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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

- Ruth

by Editor - Joseph Exell



The Date of the Book

The story is placed “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:7), about a century before the time of David; but on its own showing it was not written till long after the events it describes (Ruth 4:7). How long afterwards is a question on which critics are not agreed; most of them consider it to be exilic (Ewald) or post-exilic (Bertheau, Wellhausen, Kuenen), mainly on the linguistic and genealogical evidence; but Driver (Introduction to O.T., 1891) thinks that the general beauty and purity of the style, which stand on a level with the best parts of Samuel, point rather to a date, which he does not seek to fix more definitely, before the exile. That the book was not received into the canon till a very long time after the captivity is shown by its place in the original Hebrew, where it occurs as one of the Hagiographa or “writings,” standing second among the five Megilloth or Festal Rolls, between Canticles and Lamentations, a position which proves that it did not become canonical till after the series of “former prophets,” extending from Joshua to 2 Kings, had been finally closed. In the LXX, however, which gives it the place it claims in the historical order, it comes between Judges and Samuel, and the same order is observed in the Vulgate and in the English A.V. That Josephus also must have reckoned it as an appendix to Judges is shown by his enumeration of the books of the O.T. as numbering only 22. (Chambers’s Encyclopaedia.)

More than one reason may be found for supposing the book to have been written in Solomon’s time, probably the latter part of his reign, when law and ordinances had multiplied and were being enforced in endless detail by a central authority; when the manners of the nations around--Chaldea, Egypt, Phoenicia--were overbearing the primitive ways of Israel; when luxury was growing, societies dividing into classes, and a proud imperialism giving its colour to habit and religion. If we place the book at this period, we can understand the moral purpose of the writer and the importance of his work. He would teach people to maintain the spirit of Israel’s past, the brotherliness, the fidelity in every relation that were to have been all along a distinction of Hebrew life because inseparably connected with the obedience of Jehovah. The splendid temple on Moriah was now the centre of a great priestly system, and from temple and palace the national, and to a great extent the personal, life of all Israelites was largely influenced, not in every respect for good. The quiet suggestion is here made that the artificiality and the pomp of the kingdom did not compare well with that old time when the affairs of an ancestress of the splendid monarch were settled by a gathering at a village gate. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)

The tone of the book throughout is liberal and tolerant to the Gentiles; and part of its design--unconsciously to its author perhaps, but not the less intentional with God--seems to be to prepare for the time when through the promised Messiah the middle wall of partition between the Jews and other nations should be broken down. Now the reign of David appears to have been the only portion of Jewish history during which such a spirit towards the Gentiles was shown without any breach of loyalty to Jehovah. This fact, taken in connection with the personal relation of David to the heroine of the story, seems to make it probable that the book was written some time during David’s reign; and we know that the royal psalmist had contemporaries who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, might have produced such a work. Indeed, there is much in the simple pathos of the parable of the ewe lamb to remind us of the idyllic beauty of the Book of Ruth, and both might well enough have come from the prophet Nathan. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The Place of the Book in the Bible

The walls of the great palace at Versailles are covered with paintings of battles. The Bastille, Jena, Austerlitz, the Pyramid! Agony, passion, and death! Heroism and victory! One grows weary with the endless profusion of art. He sits down at last on the casement of a little window. He looks out. Here, too, is a picture. Peaceful France, with its green grass, its forests and fields, and its church tower beyond the placid lake. The Book of Ruth is such a little window amidst the historical pictures, the battle pieces of Israel. Through this window we see the home life which the pictures have hidden--godliness, unselfishness, love and peace. Is it not well for us to turn from the historic, the heroic, and, through some rift, take a swift, sweet glimpse of the pastoral and domestic scenes of life? We read of Sisera’s murder and Jephthah’s vow and Samson’s revenge, and we think ill of Israel. Ruth gives us another view and a truer view. It is not for books and newspapers to publish what is ordinary and commonplace. They publish the remarkable, the wonderful. The very fact that a matter is publishable is fair evidence that it is exceptional. Let us remember this. Let us remember that little Ruth is the rule, and not the exception. Thus, we will think better of Israel and of all the world. (R. S. Barrett.)

Object and Contents of the Book

These four things seem the object of the Book of Ruth: to present a supplement by way of contrast to the Book of Judges; to show the true spirit of Israel; to exhibit once more the mysterious connection between Israel and the Gentiles, whereby the latter, at the most critical periods of Israel’s history, seem most unexpectedly called in to take a leading part; and to trace the genealogy of David. Specially perhaps the latter two. For, as one has beautifully remarked, if, as regards its contents, the Book of Ruth stands on the threshold of the history of David, yet, as regards its spirit, it stands, like the Psalms, at the threshold of the gospel. Not merely on account of the genealogy of Christ, which leads up to David and Boaz, but on account of the spirit which the teaching of David breathes, do we love to remember that Israel’s great king sprang from the union of Boaz and Ruth, which is symbolical of that between Israel and the Gentile world. (A. Edersheim, D. D.)

It is a supplement to the Book of Judges, and an introduction to that of Samuel. Neither of these give an account of David’s ancestors; this omission our story supplies. Ruth was that glorious king’s great grandmother. Now, unless we had known this, and also that Boaz was of the house of Judah, it would have been impossible to verify the prophecy that Christ the Messiah should descend from the royal tribe. This is one prominent purpose to announce David’s ancestry, and consequently to prove that the Saviour was “a lion of the tribe of Judah.” And what an attractive picture of those ancestors it is! What uprightness and singleness of heart, what piety and modesty and purity of life are found to characterise them! Though it was not accounted a flattering distinction, but quite the reverse, to have heathen progenitors, yet if any character could effectively destroy this deeply-rooted prejudice, then that of the gentle and loving Ruth must do it. (Wm. Braden.)

Does it not tell us that not only on the city and the palace, and on the cathedral and the college, on the assemblies of statesmen, and on the studies of scholars, but upon the meadow and the cornfield, the farm-house and the cottage, is written by the everlasting finger of God, “Holiness unto the Lord”? That all is blessed in His sight? That the lowly dwellers in villages, the simple tillers of the ground, can be as godly and as pious, as virtuous and as high-minded, as those who have nought to do but to serve God in the offices of religion? Is it not an honour and a comfort, to such as us, to find one whole book of the Holy Bible occupied by the simplest story of the fortunes of a yeoman’s family in a lonely village among the hill of Judah? (Canon Kingsley.)

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