Bible Commentaries
Ruth 1

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-5

Introduction to the Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful stories in literature. It tells the story of a family of the tribe of Judah who lived in the days of the Judges. In that respect it gives the reader the kind of insight into the domestic life of those times as do the accounts of Micah and his god-­house and the Levite and his concubine, found in the closing chapters of the Book of Judges. However, it is much more delightful and refresh­ing to read because it deals with the people who were striving to obey the Lord and honor Him in contrast to the Levite and Micah. Of course Elimelech, the father of the family, made a serious error in going to Moab, though he was a true worshiper of God.

Various suggestions have been put forward as to the time period during which these people lived. Some have thought it falls into the time of the judgeship of Deborah and Barak. There are strong points for settling on the judgeship of Gideon. Still another chronology would place it in the closing years of Othniel’s judgeship and the beginning of the subjection to Moab, which might account for the removal to Moab be­cause of the famine. Perhaps an approximate time can be ascertained from a look at the genealogical account at the end of the Book (Ruth 4:18-22). which begins with Pharez, the son of Judah, and ends with David, the king of Judah, who was the great grandson of Ruth and Boaz.

Jesse was a very old man, likely more than a hundred years, when David was fleeing from Saul (about 1015 B.C.). He was, then, probably born around 1115 B.C. to Obed, son of Ruth and Boaz. We may go back another fifty to a hundred years, then, to place the time of Elimelech and Naomi between 1215 to 1165 B.C. This would locate the events in the time of Deborah and Barak or of Gideon. Gideon seems preferable, because of the famine conditions which existed due to the spoil of the land by the Midianites (Judges 6:1-6).

Leaving God’s Country, vs 1-5

As previously shown in the Introduction to this Book of Ruth, the most likely time when Elimelech and his family left Bethlehem because of the famine was during the Midianite oppression, which was followed by the judgeship of Gideon. It was a time when the Midianites were overrunning the country and robbing the people of their very food and means of livelihood (refer again to Judges, chapter 6).

Other commentators have made much of the meaning of the proper names in this story, and perhaps that is well. It is noted that "Bethlehem" means "house of bread;" "Judah" means "praise"; "Moab" means "from a father." Bible students should remember that the birth of Moab was the product of incest between Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:30-38). It should also be recalled that the Lord placed a curse on the Moabites, because they refused Israel hospitality when they were coming out of Egypt, and Balak, their king, actually hired Balsam to curse them (De 23:3-6). Thus, this family was leaving the land of bread and praise for a nation cursed from its birth and marked with sin. Though there was a famine of food, there should have been no famine of spiritual bread, and the Lord was still to be praised.

Yet this was a godly family. "Elimelech" means, "My God is king;" "Naomi" means "pleasant"; "Mahlon" means "sickly", and "Chilion" means "pining." Perhaps the sons had shown tendencies to unhealthi­ness from the time of their birth. It may have been indicative of the spiritual health of their parents. It is well to note that they went to Moab, intending only to sojourn until the famine was over. But Elimelech died, it would seem early in their sojourn there. Following this the widow and two sons seem content to remain in Moab. The fact that both sons married Moabite girls indicates they may have expected to settle here permanently. All of this is in spite of the fact they had learned to fear God and were true sons of Judah, native Ephrathites of Bethlehem. Ephrath, or Ephratah, was the ancient name of Bethlehem.

Both Mahlon and Chilion died after they had been in the land of Moab about ten years. Neither of them had children. So Naomi was left alone , without a family or means of support. She had only her two Moabite daughters-in-law, who though they loved her, were not of Israel.

Verses 6-14

Naomi Bereft, vs. 6-14

There was no longer any reason why Naomi should remain in Moab; in fact, there were many reasons why she should not. She had lost her family here, she had learned that the Lord can take care of one, she was out of place as a worshiper of the Lord in a pagan country. Then, that for which she had left Bethlehem, the famine, had ended, and she learned that there was bread there again. So she gathers her things to return to Bethlehem, and the two daughters in law accompany her.

It was customary for one going on a journey to be accompanied by friends for a part of the way. This is evidently what the daughters in law were doing, though one may suspect that Ruth, at least, had in mind to return with Naomi to Bethlehem. When they had gone a certain distance Naomi advised the young women to turn back, giving to them her blessing in the name of the Lord. She even prayed that they might find husbands to care for them in their own country.

Naomi kissed the girls good-bye, and they lifted up their voices and wept, indicating the deep love they had for their mother in law. They stated their desire to accompany her, but Naomi reasoned with them. There was no chance that the levirate marriage could help them, for Naomi had no more sons who might grow up and marry them and raise up children in the name of their brothers. Naomi was too old to have another husband and children, and if she had not been, these young women could not wait for any son she might bear to grow up. Naomi was grieved that she had felt the chastening of the Lord upon her, and partly for the sake of the daughters in law. So Orpah kissed her and returned, but Ruth still clung to Naomi.

Verses 15-22

Ruth’s Resolution, vs. 15-22

Some questions need to be considered here. How much had Ruth and Orpah been taught about the God of Israel? Did Naomi really want her daughters in law to remain in Moab? or did she hope they would choose to follow her? Why did Naomi insist that Ruth do as Orpah and return to her Moabite life, religion, and customs?

Given that this was a God-fearing family it is certainly likely that Naomi and her sons had taught the young wives about the God of Israel,of His power and His uniqueness. Surely Naomi hoped that the daughters in law would embrace the true God and be saved. However, she did not wish them to return with her not being fully convinced of the verity of the Lord over Moab’s gods. As Naomi urged them to return to Moab the women would surely have done so if. that was what they really desired. On the other hand, if they should be genuinely converted to Israel’s God they would not stay in the pagan land, regardless of how much Naomi insisted. Orpah failed the test, but Ruth passed it gloriously.

The resolution of Ruth whereby she unalterably took her stand, determined to return to Israel with Naomi, is classic. It is a challenge to all today to stand without wavering for Christ. It said to Naomi, "Say no more, for I am determined to return with you. My life is changed. It is bound up in your life, Naomi, and I shall live it out according to the pattern I have seen in you." This is a wonderful testimony to Naomi, Though her experiences were bitter, Ruth would be much of sweetness to her in return, so that she would reap good from her bad experience after all.

In examining Ruth’s resolution it is found that 1) she had chosen her path and would not swerve from it; 2) she had found good companionship and would not be separated from it; 3) she had found the true God and would not be turned from Him; 4) she was resolved to live out her life in her new choice and called on the Lord to help her fulfill it. Naomi could say no more, and they returned together to Bethlehem.

Naomi had been gone ten years, and the people may have about forgotten her. The town of Bethlehem was stirred by the appearance of the two women, and people were beginning to say, "Aren’t you Naomi?" Naomi could not deny her identity, but she told them that she should be called Mara, which means "bitter" rather than Naomi, which means "pleasant." In this she admitted that she had been chastised of the Lord. She went to Moab full, with a husband and two sons, but she was returning to Bethlehem empty, having lost all three. Certainly this was testimony that the Lord had been displeased with Naomi and her family. It was barley harvest when they got to Bethlehem, a factor which will be important in the sequel.

Some of the many good lessons to be taken from Ruth, chapter one: 1) one always puts himself in danger by leaving the place where God is worshipped; 2) the Lord will chastise His children who disobey Him; 3) one may set the example for others to follow in coming to the Lord, but the choice must be by the one for whom it is set; 4) when one has truly accepted the Lord there will be no turning back from the decision; 5) bitter experiences may be sweetened when one returns to the place of the Lord’s true worship.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Ruth 1". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. 1985.