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The book of Ruth opens in this Chapter with the relation of a certain family leaving Bethlehem in consequence of a famine, and sojourning in the country of Moab. The distressing events which followed: the death of the husband and his two sons; and the return of the widow, with one of her daughters in law, from Moab to Bethlehem. These are the principal things related in this chapter.
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. (2) And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
It is not so very material at what period during the commonwealth of Israel the events here recorded took place, as it is to make particular remarks on the events themselves. And here the first thing to be noted is the famine which prevailed in the land. Famine was one of the four sore judgments of God, which the Lord bad decreed to punish Israel with, when the land sinned by trespassing grievously, to break the staff of the bread thereof. Ezekiel 14:13-21 . And what rendered a famine of bread more peculiarly afflicting, and carrying with it a decided mark of a divine judgment, was, that this famine was in Bethlehem; for the very name of Bethlehem signifies the land, or house of bread. Reader! do not forget, that Bethlehem is the hallowed spot of the birth of thy Redeemer. Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea. See Matthew 2:1 . How awful must a famine be when it carries with it a testimony that it is a divine judgment! But how infinitely more awful must be a spiritual famine: not of bread, and of water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. And is not this the case with Bethlehem now? I mean the descendants of ancient Bethlehem, the Jews. The Lord by his servant Amos threatened this judgment. And for how many generations hath it been fulfilled? Precious Jesus! how sweet is it to my soul, that thou breakest thy bread to me in secret. How delightful is it to know thee to be the bread of life, which came down from heaven, of, which whosoever eateth shall live forever! Lord! evermore give me this bread. See Amos 8:11 ; John 6:33 , etc.
There is somewhat very striking in the manner in which the Holy Ghost hath introduced this man and his family. He is styled, A certain man. And his name is not less so: Elimelech, which is compounded of two words, Eli and melech, signifying my God, and king. Naomi means pleasant. Mahlon and Chilion conveyed very different ideas; the former intimating a sick and weakly one, and the latter a wasting. But the most remarkable circumstance was their removal from the house of Cod, to the idolatrous country of Moab. Alas! do we not see in this certain man and his family, our nature strongly pictured? Did not Adam, our first father, induce a spiritual famine by transgression, and entail sickness and disease upon all his children, so that our whole nature may well be called Mahlon and Chilion? And did he not leave the Lord, and his mercies, and ever since, in his poor, blind, and fallen race, have we not all by nature sought fulness in the Moabs of the world, and the idols thereof?
And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
What miseries spring out of original transgression! When Elimelech left Bethlehem-judah, he left it only for a little while, according to his intention. He meant to return again when the famine was over. Alas! when men leave God, neglect his ordinances, seek pleasure in the world, who shall calculate the end of such awful departures? Here are affinities with Moab unnatural, unscriptural alliances! Oh! how sweet is that precept of the Lord, and how full of mercy; Come out of her my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. Revelation 18:4 .
And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
How reviving is the thought to the people of God, amidst the devastations and ravages of death, that Jesus ever liveth: and as he ever liveth, so he ever loveth his people. And doth he not say, in the soft whispers of his grace, Am I not better to thee than ten sons? 1 Samuel 1:8
Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.
Reader! may we not, without violence to the history, conceive this to be no unapt representation of the return of a sinner after his wandering from the Lord? Every man, like Elimelech, hath departed from the Lord by sin and transgression. The Lord in mercy sends afflictions after us. There is a famine of ordinances, trouble, sickness, death. When these visitations are properly received and felt, and the heart by grace is humbled under them, the soul, like Naomi, hears the rod, and who hath appointed it. And then, like her, we are told that the Lord is returned to Jerusalem in mercies. I will arise, and go to my Father, is then the language of the soul. Oh! how sweet, how very sweet is it, when by sanctified afflictions the Lord hedges up our way with thorns, or unsettles the nest we had made for ourselves, amidst the Moabs of the world Luke 15:13 ; Hosea 2:7
Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.
Here we may learn that resolutions formed in grace lead to practice. Had Naomi simply sent forth a wish to return to Bethlehem, when she heard that the Lord had visited his people, and yet never put that wish into effect, she would have resembled the hearers by the wayside. But effectual grace leads on to effectual practice. It is founded in divine strength, and will be carried on in the same. See that sweet resolution in the word, Psalms 71:16 .
The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
There is somewhat very interesting in this account of the parting of Naomi and her daughters-in-law. Even on the score of natural feelings it is not without affording much instruction, in teaching us how those that are allied in the bonds of nature, conscious of being alike exposed to all nature's sorrows, should soften each other's burthens in a mutual regard. But the subject riseth much higher, when beheld in a way of grace. It is evident from the sequel of the history, how exceedingly Naomi longed for both her daughters-in-law to be proselytes to the true God, and to leave the dunghill gods of Moab. Parting therefore from them, when they might return to everlasting ruin, it was this which aggravated the pang of separation. Reader! is there nothing in all this that you can make personal? Hath it been told you how the Lord hath visited his people, and are you, from long having wandered away, now returning to the God of salvation? And do you not feel the pang of sorrow, in the view of your unawakened relations? Do you not wish them to go with you to Jesus? and is not the language of your heart towards them, come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. Micah 4:2 ; Psalms 34:3 .
And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
There is something captivating, even to natural affections, in the first view of religion. Nature, as in the case of these two Moabitish daughters, could not but feel a desire to be among God's people. But alas! though nature feels, and is compelled to allow the superiority of grace, yet the mere feelings of nature, originating only in nature, can never rise above its source. When the spring ceases to flow, the streams dry away.
Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.
They who attend only to the mere letter of the history will discover nothing more in it than the affectionate feelings of a tenderhearted woman, in the necessity of separating from those she held dear. But they who look deeper than the surface of the history, will behold in it the finer feelings of an awakened soul, interested for the everlasting welfare of those whom the Lord had made dear to her in the ties of nature; that they might be brought nearer in the bonds of grace. There can be no doubt, but that Naomi, all along, coveted that her daughters should be her companions to the house of God. She knew how gracious Israel's God was, and that in his house there was bread enough and to spare. But in her zeal for their salvation she judged it prudent to set before them the difficulties in the way, that hereafter they might not turn back. If the Reader would behold a brighter example of the same kind, he may view it in the person of Jesus. Luke 14:25-27 .
And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.
What a striking evidence is here, in these two character's, of the wonderful difference between nature and grace. While both Orpah and Ruth felt the tender affections, and were melted at Naomi's discourse, with one it operated no further than the momentary impulse, but like the early cloud, or morning dew, Soon vanished away; with the other it fastened like a nail, in a sure place. And thus, Reader, is the effects of the blessed gospel of Jesus, in all the congregations where the word is preached every Lord's day. It may affect, it may strike the mind of all, and even carnal men, like the wayside hearers, may receive the word with seeming joy; but some, like Orpah, will kiss and depart; and others, like Ruth, without the kiss, will feel their souls cleaving unto it. So that the same word is to some a savour of' life unto life; and to others a savour of death unto death. Reader! it is a grand and important question, In which class are you found?
And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.
This verse throws a light upon the real design Naomi had in view in all her discourse, when seemingly persuading her daughters-in-law to go back. For when she talked of the gods to which Orpah was returned, nothing can more decidedly shew how much she desired Ruth to follow the true God of Israel; however it might at first view appear that she recommended Ruth to follow her example.
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
In what sweet and engaging language hath the Holy Ghost been pleased to convey to the church, the pious and unalterable resolution of this poor Moabite. No doubt Naomi had brought her well acquainted with the history of the God of Israel; and very many precious things she had learnt concerning the Lord's care of his people. But Reader! had this been all, Ruth's resolution would never have been what it was. Doubtless from an higher power, her mind was constrained into the love of God; and hence, from this one source, the firmness of her principles derived their strength. And may not, ought not indeed, every true believer in Jesus, to feel the same firmness of attachment? Where Jesus goeth I would go. Where Jesus lodgeth I would lodge. His people are my people. His God and Father, is my Father and God in him: and both in life and death would I be with him. Death, indeed, must have parted Ruth and Naomi; but the dying day of thy people, blessed Jesus, is the real wedding-day, in which. the marriage supper of the Lamb is consummated in heaven, Lord! help me to cleave unto thee, for thou art my life. May my soul say to Jesus, as Ittai did to David, 2 Samuel 15:21 .
When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
An oath for confirmation (saith an Apostle) is to them an end of all strife. Ruth had solemnly protested the firmness of her resolution of accompanying Naomi; and this the other accepted, as a thing now settled. My soul! how ought I to blush in the recollection, that neither the word nor the oath of Jehovah hath at times been found of such sufficient validity with me as to quiet my Foolish doubts and fears, concerning the infinite security of the redemption of Jesus! Reader! hath it been your experience also? Hebrews 6:16-19 .
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
Such is the surprise whenever a sinner is brought home to Jesus! It excites the wonder and astonishment of man, in beholding the mighty change wrought by sovereign grace. And as we are told that angels rejoice in heaven over the recovery of every poor sinner from the power of sin And Satan to the living God, think, Reader, What a moving of the heavenly city is there above, when Jesus brings home a soul that he hath rescued from Moab, of the wanderers from Bethlehem? Is there anything yet more surprising? Yes! how astonished shall you and I look in upon ourselves, and all around, if God in his infinite mercy, and from the riches of his inexhaustible grace, should bring us home from those regions of sin we now inhabit, to surround the throne of God and the Lamb!
I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
Such language is suitable to a sinner. It is the highest evidence of grace, when the soul is led to see the hand of God in our afflictions. And oh! how very precious is it when the soul can say, "I went out full in creature-comforts, creature-confidences, creature-dependencies; but my God hath stripped me of them all. Call me no longer therefore pleasant; but let my name be bitterness." How delightful are those preparatory works of God the Holy Ghost in the heart! And Reader, depend upon it, when your soul and my soul are thus emptied of all that we once named pleasantness, then are we prepared for that precious gift in Jesus of the new name, and the white stone, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. Compare Isaiah 62:2 with Revelation 3:12; Revelation 3:12 .
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
All souls, both Jew and Gentile, when brought home to the Lord, will always find it a harvest-day whenever they return. This day (saith Jesus to Zacchaeus, in the day of his conversion) is salvation come to this house. Luke 19:9 . Oh! precious day, when the Lord makes the sinner willing in the day of his power. Psalms 110:3 .
PAUSE, my soul, in the review of what is written in this Chapter, and see what reference it bears to thy spiritual state And circumstances. Is there not, by nature, a famine induced in the land to all the fathers race of Adam, when, before the soul is quickened to the use of any of its spiritual faculties, it neither feels the sense of its lost and famished state, nor hath any spiritual appetite to the bread of life, which came down from heaven? And hast not thou, my soul, like Elimelech and all his household, left the land of bread to seek among the husks of the world the gratification of thy sensual appetite?
Oh! thou merciful Lord God, how gracious hast thou been to my soul, when hedging up my way, and inducing disappointment and afflictions in the creature, thou hast again inclined my heart to return to the Lord God of my salvation! Oh! how gracious hath it been in thee, Lord, to visit thy people again with spiritual sustenance, when by sin and disobedience we had called forth a dearth of such rich provisions! Shall I not hasten back to my Father's house, convinced, as I am, that the world, like Moab, affords no resting place to dwell in. Shall any persuasions of others, or fears of my own, keep me from this purpose? Dearest Jesus! to whom shall I go but to thee, thou art both the bread of life, and thou only hast the words of eternal life; thou art the very Bethlehem of thy people, and in thee I shall find enough to live upon forever! Like Ruth, may it be my most determined resolution, to go where thou goest, and to know nothing among men but thee. I would forget my own people, and my father's house, and both in life and in death, desire none in comparison of thee. And though my flesh and my heart faileth, yet thou art and wilt be the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ruth 1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany