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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

- Ruth

by Johann Peter Lange







§ 1. Contents and Aim

The little Book of Ruth, the exposition of which usually follows that of the Book of Judges, consists of only eighty-five verses; but these inclose 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. It will be necessary rightly to seize its fundamental idea, in order to treat to advantage the other historical questions which present themselves with reference to the time of its composition and place in the canon of the Old Covenant.

An ancient Israelitish family of Bethlehem fell into misery. They had left their native country in a time of distress, in order to save themselves from participating in it. But in the stranger’s land, in Moab, a harder fate alights upon them. Death carries off father and sons; the mother remains behind, childless and widowed. True, she has daughters-in-law; but these are without offspring, and—Moabitesses, aliens, not without fault chosen to be wives of her sons. Naomi’s situation is as bad as it can be. In Moab she cannot remain; sorrowfully she returns to Bethlehem. Her house is desolated; upon herself, rests the hand of God. But in the midst of despair, a consolation arises for her. Ruth, her Moabitish daughter-in-law, remains with her,—no dissuasion of her mother-in-law restrains her. She gives up everything, native land and paternal home, yea, even the hope of better fortunes, continues faithful to her love for Naomi, and goes with her to her God and her people,—but in tears, poverty, and bereavement.
Naomi arrives at Bethlehem, but no one helps, no one comforts her. Ruth alone becomes her support,—she labors, she begs for her. Her piety, however, does not remain unknown. The kindnesses done to these women by Boaz, on whose fields Ruth had been gleaning, originated solely in the man’s admiration of the pious love of Ruth, although it is true that he was a kinsman of Naomi. Ruth the noble man blesses, because she has taken refuge under the wings of God in Israel. She reinstates her mother-in-law in the good-will of her relatives. She overcomes the prejudices of Israel against the stranger. The rights of an Israelitish wife fall to her lot. But it is only on account of her love and purity that the blessing of Boaz fulfills itself. For her mother’s sake she enters once more on a hard and difficult road. But thereby the sorrow of Naomi is at last lifted away. Boaz fulfills to Ruth the law of Israel, and marries her. From the Moabitess springs the son, of whom David, the king of Israel, who rose from among the flocks of Bethlehem to be a hero and a prophet, is the celebrated grandson.

With good reason the book is not called “Naomi,” or “Boaz,” or “the Descent of David,” but “Ruth.” For she is the central point of the whole narrative. Her love is the groundwork of the history it relates. That she became the ancestress of David was only the reward of her virtue. The idea to be set forth, and which gives such great significance to the little book, is, the power of love, as conquering all national contrarieties, hostilities, and prejudices.
It is not a story of romantic love between man and woman, but of the reverential love of a widow for the mother of her deceased husband. The love portrayed in the character of Ruth is of the purest, most unselfish, most extraordinary kind. It is for the sake of this love, to indicate its nature, that the strength which leaves father and mother, and accepts the God of Israel, is delineated. For Naomi can be thus loved of Ruth only because the latter has some intuitive perception of the higher life of the God of Israel in her mother-in-law.
The Jewish narrative, therefore, does not only, with unselfish uprightness, set forth the overpowering depth of affection of a Moabitess; it teaches also that such love is valid before God, without respect of race, that through it Ruth is more deeply implanted into the kingdom of the true Israel than are natural children—consequently the women say to Naomi, that Ruth is better for her than seven sons—and that the blessing of God was poured out in superabundant measure on Ruth, although a foreigner, because she had confessed the God of Israel in love and from love.
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 really 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 unknown, but Ruth—is the grandmother of David.
The Book was not written for the glorification of the king; for how, according to human views, could he be flattered by such a descent! But the fact of David’s descent from Ruth, demonstrates and glorifies the praise of such as act as she did. It is a book of praise of true love and virtue; a book of reconciliation for those alien nations who betake themselves under the wings of the living God. In Boaz and Ruth, Israel and the Gentiles are, as it were, personified. In order to come under the wings of Israel, nothing is needed but the love and faith of Ruth. From these, and not from legal descent according to the flesh, do the might and glory of the kingdom of God proceed. The Book, it is often said, with its contents, stands at the portal of the history of David; according to its spirit, it stands, like the Psalms, at the gates of the Gospel. And this not only on account of the genealogy of Christ in the latter, which carries us back to David and Boaz, but because of the spirit which informs the doctrine of our Book, that the greatest king of Israel sprang from the reconciliation of Israel and the Gentiles, from the marriage of Boaz and Ruth in the confession of Jehovah.

§ 2. Time of Composition

It is precisely the free and loving spirit with which Ruth is depicted, the Moabitess set forth as the ancestress of David for the instruction and joy of the reader, that enables us, on somewhat closer inspection, to determine, with considerable definiteness, the time in which alone the book can have been written. It is to be observed that the Books of Samuel say nothing of the descent of David from Ruth. Without the little book now under consideration, this fact would be entirely unknown to us. For the Book of Chronicles also, although it names Boaz as the ancestor of David in such a way that it were easy to believe that use was made of the last verses of Ruth, passes over the name of Ruth in utter silence.

That our Book cannot have been written after Solomon, is evident from 1 Kings 11:1, where the king is blamed for having taken many foreign wives of Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zidon, and Heth, “nations concerning which Jehovah said to the sons of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you.” It is not for the honor of Rehoboam that the historian relates that his mother was Naamah, an Ammonitess (1 Kings 14:21). Nor is it without design that the (second) Book of Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 24:26 (the passage is wanting in Kings) informs us that the mother of one of the murderers of King Joash was a Moabitess, of the other an Ammonitess. Ezra says (Ezra 10:10): “Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives;” and the names of those who were to separate from their wives were noted down. Nehemiah (Nehemiah 13:1 ff.) went so far as to execute strictly the law that “no Ammonite or Moabite should come into the congregation of God forever.” These negative data are sufficient of themselves to refute the opinion that the book written in praise of a Moabitess who did enter into the congregation of God, was perhaps composed in the times after Solomon, or during the exile, or when the spirit of Ezra or Nehemiah was in the ascendant. It is especially clear that it cannot have been written in the Exile, for in that situation Israel maintained the sharpest separation between itself and the Gentiles1 (cf. Esther 3:8). The Book, moreover, exhibits a homelike, peaceful coloring inconsistent with that time of expatriation and distress. It cannot even be assigned to the reign of Solomon; for in that case the genealogy at the close would hardly have failed to add: “And David begat Solomon.”

But there are not wanting positive grounds which make it highly probable that the Book originated in the time of David, and while he occupied the throne,—circumstances which add their own instruction to that of the Book. It must indeed be admitted that our information concerning the great revolution brought about in Israel by the achievements, spirit, and reign of David, is very meagre and fragmentary. But it is also true that too little attention has been paid to the fact that the new occupant of the throne at Jerusalem was not merely a hero, but a creative genius, whom singular sufferings and experiences had thoroughly tried, and in whom the full heart of Israel beat powerfully and grandly, although he appears not without the human coloring of his age. From the very opening of his public career in the combat with Goliath, and ever after, he displays, as no one else did, the enthusiastic strength of faith and the immovable religious convictions of a true Israelite; and yet it was he, driven into exile through Saul’s distrust, who more than any other hero or prince, before or after, came into peculiar contact with alien nations. It was doubtless due, in part at least, to the recollection that his great-grandmother was a Moabitess, that he went to the king of Moab and said, “Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth and be with you, till I know what God will do to me” (1 Samuel 22:3). Accordingly, he causes his father and mother to emigrate to the same country whither Elimelech and his family had gone. And they remained in Moab until David was master of Jerusalem. So also, at a later time, he remembers that the king of Ammon had formerly shown him kindness (2 Samuel 10:2). While he was hiding in the cave of Adullam, all sorts of wild and warlike people collected about him, of whom he formed his band of heroes and afterwards his body-guard. Their names Kerethi and Pelethi (2 Samuel 8:18, etc.) sufficiently indicate their foreign origin. He abode a long time in the Philistine city of Gath (1 Samuel 27:0); and there bands of brave men attached themselves so entirely to him, that they continued faithful to him even in his last great distress, brought upon him by Absalom (2 Samuel 15:18). But everywhere he bore aloft the banner of his God and people. Whoever followed him, entered not merely into his personal interests, but also into those of Israel (cf. 1 Samuel 26:10, etc.). Through the glory and heroism of his history, aided by the preparatory influence of Saul’s achievements, the heathen, who till then continued to reside among Israel, were undoubtedly for the most part amalgamated with Israel, so that the intellectual preponderance of Israel, reinforced by military superiority, suppressed idolatry and extended the acknowledgment of Jehovah.

We are reminded here especially of Uriah, who fell a victim to David’s unlawful passions. This man, a hero and distinguished personage in Israel, was a Hittite or descendant of Heth (2 Samuel 11:3). From his widow, that is, from an Israelitish woman once married to a Hittite, sprang king Solomon, just as David descended from a Moabitish woman, the widow of an Israelite. Nor is Uriah the only foreigner among David’s distinguished warriors; the list includes also an Ammonite named Zelek (2 Samuel 23:37). It is remarkable, also, that David deposits the ark of God in the house of a Gittite, that is, a man who originated in Gath, a city of the Philistines. He was called Obed Edom, thus bearing the same name with David’s grandfather, the son of Ruth 2:0 His surname Edom also betrays his alien origin. The ark of God was three months in his dwelling, and God blessed him and his house.

Yet more noteworthy is the fact that in the saddest hours of David’s life, when his favorite son, Absalom, and the chief men of Israel fell away from him, only such as had turned from among alien nations to Israel and its God remained true to him. He himself had the same experience which Naomi had with Ruth; they who loved him dared everything for him and with him. An Ammonite supplies him with provisions in his flight (2 Samuel 17:27). Especially prominent is Hushai the Archite,3 the companion of David, who in the hour of distress adheres to him, and renders him most important service at the court of Absalom, in thwarting the intrigues of the apostate Ahithophel (2 Samuel 15:32 ff.). Touching is the fidelity of Ittai, the man of Gath. The king says to him (2 Samuel 15:19 ff.): “Wherefore goest thou also with us? return to thy place, and abide with the king, for thou art a stranger. If thou art banished, go to thy native place.4 Whereas thou camest but yesterday, should I this day make thee go up and down with us? seeing I go whither I may; return thou, and take back thy brethren: mercy and truth be with thee!” David, the fleeing king, who in his old age must leave his capital, speaks like Naomi. The answer of Ittai shows that he, like Ruth, has turned to the God of Israel: “As Jehovah liveth, and as my lord the king liveth, surely in what place my lord the king shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.” Never again, in the history of the ancient Israel, do such relations come to view. Under their influence, and therefore during the reign of David, the composition of a book which commemorates the truth and love of a Gentile, was perfectly natural. It is a signature of the spirit, more active in Israel then than at any other time, which recognized faith in God as the kernel of the kingdom of God, and saw that not only natural, but also spiritual Israelites could become its children. It must not be overlooked that it is especially in the Psalms that the relations of the Gentiles to the kingdom of God are unfolded. Take as specimens of many similar passages, these two: “Thou makest me the head of the nations; a people that I knew not, serves me” (Psalms 18:43).5 “All the families of the nations shall bow down before thee; for the kingdom is Jehovah’s, and he rules among the nations” (Psalms 22:27-28).6

To point out definitely the years of David’s reign during which the Book was written, will hardly be possible. But it is not improbable that it was done when he stood on the summit of his glory and enjoyed peace on all sides. At that time, a contemplative view of the king’s history, in which so many men of alien origin had distinguished themselves by wonderful fidelity, gave rise to our Book. It may be assumed that its narrative concerning David’s excellent ancestress influenced the bearing of the king’s faithful Gentile subjects, as manifested in the catastrophe of Absalom. It is a genuine historical characteristic of the reign of David, that it, and not the Psalter merely, is Messianic. It is informed by the idea of universality bounded only by the acknowledgment of Jehovah. It brought about closer connections between Israel and the Gentiles, which continued to exist in the reign of Solomon. The fall of this king, toward the close of his reign, consists in the very fact that he no longer subjected these connections to the domination of the God of Israel, but suffered his own faith and morals to be overcome by heathen influences. Solomon would not have been to blame for taking wives of Moab and Ammon, if these, like Ruth, had confessed Jehovah; his fall consisted in his taking heathen wives, who withdrew him from the pure service of God. The Messianic idea was distorted, consequently obliterated and for a long time lost, and only restored by the vision of the prophets.
Nothing of importance can be urged against assigning the origin of our Book to this period, almost the only time in which it can have been written. The arguments which Bertheau, after Ewald and other earlier critics, founds on linguistic peculiarities, are not at all conclusive, and are sufficiently met by Keil’s counter-remarks (Einleit. § 137). The more unusual expressions are due to the peculiarities of the matter, and are also to be met with elsewhere. The narrative exhibits life in its popular aspect, and probably makes use of popular forms of speech which to us seem Chaldaizing. This very circumstance attests the antiquity of the Book. A book of similar character, written in the Exile, would no longer possess the manifold idioms peculiar to original forms and views of life. Considering the small number of literary productions that have come down to us from the several earlier centuries of Hebrew history, and our ignorance of the places of their composition and the dialect of their writers, it is manifest that any attempts to fix the time in which any work was written by means of a few grammatical peculiarities alone, must always be exceedingly problematical. In the present case, however, the contents of the Book itself contradict the conclusion to which such a method of argumentation has led. For these speak decidedly against an exilic, and in favor of a Palestinian origin, in a peaceful, and indeed a definitely limited period. Critics have paid only too little continuous attention to these contents, and hence were led to overestimate sundry externalities of the Book.

§ 3. Position in the Canon.

The position which Jewish tradition assigned to our Book in the Canon, may likewise be due to the spirit of its contents. The Septuagint, it is true, attached it closely to the Book of Judges, as if it were but an appendix of that work,7 and was followed therein by Josephus and the Christian Fathers who were for the most part dependent on that version. Possibly, the desire to make the number of books equal to the number of letters in the alphabet may have contributed to this result; for even in later times the supposed coincidence was invested with symbolical significance. Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and Canticles could not be so directly attached to another book, there being none specially devoted to the history of Solomon, while Ruth and Lamentations could readily be joined to other writings. But it cannot have been for liturgical purposes merely, that the Canon of the Palestinian Jews, as appears from the Talmud, corroborated by manuscripts and traditions, considers Ruth as well as Lamentations as a separate work, and never unites it with Judges. If the little work be viewed simply as a genealogical narrative introductory to the history of David, then, indeed, its proper place is between Judges and the Books of Samuel. But since this is not its true character, since it sets forth a higher idea, of which the birth of David is but the crown and confirmation, an independent position was rightly assigned to it. The Messianic doctrine contained in it invested it with greater importance. Now, from the fact that the Jews continued the Book in this separate and independent position, although they saw that the followers of Christ viewed him as the descendant of Ruth, it may be inferred that in the Palestinian canon Ruth held, even before the birth of our Lord, the same position as at present. It harmonizes well with this, that from primitive times the Book was read during the Feast of Weeks. For this cannot have been done simply because a harvest scene occurs in it.8 The practice must rather be connected with a belief that Ruth prefigures the entrance of the heathen into the kingdom of God, and with the idea that the Feast of Weeks was a celebration of the giving of the law on Sinai, which law, as the Midrash explains, was given to all nations, only it was not accepted by them. The Feast of Weeks, we know, corresponded to the Christian Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was poured out, according to the words of Joel, on all flesh, and the Gospel was preached to all the world.

Undoubtedly, however, the Book of Ruth offers an interesting parallel to that of Judges. While the latter exhibits the military history of Israel, the former introduces us to the peaceful private life of the people. We hear no trumpet-blasts or pæans of triumph, only the rustling of the sickles among the grain stalks salutes our ears. We find ourselves transported into the rural family life of Israel. Not the warrior or king, but the farmer and householder find their prototypes here.9 The little book relates a narrative of social village life, and within its brief compass exhibits the profoundest sorrow, the noblest love, and all the attractiveness of an Israelitish life of faith. Naomi and Boaz are not painted in the same colors as Deborah and Gideon. But the love of Ruth and Orpah can only have grown up in the household of Naomi. Israel’s fathers and husbands must have so lived as to enchain even after their death the hearts of foreign and childless widows. With what nobility and moral beauty the faithful in Israel were adorned, is seen in Boaz. The whole picture is surmounted by a calm, clear sky. The reader finds himself now in the open field, now on the road, and anon among the assembly of citizens at the gate. The unadorned narrative shows such art in grouping, preserves such moderation, causes the finest lessons to shine through so gently, and withal displays such great vivacity, that the æsthetics of the little work alone yield an important testimony to its origin. It can have arisen only under surroundings such as those it describes. It breathes an air of freedom and peace wholly inconsistent with the unrest and servitude of the Exile. Indeed, one is tempted to believe that the author must have lived in Bethlehem itself. He loves to indicate, with untutored art, the peculiarities of speech which obtain among his dramatis personœ. He makes his rustics talk in rustic fashion,10 while yet, when Boaz speaks on elevated subjects, the language rises to the level of the theme.

§ 4. Time of the History.

The time in which the occurrences themselves took place, can hardly be more closely determined. Boaz was the great-grandfather of David. For it is not to be supposed that between Boaz and Obed, or Obed and Jesse, other names have fallen out. A wider remove of Ruth from David contradicts the thought and doctrine of the Book. The view that Boaz may have been a contemporary of Gideon11 is without anything to support it. The Book suggests not a hint of war; and although it speaks of famine in the land, there is not the least indication that it was a result of hostile devastations. Much rather does Ruth 1:6 (cf. the Comment.) suggest elemental causes. The ancient opinion, found in Josephus, which places the occurrences of our Book in the time of Eli, has certainly much greater probability in its favor, since the later years of Boaz and the life of Obed may be conceived as running parallel with the life of Eli, and that of Samuel with Jesse. It is also remarked below that an attitude of mutual hostility between Israel and the Philistines, may explain why Elimelech emigrated to Moab.

Some expositors (Ewald, Bertheau) have found that the author of our Book maintains a specially “learned bearing,” because in Ruth 4:0 he gives information concerning certain old customs, and have inferred from it that he must have written at a late period. But he has only done, in the simplest manner, what it is the duty of every narrator to do, namely, explain and give information on points in need of it. He gives a picture of popular life; in which he no more excuses himself from drawing the pursuit of the humble gleaner than the transactions at the gate of the city. Perhaps nothing testifies more clearly for the antiquity of the Book than Ruth 4:0. The Mosaic law speaks of the pulling off of the shoe only in the particular case in which a widow, being refused marriage by her deceased husband’s brother, is authorized to subject the offender to this action as a sign of disgrace. But this was only a special application of a more general symbolical idea connected with the shoe, and explanatory of its earlier use in transactions of exchange and redemption generally.12 Now, it was just because the Mosaic law prescribed the use of the shoe only in the case just mentioned, that it ceased to be used on other occasions. Consequently, it was precisely during the better observance of the law under Samuel, Saul, and David, that its use as the general symbol of transfer of rights or property had become obsolete. That which takes place at the gate of Bethlehem is no such transaction as is described in Deuteronomy 25:7 ff. The unknown kinsman does not regard it as such. It has reference solely to the redemption of the landed property. Nor is Ruth present. Had the Book been written in the Exile, when the letter of the law had become impressed upon the people, an explanation of this absence would not have been wanting, just as Josephus conceives it necessary to add, quite in opposition to the narrative, that Ruth having been sent for by Boaz, the whole levirate process was performed according to legal prescription. In our author’s time the recollection of the usages he describes, was fresher; the usages themselves having disappeared but a few generations before. Nor is this notice of obsolete customs peculiar to the Book of Ruth. Other O. T. books make similar explanations. Thus, the author of the Books of Samuel observes that “formerly” prophets were called “seers” (1 Samuel 9:9); and the author of the Book of Judges frequently gives the earlier names of cities of which he has occasion to speak.

§ 5. Translations and Commentaries.

The translation of our Book in the Septuagint bears a verbal character. The relation of Josephus (Ant. v. 9) evinces his efforts to bring the statements of the Biblical accounts into harmony with the prescription of the law as observed in his time, and not to allow the virtues of Israel to be too much eclipsed by those of foreigners. The Chaldee translation, the Targum, being intended for the public instruction of the people, follows the same course yet more decidedly. It carries back into the ancient times of Ruth a good deal of later apprehension and exposition. Its interpolations may be found collected, for the most part, in the Midrash Ruth Rabba,13 which, on its part, has chiefly drawn from the Gemara of Jerusalem and older Midrashim. The Babylonian Talmud gives expositions of detached passages of Ruth: Berachoth, 7; Sabbat, 113; Jebamoth, 47; Nasir, 23; Babakama, 30; Bababathra 91; Sanhedrin, 19. There is another collection of Rabbinical interpretations in Jalkut Simeoni, tom. ii. ed. Venez. n. 596 ff.

Interesting philological explanations on the Chaldee version of the Targum are given in the rare book: Perush hamiloth, Krakau, 1540–44. The most important commentaries of mediæval Jewish scholars, are those of Raschi and Ibn Esra. The commentary of Solomon ben Melech was published by Joh. Ben. Carpzov, in the Collegium Rabbinico Biblicum in librum Ruth, Lips. 1703, and republished by Reland.

The earlier Christian theology accorded little special treatment to the Book of Ruth. Cassiodorus (De Divinis Lectionibus, cap. 1) says: “Ancient expositions I have nowhere been able to find. I have however persuaded the pious presbyter Bellator to write explanations, and he has said much in praise of this woman and others in two books.” But of the work of this Bellator nothing is known, cf. Serarius, p. 680, Ruth 8. In later ages, the expositors, older and more recent, of the Book of Judges, are also to be consulted on Ruth. Most prominent among these are the commentaries of Rupert v. Deutz, Sanctius, Serarius, Grotius, Clericus, Rosenmüller, Maurer, Bertheau, and Keil.14

For special treatment of the Book of Ruth, the following are to be named: Christ. Aug. Heumann, Poecile, tom. i. 180, and ii. 383; J. W. Weinrich, Hist. und theol. Betrachtungen gelehrter Dinge, p. 237, etc.; Joh. Jac. Rambach, Notœ liberiores in libellum Ruthœ ex. rec. J. H. Michaelis in liberior. adnot. in Hagiographos, tom. ii. Halæ, 1720. The Collegium of Carpsov has already been mentioned.

The Book was translated [into German] and explained by Dereser, Frankfort, 1806, and by von Riegler, Würzburg, 1812. Compare Umbreit on the spirit and design of the Book, in the Studien und Kritiken, 1834, ii. In 1856 appeared: Metzger, Liber Ruth ex hebr. in lat. versus perpetuœque interpret. illustr. Tüb. 4.

Useful especially for teachers of Hebrew is: The Book of Ruth in Hebrew, with a critically revised Text, various Readings, including a new collation of twenty-eight Hebrew MSS., and a grammatical and critical Commentary; to which is appended the Chaldee Targum, etc., by Charles H. H. Wright, M. A., British Chaplain at Dresden. Leipzig, 1864.

[Wordsworth’s Commentary mentioned in the Introduction to Judges contains notes on Ruth also. A Comment on Ruth, by Thomas Fuller, D. D., London, 1868 (originally published in 1654), is a homiletical production, abounding in striking thoughts quaintly expressed. It only extends, however, to the end of ch. ii. The Rich Kinsman, or History of Ruth, by S. H. Tyng, D. D., N. Y.—Tr.].

§ 6. Homiletical Introduction.15

The Book of Ruth is one of the smallest in the O. T., but abounds in material for homiletical instruction. It was admitted into the canon of Holy Scriptures not merely on account of its ultimate aim and issue, but also for the instructiveness of the narrative in itself. The O. T. points everywhere through history to completion, even as Christ him self says: I am the Way and the Truth, the Alpha and Omega.

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. But it tells of women whose hearts were capable of pure love, and such love is always prophetic. The fires which rouse a nation to enthusiasm glowed in Deborah; but in the women of our book 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.
No psalms lift up their lofty strains in the Book of Ruth. The scene of its history is not laid in the temple where the harp of God resounds,—its central figure is neither king nor poet. But the whole Psalter was born of suffering and love in God, like as David, the psalmist, descended from Ruth. A people must first have families in whom God is manifested forth by love and truth, before inspired singers can rise up from it to tune their harps with power. By the side of Sarah and Rebecca stands the retiring woman, who as Dante says (Parad. xxxii. 11), was

“Ancestress of the singer, who for dole
Of the misdeed said, Miserere mei.

Our Book contains no stern denunciations nor sorrowing lamentations over Israel, its people, princes, and priests; but deeply impressive, penetrating to the heart, is the instance it gives of suffering, love, and victory. It proposes not, like Daniel, to unveil the destinies of nations and the world; but at its close appears the Son of David into whose Godhood all history empties as the rivers into the ocean. No miracles occur in it like that of the three men in the fiery oven; but it tells of three believing ones, who in the glowing heat of suffering and temptation, were found strong and true.


[1]The Mishna (Jebamoth, ii. 5) decided that a Levirate marriage cannot be demanded by a brother-in-law, if he be the son of a slave woman or of a foreigner.

[2]In the Levirate marriage of Ruth the symbolism of the shoe was employed. Obed Edom was the son of such a marriage. It is precisely with reference to Edom that the figurative expression: “I cast my shoe upon it,” twice occurs in the Psalms (60 and 108). The Book of Chronicles first calls Obed Edom a Levite. Errors, however, such as those into which expositors fell concerning Kenaz (cf. Com. on Judges, Ruth 1:16), must here also be avoided.

[3]Of Arke, in Phœnicia. Cf. Movers, Phönizier, II. i. 115.

[4][This is Dr. Cassel’s own rendering of the difficult words וְגַם־גּלֶח אַתָּה לִמְקוֹמֶךָ.—Tr.]

[5]This Psalm, at least, is admitted by Olshausen also to be Davidic. Psalmen, p. 98.

[6]The history of this Psalm might alone testify to a higher antiquity than modern criticism will allow it. Delitzsch says (Die Psalmen, p. 194): “It is a Davidic Psalm, of the time during which its author was persecuted by Saul.”

[7][Subjoined it without a separate title. The Jewish canon places it in the third class of O. T. books, the Kethubim or Hagiographa. Its place in this class is variable; the Talmud and some MSS. give it the first, but most MSS. the fifth place. Cf. Wright, Book of Ruth, introd. § xi. 4.—Tr.]

[8]The reasons for this usage given by Raschi and others, are, in their final consequences, undoubtedly tantamount to the proclamation of the kingdom of God among the nations. Cf. Heidenheim, Machsor Schebnoth, 1811, p. 106, note.

[9][Wordsworth (contrasting the Book of Ruth with that of Judges): The Book of Ruth is like some beautiful land scape of Claude, with its soft mellow hues of quiet eventide, and the peaceful expanse of its calm lake, placed side by side with some stern picture of Salvator Rosa, exhibiting the shock of armies and the storm of war; and receiving more beauty from the chiaro-oscuro of the contrast. Or, if we may adopt another comparison, derived from classical literature, the Book of Ruth, coming next after the Book of Judges [which he regards as its proper place], is like a transition from the dark, terrific scenes of a tragedy of Æschylus, to the fresh and beautiful landscapes of some pastoral idyl of Theocritus, transporting us to the rural Thalysia, or harvest-home, under the shade of elms and poplars, on the banks of the Halis (Idyl vii. 1, 8), or to the flowery meadows and sheepwalks on those of the Arethusa or Anapus (Idyl i. 68, 117; vii 151, .—Tr.]

[10]A fact which clearly manifests itself in the so-called Chaldaisms. Compare, for instance, the conversation of Naomi with her daughters, Ruth 1:0, that of Boaz with Ruth, Ruth 2:0, etc. Cf. Keil, Einleitung, § 137, note 2.

[11][Among later writers who favor this opinion, Hengstenberg may be mentioned, who urges that if the famine had resulted from bad harvests, it must also have extended to the neighboring land of Moab, and points out how well the ten years’ sojourn in Moab agrees with the seven years’ oppression by the Midianites, for “some years must necessarily have elapsed till the land could recover from its effects, and again present that flourishing state of cultivation in which Naomi found it on her return” (Dissert, on Pent., ii. 92, note, Ryland’s translation). Bertheau (Com. p. 234) replies that the time of Gideon is inconsistent with the genealogy of Ruth 4:21-22, which affords the only certain data for determining the question. He places the history in the latter part of the time of the Judges, or somewhere in the earlier part of the Philistine domination over Israel. Keil in his Einleitung, § 137, note 1 (2d edit., 1859) agrees with Bertheau, and fixes on the time shortly before Eli; but in his commentary (publ. 1863) adopts the view of Hengstenberg, and although he thinks it not impossible that the genealogy is incomplete, so that Obed may have been the grandfather of Jesse, yet endeavors to show that even on the supposition that it is complete, Obed may have been born in the last years of Gideon But he appears to forget that the combination of the famine with the Midianitic devastations requires Obed to be born, not in the last, but in the earlier years of Gideon; for the impression left by the narrative is that the union of Ruth with Boaz took place not very long after the return from Moab (cf. Ruth 1:22 b). Now, supposing that the emigration occurred in the fifth year of the Midianite oppression, the return, ten years afterwards, would fall in the 8th year of Gideon. But from say the 10th year of Gideon to the birth of David is according to Keil’s own reckoning, a period of 127 years, somewhat too long to be spanned by means of one intervening birth. According to Dr. Cassel’s chronology (cf. Introd. to Judges, § 4) the interval would be thirty years longer.—Tr.]

[12]Cf. the Commentary on chs. 3 and 4.

[13]Cf. Zunz, Gottesdienstliche Vorträge, p. 265.

[14]Cf. also Wolff, Bibliotheca Hebrœa, ii. 78; iv. 18.

[15][Here, as in Judges, the author appended his “Homiletical Hints” in a body at the close of the Commentary. For he sake of convenience as well as uniformity, they have here also been distributed and placed in immediate connection with the sections of the text out of which they grow. The opening paragraphs, as applying to the whole Book, are here inserted. The “Hints” proper are arranged by Dr. Cassel under heads which, being suggestive in themselves, are here subjoined: I. Naomi the Beloved. II. Ruth the Loving: 1. The confessor of the true religion; 2. The woman of action; 3. The difficult suit. III. Boaz the Well-doer: 1. The landed proprietor; 2. The professor of religion; 3. The man of action; 4. The blessing.—Tr.]

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