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The Exile and the Return of Naomi
1. Beth-lehem-judah] two hours’ journey S. of Jerusalem, is to be distinguished from Bethlehem in Zebulun (Joshua 19:15). It was but a short distance from Moab, which, in the days here referred to, was a fertile, highly cultivated country. Travellers still speak of it as a land of streams. Nothing short of the compulsion of famine could have induced a Hebrew to migrate into this foreign country where he would have no right of citizenship, this unclean land where Jehovah could not be worshipped.
2. The name Elimelech means ’my God is King.’ Naomi, or, as it ought to be written, ’Noomi,’ means ’pleasant.’ The two sons, Mahlon (’sickly’) and Chilion (’wasting away’), evidently owe their names to the fate which overtook them. It is not quite certain how we should understand the names of their wives. Orpah was taken by some of the Jewish commentators as signifying ’the back of the neck,’ and explained by her having turned her back on Naomi. Ruth may be ’friend’ or ’refreshment’: the Talmud takes the latter view, ’because David sprang from her, who refreshed the Holy One with songs and praises.’ Ephrathah is another name for Bethlehem, or perhaps the name of the district of Bethlehem.
4. The author of our book sees nothing wrong in their marrying Moabite wives. In this he agrees with earlier ideas and customs (Judges 14:1; Judges 16:4; 1 Kings 7:14), not with such enactments as Deuteronomy 23:3., or such stern proceedings as Ezra and Nehemiah took when they compelled the Jews to abandon their foreign wives (Ezra 9, 10 Nehemiah 13:23-30), or the Targum here, which says, ’And they transgressed the commandment of the Lord and married strange women.’
8, 9. The young widow would naturally return to her mother’s house, for she would live in the women’s part of the house or tent (Genesis 24:28, Genesis 24:67; Judges 4:17; Song of Solomon 3:4). The belief of that age was that men would receive in this life an exact recompense for their good and evil actions: see especially Psalms 18:24, Psalms 18:26. These two good women were to find rest after the troubles and disappointments of their Hebrew marriages.
11-13. If Naomi had other sons the obligation of marrying their deceased brother’s widow would devolve on one of them. This Levirate law (from Levir = ’a brother-in-law’) has been observed in many quarters of the globe, in India, Madagascar, Brazil, etc. Amongst the Hebrews the two objects which it aimed at were, to prevent the extinction of the dead man’s name, and to save the property belonging to a family from being broken up and dispersed among other families. The firstborn son of the new marriage was considered to be the child and heir of the dead (Genesis 38; Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Naomi asks: Would ye stay for them from having husbands? or, more literally: ’Would ye shut yourselves up from having husbands?’ For the widow, awaiting the second marriage, must remain at home in seclusion (Genesis 38:11).
14, 15. Possibly Orpah did not intend going beyond the necessary courtesy of accompanying her mother-in-law to the border of the two countries. Then she would return to her people and ’her god’ (RV). Chemosh was the national god of Moab (Numbers 21:29; 1 Kings 11:7, etc.).
16-18. Ruth’s impassioned declaration reminds us of the Druze sheikh, who, on parting with Mrs. Burton, exclaimed, ’Allah be with you and your house! I would we had never seen you, because of this parting. If you loved a stone I would put it in my bosom, and if you hated the moon I would not sit under its rays.’ According to ancient ideas a god and his people were inseparable: if Ruth determined to go over to Naomi’s fatherland and race she necessarily accepted their deity: if David was driven out of Israel he was thereby bidden, ’Go, serve other gods’ (1 Samuel 26:19). Moreover, it was an even more cherished privilege then than now to be interred with one’s relatives: the phrase for a desirable kind of burial was to be gathered to one’s fathers.’ In Ezekiel 32:17-32 it is implied that the various nations inhabit separate localities in the invisible world. Ruth cleaves to her mother-in-law as Elisha to Elijah (2 Kings 2:2-6).
19-22. Every one in the little town knew her. Yet how much she had altered. The women, of course, knew her best, and they exclaimed, ’Is this Naomi? ’She repudiated the old name, renaming herself Mara, ’Bitter,’ because the Almighty, who is here called Shaddai, had dealt bitterly with her. The same expression occurs in Job 27:2. The exact force of the divine name Shaddai is uncertain. Except in the book of Job we always meet it in conjunction with the general name God, ’God Shaddai.’ Exodus 6:3 regards it as an ancient title. Jehovah testified against Naomi by treating her as a sinner, for suffering was always regarded as an evidence of guilt. When the widow’s son dies she cries out to Elijah: ’Art thou come to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?’ (1 Kings 17:18). We have no ground for assuming any particular transgression on Naomi’s part: the Targum is clearly wrong in fixing on the migration to Moab. How unlike Naomi’s fortunes to those of Abraham, who from being alone became a multitude (Isaiah 51:2), and those of Jacob, who with nothing but a staff in his hand crossed the Jordan, and returned in two bands (Genesis 32:10)! Barley harvest begins early in April.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Ruth 1". "Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany