Bible Commentaries
Ruth 1

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-18


Ruth 1:1-18

Sometime during the period covered by the Book of Judges, a famine in Palestine caused a Hebrew family to migrate from Bethlehem in Judah, David’s birthplace, to Moab. Other references to such famines in Palestine are found in Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 41:56; 2 Samuel 21:1; and 1 Kings 17. The name "Elimelech" is compounded of the words for "God" and "king" and means "God is King" The name of Elimelech’s wife means "pleasant" or "agreeable." Elimelech died, and the sons married Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth.

When the sons died also, Naomi determined to return to the homeland, having received information that the famine had ceased. She was accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, who thus turned their backs on their native land and on memories of a happy married life. She appears to have been aggressive in leadership, but her determination was blended with tenderness and sympathy. She sought to persuade the other two women to return to their homes and remain in Moab. Although Ruth, at least, had a father living (2:11), she was bidden to return to her mother’s home. The daughter’s place was in the mother’s tent, for this was the Bedouin practice. The reference is to the women’s quarters required in polygamous marriage.

Ruth and Orpah persisted in desiring to go with Naomi, and once more she pleaded with them to return home. She had no more sons to give them as husbands, and she was too old to bear any. Moreover, any future child of hers would in any case be too young for her daughters-in-law. Behind her plea lies the thought of the law of levirate marriage, according to which if a man died without issue, his brother should take the widow to wife and raise up a son to the dead brother (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The custom was widespread in the ancient Near East, but in Naomi’s case age made its effectiveness questionable. In the story of Judah and Tamar we have an instance of a daughter-in-law waiting in seclusion for another son to reach marriageable age and perform the levirate obligation (Genesis 38:11), but Naomi did not want her daughters secluded too long. Moreover, she saw God’s hand in her tragedy and was prepared to accept it with resignation.

Orpah decided to return, but Ruth still clung to her mother-in-law. Naomi sought to dissuade her in an argument which stressed the current belief that in leaving her homeland Ruth was also leaving her god, since the deity and the land were so tied together that the deity had no jurisdiction outside the country. This is an indication of the primitive level of religion at this stage. Ruth refused to be put off. With a fine exhibition of personal devotion, she declared herself ready to forsake her Moabite heritage, to accept the people and the God of Naomi, and, for Naomi’s sake, to live her life out in a foreign land. Her words enshrine the noblest expression of friendship. We note that at the end of Ruth’s speech she is represented as using the familiar Hebrew name for God ("Yahweh," rendered "Lord" in the Revised Standard Version). Even a Moabitess and a foreigner might trust in him and follow him.

Verses 19-22


Ruth 1:19-22

Naomi and Ruth continued on their way to Bethlehem, where their arrival created a great stir (the Hebrew word here literally means "a buzz of conversation"). We can imagine the rumors that were rife and the ill-natured gossip, for had Naomi not forsaken the Lord and gone to the land of Chemosh, the god of the Moabites? Naomi declared herself to be afflicted of God and bade them call her Mara, or "bitter." She had gone away a happy woman with a husband and two boys, and she was returning empty.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Ruth 1". "Layman's Bible Commentary".