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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

- Ruth

by Daniel Whedon



THIS romantic yet historic Hebrew idyl, which bears the name of its gentle heroine, is most appropriately inserted in our English Bibles between the Books of Judges and Samuel, for it is a supplement to the former, and affords a pleasing transition from its bloody narratives to the history of the rise of the Israelitish monarchy. It holds the same position in the Septuagint and Vulgate versions; and Josephus and some of the Christian Fathers seem to have regarded it and Judges as one book. But in the Hebrew Bibles it is placed in the Hagiography, between Canticles and Lamentations.

Its age and authorship are matters of uncertainty. According to the Talmud, Samuel was the author, and this has been a prevalent opinion. It seems, however, very clear, from the noticeable care in bringing out David’s genealogy in Ruth 4:17-22, that the author must have lived as late, at least, as the time when David was thoroughly established on the throne of Israel. But this was after the death of Samuel. The reference to the Age of the Judges as past, (Ruth 1:1,) and to customs no longer common, (Ruth 4:7; compare 1 Samuel 9:9,) and the oath, “The Lord do so to me, and more also,” (Ruth 1:17,) so often used in the books of Samuel and Kings, and never elsewhere, lead us to suppose that the author of Ruth and the author of Samuel, if not the same person, were at least contemporary, and wrote as late as the closing years of David’s reign.

The time of the events which it relates was “the days when the judges ruled.” Ruth 1:1. This covered a period of three hundred years, and it is impossible to decide the exact point of time during all those years when the events of this book occurred. Some have supposed, from the genealogy of Ruth 4:22, that Obed was literally the grandfather of David, and therefore must have lived during the judge-ship of Eli; but, as is shown in the notes on that genealogy, there have been names designedly omitted from that list of David’s ancestors, not because they had become forgotten or unknown, but because the writer’s object was, after the manner of the first two genealogies recorded in the Old Testament, (Genesis 4:17-22; Genesis 5:1-29,) to form a mnemonic record of ten prominent ancestral names. There may, therefore, have been a generation or two passed over between Obed and Jesse, so that no certain argument can be drawn from that quarter to decide the exact time of the events of this book. In the note on Ruth 1:1, we have suggested that the famine which caused Elimelech to migrate was caused by the Midianite oppression in the days of Gideon; but that is given only as a probable supposition, not by any means as an ascertained fact.

The history itself is of the most interesting character. It is, says Stanley, “one of those quiet corners of history which are the green spots of all time, and which appear to become greener and greener as they recede into the distance.” Its worth is thus expressed by Kitto: “The simple and touching interest of the story, the beautiful and engaging rural scenery which it exhibits, the homely and honest manners which it describes, and the impressive and heartfelt piety which pervades the whole, render it the most remarkable picture of ancient life and usages extant, and give us a far more complete idea of the real conditions of Hebrew life, in the early ages of their settlement in Canaan, than we could otherwise possess. The young and the old read it with equally enwrapt interest; and we have known strong and rough voices break down with emotion in reading aloud some of the passages that occur in the progress of the narrative.”

“The eighty-five verses of this little book,” says Cassel, “enclose a garden of roses as fragrant and full of mystic calyxes as those which the modern traveller still finds blooming and twining about the solitary ruins of Israel and Moab, this side the Jordan and beyond. The significance and beauty of the brief narrative cannot be highly enough estimated, whether regard be had to the thought which fills it, the historical value which marks it, or the pure and charming form in which it is set forth. The narrative displays no hatred toward foreigners; gives no prominence to the keen discriminations of the Mosaic law against them, notwithstanding that they form the background of the story; does not blame the well-disposed Orpah, although she turns back; has not a word of reprehension for the anonymous relative who refuses to marry Ruth; but, in contrast to these facts, it causes the brightness of the blessing that lights on Ruth to become known. Orpah is forgotten; the name of the superstitious kinsman is unknown; but Ruth is the grandmother of David.

“The Book of Ruth does not preach by means of mighty deeds of war inspired by faith, like those of Gideon and Samson, but by acts of love, which demand no less strength of soul. God can be praised not only with timbrels and trumpets, but also in quietness and silence. There is a heroism of faith in the family, at the sick bed, and in grief for those we love, which is not inferior to that of Barak. Jephthah found it easier to triumph over Ammon than to subdue his sorrow on account of his daughter. It is often easier to die for the faith than, in the midst of men, to live for it.

“The Book tells of no prophetic woman like Deborah, in whom glowed the fires which rouse a nation to enthusiasm, but of women in whom burned the gentle flames of the household hearth, which distress and desertion cannot quench. The Book of Judges tells of a prophetess who was strong as a man; the Book of Ruth of a man who was tender as a woman. Our Book proposes not, like Daniel, to unveil the destinies of nations and the world; but at its close appears the son of David, into whose Godhead all history empties as the rivers into the ocean. No miracles occur in it like that of the three men in the fiery furnace, but it tells of three believing ones, who in the glowing heat of suffering and temptation were found strong and true.”

We have called it above a romantic Hebrew idyl, for it has some of the finest features of a pastoral poem. Boaz appears as a noble minded, generous hearted man; a person of wealth and influence in his native city, and without a blot upon his name. Ruth is pictured before us as a woman of noble soul and unsullied virtue; of tenderest affection and most ardent faith. She appears in the barley fields of Beth-lehem as a beautiful stranger who has left home, and kindred, and native land, to unite her fortunes with Jehovah’s people, and her praise is on many a tongue. No attempt is made to conceal her nationality; no such thought as that real worth and poverty are incompatible is entertained in that simple age; but the royal David’s lineage is traced up through a poor gleaner of the harvest field, and she a stranger from among the hated Moabites; and the impression is given that all this is most honourable to the royal family. Hence appears the design of this little book: to preserve from oblivion a most interesting narrative, to shed a tender and romantic lustre on David’s ancestral history, and prophetically to indicate, by this adoption of a Gentile woman into the royal genealogy, the final breaking down, through the Messiah, of all national partition walls, so that Jew and Gentile, high and low, become alike sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, and joint heirs with Christ to a heavenly inheritance.

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