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by Joseph Exell
§ 1. THE STORY.
SOME time during that period of checkered Hebrew history when the Judges ruled, a famine prevailed over the whole land. There was "cleanness of teeth" everywhere. Even the most fertile districts, such as that of which Bethlehem (the house of bread) is the center, suffered severely. Among the sufferers were a respectable family, consisting of Elimelech, a proprietor in the locality, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Machlon and Chilion. This family, being hard pressed by the Hungersnoth, resolved to emigrate for a season to the adjoining country of Moab, where apparently there was exemption from the widespread agricultural calamity. Accordingly, setting out from the place of their nativity, they reached the place of their destination, and were, it would appear, hospitably welcomed by the inhabitants (Ruth 1:1, Ruth 1:2).
Unhappily, however, Elimelech, subject it would seem to some constitutional weakness, was prematurely cut off (ver. 3).
After his decease his two sons married Moabitish wives, called respectively Orpah and Ruth, and all seemed to go well for a season. There was, however, no family, no mirth of little ones, in either home. And in the course of some ten years from their entrance into the land of Moab, both Machlon and Chilion, in consequence apparently of delicacy inherited from their father, sickened and died (vers. 4, 5).
The three widows were left behind, desolate and destitute. The mother-in-law, Naomi, did not see how she could live in comfort, or maintain herself in respectability, in a foreign land. Still less could she see how it would be possible for her to stand between her daughters-in-law and want. Hence she resolved to return to Bethlehem. Her sorrowing daughters-in-law made up their minds to accompany her (vers. 6, 7).
Naomi, however, felt that it would be too great a burden of responsibility for her to undertake to make her daughters-in-law comfortable in Bethlehem. Hence, after allowing them to give her a convoy for some distance, she insisted that they should return to their mothers' homes, warmly expressing her prayer and her hope that they might soon have sweet and restful homes of their own (vers. 8-13).
The thought of leaving their esteemed and beloved mother-in-law was like a barbed arrow in the heart of both Orpah and Ruth. But at length, after much pleading and remonstrance, Orpah yielded, and returned to her mother (ver. 14). Ruth, however, would not give one moment's entertainment to the proposal. How could she allow the beloved old lady to pursue in solitude her weary way homeward? How could she brook the thought of leaving her to live in solitude after the old home should be reached? Her mind was made up firmly and inflexibly to accompany her much-loved mother-in-law as her companion and attendant. All .the nobler feelings of her soul rose, as she thought of her duty, into a heroic mood, while a spirit of deep poetical pathos seized her utterances, as, in unconscious rhythm, she said —
"Insist not on me forsaking thee,
To return from following thee:
For whither thou goest, I will go;
And wheresoever thou lodgest, I will lodge:
Thy people is my people,
And thy God my God:
Wheresoever thou diest, I will die
And there will I be buried.
So may Yahveh do to me,
And still more,
If ought but death part thee and me" (vers. 15-17).
Naomi could insist no more; and the two widows consequently, with their hearts knit together forever, wended their weary way toward Bethlehem, which at length they reached: On entering the city gate, travel-worn, and sore, and creeping along the streets in quest of some humble lodging, Naomi was recognized, and soon there was quite a commotion among the matrons and others who had known her of old. The news of her arrival, in the company of an interesting and pensive-looking young woman, flew from house to house, till wondering groups of excited females gathered in the streets, and exclaimed to one another, IS THAT NAOMI? The name Naomi, which brought up to the mind the idea of the sweetness of Jah, suggested for the moment a painful contrast to the sorely-disheartened widow. And hence, in her anguish, she begged the people not to call her Naomi, as of old, but Mara, inasmuch as the Lord had been dealing very bitterly with her (vers. 18-21).
It was fortunately just at the commencement of the barley-harvest that Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem (ver. 22). Hunger was imminent. Perhaps it had already seized on the two widows, gnawingly. Hence, without delay, Ruth begged permission from her mother-in-law to go out in quest of gleaning. It was humiliating employment, but honest. The permission asked was granted. And so Ruth went out of the house, passed out of the city gate, and, casting her eyes over the wide expanse of golden fields, right and left, ripe for the sickle, and already alive with reapers and binders and gleaners, she was Inwardly guided to a field that belonged to Boaz, a substantial yeoman, and, as it happened, near of kin to the late Elimelech. Ruth knew nothing of his near relationship, but courteously requested from the overseer permission to glean (Ruth 2:1-7). The overseer, perceiving that there was about this petitioner a certain air of superiority that he had never before witnessed in gleaners, got from her some particulars of her history, and made her heartily welcome to take her place on the field (ver. 7). So she went to work "with a will."
By and by, as the dayspring advanced in the sky, the proprietor himself, Boaz, came out of the city to see how his reapers were getting on with their pleasant work. As he reached them and passed along, he courteously saluted them all — Yahveh be with you! The grave, kindly courtesy was heartily reciprocated by the workers — May Yahveh bless thee! (ver. 4).
His eye speedily caught sight of the elegant and diligent gleaner, and so he directed his steps to the overseer, and asked, Whose is this young woman? (ver. 5). The overseer informed him, and praised her modesty and industry. Boaz, passing back again along the row of workers, enjoined on the young men to be respectful to the stronger. Then he went direct toward her, and, addressing her as a father might speak to his daughter, he made her most heartily welcome to continue in his fields as long as the harvest continued (ver. 8). He informed her that he had given strict injunctions to the young men to refrain from all improper freedoms; and he graciously added that she was to avail herself at will of the water which was drawn for the workers, and carried into the field (vers. 4-9).
Ruth was filled with wonder and gratitude for such unexpected favors, and bowed herself in obeisance to the ground (ver. 10).
Boaz was stricken with admiration, and informed her that he had got, with much satisfaction, full particulars of her devoted attention to her mother-in-law. He prayed that she might receive abundant recompense from Yahveh the God of Israel, under the shadow of whose outstretched wings she had come to trust (vers. 11, 12).
As Boaz was about to turn away to attend to his affairs, Ruth ventured, with beautiful respectfulness, to solicit a continuance for the future of that graciousness which he had already showed to her, and which had brought comfort to her heart (ver. 13).
Then they separated. But, at the time of the mid-day siesta and refreshment, Boaz returned to her, and conducted her to the booth, under whose cooling shade all the workers were wont to assemble at mid-day. He requested her to be seated beside the reapers, and to partake of the bread and vinegar which had been provided. He likewise prepared for her a bunch of delicious "parched corn," of which she gratefully partook, reserving, after she was satisfied, a portion for her mother-in-law to give her a glad surprise (ver. 14).
After the siesta was completed, and Ruth had returned to her labor, Boaz told the reapers to let her glean "even among the sheaves." And not only so, he wished them now and again to pull stalks out of the bundles, with express design, and leave them lying about, that she might gather them. They were, moreover, to be most particular not to affront her by any unkind insinuation (vers. 15, 16).
The work went on merrily till near sunset, when Ruth, collecting together her gatherings, and threshing them, found that she had about an ephah of barley (ver. 17). She took up the welcome load, and made for her humble home, where she had a long story to tell, and many a long story to hear, regarding Boaz (vers. 18-22).
All the harvest through, Ruth continued to glean in the fields of Boaz (ver. 23). But after the reaping and gleaning were ended, and there were no more out-of-door engagements, and no more interviews day after day with Boaz, such a change came over her tender and desolate spirit that the keen eye of her mother-in-law saw that some other step required to be taken. She had had, apparently, interviews with Boaz, and clearly perceived that a mutual attachment had sprung up; but for some reason or other a seal was on his lips. To remove that seal Naomi contrived a plan, which would have been in the highest degree improper had there not been, on the one hand, a peculiar Oriental custom in vogue, and, on the other, absolute reason for absolute confidence in the incorruptible purity of both Boaz and Ruth. The plan was for Ruth to take the position allowed her by the Levitate law. That would at once put Boaz on his honor in reference to the deceased Machlon and the living widow (Ruth 3:1-4). Ruth yielded to her mother-in-law's wishes, and the plan was carried into effect (vers. 5-7). Ruth placed herself by night at the feet of her kinsman while he slept, and, when discovered, was not only heartily welcomed, but warmly commended, and thanked. He was indeed advanced in years, and he could not, for that reason, have ventured to offer himself for her acceptance. But since his age was not to her an obstacle, and she wished to show every possible respect to the deceased, it would be his joy to mingle his lot with hers (vers. 8-11).
There was, however, one obstacle in the way. There was an individual who was nearer of kin than himself to the deceased. According to the Levitate law, that individual had a prior claim on all the prerogatives attaching to priority of kinship; and with these prerogatives were bound up the duties of the nearest of kin. He consequently must, first of all, receive full consideration; and if he insisted on performing the kinsman's part, why then the matter would pass out of the sphere of personal preference, and the result would be accepted as the outcome of the Will that is higher than man's. But if that nearest kinsman should have no desire to act the kinsman's part, then with joy would Boaz step into his place, and show respect to the deceased (vers. 12, 13).
The watches of the night passed rapidly on, no doubt amid many mutual consultations and explanations. And just as the first thinning of the darkness into dusk gave augury of the coming morning, Ruth rose to return home. She bore a present with her, which would carry its own tunable meaning to Naomi. By and by home would be reached, and Naomi saluted her daughter-in-law by saying, with a peculiar interrogative significance, Who art thou? After the whole story was told, "Sit still, my daughter," said Naomi, "until thou know how the matter will end, for the man will not rest until this very day he have brought the affair to its consummation" (vers. 14-18).
It was as Naomi conjectured. Early in the morning Boaz took his place at the gate of the city, and made arrangements for transacting important business in the presence of elders and other witnesses. The near kinsman was passing by. Boaz requested him to be seated, as he had some business to discharge in which they both were interested. The kinsman complied with the respectful request, and ere long a full court of casual witnesses assembled. In the presence and hearing of these elders and others Boaz informed his friend that Naomi, who had lately returned from Moab, had determined, in consequence of reduced circumstances, to sell the property that had belonged to her deceased husband Elimelech (Ruth 4:1-3). He added, "Buy it before the inhabitants of the city, and the eiders of the people, if thou art willing to act the kinsman's part." The kinsman intimated that he was willing (ver. 4). Boaz then added that the property would require to be purchased from the hand, not of Naomi only, but of Ruth likewise, the prospective heiress, who, moreover, was to go with it as a fixed appurtenant, "in order that the name of her deceased husband might be raised up on his inheritance" (ver. 5).
The anonymous kinsman, however, was not willing to acquire the estate on the terms offered (ver. 6). Hence, perceiving that Boaz was quite willing, he resigned his right in his favor, and pulling off his shoe, handed it to his friend (vers. 7, 8). All the people were witnesses that the nearest kinsman had voluntarily surrendered his peculiar prerogative.
The story thenceforward hastens to its conclusion. Boaz, in presence of the people, acquired the estate, and along with it Ruth, its living and priceless appurtenant (vers. 9, 10). "We are witnesses, " shouted the assembled conclave, and then they lifted up their voices and prayed that showers of blessings might descend on the bridal pair (vers. 11, 12). Ruth thus became the wife of Boaz, and bore him a son, whom the matrons who clustered around insisted on calling Obed. Naomi took the child to her bosom, and nursed it with tenderness and care which no other care and tenderness could surpass. He was
(1) the lineal descendant of Judah, the head of the royal tribe, and
(2) the lineal ancestor of David (vers. 13-22).
Taking a broad survey of the contents of the little Book, we may say that it consists of a series of pen-and-ink pictures, or idylls in prose, representing, firstly, the remarkable attachment of a young Moabitish woman, herself a widow, to Naomi, her desolate Hebrew mother-in-law; and, secondly, the remarkable reward with which, in God's providence, her self-sacrifice was crowned.
§ 2. AIM OF THE WRITER.
Edward Topsell, one of the Puritan commentators on the Book, gave, as the leading title of his exposition, 'THE REWARD OF RELIGION,' in that way indicating what he supposed to have been the aim of the writer.
The title is not entirely satisfactory, for certainly it is not the religion or religiousness of Ruth that is the principal feature of character portrayed in the Book. There is not, it is true, the least shadow of reason for casting the least shadow of suspicion on the genuine piety of the heroine of the story. There is no room for taking exception to her theology. There is still less, if that be possible, for raising objections to her sweet and simple religiousness. Though probably no skilful theologian, she had come to Bethlehem-Judah, to put her trust "under the wings of the God of Israel" (Ruth 2:12). She believed that He "is," and that He is "the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
Still it is not Ruth's religiousness that is the outstanding feature of the character that is delineated in the Book. It is not her love to the great Divine Object, the God of Israel, that is portrayed. It is her love to a good and worthy human object, Naomi, her mother-in-law. Topsell was right in assigning to religion or religiousness a higher pedestal than can be accorded to any other devotedness; but he misled himself when, in his eagerness to do homage to that which is highest, he assumed that it was the highest ideal of human character that is bodied forth in the succession of literary photographs which are found in the Book of Ruth.
Many have supposed that the true raison detre of the Book is a matter of genealogy. The ground on which this opinion is maintained is the fact that there is a little bit of genealogy in the five verses with which the Book is wound up. This bit of genealogy connects Pharez the son of Judah with David the son of Jesse. The line passed through Boaz, the husband of Ruth. It is an important historical relationship, more especially to us Christians; for as Christ was "the Son of David," he was the Son of Boaz too, and consequently the Son of Ruth the Moabitess — a Gentile link. The fact is all the more significant and suggestive as, in ascending the genealogical ladder upward to Abraham, the father of the Messianic people, we discover that there were other Gentile links which connected the favored descendants of the patriarch with the outlying "families of the earth, " and which likewise show, in consequence of the moral peculiarity attaching to them, how wondrous was the boon conferred upon men, when the Lord of glory humbled himself to become the "kinsman" and the "friend" of those whose name is "sinners."
But in the genealogy that is appended to the Book of Ruth, the succession is carried no further down than to King David. The genealogy is thus, so far as the discoverable aim of the genealogist is concerned, rather Davidic than Messianic. The interest in it that was manifestly felt by the writer, and that may have been extensively felt by his contemporaries, was an interest that gathered round "great David" himself, rather than "great David's greater Son."
Yet it seems preposterous to assume that the whole graphic story of Ruth was composed simply in consequence of this genealogical interest. The assumption looks like an inversion of the natural, and the substitution in its place of the unnatural
Why not rather suppose that the writer wrote just because he was charmed with the facts of Ruth's character, and because he rejoiced over the reward with which, in the providence of God, the heroine's devotedness was so signally crowned? Why not accept the narrative of the Book as being simply what it appears to be? Why not suppose that the writer may have simply sought to reproduce, in the literature of words, the delineation of character and reward that had already been so charmingly executed in the literature of facts? Why hesitate to assume that he may have undertaken his task in the spirit of literary spontaneity, feeling a wide sympathy in his heart, seeing a meaning in everything, and resting assured that there must be a very peculiar meaning and lesson in all those things that are the outcome of noble effort, noble endurance, and noble love.
The writer must, we conceive, have been, though perhaps unconsciously, and in a comparatively limited sphere of activity, a true litterateur. He loved literature for its own sake, and had a true appreciation of its mission and responsibilities. Hence, though a Hebrew, he did not turn aside his eyes and his heart from beholding and admiring facts full of interest, and instruction, because they occurred in connection with an alien race. Nor did he make apologies for finding excellences in Gentries, and recording them with vivid zest and delight. There is a noteworthy absence of Hebrew bigotry in the spirit of the Book.
The title which is given to his commentary on the book by Richard Bernard, another of the Puritan expositors, brings out admirably what appears to have been the aim of the Hebrew writer — 'RUTH'S RECOMPENSE.'
§ 3. THE BOOK'S LITERARY CHARACTER.
The Book of Ruth is not a history; nor is it a biography. It is only a little biographical episode in a history. It is a story; but, without doubt, a true story. True? How is that evinced? What is there even to suggest the story's objective truthfulness or authenticity
Much. The Book comes before us as a narrative of facts; and, although making no parade of its veracity, it has, in its own inimitable simplicity and crystalline transparency, all the appearance of being an honest representation of objective realities.
The material of the story, moreover, is of such a nature that its unreality, if it had not been honest, would at once have been detected and exposed. The stuff out of which the story is woven consisted, so to speak, of very sensitive filaments. It had to do with the genealogy of the royal family. The principal personages in the story were the ancestors of King David.
That there was a Moabitish link in the chain of his genealogy must have been well known to the king himself, and to all his household, and to a large proportion of the people of Israel in general. It must likewise have been well known that this Moabitish link did not lie far back in the line. The existence of such a link was too great a peculiarity to be treated with indifference. We cannot doubt that the whole history-of the case would be a frequent topic of narration, conversation, and comment at once within and around the royal court. The probability, therefore, is, that the writer would be careful to do no violence to the facts of the case. Any alloy of fiction or romance on such a subject would have been at once resented, alike by the royal family and by the great body of the people, the devoted admirers of the king.
It is, hence, one should suppose, in a mood of literary waywardness that Bertholdt contends that the Book is not a narrative of facts, but merely a "historical fiction" — a family picture painted on a canvas of romance. The writer, he alleges, has himself betrayed the fact of his work's fictitiousness. "He forgot himself for once," he says. For although, according to one part of his story, he represents Naomi, with her husband and sons, as reduced to such extremity of poverty that they required to abandon their mortgaged property and take refuge in Moab; yet, in utter forgetfulness of this representation, he introduces Naomi, at a later stage of the story, as saying to the matrons in Bethlehem that "she went out full, and came back empty." A mere romance writer, Bertholdt alleges, might easily run into such a contradiction, and care nothing about it; but a narrator of actual facts would speedily have detected the blunder, and have got it rectified. The blunder! It is demonstrably Bertholdt's own. He has, in fact, committed a double blunder.
(1) He has misunderstood what is said of the condition of the family before their departure, and
(2) he has likewise misapprehended what Naomi said after her return. The family is not represented as reduced to absolute destitution before their emigration; there was abundance of scope for much further descent. And, on the other hand, there is not an atom of evidence to establish the objector's conjecture, that, when Naomi after her return referred to her 'fullness' before her departure, she had simply her financial condition in view.
§ 4. DATE OF COMPOSITION.
There is not the least likelihood that the' little Book could have been written just immediately after the occurrence of the events narrated. For, in the first place, the writer, in the very opening sentence of the Book, comes down beyond the age of the Judges. He speaks of what came to pass "in the days when the Judges judged." It is implied that these days were, by his time, at some considerable distance in the past. Then, in the second place, he speaks in Ruth 4:0. of a custom that "in former time" obtained in Israel in reference to important transactions, involving the transfer of property, or the surrender of property-rights, which custom was observed by Boaz and his kinsman. At the time when the writer lived the custom had become obsolete, so that a considerable period must have elapsed between the date of the events narrated and the date of the narrative of them in the Book of Ruth. Then, in the third place, the genealogy at the close of the Book is carried down to David, and thus far beyond the time "when the Judges judged."
It might be said indeed that the genealogical appendix may have been added by a later hand. True; it may. And if it should ever be proved that it has been, then all the logical effects involved in the proof will be willingly conceded. Until, however, the desiderated proof be forthcoming, we may be excused for accepting the Book in its integrity.
No opinion, on the whole, wears a greater aspect of verisimilitude than that which assigns the composition of the Book to the reign of King David. That epoch was among the Hebrews a literary age. The king himself was a man of letters. He would draw literary men around his throne. He was a man, besides, of deep human sympathies; and thus he would no doubt be intensely interested in the Moabitish incident. He would be master of all its details. They had come down to him only through a very limited succession of remembrancers. "Boaz begat Obed; Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David." No wonder that even the conversations and the salient sayings of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz should have been sharply imprinted on the brief succession of memories.
King David, moreover, was free from many narrownesses of spirit that belittle multitudes of other minds. He recognized the gracious relationship of the God of Israel to all the families of the earth. He believed that there was a tide of goodness and tender mercy flowing from the inexhaustible depths of the Divine heart to all nations and peoples, even to the uttermost parts of the earth. Hence he would not be ashamed of the Moabitish link in his genealogy. He would be proud of it, and all the more, it is likely, because at a peculiarly critical period of his own history he had been on terms of amity, intimacy, and confidence with the contemporary king of Moab. At the time when he had to flee for his life from the presence of Saul, and take refuge in the cave of Adullam, it is said, in 1 Samuel 22:3, 1 Samuel 22:4, that he went to Mizpeh of Moab, "and said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold." It would not be doing violence to verisimilitude were we to suppose that, in David's communication with the king of Moab, he made mention of the Moabitish link in his genealogy, and of the incidents connected with it. If Ruth, an ancestor of his own, had been hospitably received in Judah, would it be asking too much if the grandson of that ancestor might, with his wife, be hospitably received for a season in Moab?
No other time, it would appear, can be fixed upon as furnishing a more likely date for the composition and publication of the Book.
Not an earlier time; for the custom of pulling off a shoe and giving it to the contracting party was observed in the days of Boaz, but had gone into desuetude at the date of the Book's publication. It could scarcely have died out much sooner than in two or three generations.
Not a later time; for the minute incidents recorded, and the minute conversations and observations reported — all of them apparently unfictitious — would, if unpublished, have faded from the memories of the personages principally concerned. Then the genealogy, at the close of the fourth chapter, is carried down to King David, and stops there. Why should it stop there, and by stopping at that particular stage suggest and indicate a particular date? Had the writer some political object in view that required a false date to be given to his publication? There is no trace of such a motif. Had he some distinctively theocratic object in view that could be best subserved in his judgment by indicating a false date? There is no evidence of such a motif. Had he then some literary object in view that might be furthered by a fabrication, in the colophon, of the date of composition? There is not the slightest evidence of' the presence in his mind of such a motif.
Ewald, indeed, and Bertheau, following other critics of earlier date, and having themselves many followers of later date, conjecture that the Book is not nearly so old. They would ascribe it to the exilic epoch. Bertholdt asks if it should not be ascribed to the post-exilic epoch. This, their conjecture of postponement to a date far removed from the time of King David, is based for the most part on considerations that have to do generically with a large proportion of the Old Testament writings. It is hence a question which, falling to be discussed on its own wide arena, is, to a large extent, ruled out of this specific Introduction. The specific reasons that are adduced in favor of the application of the postponing theory to the particular Book of Ruth are not to us of much or very weighty significance. One is that there are some coincidences of expression discoverable in Ruth, on the one hand, and in the Books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings on the other. These coincidences, it is contended, are evidences that the writer of the Book of Ruth must have been acquainted with the Books of Samuel and Kings. For instance, it is said in Ruth 1:17, "May Yahveh do so to me, and more also, if," &c.; and the same formula is found in 1 Samuel 3:17; 1 Kings 2:23; 1 Kings 20:10; 2 Kings 6:31. Again, it is said in Ruth 1:19, "the whole city got into commotion;" and the same expression occurs in 1 Kings 1:45, where it is rendered in King James's version, "the city rang again." Then in Ruth 4:4 we read, "I will uncover thine ear" (so as to give thee information); and in 1 Samuel 22:8, and elsewhere, it is written, "There is none that uncovereth mine ear" (to inform me). Ewald thinks that "we distinctly hear an echo from the Book of Job, not merely in the general style, but even in some single words and phrases". He instances Job 27:2, where the simple name "(the) Almighty" is used instead of the complex name "God Almighty" (see Genesis 17:1, etc.). Ewald thinks that this shorter form of the name "was evidently rendered possible" in Ruth 1:20 "only through the grand example of the Book of Job." He would infer, therefore, on the one hand, that the writer of the Book of Ruth was familiar with the Book of Job, and he assumes, on the other, that the Book of Job belongs to a late period of literary activity. With the assumption we have here nothing to do. But his inference in reference to the age of the Book of Ruth, and the concurrent inference that is deduced by the advocates in general of exilic or post-exilic origination, from those coincidences of expression of which we have made mention, are surely extremely precarious, or rather absolutely baseless. The simple name "(the) Almighty" occurs not only again and again in Job, but likewise in Genesis 49:25, and also in Numbers 24:4, Numbers 24:16. If the writer of the story of Ruth must needs be held as borrowing, why might he not have borrowed from Genesis and Numbers in place of Job. And is not the whole argument reversible? Why not infer from coincidences of expression that the writers of the Books of Samuel and Kings borrowed from the Book of Ruth? And, besides, what is to hinder us from supposing that all of the expressions specified lived and moved and had their being for generations as part and parcel of the common idioms of the country, so that various writers of various ages might at pleasure make use of them as constituent elements of the unappropriated language of the people? Peculiar expressions, like peculiar single words, have their lifetime in a people's language. They are born, they grow, they culminate, they wane, grow old, drop off, and are buried. Why might not all the expressions referred to by the critics of the Book of Ruth be "living" at all the successive epochs doing which the writers themselves were living, from whose writings the coincident words and phrases have been culled.
Ewald thought that he detected evidence of late exilic composition not merely in the echoes of earlier books, but likewise in the "antiquarian lore" that is characteristic of the writer. He refers in particular to the statement that is made in the fourth chapter, in reference to the antique custom of taking off a shoe, and presenting it to the contracting party, when rights of property were surrendered (see ver. 7). He thought, moreover, that such a custom, unearthed by successful antiquarian research, "could only have ceased with the national existence" ('Geschichte,' ut sup.). The argument is thus twofold.
1. One branch of it consists in the evidence of successful antiquarian research.
2. Another resolves itself into the peculiarity of the custom itself. It was of such a nature, and manifestly so tenacious of life, that it could not have come to an end so long as the national existence continued.
But surely both of these branches of argumentation are insufficient to carry much weight, or even any weight at all. One might know that a peculiar custom once prevailed, and yet be undistinguished for extensive and accurate "antiquarian lore." The word-of-mouth tradition that sufficed to convey to the writer of the Book of Ruth the actions, and conversations, and remarks of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz respectively, would likewise suffice to be the vehicle of information regarding the old-fashioned symbolism that was observed when certain legal rights were readjusted. And is it not a matter of well-known fact that legal symbolisms, connected with the transfer of rights of property, have changed in various nations whose national existence remains intact? In some nations, for instance, the delivery of land symbolically by the delivery of earth and stones of the land, or other representative elements, though not so very long ago a binding formality, has now ceased to be imperative, or even customary. If there is to be evidence of the exilic or post-exilic composition of the Book of Ruth, it must be found elsewhere.
Some have supposed that this evidence is found in several Chaldaisms of expression. In Ruth 1:13, Ruth 1:20; Ruth 2:8, Ruth 2:9, Ruth 2:21; Ruth 3:3, Ruth 3:4; Ruth 4:7, there are certainly some peculiar forms of words. Sanctius supposed that they might be Moabitisms. Dereser conjectured that they might be Bethlehemitish provincialisms. They remind one undoubtedly of forms that are common in Chaldee. But it is at the same time to be borne in mind that there were no hard and fast lines separating, in the olden times, between the various members of the Semitic group of languages. They overlapped one another in various details; and as originally the fathers of the affiliated nations literally lived in one home, so, even after long periods of distinctive linguistic evolution, there were floating about, in waving lines of mutual intercourse, expressions that were in some cases survivals of original unity, and in others the direct result of subsequent familiar contact. One thing is evident, that the Hebrew which is found in the Books of the Bible, even the oldest of them, is comparatively modern. It is the survival of a much older Hebrew. The manifold verbal abbreviations are evidence (see Raabe's 'Zuruckfuhrung des Hebraischen Textes des Buches Ruth auf die ursprunglichen Wortformen'). And nothing is more evident than that the expressions in Ruth 2:8, Ruth 2:9, Ruth 2:21; Ruth 3:3, Ruth 3:4, called Chaldaisms, and not improperly so-called, are in reality Hebrew archaisms.
We see then no reason whatever for postponing the date of the Book of Ruth to exilic or post-exilic times. All the weightiest evidence seems to be in the scale that assigns the composition of the Book to the literary age of King David. And yet, even with these strong convictions, we would bear in mind that the real interest of the story is independent of any chronological theory. The Book is a literary gem in ancient Hebrew literature; and it speaks, by what Ewald calls "the pre-eminent beauty of its pictures and descriptions, " not to the hearts of Hebrews only, but to universal man.
§ 5. THE AUTHOR.
The authorship is utterly unknown, and guesses need not be multiplied. Many attribute it to Samuel. Abarbanel ascribes it to the writer of Joshua. Others have imagined that Hezekiah, and others still that Ezra, is the author. Heumann thinks that King David himself was the penman. He conceives that any other writer would, in the genealogical table at the close, have given its royal honor to his name. It is too slender and too precarious a basis on which to establish his guess. It is in vain to guess, although we deem it probable that the incidents of the story would be preserved with interest in the family of David, and often narrated within the precincts of his home.
§ 6. THE BOOK'S PLACE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT CANON.
Editors of the Old Testament Canon have freely availed themselves of their right to hold their own opinions, and to act upon them. The Hebrew editors have relegated the little Book of Ruth to the 'Hagiographa,' the group of 'Sacred Miscellanies,' which comprehends, among other works, the Psalms, the Proverbs, Job, the Song of Songs, Lamentations, and Ecclesiastes. In the Hebrew Bibles in current use Ruth stands between the Song of Songs and Lamentations, as if with sorrow on the left hand, and joy on the right. In other editions it stands at the head of the entire group. In the Septuagint, on the other hand, followed by the Vulgate, the Book is found at the close of the Book of Judges, as if it were a little biographical additament to that larger historical work. Origen expressly says that the Hebrews — he must mean the Hellenistic Hebrews — count Judges and Ruth as forming one book. Luther followed in the wake of the Vulgate, and so did Bishop Miles Coverdale and the authors of King James's English version. Hence the Book's position in our English Bibles. We may doubtless assume that Josephus attached the Book to Judges as one parcel, as did Origen's Jews, for we could not otherwise make out his enumeration when, in his 'Cont. Apion.,' 1:8, he says that the Hebrew sacred writings consisted of twenty-two books.
§ 7. STYLE OF COMPOSITION.
There is no artistic elaboration in the style. There is not a vestige of aim at fine writing. No whip is laid on the imagination to impart gleam or luster to what is said. Yet there are in the Book graces of diction that are the native and apparently unconscious outcome of ardent and devoted attachment on the one hand, and of kindly feeling and admiration on the other. The composition is simple, clear, transparent, and with quite a noticeable amount of that additive or aggregative and agglutinative method of joining thing to thing, that is a feature of Hebrew composition in general. There are eighty-five verses in the Book, and yet there are only eight of them that do not commence with the conjunction and. Throughout the little Book this earliest of conjunctions occurs about 250 times in all.
§ 8. LITERATURE.
Passing over those expositions of the Book of Ruth which form part and parcel of serial commentaries on the whole, or on certain great sections, of the Bible, it will suffice, for our purpose, to take note almost exclusively of such exegetical, homiletical, and critical works as are monographs, constituting a specialist literature on Ruth.
The annotations of Victorinus Strigel, 1571, and Feuardentius, 1582, are only of antiquarian interest. So, too, are the homilies of Rudolph Gualter, John Wolph, and Ludowick Lavater, who all flourished in the second half of the sixteenth century. All three were famous in their day for Latin sermons, and were, to a remarkable degree, prolific in that kind of literature. Lavater's book on Ruth, for example, contained "homilias 28.," and it had, as companion volumes, one on Joshua containing 73. homilies, one on Judges containing 107., one on Ezra containing 38, one on Nehemiah containing 58., one on Esther containing 47., and one on Job enough to try a little his readers' "patience" — containing 141. He was fortunate in finding, for his sermons on Ruth, an English translator of the name of F. Pagett, who published his version in the year 1586.
To these homilies may be added Alexander Manerba's volume, published in Venice, and entitled, 'Peregrinatio Ruth Moabitidis per Commentarium et Sermones descripta,' 1604; as also Didacus de Celada's 'Commentarii litterales et morales in Rutham,' with a twofold appendix, 'de Boozi convivio mystico, id est, Euchadstico, et de Maria virgine, iu Ruth figurata,' 1614. Schleupner's little 'Explicatio,' 1632, need not be overlooked.
To English students the works of Edward Topsell, Richard Bernard, and Dr. Thomas Fuller, all of the seventeenth century, will afford more interest. The first and second are conspicuous for conscientious and earnest elaboration, the third for a delightful might, mastery, and sparkle of thought. Topsell's volume is entitled, 'The Reward of Religion, delivered in sundrie Lectures upon the Booke of Ruth, wherein the godly may see their daily both inward and outward trialls, with the presence of God to assist them, and his mercies to recompense them,' 1613. The author, in his 'Epistle Dedicatorie, ' speaks humbly of his "slender studies, which are but as smoak, being compared with the burning coales of others' knowledge." There are certainly but few scintillations in the work. Richard Bernard's work, a quarto, is entitled, 'Ruth's Recompense; or, a Commentarie upon the Book of Ruth, wherein is showed her happy calling out of her owne country and people, into the fellowship and society of the Lord's inheritance, her virtuous life and holy carriage amongst them, and then her reward in God's mercy. Delivered in several Sermons, the brief sum whereof is now published for the benefit of the Church of God, 1628. Elaborately earnest, and earnestly elaborate, like Topsell's volume, but with more mental grasp in it; albeit, like Topsell's, of scarcely any exegetical value. Bernard, unlike Topsell, could emit flashes, and he did emit many of them. But there is often something lurid in them, as when he takes occasion to strike out against "the roaring boys and damned crew" — "the tobacconists, the drunkards, the riotous, " who "congee and compliment, or hunt and hawk, and then curse and swear as the furies of hell" (Ruth 2:17). Dr. Thomas Fuller's 'Comment on Ruth,' 1650, unfortunately breaks off at the end of the second chapter. It bears evidence of having been hastily thrown off, but nevertheless it is aglow with wit and bright felicities of illustration and practical application. The commentaries of both Bernard and Fuller were republished in 1865 by James Nichol of Edinburgh.
A different style of book altogether is John Drusius's 'Historia Ruth, ex Ebraeo Latine conversa, et commentario explicata. Ejusdem Historiae Tralatio Graeca ad exemplar Complutense, et notae in eandem,' 1632. The dedication to Archbishop Whitgift is dated Lambeth, 1584. This thin quarto is a gem in its way, so far as the sphere of grammar is concerned. Drusius said of himself, "I am no theologian, and I am not sure whether I am capable of sustaining the character of a grammarian; but, " adds he, "I am a Christian."
An invaluable book to the student is John Benedict Carpzov's 'Collegium Rabbinico-biblicum in libellum Ruth,' 1703, published in Leipzig. It contains, on verse after verse —
(1) the Chaldee Targum of Jonathan, in the original, and translated into Latin;
(2) the notes of the lesser and larger Masora, with translations and explanatory annotations;
(3) the expositions of the great Hebrew commentators Rashi and Ibn Esra, as also of Ibn Melech and others, all in the original, and translated into Latin; and then
(4) Carpzov's own elaborate exposition, in which he discusses the views of preceding expositors and critics. The author belonged to a literary family. He himself was John Benedict Carpzov the Second. The latter part of the work was compiled from the author's classroom notes by John Benedict Carpzov the Third, father of John Benedict Carpzov the Fourth, the famous Helmstadt professor of poetry and Greek, who wrote 'Theological and Critical Strictures on the Epistle to the Romans, ' and ' Sacred Exercitations on the Epistle to the Hebrews, out of Philo of Alexandria.' The great scholar, Gottlob Carpzov — greater than all the Benedicts — was cousin to John Benedict the Third.
Perhaps the best of all helps for such as have just begun to study Hebrew is Werner's 'Liber Ruth illustratus, duplici quidem interpretatione, quarum altera verba sacra in fonte exhibita de verbo ad verbum exprimit, altera secundum idiotismos linguae sancta,' &c., 1740. The book is full of sound, old-fashioned scholarship.
To the same eighteenth century belongs C. A. Heumann's 'Spicilegium ad Historiam Ruth,' 1722-1725. It was published in three successive parts of his 'Poecile,' vol. 1. pp. 177-187, 353-376; vol. ft. pp. 153-170. Heumann was a Free Lance, and of great capacity; but he was too hasty, too self-assertatory and self-assured, too fond of differing, and too little aware that there is a moral element in literary taste.
Toward the beginning of the same eighteenth century, in 1711, Outhof's 'Exposition of the Book of Ruth,' in Dutch, was published. It was much prized by his own countrymen for its profusion of erudition. Toward the end of the century, in 1781, John Macgowan's ' Discourses on Ruth, and other important subjects, wherein the wonders of Providence, the riches of grace, the privileges of believers, and the contrition of sinners are judiciously and faithfully exemplified and improved, was published. The author, says Mr. Spurgeon, "is well known for originality and force." "The discourses," he adds, "are good reading."
Coming down to the nineteenth century, there is quite a considerable group o! practical and homiletical works, such as Lawson's 'Lectures on the whole Book of Ruth,' 1805; Hughes' 'Ruth and her Kindred,' 1839; Macartney's 'Observations on Ruth,' 1842; Dr. Stephen Tyng's 'Rich Kinsman, or the History of Ruth,' 1856; Aubrey Price's 'Six Lectures on the Book of Ruth,' 1869; B. Philpot's ' Ruth — Six Lectures, ' 1872; Bishop Oxenden's 'Story of Ruth,' 1873; and W. Braden's 'Beautiful Gleaner,' 1874. The oldest of these, viz., Dr. George Lawson's Lectures, is as fresh as the latest., The excellent author had the pen of a ready writer, and, guiding that pen, a large endowment of sanctified common sense. Two other recent works fall to be added to the same group, only the publishing firms from which they are issued desire them, for other than literary reasons and purposes, to be dateless. They are, first]y, Samuel Cox's 'Book of Ruth, a Popular Exposition,' and Dr. Andrew Thomson's 'Home Life in Ancient Palestine, or Studies in the Book of Ruth,' both of them fresh and charming little volumes.
A very different and much more scholarly group of works consists of such as the following: — Dereser's 'Buchlein Ruth, ein Gemalde hauslicher Tugenden. Aus dem Hebraischen ubersetzt, erklart, und fur Pfarrer auf dem Lande bear-beitet, ' 1806; Riegler's 'Das Buch Ruth. Aus dem Hebraischen ins Deutsche ubersetzt, mit einer vollstandigen Einleitung, philologischen und exegetischen Erlauterungen, ' 1812; Mezger's 'Liber Ruth ex Hebreeo in Lat. versus per-petuaque interpretatione illustratus, ' 1856. To these may be added 'Ruth ein Familien-gemalde,' in Augusti's 'Memorabilien des Orients,' pp. 65-96, 1802; and Umbreit's 'Ueber Geist und Zweck des Buchs Ruth,' in the 'Studien und Kritiken' of 1834. In this group of works Riegler's volume, in particular, is conspicuous for its taste. The author had a good ear for detecting and appreciating the rhythmic element in the style of the ancient story, and in this respect he anticipated the judgment of Ewald, who takes special note of the rhythmic elevation of the composition in Ruth 1:20, Ruth 1:21 for example.
To this group of expositions we may add, as deserving of special notice for the interpretation of Ruth, Bertheau's Commentary in the 'Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Alten Testament,' and the Commentary of Cassel, as contained in Lange's 'Bibelwerk.' The former appeared in 1845; the latter in 1865. An excellent English translation of the latter, with valuable notes, by P. H. Steenstra, appeared in New York in 1872, as part and parcel of the English reproduction of Lange's 'Bibelwerk.'
A very important appendix to the more critical expositions of the Book of Ruth consists of —
(1) Charles H. H. Wright's' Book of Ruth in Hebrew, with a critically-revised Text, various readings, &c., including a grammatical and critical Commentary; to which is appended the Chaldee Targum, with various readings, grammatical notes, and a Chaldee Glossary,' 1864.
(2) Raabe's 'Das Buch Ruth und das Hohe Lied im urtext nach neuester Kenntniss der Sprache behandelt, ubersetzt, mit Anmerkungen und einem Glossar versehen,' 1879. The former of these two works will be of the utmost value to young students of Hebrew, as an assistant and guide. The latter is of high philological significance, resting as it does on the most recent lines of linguistic science.
ARRANGEMENT OF THE BOOK IN SECTIONS.
For the purposes of this Commentary the following arrangement into sections has been adopted: —
Section 1 (Ruth 1:1-5). A certain Hebrew family, driven by stress of famine, emigrated from Bethlehem to Moab, where still greater trials befell them.
Section 2(Ruth 1:6-14). The widowed mother of the family, Naomi, resolved to return to Bethlehem.
Section 3(Ruth 1:15-22). Ruth, her Moabitish daughter-in-law, attaches herself indissolubly to Naomi; and the two widows, sadly reduced in circumstances, journey on foot to Bethlehem, which they reach at the commencement of the barley-harvest.
Section 4(Ruth 2:1-9). Ruth obtains permission from her mother-in-law to go out in quest of gleaning, and lighted on the fields of Boaz, a kinsman of her late husband. Boaz met her in the rear of his reapers, and took an instant interest in her.
Section 5(Ruth 2:10-17). Ruth, profoundly affected by the kindness of Boaz, received from him still greater attention and kindness, and gathered during the day about an ephah of barley.
Section 6(Ruth 2:18-23). In the evening she returned with her precious load to her mother-in-law, who informed her of the kinship of Boaz, and poured out her heart in thanksgivings to God.
Section 7(Ruth 3:1-18). At the close of the harvest, Naomi, having watched the growth of an attachment between Boaz and Ruth, adopted the principle of the Levirate law to effect their complete union in heart and hand, and thus to secure a "rest" for her devoted daughter-in-law. The scheme was in all respects successful, and most agreeable to Boaz.
Section 8(Ruth 4:1-12). As there were, however, some technical obstacles in the way of the union, Boaz took steps to have these honorably surmounted in the presence of the elders of the city, and he succeeded.
Section 9(Ruth 4:13-22). The bridal of Boaz and Ruth was consummated, and Obed was born, the lineal descendant of Judah, and the grandfather of King David.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29