Bible Commentaries
Ruth 1

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-22

Shall we turn now to the book of Ruth?

As we were studying the book of Judges last week, we pointed out that at the end of chapter sixteen, the end of the story of Samson, you actually came to the end of the history part of the book of Judges. What followed in chapter seventeen and onto the end were a couple of incidents, or scenes, that took place during the time of the Judges, just to show that it was a time of spiritual confusion and moral decay as far as the nation was concerned. When the Danites moved their area of inheritance, a portion of them went on up to the northern part of the land. How that they captured this young priest, and how he had these teraphims and so forth, these little images that had been made. It was just a time of spiritual confusion. Then it was a time of moral decay as we saw the conditions of the Benjamites, and the sodomy that was beginning to be practiced by the men of Gibeah, and it's consequences.

Now that gives you one side of what was happening. There was another story that took place and the book of Ruth opens.

Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled ( Ruth 1:1 ),

So the story of Ruth again is sort of an appendix to the book of Judges, in that this story fits back into the period when the Judges were ruling over Israel.

Now it was a time of spiritual confusion, it was a time of apostasy, a time of moral declension, but yet in the midst of it all, God was working out His plan in those hearts and lives that were open to Him. This is always true. Though you may look at an overall condition of a nation, or a people and say, "Boy, they're really in a mess," yet God is always working out His plan in the hearts and in the lives of those that are open unto Him.

So here God was working in the period of moral declension, in this period of confusion, yet God was working in a very special way. The book of Ruth gives us the insight into the work of God.

Now quite often when we live in a corrupted society, such as we live today, and where in our whole educational philosophy they teach that the morals of society determine what is right and wrong conduct. Thus, having established that as a sociological fact, as we look around and see the morals, we say, "Well, everybody's doing it," and that becomes the criteria, "it must be right."

It is interesting that the Bible declares that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Now that is the biblical account of creation. You have in the educational circles today the humanistic philosophy that is actually prevailing within our educational system. The humanistic philosophy rather than saying that, "God created man," declares that, "Man created God for his own convenience because he needed something to believe in. He needed to have some kind of a guide for moral conduct and all, and so man created God." That actually man's moral conduct is determined by the morals of his society. The Bible declares "In the beginning God created man." The moral conduct were standards that were established by God which are absolutes. Humanism, "God created," or "Man created God for his own convenience," and man establishes his own standards, his own morals; and thus, they are relative to the situations.

Now living, and all of you have in some degree been affected by the humanistic philosophy that prevails in every level of our society today. The danger is falling into that trap of thinking, "Well, everybody is doing it. I'm weird or out of step because I'm not following along with the same pattern of the world in which I live. And to be accepted, I must join the crowd. After all if everybody's doing it, it must be all right." False. That is the philosophy of humanism expressed in its existentialism. Not so, God has established standards. Man is always trying to get a little twist on the standard that God has established. "Well, what if this?" and "What if that?" Trying to make it relate to a special case. But God has established the standards by which we are to live. God created man and established the moral standards for that man.

So God is always working. And in this confused, corrupted society in which we live, God still desires to work in the hearts and the lives that are open to the work of God. Oh God help me that my heart might be open to God, so that He can work in my life in the midst of this corrupted society.

Now the Bible foresaw the corruption in which you are living today. The Bible very aptly expressed sort of the scientific attitudes of uniformitarianism that have prevailed, that have set the stage for revolutionary thesis, which has of course set the stage for the whole humanism, because "God is no longer needed, man evolved from the protozoa," and the whole thing is tied together.

Peter said, "In the last days there will be scoffers that will come and say, Where is the promise of the Father?" that is of the coming again of Jesus Christ. "Where is the Lord? He hasn't come. Since our fathers have fallen asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning"( 2 Peter 3:3-4 ). I defy you to find me a better definition of uniformitarianism. "All things have continued as they were from the beginning." That is exactly what the dogma, or the theory of uniformitarianism declares. All of the phenomena that has ever existed in the creation and the evolving of man, into the present day, can be observed in the world today. There have been no catastrophes, and so forth, no dramatic changes.

It is interesting that Peter foresaw this scientific theory before it was ever propounded, and he actually gave the greatest flaw within it. "For this they were willingly ignorant, that God destroyed the world that was with a flood." They closed their eyes to that, the fact of the universal flood, which is by far a better explanation of the geological column, and of geology itself than is this theory of evolution. The geological column does not prove at all the theory of evolution, in fact, it raises great questions in regards to the theory of evolution, because within the geological column there is a total absence of any transitional forms. If the transitional forms took place over millions of years of evolving, surely we would have fossils that would show the transitional forms. So absent is the fossil record of transitional forms that has led one of the professors at Stanford to come up with the magic bird kind of a theory. Whereas a snake one time laid an egg, and a bird flew out. It's the hopeful monster theory. He had to come up with that because of the absence of the transitional forms of the geological column. Rather than there being gradual changes, they're now saying, "Suddenly in the Cambrian state there appeared multitudes of many faceted animals in highly developed forms." Remarkable. Hocus pocus dominocus!

So it's a thing that we are in this society of which the Bible said perilous times would come, men would be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. They would be fierce. They'd be incontinent, which speaks of this sexual freedom that people are advocating today, and goes on to describe our modern day society. Jesus in referring to these things said, "Because the iniquity of the earth is going to abound, the love of many is going to wax cold" ( Matthew 24:12 ). But in the midst of this crooked and perverse world, God is still working in the hearts and lives of those that are opened and surrendered unto Him.

So in the period of Judges, a time much as today, when the gays were parading and declaring their normalcy, and declaring to actually propagate their own thing there in Gibeah, and were publicly parading their perverse style of life, God was working in the hearts and lives of those that were open to God.

Now the book of Ruth is another insight. It shows us how God can work, and does work His purposes on the earth even under adverse circumstances.


It came to pass when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. A certain man of Bethlehemjudah and he went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And this man was an Elimelech, and the name of his wife was Naomi, and the name of his sons were Mahlon and Chilion, and he was an Ephrathite ( Ruth 1:1-2 ).

Now Ephrathite or Ephratah was the area, the general in which Bethlehem was situated. Like Santa Ana is situated in Orange County, Bethlehem was situated in the area called Ephratah. So, he was called an Ephrathite, like you might be called an Orange Countian because you live in Orange County.

Now the names are always interesting because the names are oftentimes significant to the story. They named their children, and every name had a meaning. Now they say that names have meanings today, and you can look back to the meaning of your names in some of the dictionaries, what your name actually means. The name Elimelech means, "My God is King!" Beautiful name. The name Naomi means "Pleasantness," a very beautiful name indeed. But the name Mahlon means "Sickly," and the name Chilion means "Pining."

Now often the children were named after circumstances of their birth. When Esau was born he was all covered with hair, and so they called him "Hairy." The word Esau means "Hairy," and he's just a hairy little kid so it's a good name. When his brother was born, his twin brother, he reached out and grabbed hold of Hairy's heel. So they said, "Look at that he's a heel catcher." They called him Jacob, "Heel catcher."

So they were named after circumstances of their birth. Probably when Mahlon was born perhaps he was premature, maybe it was touch and go for awhile, he just didn't look well. They said, "Oh he's sickly, he's Mahlon." So he picked up the name Mahlon, "Sickly." Later when his brother was born, he didn't look much better so they called him "Pining." Sickly and Pining. No wonder they died young, they were sickly and pining.

So in the land of Bethlehem there was a famine, there was a drought, which does take place periodically over there. Last year they had a drought. They heard that there was good land over in Moab and so Elimelech decided to sell out and with his wife, and two sons move over to Moab, which is the high plateau country against a great rift, the Jordan river, the Dead sea. Over on the other side, the high plateau country which is very fertile area. So they moved over to Moab. While they were there Elimelech died. So the boys married girls from Moab. The one married a girl by the name of Orpah, the other married a girl by the name of Ruth. And it came to pass in time that both of the boys also died without having any children.

So Naomi said to the two daughters in law, Go back and return to your families, to your mother's house: and may the Lord deal kindly with you, even as you have dealt with the dead and with me ( Ruth 1:8 ).

So during this time of family tragedy these two girls actually brought, showed a real depth of character. They were very kind to Naomi, and comforting of Naomi. They took their tragedy very well. So Naomi is wishing them that they also might receive this same degree of kindness that they had displayed unto her.

And the Lord grant that you find rest, each of you in the house of her husband ( Ruth 1:9 ).

So, "May, may you both find some good boys and get married. May you have a happy, married life. May you find someone else, and may you live at rest in the house of your husband." So she's just encouraging the girls, "Hey girls, you know you're better off here, you're better off with your families. You're better off just getting married with someone else."

So the two girls went with her for awhile on the way back. So they wept and all, and then Ruth, I mean, Naomi said to them again, "Look girls, I'm really too old to have any more sons. Even if I have a hope of having sons, let's say that I was married now and became pregnant tomorrow, would you want to wait until my sons grew up old enough to get married? They don't want to wait, and anyhow it's not gonna happen. So you just go ahead and return home, and get your husbands and get married.

So Orpah [fell on her neck and] kissed her, [and bid her farewell, and returned to her mother's house]; but Ruth [then uttered these beautiful words], Entreat me not to leave thee [or to forsake thee], or to return from following after thee: because where you will go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge: your people will be my people, and your God will be my God: God forbid if anything but death should separate between us ( Ruth 1:14 , Ruth 1:16-17 ).

So the, the devotion of Ruth to her mother-in-law. "Look I'll go with you. Don't ask me to leave you, or to forsake you, or to return back to my family. For wherever you go," evidently there was a beautiful bond that was created between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. "Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge. You're people will be my people, your God will be my God. God forbid if anything but death should separate us." So they came back into the land.

When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her. So the two went until they came to Bethlehem ( Ruth 1:18-19 ).

Now when they arrived in Bethlehem, the people said, "Oh Naomi has returned!" And she said, "Don't call me Naomi." Now let's put it in their language. They said, "Oh pleasantness has returned!" She said, "Don't call me pleasant."

Call me bitter: for the Lord dealt bitter with me ( Ruth 1:20 ).

Mara, "bitter." "Don't call me "Pleasant," call me "Bitter," the Lord has dealt bitterly with me."

Now it is interesting that she sort of blames the tragedy on God. "The Lord has dealt bitterly with me." There seems to be a natural inclination for us to blame God for our tragedies, especially for death. When Jesus arrived in Bethany at the time of the death of Lazarus, he had been very sick. His sister sent the urgent message down to the Jordan where Jesus was staying, "Come quickly the one you love is sick!" Jesus tarried there at the Jordan for two days, and then headed off for Bethany.

Now for a message to get from Bethany to Jordan took two days. Jesus stayed there an extra two days, and it took Him two days to get back to Bethany. So in the meantime, six days had transpired from the time the message went out, "Your friend is very sick, the one you love is very sick." It was six days later that Jesus was arriving in Bethany, and the girls knew that it was too late. They knew that it was actually later than it should be. He could've arrived earlier. They were aware that He was delayed, they didn't know why. Martha came out to meet Him, and in an accusing way said, "Lord, if You would only had been here, my brother would not have died! Lord, where were You when we needed You? Lord, why didn't You come quicker? We told You come quickly, the one You love is sick! Lord, what took You so long? Why didn't You respond, Lord?" Really the idea is she was blaming the death of her brother on the Lord. "Lord, You could've averted this!"

Now we know that that is true. We know that God does hold life in His hands. We know that God is able to sustain life. We know that God is able to restore life. We know that the days of man are appointed of God. Thus, there is this inclination to blame God for death, and in a sense that is right. But in another sense we only feel bitterness because we have a totally wrong concept of death as it being the end, "Oh, he had his whole life in front of him, everything going for him. Oh, what a shame."

I heard this so much when my younger brother was killed. Handsome, good-looking, big guy, just had everything going for him. Good sense of business, and he was making investments and just everything falling into line. Bought an airplane so he could get back and forth between his business better. Crashed in his airplane. People said, "Oh, what a shame. Whole life in front of him, what a shame." Yeah, what a shame. He got there before I did! By the time I arrive, he's gonna know every nook and cranny. Gonna take me awhile to catch up.

You know he's with the Lord. What's so bad about that? He's there in God's kingdom; what's so sad? The sad part is that I miss him. The sad part that I miss all the fun that we used to have together. He was an exciting person. He used to always be doing crazy things and exciting things. I miss that. I sorrow because what I have lost, but I don't sorrow for him. I'm jealous of him being with the Lord, how glorious. Not having to hassle with gas lines, with bills, and all of the kind of things that we have to experience. How wonderful. I'll catch up with him one of these days.

But we have the wrong attitude, you see, concerning death. We look at this life as though, "Oh, it is so precious. It's so wonderful. Hang onto it." That's because of the uncertainty of that life that He has promised to us, our lapses of faith. "Don't call me pleasant, call me bitter!" That's sad. It's sad whenever you become bitter over any experience of life, because bitterness only hurts you. We are warned to be careful of any root of bitterness within our lives because of the effect that it can have on your total life. The bitter roots can bring forth bitter fruit in your life. We must guard against bitterness. Bitterness is an attitude that I choose because of the circumstances that I face. I don't have to become bitter, I choose to become bitter. For there are other people who go through the exact similar circumstances and they become better people because they learn to commit and trust in God all the more. They say, "Well it's all in the Lord's hands, and I belong to the Lord, and God is just given me strength, and God has just given me capacities and all." They become actually better people.

Some of the greatest people I know are people who have suffered incessantly through life. And through the suffering there has been a depth of character developed that is unparalleled by others who have never experienced suffering or sorrow. Out of suffering, out of sorrow, the roots can go deep into God and the life can become beautiful, and strong, and powerful. Or you can root into bitterness and your life becomes bitter and tight, and tense.

It's tragic when a person gives himself over to bitterness. It's all in how you look at the situation. I can look at it and I can become bitter and say, "If God loved me then why did He allow that to happen to me?" My life becomes tense, and I become tight, and my blood vessels begin to constrict and there's not a real flowing anymore. My whole life is so tense. I begin to actually get the effects of it physically.

Or I can say, "Well, the Lord has given, the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! All things work together for good, and God has a plan and He loves me, and I know that He's watching over me. Whatever it is God's working out a plan in my life. Praise the Lord! God you know that I need to have this worked out. You're just seeking to conform me into Your image, have Your perfect work within my life, God." I can become a better person, an open person, and filled with God's love. I can flow out the beautiful fruits, of love, and faith, and hope to others.

Naomi for the moment was responding in the wrong way, "Don't call me Pleasant, call me Bitter!" Oh sad, that's sad when you've allowed the circumstances of your life to jaundice your feelings and you turn bitter against God, and bitter against the circumstances of life. Naomi thought it was all over. She thought that was the end of the road. She didn't know the plan God was working out.

She said,

I went away full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why do you call me Pleasant, seeing the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me? So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, they came out of the country of Moab: they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest ( Ruth 1:21-22 ).


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Ruth 1". "Smith's Bible Commentary". 2014.