also, it leads to this final trial of Ruth’s affection and steadfastness. Naomi anxious still; fears lest even now cleaving to her should be the result of a rash, unthinking choice; dreads a future apostate in a present convert. Could not really intend to persuade her beloved daughter to return to the service of Chemosh (Lawson). Said of those of whom the world was not worthy, “they were tempted” (Hebrews 11:37). So here. Note. (b) The trial is by no means intended to justify the “return.” In the present case, disobedience a virtue (Macgowan). When Christ said to Judas, “What thou doest do quickly,” He by no means authorised Judas to execute his wicked designs (Lawson). Orpah doubtless went back to Naomi’s grief (Lawson).
I. See where the strength of this last trial lay. An unfavourable example lends its weight to worldly disadvantages (M. Timson). These heavy enough before; now Ruth is to see one she loves turning away from Naomi, and lending her influence to lead her backwards. Orpah has “gone back,” too, although she cherished as warm an affection for Naomi as any a mother-in-law could expect. Note. (a) Example has a mighty influence, especially the example of those who are dear to us. Christ felt it to be so in that moment when the last link between Himself and His half-hearted followers was severed, and He turned to the rest with the question, Will ye also go away? (John 6:67.) A scriptural doctrine, that because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:12). Note. (b) The castle seems almost won where one-half the soldiers are overcome (Lawson). Orpah has yielded, and yet for all this Ruth stands steadfast.
II. See in what lies its meaning and purpose. It evidently settled the questions at issue once and for ever. Decision comes as the result of conflict. Distrust of one’s own judgment the most terrible spectre to fight (M. Timson). Especially so when the example of those we respect is adverse to our decisions. This mastered, however, the rest is easy.
(1) The falls of some may justly bring others into trial (Bernard).
(2) Not the length or fury of the conflict which is important, but its results.
(3) The folly of apostacy must not damp but rather invigorate our zeal.
Fuller on this (condensed):—
Examples of others set before our eyes are very potent and prevalent arguments to make us follow and imitate them, whether they be good examples—so the forwardness of the Corinthians to relieve the Jews provoked many—or whether they be bad—so the dissembling of Peter at Antioch drew Barnabas and others into the same fault. But those examples, of all others, are most forcible with us which are set by such who are near to us by kindred, or gracious with us in friendship, or great over as in power.
USE [Lesson] I. Let men in eminent places, as magistrates, ministers, fathers, masters, and the like (seeing that others love to dance after their pipe, to sing after their tune, to tread after their track), endeavour to propound themselves patterns of piety and religion to those that be under them.
II. When we see any good example propounded unto us, let us strive with all possible speed to imitate it.… Follow not the adultery of David, but follow the chastity of Joseph; follow not the dissembling of Peter, but follow the sincerity of Nathanael; follow not the testiness of Jonah, but follow the meekness of Moses; follow not the apostacy of Orpah, but follow the perseverance of Ruth.
III. When any bad example is presented unto us, let us decline and detest it, though the men be never so many or so dear to us. Imitate Micaiah (1 Kings 22:0).… Yea, but one may say, “What if I find in the Scripture an action recorded whose doer is known to have been a godly and gracious man, may I not, without any further doubt or scruple, follow the same?” … The Holy Spirit hath not set these sins down with an intent they should be followed; but first to show the frailty of His dearest saints when He leaves them to themselves; as also to comfort us when we fall into grievous sins, when we see that as heinous offences of God’s servants stand upon the record in the Scriptures.
“Oh, Orpah, Orpah! that thou hadst been wise, at least in this thy day, to think of the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hidden from thy eyes.… And could we know her history, we should doubtless find in it many a sorrowful and weeping hour as she thought of these friends of her youth whom she was to see no more.… It is the history we have seen in the child of the world over and over again. You may renounce the Saviour, and walk with Him no more. You may go back to Moab, and bury yourself in its sins and follies. But you will find no peace or happiness there. Your conscience will never again allow you to rest.”—Tyng.
“Worldliness is not living in the world, possessing the world, using the world; worldliness is pursuing the world which is, to the forgetfulness and exclusion of that which is to come; it is a sacrificing of the future to the present, the enjoying of earth’s mess of pottage at the loss of the heavenly birthright.”—II. Wonnacott.
“Where the heart is indeed influenced by sovereign grace, and drawn by the eternal Father, opposition will only serve to inflame our love and zeal, as oil cast into the fire serves only to increase its ardour instead of extinguishing the flame.”—Macgowan.
“Still Naomi proves the spirit of Ruth. ‘Your sister has gone back to her people and her gods. If you mean ever to go back, now is your best time to go. Think well of what you give up, and of what you may encounter in accompanying me. Much as I would love to have you to go with me, I do not wish you hereafter to feel disappointed or grieved on my account. Remember, I have nothing to offer you. If you go with me, it must be as a partner of my griefs and wants.’ Thus God often proves the young disciple with new trials. He sends the east wind upon the young trees of His planting, not to weaken or destroy, but to give greater strength and endurance for the time to come.”—Tyng.
“Adam was soon drawn by Eve; Rehoboam’s heart was easily led after the advice of his familiars; the women of Judah by their husbands easily fell to idolatry.”—Bernard.
“This is Naomi’s last trial of Ruth; and these words show plainly all was to try her, because she telleth Ruth of Orpah’s going back, not only to her people, but also to her gods, which Naomi, a good woman, could not but hate, and could not so ill respect Ruth, and show so great coldness in religion and honour of the true God, as to dissuade Ruth from the same God of truth to return unto idols.”—Bernard.
“The Saviour Himself cared not so much to be followed by the crowd, as to be served and loved by the few. Let the promiscuous multitude be gone, so that the handful left prove faithful and worthy! And even these He tries again and again. Strong enough to deny Himself of every faint-hearted and faithless disciple, and yet tender enough to weep after every such denial and desertion, it is so He speaks those pregnant and searching words of His to every one of us, Will ye also go away?”—B.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Entreat me not—Urge me not (Lange), Force me not (Wordsworth), Be not against me (Trem. Junius, Montan. Bernard, Fuller, Wright; Vulg., Wycliffe, and, Douay Ver.). Thy people shall be [is] my people. I will be a Jewess both in country and religion (Wright). This appears to be a form of compact and union, as we may infer from Zoheir’s speech in Antar (vol. iii. 98): “If you engage, we will engage; if you fight, we will fight; if you die, we will die; yours is our property, and yours is all we possess” (Kitto). Where thou lodgest, abidest (Lange), stayest (Keil).
Ruth 1:17. The Lord [Jehovah] do so. The Eternal do so to me, and more also (Benisch, a Jewish translator, who invariably renders the word “Eternal.”) And more also, Lit. And so may He add to do (Keil). This form of imprecation is frequent in the books of Samuel and Kings [cf. 1 Samuel 3:17; 2 Samuel 3:9; 1 Kings 2:23; etc.] When the imprecation is followed by the thing which the speaker affirms shall happen, the affirmation is preceded, as here, by the particle כּי that (Speaker’s Com.) So Adam Clarke, Lange. כּי is not if (Lange). Answers to οτι in the sense of quod, introducing a declaration (Keil). The E. V. might be corrected by leaving the particle untranslated, and rendering “Only death shall part thee and me (Lange). Death alone shall part thee and me (Benisch). So the LXX., I swear that death, and nothing else than death, shall separate us (Keil). I swear, or some such expression, is understood (Lange). The first occurrence of that common formula of an oath, by which the person swearing called down upon himself a stroke of Divine judgment in case he kept not his word nor carried out his resolutions (Steele and Terry). The Hebrew, instead of invoking a definite judgment or calamity on himself, in case he should break his oath, simply says כֹּח, which with the addition “and more also,” is perhaps more awful to the imagination because it is not definite (Lange).
There is an antiphonal character in these words, which gives it almost the character of a musical chant: perhaps it was often on the lips of maidens of Israel (Wordsworth): comp. Psalms 45:10, “Hearken, O daughter,” etc., and the rhythmical movement in Romans 8:35, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” etc. (ibid).
“And Ruth said, ‘Entreat me not to leave thee and return from following after thee, for I desire to become a proselyte.’ Said Naomi, ‘We are commanded to observe the Sabbath and good days in not travelling more than two thousand cubits.’ Said Ruth, ‘to every place where thou goest I will go.’ Said Naomi,’ We are commanded not to lodge with the Gentiles. Said Ruth, ‘Wheresoever thou lodgest, I will lodge.’ Said Naomi, ‘We are commanded to keep six hundred and thirteen precepts.’ Said Ruth, ‘What thy people keep, I will keep, as if they were my people from of old until now.’ Said Naomi, ‘We are commanded not to worship with a strange worship.’ Said Ruth, ‘Thy God shall Himself be my God.’ Said Naomi, ‘We have four kinds of capital punishment for criminals: stoning, burning, beheading, and hanging.’ Said Ruth, ‘In whatever way thou diest, I will die.’ Said Naomi, ‘We have a house of burial.’ Said Ruth, ‘And there will I be buried’ ” (Chaldee Paraphrast). So the Jewish expositors after the Targum (Lange).
Ruth 1:18. When [and when] That she was steadfastly minded. Firmly resolved (Lange, Wright) that she strengthened herself (Wordsworth) with an oath (Bernard, Fuller). The verb means “to stiffen oneself firmly upon a thing” (Keil, Braden). She left speaking unto her. Ceased to dissuade her (Lange, Cox).
Theme.—SACRED MOMENTS AND SOLEMN VOWS
“Love’s holy flame for ever burneth;
From heaven it came, to heaven returneth:
Too oft on earth a troubled guest,
At times deceived, at times opprest,
It here is tried and purified;
But hath in heaven its perfect rest;
It soweth here in toil and care,
But the harvest-time of love is there.”—Southey.
And Ruth said, Entreat me not [be not against me] to leave thee, etc. Where thou diest, etc.
Ruth’s famous reply to Naomi’s dissuasive entreaties takes high rank among the sentences which the world will not willingly let die (Cox). Hard to say which is the more admirable,—Naomi in putting from her her sole comfort and stay, or Ruth, in leaving all that she had to become the stay and comfort of Naomi’s declining years (ibid). God has chosen to confer singular honours upon women throughout the sacred Scriptures (Kitto). As examples, Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Anna, Mary, Lydia, and Dorcas may be mentioned. Ruth stands pre-eminent among them for the strength of her affections, and these have been the glory of woman always. Did ever the love of the human heart find a richer, sweeter expression than this? In the whole realm of literature where can they be equalled? They are absolutely matchless (Braden). The words become rhythmical and musical with the burden of love,—a love which solves all difficulties, and removes all obstacles. There are moments in life when the Godlike within us flashes forth, when we prove ourselves children of immortality; for we can face the ills of time, and look beyond them. Such a moment is this in the history of Ruth.
We have here,
I. The utterance of a pure, passionate, and personal affection—pure, because unselfish; passionate, because intensely in earnest; and personal, for love naturally centres in a person [seo on Ruth 1:14, p. 60]. She sacrificed all the pleasures, all the friendships of her youth; all the hopes of better days in her own country, and she chooses banishment here, for Naomi’s sake, as John for Christ’s (Revelation 1:9). Note (a) The Saviour demands a kindred sacrifice of His disciples (Luke 14:33). (b) The Christian’s Patmos his way to Paradise (Secker). “Now I begin to be a disciple,” said Ignatius on his way to martyrdom. “I weigh neither visible nor invisible things, so that I may gain Christ. (c) Adversity alike the test of sincerity and discipleship [cf. Luke 21:16-17; Luke 6:22].
Some translate, “Be not against me,” [that is, in urging me to leave thee.] Ruth evidently was greatly distressed and moved by what Naomi had just said. To a heart like hers the mere thought of separation was unbearable. See here then a mind fully persuaded. She weighs neither pains nor penalties, and obstacles only make the decision more plain, as the refining fire serves to make the purity of the gold more apparent. Note (a) They are against us who use reasons, and exhort us to turn back from well-doing (Bernard). Christ called Peter “Satan,” that is, adversary, when he gave Him counsel to do otherwise than His Father had appointed (ibid). (b) The godly have a desire not to be hindered in a good course. So it was with David when he had determined to meet Goliath. So Elisha, repeatedly urged, refused to leave Elijah. So Paul in his resolve to go onward to Jerusalem (Acts 21:13-14). And so it must be always with the man of God. A holy boldness characterizes him; for the kingdom of heaven is to suffer violence, etc. (Matthew 11:12).
We have here, then,
II. The expression of a choice made once and for ever. Not a wish merely, but a strong, deliberate purpose, formed amid much apparent opposition, and expressed with an impassioned invocation on the name of Jehovah. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Opposition only makes her the more steadfast; she strengthened herself with an oath [see Crit. and Exeg. Notes on Ruth 1:18]. “God do so to me,” etc. The choice full [complete, wholehearted], unlimited, affectionate, determined, final (Belfrage). No reserve, no conditions. Her creed not an election of the heart only, or a preference of the intellect, but a practical adoption (Cumming).
Notice of this choice,
(1) That it was a choice made in youth. “I bless Thee, O God!” said Beza in his will, “for many things, but especially that I gave myself up to Thee at the early age of sixteen.” Ruth probably older than this, though there can be little doubt she came to Bethlehem early in life. [Boaz, when he first meets her, asks, “Whose damsel is this?” and calls her daughter, Ruth 2:5-8.] Life opening before her, the future untried, so she gives herself to the God of Israel, and comes to take shelter under His wing. To the young, life is yet fresh and new—in their hands it is plastic and pliable. They have the experiment of living yet to begin, and they are interested as none beside can be, in learning how to begin it well (Binney). Note. Early piety is likely to be eminent piety. Why should not the powers of nature, in their first bloom and glory, adorn the kingdom of grace? (Dr. Watts.)
(2) That it was a choice made for life and death. Made in a moment, but made for all the future. See in it therefore, not only the expression of the old love for Naomi, but of the new hope and the new life dawning within the heart of Ruth. They have been together in Moab, in darkness, bondage, and misery, why should they not be together in the land of promise? How beautiful when companionship outside the covenant of Israel ends and even leads to companionship within the fold of Christ! Mark of this choice, (a) It is to control all her actions, her goings and abidings. “Where thou goest,” etc. She takes Naomi for better or worse, for richer or poorer—makes no exception to any condition which may arise. So men must give themselves to Christ, as the disciples followed the Saviour. They were content with such lodgings as their Lord had for Himself (Macgowan).
Again, (b) It is to influence all her hopes. “Thy people shall be my people,” etc. Religion creates a firmer kinship than nature. Grace in the heart overleaps such petty boundaries as nationality. “Hereby,” says the inspired divine, “do we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” Henceforward their hope is our hope, their lot our lot in time and in eternity.
So always. To us, to-day, there are two lands and two people. When we give ourselves to the Lord, we give ourselves to His people also. The love of Christ constrains us in this as in every other way. David’s delight was not in one saint, but in “the saints;” and they that love one godly person for godliness’ sake cannot but affect all the Lord’s flock (Bernard). Mark, the Christian is no recluse, the Church is not a nunnery. “Thy people;” it is companionship, society, the general assembly of the church of the firstborn (Cumming).
Once more, (c) It is to last as long as life itself. Ruth thinks only of the future as it is joined to Naomi’s, and in this she is the true type of the Christian convert. Death alone shall divide them; for death must divide all earthly friendships, at least, for awhile. “Where thou diest,” etc. How strong the affinity which holds out for life, stronger still that which is for life and death! Nay, more, she is willing to take the risk of dying first, and she will not so much as have her body taken back to Moab. “There will I be buried,” etc. Love alone strong as life itself, unquenchable and unchangeable, dare speak in language like this. And yet this is the only language Christ will listen to if we are to be His disciples. We are to hate father and mother for His sake; and if we love our own life, we shall lose it in loving Him. We take Him for life and for death, and the grave is not to separate us. Blessed compensation! To die the death of the righteous, to be buried with them, is to sleep in Jesus, to be with Christ, which is far better.
(3) That it was a choice made for God and eternity. Her nominal profession changed into an abiding principle (Braden). The climax here, “Thy God shall be my God.” This confession the key-stone of her vow (Lange). Not merely chosen because He was Naomi’s God (Lawson). No! And yet love to Naomi was the human spark kindling an altar flame to burn before God throughout the eternities. Mysterious truth, that we may be instruments of grace to our fellow-men! Friendship may lead upward to the love of God! Note, of this choice, in the last place, that (d) It is to decide the great question of her destiny. It places her within the Israel of God. It links her with the promises coming down from Abraham’s time and Adam’s. So it is “the seed of the woman,” this woman, is to bruise the serpent’s head. Happy choice! earnest of that day when men shall lay hold of the skirt of Him that is an Israelite indeed, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you (Zechariah 8:23).
(1) The most painful part of religion comes first: God has provided “some better thing” further on (Morlais Jones). Poverty and misery awaited Ruth at first.
(2) Self-denial is the only way to share the Israelite’s hope.
(3) With the truly earnest spirit, spiritual affections will always have the victory over carnal persuasions.
(4) The love of goodness in men should lead to, and show itself finally in, the love of God Himself, the supreme good. “Thy God shall be my God,” the language of every truly believing heart to the Church of Christ. A natural man may choose deliverance from hell, but no man doth ever choose God and Christ, and the spiritual benefits Christ hath purchased, and the happiness of God’s people, till he is converted (President Edwards).
Tyng on this (condensed):—
Theme.—THE CHOICE OF YOUTH
Ruth’s faithful choice remains a permanent and everlasting pattern to all who hear the gospel in their youth.
I. It was an humble choice: nothing to offer but herself; no claim to present; fears she may be a burden and unwelcome. So when the Holy Spirit brings the soul to Jesus, she comes as a beggar. But in all her conscious unworthiness she chooses Christ as her portion and her Lord.
II. It was an affectionate choice: personal, tender. Can leave Moab without regret; can part with earthly friends, but she cannot leave Naomi. (Entreat, etc.) To such a choice the Saviour would lead us; not one of duty merely, or obligation, of fear or necessity. Not the mere remedy and recourse of disappointment and weariness; not the constrained denial of self, of appetite, and loved indulgence; not an involuntary, sorrowful relinquishment of a world that was loved as long as it bloomed, and has been forsaken only because it has faded. No. The world was never brighter. It is the perception of something infinitely more precious, the choice of the Saviour, etc. As freely as the falling drop mingles with the current, does the affectionate heart embrace and resolve to go with Him.
III. It was an entire choice—no hesitation. The contrasting claims of Moab were nothing. She made the exchange—the transfer of herself—freely, completely, and without reserve. So the true convert makes a complete surrender of herself to the Lord. Like Saul, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” None but Christ the language of her youthful heart.
IV. It was a determined choice: amazing dignity and firmness in her stand. Useless all attempts to lead her back to Moab. So in the history of early martyrdoms for Christ. “I am a Christian,” the gentle but firm reply to every solicitation to recant. An open, sincere, and determined choice of Christ leads us into a harbour of rest. So Paul: “None of these things move me” (Acts 20:24).
V. It was an instant choice. Asked no time for consideration. She staggered not in unbelief, nor wavered amidst conflicting motives.
When Ruth’s faithful choice was thus made, she was allowed to go on her way in peace. The young convert’s sincerity was proved. There she stood, acknowledged, honoured, and accepted, as a chosen traveller for Immanuel’s land.
McCheyne on this:—
We should cleave to our converted friends. Follow those who follow Christ.
Their God is a precious God; sin pardoning, faithful.
Their people are a happy people.
They want you to go with them.
If you do not go, there will be an eternal separation between you. How strange that two trees should grow so near—one to flower in Paradise, the other to be a firebrand in hell. Can you bear the thought of such a separation?
Ferris on this:—
A beautiful illustration of the influence of true affection.
An illustration of the character and feelings of the true convert.
One of the richest sources of parental joy.
An encouragement to pious example and effort. Cox on this:—
Three points should be noted.
(1) That in these words Ruth meets every dissuasive plea of Naomi. Naomi had no home, no asylum to offer; and Ruth replies, “Where thou lodgest, I will lodge.” Naomi reminds her that she is going among an alien people, who worship another God; and Ruth replies, “Thy people shall be my people.” Naomi urges that there will be no brightness, no life in her life; and Ruth replies that she is content to die, so that she may share Naomi’s grave.
(2) That Ruth adopts Naomi’s God, as yet, purely from love of Naomi. And
(3) that she shows how instantly and entirely she adopts Naomi’s religion by sealing her vow with her Hebrew oath, and by calling on the God of the Hebrews, “Jehovah do so to me, and more also,” etc.
“Her vow has stamped itself on the very heart of the world; and that not because of the beauty of its form simply, though even in our English version it sounds like a sweet and noble music, but because it expresses in a worthy form, and once for all, the utter devotion of a genuine and self-conquering love. It is the spirit which informs and breathes through these melodious words that makes them so precious to us, and that also renders it impossible to utter any fitting comment on them. They shine most purely in their own light.”—Cox.
“Love is a giant—it heapeth mountains upon mountains, and thinks the pile but little: it is a mighty mystery, for it changes bitter into sweet; it calls death life. and life death; and it makes pain less painful than enjoyment.”—Spurgeon.
“Love here is surrounded by the other graces, and divides the honours with them; but they will have felt the warp of night and of darkness when it will shine luminous against the sky of eternity.”—Beecher.
“Love is a marvellous magician. Let the soul but feel its mighty touch, and you dare not prophesy the results. Men and women, commonplace enough in the ordinary affairs of life, become poets and heroes under the influence of its mysterious inspirations. The slowest tongue grows eloquent, timidity loses its fear, and is brave for all duty and sacrifice, and even death looks not terrible to the clear eyes of love.”—Braden.
“Love does not aim simply at the conscious good of the beloved object; it is not satisfied without perfect loyalty of heart; it aims at its own completeness.”—George Eliot.
“The love of Thee flows just as much
As that of ebbing self subsides;
Our hearts (their scantiness is such)
Bear not the conflict of two rival tides.”
“Of all that human was or is,
Alone unchanging is Thy love,
Thy love to us, and ours to Thee,
Responsive turns to heaven above.
True as the needle to the pole,
True as the branches to the vine:
Oh blessed hope! if kept by Thee,
Amid these changes we are Thine.” B.
“After a little, when a man has fairly committed himself to a Christian life, many of those things which have been against him turn round, and are like winds in his sails to help him. The great thing is to begin—to begin honestly, to begin with the help of Christ and God—to begin. For this is one of those cases in which to begin is half the journey. And where a man is willing to say to his companion, or to some friend or Christian brother, ‘The time past suffices in which I have lived a worldly life, and I am going, by the grace of God, to begin to lay the foundations of a Christian life,’ in many and many cases the crisis is past. You may not have joy to-day, nor for weeks; but you are on the way toward it. It may not be conversion; but will stand ultimately connected with it.… When Peter was in prison, and he was aroused by an angel in the night, that touched his chains, and caused them to fall off. when first he opened his eyes, and beheld the angel, his rescue had begun. His rescue had begun before his chains fell, before the prison-door was thrown back, before he passed the keeper.”—Beecher.
“To follow Naomi was not simply to go with one whose piety was deep and true, and whose ability to teach the doctrines of a diviner faith might be measured by her character and her personal affection, but to go into a land of piety, where the service of God was publicly celebrated; where instruction might be received in the Divine law, and where everything around would tell of the worship of Jehovah. Who that has thought at all of the subtle influence of daily surroundings, or attempted to measure the effects of a moral atmosphere, that may be peculiar to the age in which he lives, docs not know what this would mean?”—M. Timson.
“I would not even ask a Hindoo to give up the religion that he has, so great is the sacrifice, unless I could supersede it by a more comforting, a more glorious religion, the religion of light and liberty, and life and truth.”—Dr. Cumming.
“The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls, are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask, they will know one another, though the diverse liveries they wear here make them strangers.”—Penn.
“Our vows are cruel to ourselves, if they demand nothing but gentle zephyrs, and flowery fields, and calm repose, as the lot of our life; for these pleasant things often prove the most dangerous enemies to our nobler and dearer life.”—Leighton.
“Making thus the Lord my choice,
I have nothing more to choose,
But to listen to Thy voice,
And my will in Thine to lose:
Thus whatever may betide,
I shall safe and happy be;
Still content and satisfied,
Having all in having Thee.”
“Some men will follow Christ on certain conditions;—if He will not lead them through rough roads—if He will not enjoin them any painful tasks—if the sun and wind do not annoy them—if He will remit a part of His plan and order. But the true Christian, who has the spirit of Jesus, will say, as Ruth said to Naomi, ‘Whither thou goest, I will go,’ whatever difficulties and dangers may be in the way.”
“The upright in heart are like Ruth: whatsoever becometh of the gospel, they will be sharers with it in the same condition; be it affliction, or be it prosperity; be it comfort, or be it sorrow; be it fair weather, or be it foul; be it light, or be it darkness; they will take their lot with it.”—Caryl.
“See here the large extent of a saint’s love; it lasts till death: and no wonder; for it is not founded upon honour, beauty, or wealth, or any other sinister respect in the party beloved, which is subject to age or mutability, but only on the grace and piety in him; which foundation, because it always lasteth, that love which is built upon it is also perpetual.”—Fuller.
“Carnal affections cannot prevail over spiritual convictions. The sinner who is in earnest for salvation will be deaf to invitations to go back. The more he is solicited by them, the faster he will flee from them.”—Mason’s Notes on the Pilgrim’s Progress.
“A good companion, saith the Latin proverb, is pro viatico; I may add also, pro diversorio. Ruth, so be it she may enjoy Naomi’s gracious company, will be content with any lodging, though happily it may be no better than Jacob had. And yet we see how some had been discouraged even from the company of our Saviour, for fear of hard lodging. Witness the scribe, to whom our Saviour said, ‘The foxes have their holes,’ etc.”—Fuller.
“It has not in any age been common for the greatest of saints to have the softest beds and most comfortable lodgings; and yet, in every age, God has had His followers and witnesses, and the Church her unfeigned lovers.”—Maggowan.
“When those that we have formerly been conversant with are turning to God and to His people, their example ought to influence us. Their example should be looked upon as a call from God, to do as they have done. God, when He changes the heart of one, calls upon another, especially does He loudly call on those that have been their friends and acquaintances. We have been influenced by their example in evil, and shall we cease to follow them when they make the wisest choice that ever they made, and do the best thing that ever they did?”—President Edwards.
“In our narrative, the confession of Ruth, ‘Thy God is my God,’ is the highest stage of that devotion which she yields to Naomi for life. She has vowed that nothing shall separate her love from its object; for whatever could separate it would make it imperfect. But since the God of Israel is the true ground of all the love which she felt for her Israelitish friends, it follows that her confession of Him is the keystone of her vow. It is at the same time the true solution of the conflict into which persons who mutually loved each other had fallen. It rectifies the error committed by her husband when he took the Moabitish woman, notwithstanding her relation to the idol of Moab. The unity of the Spirit has been attained, which not only shows true love, but even in memory reconciles what was amiss in the past. For Naomi’s grief was so great, not only because she had lost her sons, but also because the daughters-in-law which she had must be given up, and she be left alone. And as love enforced the separation, so love also became the cord drawing to a yet closer union. If Naomi believed herself fallen out of the favour of God on Moab’s account, she could derive comfort from Ruth, who for her sake entered into the people of God.”—Lange.
“She was unchangeably resolved. So was that martyr who said, ‘The heavens will sooner fall than I will forsake my profession.’ I will follow the Lamb wheresoever He goeth. The hop in its growing windeth itself about the pole, and always followeth the course of the sun from east to west, so that it can by no means be drawn to the contrary, but chooseth rather to break than to yield.”—Trapp.
“I have oftentimes noted, when women receive the doctrine of the gospel, they are more fervent in faith, they hold it more stiff and fast than men do, as we see in the loving Magdalen, who was more hearty and bold than Peter.”—Luther.
“To her religion is no weak and drivelling fanaticism, but a life, a power, a heavenly glory.”—Wadsworth.
“Naomi had said, and there was a sifting emphasis in her words, ‘Thy sister has gone back unto her people and to her gods.’ Ruth says, ‘Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’ ”—Price.
“O beautiful example,
For youthful minds to heed!
The good we do to others
Shall never miss its meed;
The love of those whose sorrows
We lighted shall be ours,
And o’er the path we walk in
That love shall scatter flowers.”
“When all things have their trial, you shall find
Nothing is constant but a virtuous mind”—Shirley.
“I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true, fixed, and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.”—Shakespeare.
[And] when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto [ceased to dissuade] her.
Older expositors have imagined that Naomi’s efforts to persuade her daughters-in-law to return homeward were not altogether seriously meant … a dogmatic anachronism (Lange). The efforts to be looked upon as sincere, but limited in the direction the text points out; when she saw, etc. Only the omniscient God Himself can read the heart, and yet even He sees fit to try and to test His children. But mark, in a case like this, friendship can dissuade no longer, when love shows itself to be firmly resolved, “steadfastly minded.”
Note. After proof and trial made of their fidelity, we are to trust our brethren, without any further suspicion (Fuller). Not to try before we trust is want of wisdom; not to trust after we have tried is want of charity (ibid). Naomi the elder, yet she yielded (Braden).
I. That steadfast-mindedness does much to bring trial itself to an end. The discipline of life has accomplished its purpose when it becomes plain and apparent that we are “fully persuaded.” Ephraim is fully persuaded to evil, and God says, “Let him alone.” Ruth is steadfastly minded towards good, and no further hindrances are to be placed in her way.
Note. (a) Deciding for ourselves, we help others to a decision; even those who love us and seek our best welfare. So, too, decision for Christ, and confession of Christ—the making it plain that we have chosen God’s people to be ours—will bring those to be with us who formerly may have seemed to be against us. (b) Many of the hindrances to our best and highest life are not meant permanently to hinder us. They are obstacles only for the moment placed in our way, that we may overcome them, and use them as stepping-stones to higher things: at their worst they are only intended to hold us back from entering the kingdom until we are “fully persuaded.” God wrestled with Jacob, with a desire to be conquered; so Naomi no doubt opposed Ruth, hoping and wishing that she herself might be foiled (Fuller). (c) Opposition will cease generally the moment it is plain that opposition is in vain. It is the wavering mind which invites persuasion, courts opposition; men spare their breath when they see that we are steadfastly minded, as the disciples at Cæsarea did with Paul (Acts 21:14).
II. That earnestness of character is the secret of perseverance and final success on the human side. “Hard pounding, gentlemen; but we will see who can pound the longest” (Wellington at Waterloo). The steadfast-minded are like the oak, deep-rooted, and so unmoved; like the iceberg in a swelling sea: the cause of its steadiness is its depth (Arnot). Lange and others translate “firmly resolved.” The one phrase points to the cause, the other to its effect. Note. With such to be fully persuaded is to be steadfast-minded. This steady earnestness of purpose is like the vital energy in the animal and vegetable creation, without which they would languish and die (Pilkington).
We have here the silvern side of the shield of truth illustrated, viz., that we continue in the heavenward course, just as Ruth went onward towards the earthly Canaan, because we are fully persuaded and so steadfast-minded. (cf. Hebrews 12:0) Said of the Patriarchs, “they were persuaded,” and that “if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out,” like Ruth “they might have had opportunity to have returned.”
The other and golden side of truth also illustrated here. Mark, the influences came from Naomi, which bound Ruth to Naomi, the attractions drawing her onward to Canaan came from that other and better land. So, too, in spiritual things we “are persuaded,” but we are persuaded “of Him.” In all affection which is to be lasting there must be the influences which attract, as well as the mind and spirit capable of being attracted. Love and life are always influenced from without. We speak of an affection laying hold of us. And note, it is only the life anchored within the veil by faith, “hid with Christ in God,” which will bear without breaking the strain and stress of the storm.
So, too, Ruth was not without her own misgivings and realization of the weakness which is ours always. The Hebrew reads it “that she strengthened herself,” that being their phrase to express an oath (Fuller).
(1) Divine moment when a man can say that he is “fully persuaded.” Henceforward the problem of life may be looked upon as solved—the light that shone upon our path has become a fixed and guiding star.
(2.) A distinct step too, in all true progress, when others perceive our steadfast-mindedness to go onward. It is certain, my belief gains quite infinitely the moment I can convince another mind thereof (Carlyle).
(3.) As the gold is not known but by the touchstone, so is not any Christian till he be thoroughly tried (Topsell).
Bernard on this:—
I. The godly wise are wary in their admittance of others into their company, till they well know them.
II. Words with an oath, and actions agreeing sufficiently, may persuade us of the steadfastness of the heart, and the inward disposition of the mind of such as show themselves virtuous.
III. An oath is the strengthening of the mind of him that sweareth.
IV. There is no reason to make further trial, where an honest resolution is or may be well discerned.
(1.) To try before we trust, and then to trust after sound trial.
(2.) Not to put to further trial than need is, lest we weaken faith, etc.
“When Constantine was chosen emperor, he found several Christians in office; and he issued an edict requiring them to renounce their faith, or quit their places. Most of them gave up their offices to preserve their conscience; but some cringed, and renounced Christianity. When the emperor had thus made full proof of their dispositions of character, he removed all who basely complied with his supposed wishes, and retained the others; saying that those who would desert or deny their Divine Master would desert him, and were not worthy of his confidence.”—Dic. of Illustrations.
“After supper, the dean having decanted a bottle of wine, poured what remained into a glass, and seeing it was muddy, presented it to Mr. Pilkington to drink it. ‘For,’ said he, ‘I always keep some poor person to drink the foul wine for me.’ Mr. Pilkington. entering into his humour, thanked him, and told him ‘he did not know the difference, but was glad to get a glass at any rate.’ ‘Why then,’ said the dean, ‘you shan’t, for I’ll drink it myself.’ ”—Sheridan’s Lift of Swift.
“The goldsmith must purify the dross and ore from the gold, but he must be wary lest he make waste of good metal, if over-curious in too often refining. We may search and sound the sincerity of our brethren; but after good experience made of their uprightness, we must take heed lest, by continual sifting and proving them, we offend a weak Christian. Christ tried the woman of Syrophœnicia first with silence, then with two sharp answers; at last, finding her to be sound, He dismissed her with granting her request, and commending of her faith. When He had said to Peter the third time ‘Lovest thou Me?’ He rested satisfied with Peter’s answer, and troubled him with no more questions.”—Fuller.
“As soldiers, when they have long besieged a city, with the loss of time, money, and men, being hopeless to take it, they even sound a retreat, and retire home without accomplishing their desire; so Naomi, perceiving that all her arguments which she used to conquer Ruth, like water in the smith’s forge cast on coals, did more intend [intensify] the heat of her constancy, gives over in my text.”—Fuller.
“The mind can never be steady, whilst it stands upon other’s feet, and till it be settled upon such grounds of assurances, that it will rather lead than follow; and can say with Joshua, whatsoever become of the world, ‘I and my house will serve the Lord.’ ”—Bishop Hall.
“There is all the difference in the world between firmness and obstinacy, though they are constantly confounded. Firmness is a conscientious adherence to what is held to be right after a careful examination of the reasons that can be given for the opposite course. Stubbornness is the tenacious maintenance of a position, whether it be right or wrong.”—Braden.
“Naomi teaches us that there is ‘a time to speak and a time to keep silence,’ a time to entreat and a time to refrain from entreating, a time to argue and a time to yield in the argument, a time even when parents should concede to the wishes of their children, though contrary to their own judgment.”—Braden.
“When our Saviour Christ had dealt with the Canaanitish woman about the like cause, seeing that silence would not answer her, nor denial satisfy her, nor the opprobrious word of dog dismay her, then He yielded to her desire, cured her daughter, and proclaimed her faith to be wonderful.”—Topsell.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—So they two. Types of the Jewish and Gentile Churches (Macgowan). Amicitia sit inter binos qui sunt veri, et bonos qui sunt pauci (Trapp). Went. They were obliged to travel on foot (Patrick, Gill). If the more southern route was chosen, they would descend from the high table-land of Moab, cross the plain at the southwestern extremity of the Dead Sea, part of the once larger vale of Siddim, where stood the cities of the plain, the soil of which is entirely covered with salt (Eadie), then turn northwards up the Wady Sudier to Engedi, and so to Bethlehem. If the more northern route, they would cross the two fords of Arnon and Jordan. In either case one of the most weird and desolate landscapes in the world, the scene of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, lay before them (cf. Deuteronomy 29:23). Came to Bethlehem [cf. Intro., p. 13]. All the city was moved [cf. 1 Samuel 4:5; 1 Kings 1:45]. All the city was in a commotion about them (Benisch). ἥχησε ἡ πολις. The city rang with the news (LXX.). All the city rejoiced at them (Arab, Syriac). The E.V. rightly uses the more comprehensive term which may include curiosity, surprise, gladness, etc. Amazement not so much at the fact that Naomi was still alive and had come back again, as at her returning in so mournful a condition (Keil). And they said. They in the Hebrew is feminine. The women of Bethlehem said (Speaker’s Com.). Not exactly, dicebantque mulieres, as the Vulg. has it; the population of the city are the subject of the verb, but in a matter of this kind women would naturally be so prominent as to lead the narrator insensibly to use the feminine. Perhaps Naomi arrived in an hour of the day when the labours of the field left none but women in the city (Lange). The Midrash makes the scene still more dramatic by the explanation that the concourse of the inhabitants was occasioned by the fact that the first wife of Boaz had that very day been carried to her grave (Lange). May possibly have been some such public occasion.
Ruth 1:20. Call me not Naomi [pleasant. See on Ruth 1:2, p. 14]. Call me Mara [bitter; LXX. πικαν; comp. Exodus 15:23]. I have no more anything that is pleasant about me: my life, like a salty, bitter spring, is without flavour or relish (Lange). A similar allusion to the meaning of names, Genesis 27:36; Jeremiah 20:3 (Speaker’s Com.). From this we gather that Naomi was not the name given her at first by her parents, but a popular name commonly given her by her neighbours, because of her comely presence and courteous behaviour (Patrick?) The Almighty [Shaddai]. The name Almighty is almost peculiar to the Pentateuch and to the Book of Job, in which last it is found thirty times. It occurs twice in the Psalms and four times in the prophets (Speaker’s Com.). Why is Shaddai used here? Must be connected with its pregnant, proper signification (Lange), the source of fruitfulness and life. Used continually as in Genesis 35:11; I am El Shaddai: be fruitful and multiply. The word must therefore unquestionably be referred to a root שָׁדָה still used in Arabic in the sense “to water, to fertilize.” [See Lange in loco.] Naomi was rightly named, when with a flourishing family she went to Moab; but now Shaddai, who gave the blessing, has taken it away (Lange). Rashi and Adam Clarke explain Shaddai to mean self-sufficient. Hath dealt very bitterly with me; has worked against me (Bertheau); hath testified against [lit. hath answered] me (Wordsworth); hath inflicted bitter sorrow upon me (Lange); hath made me very sad (Wright). [Comp. Exodus 20:16; 2 Samuel 1:16; Job 10:17; Malachi 3:5.] A metaphor from adversaries at law (Trapp). So Job says, “Thou writest bitter things against me” (Job 13:26).
Ruth 1:21. I went out full. That is, in the rich possession of a husband and two sons (Steele and Terry). Home again empty. The very reverse of Jacob’s experience (Genesis 32:10): “With my staff I passed over this Jordan, and now I am become two bands.” Cf. Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:5), “They that were full have hired out themselves for bread.” Though the Hebrew “full,” there meaning full of food, is quite different from that here used, which is the opposite of empty (Speaker’s Com.). The Lord [Jehovah] hath testified against me. Και κυριος εταπεινωσε με (LXX.). The reading of the LXX., “He humbled me,” was justly departed from, for it is only a paraphrase of the sense (Lange). Quam Dominus humiliavit (Vulg.). The Lord has brought me back in vain (Syr.), has sent down upon me a terrible punishment (Arab.). On the whole, we incline to prefer the ordinary translation (Wright). So Lange, Tremel., Drusius, Gesen., Rosenm. That which considers to be the difficulty of the passage, that it makes God to testify against a person, while elsewhere only men bear testimony, is precisely the special thought of Naomi. “I went,” she says, “and God has testified that this going was a sin” (Lange). In the loss of my children and family, says Naomi, I perceive that He “declares me guilty,” as the Targum excellently renders it (ibid). Comp. for a similar turn of thought. 1 Kings 17:18, followed at Ruth 1:20 by the identical word here rendered hath afflicted, there thou hast brought evil (Speaker’s Com.).
Theme.—COMPANIONSHIP IN PROGRESS
“Along the solitary plain we went,
As one who unto the lost road returns,
And till he finds it seems to go in vain.”—Dante.
“Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way,
But to act, that each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to day.”—Longfellow.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem.
In life action is everything, and joy and sorrow come of themselves (Goethe). Onward with these two means that they are nearer every moment to Canaan, the land of promise, and Bethlehem, the house of bread. A rough way, but the right way (Philpot)—a difficult journey, but a wise one; onward from weakness to strength, poverty to riches, disquietude to rest. Moab behind them, the promised and in front.
“Linked hand in hand they went, tears in their eyes,
As faint and beautiful as eyes of flowers.”—Alexander Smith.
Note. Pilgrimage is the appointed lot of God’s saints; for true life is always moving onward, progressing.
We have here,
I. Companionship in Progress. They two went. Their principles were one, the life and love of God in the soul. Their object was one, to come and trust in the shadow of the Divine wings (Ruth 2:12). Their interest was common, the salvation of their souls and communion by the way (Macgowan). So Lot and his daughters went hand in hand out of Sodom, led of the angels to a place of safety. Note. The world is our wilderness, and we are happy only as the path leads us onward to a place of rest. They came to Bethlehem [the house of bread]. How many accompany each other to Bethaven! [house of iniquity.] Our travellers are an emblem of the righteous, who hold on their way, etc. (Macgowan). They went together lovingly, they ceased not to go on, they did not linger, they took no by-paths, neither forgot they whither they were going, till they came unto Bethlehem (Bernard). See also on Ruth 1:6-7; pp. 32–36.
II. Mutual sympathy in affliction.—The Holy Spirit mentioneth not what discourse they exchanged by the way; yet no doubt they were neither silent, nor busied in unprofitable talk (Fuller). Note. Two things prevented them sinking into despair, their piety and their mutual love. An instance here of God’s faithfulness in restoring comfort to His mourners. Elimelech and his sons taken. Ruth given as a fast friend. When Abraham lost Sarah, Rebekah is brought into her tent (Macgowan). Note. (a) True companionship embraces three things, love, unity, and constancy. Friends must be of one mind and one heart, if they would journey together. These united in an indissoluble bond of love (Cox). (b) Only in looking heavenward, not in looking earthward, do what we call union, mutual love, society, begin to be possible (Carlyle).
III. Fellowship and communion in desire and hope.—Both are journeying to join the Israel of God. Probably they were beguiling the way by anticipations of the future; for now that Naomi has taken Ruth more closely to herself, their interests are inseparable, whatever may unfold. Note. They are to be admitted unto our fellowship, whom we find to be constant in a good course, and true lovers of goodness, whatsoever they were before (Bernard). Thus God’s angels deal with us; they will account us their fellow-servants when we turn to God (ibid).
(1.) God leaves His saints generally neither companionless nor comfortless. Luke, Mark, Titus, Timothy given and sent at different times to Paul [cf. 2 Corinthians 7:6]. And where man’s company fails, He will send His angels. Jacob was comforted of heaven when earth failed him (Genesis 28:12). And when the disciples slept in Gethsemane, an angel appeared strengthening the Saviour.
(2.) Success always attends our efforts when they are in accordance with Divine purposes. They came to Bethlehem. Naomi is at home once more; and for the first time Ruth stands on the sacred spot where the Saviour is to be born. How much depended upon the journey, humanly speaking! Fit emblem of another journey to another land of promise.
“Is it a long way off?
Oh! no, a few more years,
A few more bitter tears,—
We shall be there.
Sometimes the way seems long,
Our comforters all go,
Woe follows after woe,
Care after care.”
’Tis no uncertain way
We tread, for Jesus still
Leads with unerring skill
Where’er we roam;
And from the desert wild
Soon shall our path emerge,
And land us on the verge
Of our dear home.”—E. W. Dic. of Poetic Illustrations.
“Naomi’s heart throbs with mingled feelings is they pass along the way traversed by her and her venerated dead some ten years before. The sight of the beloved city and the familiar spots quickens a crowd of painful memories. Those who have returned to their native country and their childhood’s home after a prolonged absence know too well how everything looks familiar yet strange, old yet sometimes new, and a thousand thoughts throng to the mind, and tearful emotions surge in the heart, at every turn of the way.”—Braden.
“A man may turn whither he pleases, and undertake anything whatsoever, but he will always return to the path which nature has prescribed for him.”—Goethe.
“Often again in his course of life man feels as a feathered seed driven by winds; as if, without weight or power, he slowly floats or is swiftly hurried, but rests nowhere. He feels that within him is life, but knows that he is as yet an embryo. He is confusedly conscious of what his tendencies are, but cannot tell what his outgrowth will be.… Let him but find resting place, and he also will put forth buds and boughs, and array himself in beauty.”—Lynch.
“Life is only bright when it proceedeth
Towards a truer, deeper life above;
Human love is sweetest when it leadeth
Towards a more divine and perfect love.
Learn the mystery of Progression duly;
Do not call each glorious change decay;
But know, we only hold our treasures truly
When it appears as if they fade away.
Nor dare to blame God’s gifts for incompleteness—
In that want their beauty lies: they roll
Towards some infinite depths of love and sweetness,
Bearing onwards man’s reluctant soul!”
Adelaide A. Proctor.
“Men’s mid-day, cold, and slow pace to heaven will cause many a man to want his lodgings at night, and to lie in the fields.”—Fuller.
“To walk with Love in Love’s own country will be as easy as it is happy; but here, where love is put upon its trial, it is not so. It is to walk as with a thorn in your foot, which gives great pain at every step—new pain in an old wound.”—Lynch.
“Permanent rest is not to be expected on the road, but at the end of the journey.”—Dillwyn.
“Though God may bring us into the wilderness, yet if He speak comfortably to us, the wilderness will be turned into a paradise.… If the road is rough, let us not complain, for it leads to a glorious rest which nothing shall disturb.”—Charles.
“Make all plain and clear, and what sphere is there left for that trust by which the soul learns to lean upon God Himself? To see all the pathway, and know whither it leads, and what are the difficulties in the way, and how they are to be avoided, that is sight, and not faith. But when ‘light is given, and yet the way is hid,’ when the little we know points to a deeper mystery, and beyond there is the darkness and uncertainty from which the spirit shrinks and life holds back, when we stand like the Israelites at the Red Sea, the swollen waters in front, the mountains on either hand, the enemy behind, and none to help us but God; it is then that faith either falters and fails, or triumphs and shows itself inestimable, most precious when most needed, just as the miner’s candle is valued beyond all else when the gloom is densest and the way most intricate.”—B.
“The more the cross, the more the longing:
Out of the vale man upward goes;
Whose pathway through the desert lies;
He craves the land where Jordan flows:
When here the dove finds no repose,
Straight to the ark with joy she flies.”
“It is a mere and miserable solitude to want true friends, without which the world is but a wilderness.… There is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more; and no man that imparteth his griefs, but he grieveth the less.”—Bacon.
“Then I saw in my dream, they went very lovingly on together, and had sweet discourse of all things that had happened to them in their pilgrimage.”—Bunyan.
“It is with Christians as with burning coals. If these are scattered far apart, one after the other is easily extinguished, but when collected together, the fire of one preserves that of the other, and the glowing coals often ignite others that lie near.”—Franke.
“ ‘Daughter,’ ye softly said—‘Peace to thine heart;
We too—yes, daughter!—have been as thou art,
Tossed on the troubled waves, life’s stormy sea;
Chance and change manifold proving like thee,
Hope-lifted, doubt-depressed, seeing in part,
Tried, troubled, tempted, sustained as thou art:
Our God is thy God; what He willeth is best:
Trust Him as we trusted, then rest as we rest.’ ”
Theme.—A CITY IN ASTONISHMENT
“The blast of death
Hath stript our roof trees; the guardian boughs
Hang like sad willows o’er the stream of life,—
Where drifting slowly by our native shores,
Familiar faces smile on us no more.”—Mackay.
And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
Naomi’s return was no common occurrence. Probably the inhabitants of Bethlehem never expected to see her more (Lawson). The city, and especially the women, were thrown into a peaceable uproar. Everybody ran, told the news, and wondered (Lange). The great change in Naomi’s circumstances apparent in her appearance, in her very way of entering Bethlehem. Ten years ago she had left under far different circumstances. She went out with a husband, children, wealth; as she herself says, “full.” The story well remembered, for the family was a prominent one in Bethlehem; natural that the news of her return, poor and sorrowful, should spread like wildfire, and create what to her was an unpleasant sensation (Lange). Is this Naomi? Note. No questions cut so keenly as those which remind us of beloved ones who have passed into the shadow of death (Braden).
See in these words,
I. The language of surprise and astonishment. Strange! Wonderful! Is this she who was once so wealthy? How quickly is a river of riches drained dry! (Fuller.) Is this, can it be, Naomi? Time and sorrow, too, had wrought their cruel work upon her. Ten years, and such troubles as hers, leave terrible marks at her time of life (Braden). The rose withered unlike what it was when blooming (Matt. Henry). She that formerly was so fair, now one can scarcely read the traces of beauty in her face (Fuller). Is this Naomi? Note. (a) The more renowned any are in prosperity, the more remarkable are they in adversity (Bernard). Men are more carried away by the consideration of the outward means how things come to pass, than of the power and pleasure of God to make such an alteration (ibid). And so (b) God’s providential doings are a continual cause of surprise—as full of mystery as they are of mercy; necessarily so if faith is to have its perfect work. He brings about great changes in persons, families, cities, countries. And that often in ways least expected. The poor are exalted, the rich cast down; empires seemingly established for ever, like Babylon and Rome, coming to nought; cities destroyed, etc. (Cf. Lamentations 2:15, “Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty?” etc.; Revelation 18:15-17.)
II. The language of condemnation. May be feared there was more blame than pity in the exclamation (Cox). See! see! this is she that could not be content to tarry at home to take part of the famine with the rest of her fellows (Fuller). Perhaps they were moved about her, lest she should be a charge to the town, she looked so bare (Matt. Henry). Men judge mainly by outward appearances.
“Virtue without success
Is a fair picture shown by an ill light.”—Dryden.
Under the old economy, too, adversity was looked upon largely as meaning punishment. Only the nobler spirits seem to realize the meaning and ministry of suffering. A trace of this to be found among the heathens, as in the seven years’ probation of Eneas:—
“Long labours, both by sea and land, he bore,
And in the doubtful war, before he won
The Sabian realm, and built the destined town.”—Virgil.
But even this was associated with fate and “the wrath of the gods.” Note. The multitude in all ages have traced afflictions to the anger of the Deity. (See Job 8:6; Job 11:20, etc.) Difficult for Christians to realize always that “whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth.”
So that we may have here,
III. The language of contempt. The crowd come and look upon a spectacle like this, and then pass away to their usual avocations, some at least pointing the finger of scorn. David was cursed of Shimei in his affliction, and God’s prophet saluted with the cry, “Go up, thou bald head.” The man of God must expect to be misunderstood in all that concerns him, even in the Divine dealings with him. Christ said to His disciples, “The time cometh that whosoever killeth you will think he doeth God service.” Note. Hatred to the good seems inherent to the evil heart; and poverty brings contempt upon the best. Proud hearts take contempt in adversity as worse than death (Bernard); but we must learn to bear it as Naomi, as David, as Christ did.
We may have here,
IV. The language of pity and commiseration. Alas! alas! is not this that gracious woman, that godly saint, which formerly by her charity relieved many in distress? How soon is a full clod turned into parched earth! one that supplied others into one that needeth to be supplied by others! (Fuller.) “How has the gold become dim!” Those that had seen the magnificence of the first temple wept when they saw the meanness of the second (Matt. Henry). There are always hearts that are touched in a right way at the sight of sorrow and trouble. The priest and the Levite may come and look on and pass by on the other side; but some good Samaritan draws nearer sooner or later to pour in oil and wine into the open wounds. Naomi evidently moved by the expression, Is this Naomi? She utters no word of reproach afterwards against the inhabitants of Bethlehem. Note. Good and godly people do not less esteem the virtuous because of their outward low estate and poverty (Bernard). The poor around us test the sincerity of our professions of religion. Christ will say at last, “Inasmuch as ye did it not,” etc.
(1) The same language may have a very different meaning in different lips.
(2) Our very surprise at adversity should be mingled with compassion, and meted out with sympathy. Idle words, how they wound the broken heart! Is this Naomi? brings back the memory of all the past.
(3) In adversity we should be comforters, not as Job’s friends, who sat down and censured him, nor as Christ’s and St. Paul’s, who forsook them (Bernard), not even as Naomi’s, whose casual words open the fountains of grief afresh; but as those who themselves have suffered, and have the meek and gentle spirit suffering only can bring.
(4) When we remark the sad changes which numbers suffer, we should be reminded to prepare for changes ourselves, especially the last great change (Scott).
“Their exclamation, ‘This Naomi!’ expresses the general astonishment at the change which had passed upon her. No doubt the little hamlet had been all aflame with gossip when, ten years before, the rich sheep-master Elimelech had left it, and many pious brows had been shaken over his sin in going to sojourn among the heathen. And no doubt, on Naomi’s return, many who would have shared that sin if they could, and many who had committed far worse sins than any of which she had been guilty, once more shook their heads in grave rebuke, and were forward to recognize the judgments of an offended God in the calamities which had befallen her.”—Cox.
Naomi was formerly a woman of good quality and fashion, of good rank and repute; otherwise her return in poverty had not so generally been taken notice of. Shrubs may be grubbed to the ground, and none miss them; but every one marks the falling of a cedar. Grovelling cottages may be levelled to the earth, and none observe; but every traveller takes notice of the fall of a steeple. Let this comfort those to whom God hath given small possessions. Should He visit them with poverty, and take from them what little they have, yet their grief and shame would be the less; they should not have so many fingers pointed at them, so many eyes staring on them, so many words spoken of them. They might lurk in obscurity. It must be a Naomi, a person of eminence and estate, whose poverty must move a whole city.”—Fuller.
“If we would truly sympathise with others, we must beware of hastily estimating the manner and degree of their trouble.… Comforters must come as inquirers, not judges; come to bestow consolation, not criticism.”—Lynch.
“To seek the applause of man is wrong; but to merit it is most desirable. A man of worthless character creates no respect in the minds of others, so that if ill befall him, he finds but little sympathy in the bosom of those around him; whereas a good man under misfortune excites a lively interest in his affairs.”—Simeon.
“The feelings of men are easily excited for those who have met severe and peculiar afflictions; but in the generality of mankind those feelings soon die away, and, even while exciting, rarely produce any practical effect. ‘The whole city was moved’ about Naomi, but we are not told that one door was opened to receive her, and we soon find her rejoicing in being allowed to partake of the last and lowest resource of the destitute. Few remember how large a proportion of pure and undefiled religion consists in visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction.”—Macartney.
“Outward contact never accords with the epoch of inner culture, and therefore, as it cannot further us, must necessarily injure us.”—Goethe.
“We all suffer from the want of genuine human help and sympathy. But often, to meet our particular case, it is required that those around us possess a higher than the average goodness. We must not curse humanity because we cannot find the man we want.”—Lynch.
“There is ‘salvation in fulness,’ and there is ‘salvation by fire.’ There is the ‘abundant entrance’ into the kingdom of God, and there is the getting in with something like ‘difficulty.’ One man may be conducted to his ‘joy and crown’ through thronging multitudes, amid outstretched hands and reverberating hosannas, and along the great public thoroughfare of the city; while another shall advance with hesitating step; be glad to get an entrance without observation; be met by no congratulating crowds; creep stealthily by some unfrequented street to his undistinguished abode; tremulous with a thankful, though shaded joy, that he is saved at all.”—Binney.
Theme.—SPIRITUAL DESPONDENCY AND DEPRESSION
“Grief hath changed me,
And careful hours, with Time’s deformed hand,
Hath written strange defeatures in my face.”—Shakespeare.
“We overstate the ills of life, and take
Imagination, given us to bring down
The choir of singing angels.…
The dismal snows instead; flake flowing flake,
To cover all the corn.…
O brothers! let us leave the shame and sin
Of talking vainly, in a plaintive mood,
The holy name of Grief,—holy herein,
That by the grief of one came all our good.”—Mrs. Browning.
Call me not Naoimi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, etc.
Ten years have turned Naomi into Mara (Bp. Hall). Ten years and departure into the far-off land (cf. Luke 15:14). This is what sojourning in Moab meant then and always; affliction, barrenness, want, even to those who are least guilty. So Israel had to come out from Egypt, though they found a Goshen there for awhile, “in haste,” and as from a land of bondage. Note. Man goes, but God brings home (Lange). The departure is all our own, the return is His with whom we have to do.
I. On the changes incident to human life. Its sweet and pleasant things become bitter, its fulness emptiness, its prosperous goings out disastrous. Note. (a) This is not by chance, but by the providence of God. A peculiarity of piety, that it ascribes the issues of all the affairs of life to God (Lange). He turns Naomi into Mara, mirth into mourning, sweet into sour, honour into dishonour (Bernard). As examples we have Job, Haman, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Herod, beyond the memorable instance of the text. Outward glory is but as a lading flower, and as the warm sunshine of a cold wintry day, soon gone, and all the delight thereof (Bernard). Note. (b) Every man’s estate is in the hands of the Lord to alter as He will.
II. On the meaning and manner of these changes.
(1) Life means discipline, and therefore pain is a secondary question to that of our perfection. God denies and takes away, just as the sculptor does with the marble, that he may bring out the ideal form beneath. He finds it sometimes best to cross the likely projects of His dearest children (Bishop Hall). “If God have loved thee,” says Bengel, “thou canst have no lack of trouble.”
(2) Experience comes in this way: we grow strong, not only in conflict, but in times when we must bear as well as do. “Thou therefore, my son, endure hardship,” etc. (2 Timothy 2:3). The soldier must pass through his baptism of fire, and the Christian his baptism of suffering.
(3) We never understand life aright until we see in it two wills in conflict, the human and the Divine. Our thoughts and purposes at best are not His with whom we have to do. Mark, the choice in life is with us, the issues with Him. There is the exercise of free will on our part, and there are His foreordained purposes. And note, Hits purposes will be accomplished, even though He deal bitterly with us. In all our projects we must expect that God may testify against us as against Naomi. He does so as seeing the end from the beginning, the true meaning of life amid its outward and plausible appearances. Man in his abundance, too, is apt to forget God. Adversity, denial, is the Divine way of calling our thoughts back again to Himself. No doubt God does deal bitterly with men at times. The profoundest love may show itself in this way, as with the parent when he corrects his child; the most far-reaching wisdom, as with the physician when he cures with distasteful remedies. [See also on Ruth 1:13, pp. 50–52.]
III. On spiritual depression as accompanying these changes. Usually, the natural man, even as a beggar, still desires to shine (Lange). Not so Naomi. Her humility regards not a glorious name in a dejected state (Malt. Henry). She hates this hypocrisy, and since God hath humbled her, desires not to be respected of men (Bishop Hall). A poor widow now, though once a noble woman. Call me not Naomi, she says, call me Mara. Note. We have in this the bitterness of grief, not of impatience; something of that shadow which has fallen at times upon the noblest spirits. We call it spiritual depression, religious despondency, melancholy, etc., and in it the heart does not so much murmur against the burden of life as feel it. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
(1) As to some of the causes of this spiritual depression. Sin in ourselves, wrong-doing of others, peculiar mental and physical conditions, unsolved problems of this our existence. Or, as here, adverse circumstances, and the lowliness of human life (Psalms 88:8). Naomi’s losses have followed one another like Job’s, hence her bitter cry. So Elijah in the hour of depression said, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” Note. With all men there is a cloudy and dark day; and the world within us generally reflects the world without.
“Many of God’s most precious gifts are sad;”
and so far in the world’s history the best songs, like the nightingale’s, have been sung in the dark.
Again with Naomi, God Himself seems to be against her, afflicting her. Her loving heart takes all God’s judgments on itself (Lange). She is humble, repentant, but also keenly sensitive and alive to the hand above her. A great alleviation of pain to see God in our afflictions [cf. on Ruth 1:13, p. 50, div. I.], but there is a dark side even to this. “The Lord hath testified against me.” It is not only God hiding Himself, but God against her, as an advocate pleading, as a witness testifying on the other side. This the bitterest drop in her cup of affliction, which makes her ready to disclaim her very name, and all the past of her history. So, too, in a more mysterious sorrow the cry went up, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Note. God testifies against His own children. His saints are by no means perfect in love, in faith, in obedience; and He will continue to testify until His own purposes are accomplished in them.
(2) As to the Divine meaning in connexion with spiritual depression. Afflictions (a) sent as chastisement, (b) allowed as discipline, (c) part of a wider problem in the history of the human race.
So with that chastened, humbled, and even sorrowful frame of mind, which accompanies them. Undue sorrow is better than undue security. Where the showers fall most, there the grass is greenest (Spurgeon). Just as some islands owe their fertility to the humidity of the atmosphere, the very clouds that darken and the rains that deluge the land, so many Christians owe their richest and divinest experiences to the sorrow which has darkened all their life. No chastening, says the Apostle, for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; but afterwards it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). And Christ Himself likens the disciples, in the hour of His trial, to a woman in travail (John 16:20-22).
“The night is darkest before the morn:
When the pain is sorest, the child is born;
And the day of the Lord is at hand.”—Kingsley.
Again, just as the capacity for sorrow proves man above the brute, so this very sensitiveness to God’s dealings shows the saint superior to the worldling. “Sanctified afflictions,” says Dodd, with deep insight into God’s dealings with His children, “are spiritual promotions.” He treats us as sons (Hebrews 12:7). And so the godly sorrow, our burden to-day, will be our glory to-morrow. Paul felt this when he said, “Our light affliction,” etc. (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 2 Corinthians 6:8-10).
(1) The condition of creatures is soon changed (Macgowan).
(2) Afflictions may make that which was once our glory seem and sound like irony to us. With Naomi, the very remembrance of her name increases her grief.
(3) Those who are truly humbled are not ashamed that the world should think them so. In all forms of good there are more that care to seem than to be (Bishop Hall). Many that are debased and impoverished, yet affect to be called by the empty names and titles of honour they formerly enjoyed (Matt. Henry). Not so Naomi.
(4) When our condition is brought down, we may and must expect our spirits to be humbled with it.
(5) Neither dignity of place, highness of birth, nor fruitfulness of children, may minister comfort to those whom the Lord has humbled (Topsell). The hand that smites is the only hand that can heal; and worldly misery is only abated entirely by everlasting felicity.
(6) It is not an affliction itself, but an affliction rightly borne, that does us good (Matt. Henry). “So, friend, I see that thou hast not yet forgiven God Almighty!” the rebuke of Ebenezer Adams to a lady of rank, a widow, he was visiting. The reproof produced such an effect, that she immediately had all her trappings of grief destroyed, and went about her necessary business and avocations. So many calamities have been lost upon you if you have not yet learned how to suffer (Sen. ad Helv.). Behold us willing to suffer in this life the worst it may please Thee to bring upon us; here lay Thy rod upon us; consume us here, cut us to pieces here, only spare us in eternity (St. Augustine).
(7) It is no part of religion to harden ourselves against the rod. “Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved” (Jeremiah 5:3), is the charge the prophet brings against Jerusalem; but we nowhere find them condemned for feeling too keenly (Macartney).
“She put her mouth in the dust, and spake in a low language, suitable to her present condition; God had afflicted her, and she would carry her sails accordingly. Many are humbled, but not humble; low, but not lowly. These have lost the fruit of their affliction, saith Augustine, and are therefore most miserable. God, saith another, calls no man Benjamin, but those whom their own hearts call Ben-oni in their humility. He salutes them not Naomi, beautiful, who do not humbly feel themselves Mara, bitter.”—Trapp.
“If all our afflictions come from the Almighty, it is in vain, as well as impious, to contend with Him that smites. Shall the potsherds of the earth strive with their Maker, who has all power to do with them as He pleases? He cannot effectually be opposed, and He can do nothing that is wrong. Weak mortals may injure their fellow-creatures for their own advantage, but what profit can it be to the Almighty that He should oppress the work of His own hands?”—Lawson.
“We ought not so to lament the comfort we have lost, as to think that all our future days must be spent in bitterness.”—Ibid.
“Wonder not at David, if he crieth in the anguish of his heart; at Job, if he complaineth in the bitterness of his soul; at Jeremiah, if he lamenteth in the extremity of his grief; for even then they are swallowing of a potion which is bitter unto flesh and blood.”—Fuller.
“It will always remain a wonder to the majority of men what the agonies of some spirits mean. Questions which scorch the spirit like burning lava, pitiful wailings after light, gaspings of the oppressed soul for fresh air and liberty, they know nothing of. I have met men and women who had been familiar with sorrow in many forms. Fortune had not favoured them—fortune is strangely capricious: in whatever direction the golden veins run in this world, they had never somehow struck into one; the gifts of health had been niggardly doled out to them, and the common enemy death had passed through their homes, and his footsteps had dried up the springs which, amid all the world’s weariness, had been so refreshing. These trials they had borne patiently and humbly. But the pain which was almost impossible to bear, the blow which made the soul stagger and reel was this, the light went. They were left in mental darkness; there was nothing to guide the soul by; perplexity, uncertainty, bewilderment throughout the whole realm of religion.”—Morlais Jones.
“Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended this talk, they drew nigh to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain, and they being heedless did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was DESPOND.”—Bunyan.
“Men spoil their own lives, and then complain that life is evil; they mar and rend the picture, and murmur because its beauty has disappeared; they run the ship upon the rocks, and weep to find her a wreek; they crush the flower with a rude hand, and are disappointed because it withers.”—Thomas Jones.
“As torrents that are dried up in the heat of summer, when there is most need of them, so all comforts fail in the extremity, that are not derived from the fountain of life.”—Dr. Bates.
“Sorrow is the substance of man’s natural life, and it might almost be defined to be his natural capability of the supernatural; nothing has a lasting interest for man which is not in some way connected with sorrow; sorrow is the poetry of a creation which is fallen, of a race which is in exile in a vale of tears.”—F. W. Faber.
“The cross is always ready, and waits for thee in every place.… Why hopest, then to avoid that from which no human being has been exempt? Thou art deceived, wretchedly deceived, if thou expect anything but tribulation; for this whole mortal life is full of care, and signed on every side with the cross.”—Thomas à Kempis.
“What is sixty years’ pain to eternity? We never think of sorrow in our dreams; wherefore should we in the dream of life?”—Jean Paul Richter.
“A few in every age have known the divine art of carrying sorrow and trouble as wonderful food, as an invisible garment that clothed them with strength; as a mysterious joy, so that they suffered gladly, rejoicing in infirmity, and holding up their heads with sacred presages; whenever times were dark and troublous, let the light depart from their eyes, that they might by faith see nobler things than sight could reach.”—Beecher.
“Darkness shows us worlds of light
We never saw before.”—Moore.
“The cares and infelicities of life, which are spoken of as ‘hindrances to grace,’ may be hindrances, but they are the only helps it has in this world. The voice of provocation is the voice of God calling us to the practice of patience.
“A man in his old age is like a sword in a shop window: men that look upon the perfect blade do not imagine the process by which it was completed. Man is a sword. Daily life is the workshop, and God is the artificer; and those cares which beat him upon the anvil, and file his edge, and eat in, acid-like, the inscription upon his hilt,—these are the very things that fashion the man.”—Beecher.
“No men have need to be so vigilant, so attentive, so listening, so appreciative, as those who are in deep trouble. Sorrow is Mount Sinai. If one will go up and talk with God face to face, he must not fear the voice of thunder, nor the trumpet sounding long and loud.”—Beecher.
“I have read of a fountain that at noonday is cold, and at midnight it grows warm; so many a precious soul is cold Godward, and heaven-ward, and holiness-ward, in the day of prosperity, that grows warm God-ward, and heaven-ward, and holiness-ward in the midnight of adversity.”—Brooks.
“Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction and the clearer revelation of God’s favour”—Lord Bacon.
“The good man suffers but to gain,
And every virtue springs from pain;
As aromatic plants bestow
No spicy fragrance while they grow;
But crushed or trodden to the ground,
Diffuse their balmy sweets around.”
“I see not a step before me as I tread the days of the year,
But the past is still in God’s keeping, the future His mercy shall clear;
And what looks dark in the distance may brighten as I draw near.
For perhaps the dreaded future has less bitterness than I think;
The Lord may sweeten the water before I stoop to drink,
Or if Marah must be Marah, He will stand beside its brink.
So I go on not knowing. I would not if I might;
I would rather walk on in the dark with God, than go alone in the light;
I would rather walk with Him by faith than walk alone by sight.
My heart shrinks back from trials which the future may disclose,
Yet I never had a sorrow, but what the dear Lord chose;
So I send the coming tears back, with the whispered word, ‘He knows.’ ”
“This is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”—Tennyson.
“Brothers, hush! the Lord Christ’s hands
Ev’n now are stretched in blessing o’er the sea and o’er the lands.
Sit not like a mourner, brother! by the grave of that dear past;
Throw the present! ’tis thy servant only when ’tis overcast.
Give battle to the leaguèd world; if thou’rt worthy, truly brave,
Thou shalt make the hardest circumstance a helper and a slave.”
I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home empty again: why, then,? etc.
Sooner or later the time comes in the history of good men when things begin to show themselves as they are. Appearances deceive us no longer. The scales fall from our eyes. Life stands out in its true relationships, and we read, plain as the handwriting on Babylon’s walls, the lessons God would have us learn from the past. We come more completely to ourselves, and that moment, even to the best of men, is one of contrition and regret, and often of painful self-accusation.
Naomi is evidently passing through such a time in this the hour of her return. A penitent feeling pervades her lamentation (Lange). She left her people in the day of famine, and now she comes back to them, the famine in her own heart. Life has narrowed itself to a question between herself and God. Her emptiness is of Him, but her going away is all her own. She went out of her own free will, though others led her; and in contrast with this comes the doings of the God of the Israel she left behind. I went because it was my will to go, not God’s; now God’s judgment has sent me back (Lange).
Note. (a) To go out of God’s way is to go out of His protection (Macgowan); but (b) to go against His will is to come under the sweep of His chastisements.
We have here,
I. The true conception of human life.
(1) God dealing in it personally, individually, with men. A Scriptural doctrine found from Genesis to Revelation. Pre-eminently a Christian doctrine: “Even the very hairs of your head,” etc. More than this, it is a reasonable doctrine. If there be no special providence, there is no providence at all; only blind fate, or resistless law. On any other theory which recognises a Deity, we are at the mercy of what is worse than chance—a God who thinks it beneath Him to regard His creatures; or worse still, a God who is chained and overmastered by His own laws.
(2) Its departures and wanderings our own. “I went out.” If any might have blamed others, Naomi might. But not so, she blames herself alone. Note. Self-condemnation a constant attendant upon Christian life. “I went out full.” So did the prodigal. People usually get full before they go out from God’s way and habitation (Macgowan). She went out not for want, but for fear of want (Bernard, Trapp). (See on Ruth 1:1, pp. 10–13.) She went out full of family happiness, of joy in her sons, and of hope of a cheerful old age, surrounded by children and children’s children; but empty now of all these, without possessions and without hope (Lange). What a vivid picture of those who leave the way of God’s ordinances and sanctuary privileges! They go out for gain, but they meet with gall and wormwood instead of honey (Macgowan). Note. Our blindness oftentimes carries us into the perils we seek to eschew (Bishop Hall).
(3) Its better leadings and holier impulses, its repentance and return to God. “The Lord hath,” etc. Just as the planets are brought into their appointed orbits by the central and attractive force of gravitation, so it is between man and God. (See on Ruth 1:7, div. I., p. 35). Mark, (a) that she was brought home again. Afflictions are not a consuming but a refining fire to the godly (Secker). And mark (b) how she was brought back. By weeping cross, Trapp says quaintly. “Home again empty,” says the text. Jehoshaphat’s ships were broken; Lot lost all; Josiah came home short (Trapp). Note as true always of such returns, that the backslider retraces his steps
(1) with many tears and self-reproaches,
(2) with conscious emptiness,
(3) with total self-renunciation. Naomi renounces even her right to her former name. Why call me Naomi? Why speak a single word to remind me of my former glory? In my losses and in my loneliness, in all that belongs to my life, “the Lord hath testified against me.” Men call her Naomi (pleasant, gracious, lovely); but she reads her life in a different fashion, and says, Call me Mara (bitterness). Note. We fall short in the eyes of God, however we may seem in the eyes of our fellow-men. Repentance and a change of heart always brings us to see this. The old nature and the old life is no longer Naomi, rather it is Mara to us.
We have here,
II. The true explanation of afflictions.
(1) Always from God, if not always for punishment. This one of the great lessons taught in the book of Job. So here. Naomi, not worse, not even so bad, as many around her who had so far escaped calamity. But God has a right to deal severely with the best of His children for their ultimate good. Mark the distinction; He corrects His children, He punishes the wicked. The one act looks forward to a future perfectness, the other looks back only upon the past. The one is remedial and continual until the end is accomplished; the other waits and lingers in hope of repentance, but comes at last, swift as lightning, and sudden as the whirlwind. (Cf. Hebrews 12:5-11, with Psalms 37:9-13; Psalms 37:20; Psalms 37:38.)
(2) Always having a meaning and a message, though not always in anger. (See last outline, div. II.) Afflictions are represented here as God’s testimony against those who have wandered from His ways. “The Lord hath testified,” etc. He puts the straight way of His judgments side by side with our crooked ways. As that One who brings all things to pass, He brings our folly to fruition to confound us. He ripens our plans, and lo they are our undoing! It is not that He thwarts us; oftentimes He gives us the desire of our heart, and it is the strongest testimony to our sin. Note. God not only testifies by word, but by act; not only in revelation, but in providence. Our life a testimony in its circumstance, etc. God’s will is being accomplished in it, as well as our own.
(1) The vanity of earthly possessions. So uncertain is that which we call fulness in the creature, an hour may strip us of all. Like a bladder, so is worldly prosperity; a puff doth make it swell, but a prick doth make it fall again (Topsell).
(2) It is a sign of true grace when we ascribe the ills which come in life to the hand of God, while we take all the blame to ourselves. What is it but the child recognizing even in chastisement the hand of the Father?
Bernard on this:—
That it is a fault, voluntarily for safety of goods, through distrust, to leave God’s people, and go to live among idolaters.
That there is no certainty in worldly wealth.
That oftentimes the ways and means which men take to prevent want, by the same they bring it on them.
That such of God’s children as go astray, He will bring home again, but yet with correction.
“Why then call ye me Naomi?” etc. That the humbled and afflicted take no pleasure to be remembered of their former prosperity by names and titles.
That man’s comfort is nothing able to allay the bitterness of God’s discomforts on us.
That afflictions are commonly the Lord’s witnesses against us for something amiss in us.
“The Lord giveth, and the Lord hath taken away.” When He gives, He is under no necessity of securing to us the possession of what He gives. We may soon provoke Him, by our sins, to bereave us of all that He hath given us; but however careful we may be to please Him, we cannot merit the continuance of His favours, and without any special provocation on our part He may have good reasons for impoverishing us, and placing us in conditions quite the reverse of those to which we have been accustomed. And one great reason why God so frequently changes men’s prosperous condition into misery is to teach us the folly of trusting to our present enjoyment. ‘But this I say, brethren, the time is short. It remaineth,’ etc.”—Lawson.
“It is hard to come down in the world through upright dealing, but harder still to stoop to dishonest dealing in order to keep up in the world. If the loss of temporal gain be the gain of eternal good, then the reverse of fortune is the reverse of misfortune.
“It is difficult to mourn without murmuring. We are permitted to weep and moan under the hand of God, but it is not easy to weep, to sorrow without excess; at once to feel the rod and to kiss it, to adore and to bless a correcting and bereaving God. How noble the spirit, and how pious the language of Job, when he exclaimed, ‘The Lord gave,’ etc.”—Toller.
“There are times when we reason thus: the darkness is around us, therefore it will always be dark; the winter has been long and cold, hence summer will never arrive; troubles are come upon us, consequently we are to expect nothing but trouble. Thus does the mind take a melancholy pleasure in tormenting itself. We turn our back to the light, look at our own dark shadow cast upon the ground, and then cry out in sorrow that all things are and will be against us.”—Thomas Jones.
“Afflictions are a testimony against men that they are sinners, but they are not always a testimony that the sufferer is guilty of some particular sins for which God chastiseth him” (Job 2:3).—Lawson.
“God made men to be blessed. If the cry of broken hearts goes up to heaven, it is not His institution.”—Baldwin Brown.
“Men think God is destroying them because He is tuning them. The violinist screws up the key till the tense cord sounds the concert pitch; but it is not to break it, but to use it tunefully, that he stretches the string upon the musical rack.”—Beecher.
“She utters not a breath of accusation against Elimelech, or of excuse of herself. Properly speaking, the fault did lie with her husband and sons. They were the originators of the undertaking that ended so disastrously; but of this she has no memory.”—Lange.
“She takes the whole blame on herself. She confesses that, in leaving ‘the land of promise,’ she was walking after her own will, not the will of God. But though she confesses her own sin, she utters no reproach against the beloved dead. ‘I went because it was my will to go; and now God has taught me, by all I have suffered and lost, that it was wrong to go. He has justly emptied me of all my possessions, all my hopes.’ ”—Cox.
“It is nearly the same utterances as fell from her lips in parting with Orpah. Grief makes her almost fierce. The name she bears sounds like irony and a reproach.”—Braden.
“It is good at times to be in distress, for it reminds us that we are in exile.”—Thomas à Kempis.
“Those trials which come from God are never without benefit to us, when we receive them worthily, since there is always a rich harvest of spiritual blessings for the afflicted religious heart. If human nature at first shrinks from sorrow, faith and Christian hope soon come to its support; the trial then appears easy to be borne. Receive it as from (God, and its bitterness is past.… Indeed, the peace which is always found in this submission is itself a great blessing. even without any exterior alleviation of sorrow. It is a peace so much the more pure as it is unconnected with the world.”—Fenelon.
“But the problem of our life is solved in and by Jesus Christ. He has explained its nature, purpose, and ending. Without Him the world is a haunted house, disturbed by strange noises—half-formed apparitions glide through the gloom, and the inhabitants are sore afraid; but possessing His revelation, we know it to be the outer court of the heavenly temple, and we hear already the harmonious voices of the worshippers in the inner sanctuary praising God for their existence. Christ is our refuge from fear.”—Thomas Jones.
“The martyrdom of an hour is sudden glory, but the martyrdom of a life—there needs something more than human to endure this.”—Spurgeon.
“Oh ye who suffer, whatsoe’er it is
Hath brought this fellowship with Christ to try the heart,
Know that the angel ministering is God’s;
And suffering e’en as doing is the better part.
And ye who, cumbered with much care or pain,
Sleep not, but count the weary hours, and wish for morn;
Lo! from the pentecost of sorrow yours to-day,
The pentecost of joy to-morrow shall be born.
And ye who sorrow for a light that’s quenched
For love that gladdened all the morning of life’s day;
By all the sacred tears that Jesus wept,
The dead ye mourn are sleeping, and not lost for aye.
Our friend he sleepeth, said the Master once,
So named He man’s last hour, when fails the feeble breath.
A sickness to God’s glory; through the ages thence
New meaning lurks to us in sorrow, suffering, death.”—B.
CRITICAL AND EXEGETICAL NOTES.—Which returned out of the country [territories or fields] of Moab. The description by which Ruth was commonly designated [cf. Ruth 2:6]. (Speaker’s Com.). As the same expression occurs at Ruth 4:3, in connexion with Naomi, it may be supposed that it became customary to speak of Naomi and Ruth as “the returned from Moab,” or, as we should say popularly, “the returned Moabites” (Lange). Here the phrase applies to Ruth, as at Ruth 2:6, but in Ruth 4:3 to Naomi (Keil). Dr. Cassel translates, “And so Naomi was returned home, and Ruth, the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her [who accompanied her] after [or on] her departure from the fields of Moab.” And she desired to return with her [that is, with Naomi] with the whole heart; and they came from the land of Moab, etc. (Syr.). The Douay, following the Vulgate, trans., “So Naomi came with Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, from the land of her sojourning” [from the land of her pilgrimage (Wyeliffe)]. Aben Ezra thinks this to be understood of her returning at another time (Gill). In the beginning of barley harvest. The harvest as a whole commenced with the barley harvest (Keil). The beginning of spring, for the barley harvest began immediately after the passover, and that feast was held on the 15th of the month Nisan. which corresponded with our March (A. Clarke). They came to Bethlehem on that day in which the children of Israel began to mow the sheaf of barley which was to be waved before the Lord (Targum). The firstfruits of the barley harvest were. as we know, presented at the passover, before which it was not lawful to begin the harvest (Kitto). In the next chapter (Ruth 2:23) it is related that Ruth gleaned “until the end of barley and of wheat harvest.” This book was therefore appointed by the ancient Hebrew Church to be read in the synagogues at the feast of weeks or Pentecost, when the wheat harvest began (Wordsworth) [cf. Intro., p. 1, par. 2]. They came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest. Opens the way for the further course of the history (Keil). Explains the narrative in the next chapter. Keil questions whether the Bethlehem mentioned in connexion with Ibzan in Judges 12:8-10 is the Bethlehem of the text, as Josephus affirms.
Theme.—THE WANDERER HOME AGAIN
“I still had hopes, my long vexations past,
Here to return, and die at home at last.”—Goldsmith.
Our home in youth—no matter to what end—
Study, or strife, or pleasure, or what not;
And coming back in few short years, we find
All as we left it outside: …
But lift that latehet,—all is changed as doom.”—Bailey.
So Naomi returned … and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest.
This first chapter of the book of Ruth is in itself a perfect poem, as well as an epitome of human life and a parable of the soul’s pilgrimage. The theme is that of “the wanderers.” It has its prologue in the famine, and its epilogue in the return. Blow follows blow until the catastrophe is complete in the death of all who left the land of promise, save one. Then out of the dark night of sorrow hope is born and the return begins. Love lights up the picture, a love surpassing the ordinary and usual love of woman, and the chastened spirit bows at last, not to fate, but God. It is a poem complete in itself, rich with contrasting lights and shadows, and as Goethe has well said, “the loveliest thing in the shape of an epic or idyl which has come to us.” Penned by inspiration, it has no equal and no second.
See here then, in conclusion,
I. The wanderer home again. The most friendless of human beings has a country which he admires and extols (Sydney Smith). The greatest wanderer, some place dear above all else which he thinks of as home. Even the prodigal, sitting in the far country among the swine, remembers he has a “father’s house,” and turns longingly towards it. So with Naomi. [For the return, see on Ruth 1:6-7, pp. 32–36, and on Ruth 1:19; Ruth 1:21.] Note. (a) The home ties the strongest, the home claims the most binding in human life. True friendship as well as true religion centres there. Bethlehem was Naomi’s proper place, and the whole scope of the narrative is to show that in leaving it she had gone out of the way of God’s providences, as well as of His ordinances. (b) Christian love begins its work at home. Christian manhood shows its best there, and the circle of genial influence spreads and widens from that centre.
II. Home again in a fortunate way. Led of God; for she recognizes that the Lord had brought her home again (Ruth 1:21). Naomi’s extremity was God’s opportunity. So with David (1 Samuel 23:0). The statement of the text made in order to intimate that the help of God did not tarry long (Lange). Note. (a) When God leads, it is not ours to linger. Beware of by-paths and idle goings, keep straight on (Bernard). These came from Moab to Bethlehem; they had no idle vagaries that we read of. Old Naomi desired to see her country, and young Ruth was not wantonly disposed, but constantly kept her company (Bernard). (b) They arrive safely, whom God conducts. He neither slumbereth nor sleepeth. He led Israel through the wilderness for forty years, and landed them safely in Canaan at last. So always in lawful journeys, so especially in the heavenward one. Only let us see to it that we are of the same mind as Moses, “If Thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence” (Exodus 33:15), and all our journeyings must come to a prosperous issue.
III. Home again at a fortunate time. At the time of the barley harvest (see Crit. and Exeget. Notes). When there was at least gleaning to yield them sustenance, and the summer before them. In the beginning of the passover, saith the Chaldee Paraphrast, taking the fittest opportunity both for soul and body (Trapp). Here we see the providence of God, in ordering and disposing the journey of Naomi, to end it in the most convenient time. Had she come before harvest, she would have been straitened for means to maintain herself; if after harvest, Ruth had lost all those occasions which paved the way to her future advancement. God therefore, who ordered her going, concludes her journey in the beginning of harvest (Fuller). Note. There is a fulness and fitness of time for every event (Macgowan). The redemption from Egypt; the coming of Shiloh when the sceptre was departing from Judah; the soul’s conversion; deliverance from affliction, etc. (ibid). God’s time is always the best time.
IMPROVEMENT.—(a) When the heart is truly repentant, past error and sin, the humiliating experiences which have left their scars upon our inmost souls, may become to us blessed monitors urging us onward in the path that God has appointed. (b) Like the wounded hart, the bruised and troubled spirit turns homeward in its last extremity, if perchance it be only to die there.
“Tender and dear memories cluster around many a spot: none so sacred, so hallowed as this; for once again she is standing in the place consecrated by a thousand memories of the sacred dead. Returns like these ought to be significant of rest and privileges restored, as well as of new consecration to God; and this, although the past has been a barren past of worldly compromise and spiritual deadness.”—B.
“There is a latter as well as a former rain in spiritual things; covenant mercies to be manifested in our declining years, as well as in the days when the kingdom of heaven was but newly entered. Our youth may have been given in part to folly, the more reason that old age should be consecrated unmistakably to God. And perhaps we, like Naomi, shall best find the Protector of our declining years in the Bethlehems of our youth.… Understand the meaning of this place to Naomi. No dreamy haze of mysticism rests upon it, no unreal sanctity. It is a place where the heart writes bitter things against itself, where the icy fountains of the great deep within break up, a place where the past seems a failure, and the future hopeless; and yet for all this it is a place where the winter time of the soul is ending, and the new summer life of prosperity begins to dawn.”—B.
“The wandering of men from the perfect Home has brought with it degradation and scourging. Their return will be to find a Divine birthright restored in Christ.”—Pulsford.
“Woe for my vine-clad home,
That it should ever be so dark to me,
With its bright threshold and its whispering tree,
That I should ever come,
Fearing the lonely echo of a tread
Beneath the roof-tree of my glorious dead!”
N. P. Willis.
“Perhaps this world of sorrows presents no sadder picture than that here brought before us—the return of a childless widow to the spot she had left a happy wife and mother.”—Macartney.
“Thou needest not, then, sit down in weariness and hopelessness, whatever of earlier years thou hast lost, whatever grace thou hast forfeited; though thou hast been in a far country, far away in affections from him who loved thee; and wasting on his creatures,—nay, sacrificing on idol altars, with strange fire, the gifts which God gave thee that thou mightest be precious in His own sight.”—Pusey.
“Landed property in Palestine is of very little value, except the possessor has the means of cultivating it; and as it was under the Jewish law unalienable, strangers could not purchase it. A landed proprietor might thus be reduced to beggary, and in times of general distress might long remain so. Such seems to have been the case with the family of Elimelech, and they were therefore forced to remain in Moab. Even upon the return of Naomi and Ruth, though the family property was still theirs, they were completely destitute. Their property was valueless, because they did not possess the means of cultivating it. This will serve to explain the peculiar position of Naomi and Ruth on their arrival in Bethlehem.”—Kitto.
“Many a Swiss has sunk a martyr to his longing after home. The malady is commonly brought on by hearing the celebrated national air of the ‘Ranz des Vaches,’ sung at an unexpected moment, or when under the influence of dejected feelings. Overcome with the recollections which it awakens, he sheds tears; and is only to be consoled by the prospects of immediately returning to that home, his exile from which he deplores. If unable to accomplish this wish of his heart, he sinks into a profound melancholy, which’ not unfrequently terminates in disease and death.”—Percy.
“It was the custom, and still may be, at the coronation of our sovereigns, that every peer of the realm should come forward, and placing his hand upon the crown, swear that he would maintain due allegiance to it in his own realm and upon his own estate. So true hearts give themselves to God—in that which is truly theirs, at least, He shall reign supreme.”—B.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Ruth 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter