Click to donate today!
Now it came to pass. Or, more literally, "And it came to pass." The "And" is somewhat remarkable, standing at the commencement of the Book. But as it is also found at the commencement of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezekiel, Esther, and Ezra, its use, though inartistic, must be amenable to some literary law. The Books specified, even including Ezekiel, are historical They are parcels of history, each narrating events that had their genesis in more or less significant antecedent occurrences. This historical genesis, so very different from an "absolute commencement" of things, is indicated, though probably in unreflective spontaneity, by the copulative "And." In the days when the judges ruled. Or, more literally, "when the judges judged." In primitive times there was no function that was more important for society than that of judiciously settling disputes between man and man. Every such settlement, besides conferring a benefit on society, and in particular on the individuals at variance, would increase the moral influence and social elevation of the judge. By and by his moral and social superiority would, in favorable circumstances, grow into authority, specifically judicial on the one hand, and generically political, or semi-political, on the other. When military prowess and skill in strategy were added, a ruler, champion, or leader would be the result. Many such leaders rose up among the Hebrews ere yet society was compactly organized. They were vanously endowed; but most of them were only very partially equipped for the judicious administration of the affairs of the commonwealth. All, however, were called judges; and the discharge of their high duties was denominated judging, even when it was entirely inconspicuous as regards judicial ability or judicious determinations. The Hebrew word for judge is שֹׁפֵט shofet; and it is an interesting evidence of the very close kinship of Hebrew and Phoenician, that in Carthage the chief magistrate, as we learn from Livy and other Roman writers, was called sufes (originally, as we see from the inflection, sufet). That there was a famine. An admirable though free rendering. In the original the structure of the whole statement is exceedingly primitive and "agglutinative"—And (it) was in the days of the judging of the judges, and (there) was a famine. In the land. Namely, of Israel. The non-specification of the particular country referred to is evidence that the writer was living in it, as one at home. Josephus says that it was under the judgeship of Eli, the high priest, that the famine spoken of occurred ('Antiquities,' 5.9, 1). But here the historian speaks "without book," and without any particular plausibility. Several expositors, such as Bishop Patrick, have antedated, by a very long way, the calculation of Josephus They would assign the famine to the period when the Midianites and Amalekites came up, "as grasshoppers for multitude, to destroy the land," so that Israel was greatly impoverished (see Judges 6:1-40.). But it is in vain to multiply guesses. The date of the famine is not given, and it is futile to make inquisition for it. And a certain man. The interpolation of the individualizing word "certain" is quite uncalled for, and now quite archaic. The simplicity of the original is sufficient, "And a man. Of Bethlehem-judah. Or, as it might be still more literally represented, "of Bethlehem, Judah." Them is no such single name as Bethlehem-judah. There is only the apposition, for discrimination's sake, of one geographical name to another, just as we may say, in English, Boston, Lincolnshire, or Alexandria, Dumbartonshire. The localization of the main name is thus effectually indicated. There is another Alexandria in Egypt; there is another Boston in the United States of America; and there was in Palestine another Bethlehem, namely, in the canton of Zebulun (see Joshua 19:15). Bethlehem, Judah, lies about six miles to the south of Jerusalem. "Its appearance," says Dr. Porter, "is striking. It is situated on a narrow ridge, which projects eastward from the central mountain range, and breaks down in abrupt terraced slopes to deep valleys on the north, east, and south. The terraces, admirably kept, and covered with rows of olives, intermixed with the fig and the vine, sweep in graceful curves round the ridge, regular as stairs". The valleys below are exceptionally fertile, and have been so from time immemorial. Hence indeed the name Beth-lehem, or Bread-house. Its modern name is Beit-lahm, or Flesh-house. Went to sojourn in the land of Moab. We have no word in English that exactly, corresponds to the verb גּוּר rendered sojourn. The cognate noun is uniformly translated, in King James's version, stranger, and means foreigner. The verb means to dwell as a foreigner, but its root-idea is yet undetermined. The Latin peregrinari admirably corresponds. The man of Bethlehem, Judah, went forth from his own country to "peregrinate" (Greek, παροικῆσαι) "in the land of Moab;" literally, "in the fields of Moab," that is, "in the pastoral parts of the territory of Moab." It was not a very great way off, this land of his "peregrination." Its blue mountains, rising up luridly beyond the silver thread of the Jordan and the gleaming expanse of the Dead Sea, are distinctly visible from the Mount of Olives and the heights about Bethlehem. He, and his wife, and his two sons. The resumptive he is employed for the purpose of linking on to him, in his "peregrination, the other members of the little household. He emigrated "along with his wife and two sons." He had fought hard to keep the wolf of hunger from his door, but was like to be beaten. One after another the props of his hope that better days would soon dawn had been swept from under him, and he saw no alternative but to leave for a season the land of his fathers.
And the name of the man was Elimelech. That is, "God is King," not, as the older critics were accustomed to interpret it, "My God is King." The intermediate i is not the possessive pronoun, but the vowel of union. The name would be originally significant of strong religious Sentiments, perhaps mingled with strong political principles. The imposition of it on a son would be something like a manifesto of the father's creed. And the name of his wife Naomi. Or rather "No-o-mi." The precise import of the word is not absolutely ascertained; but it is probable that it is somewhat abbreviated in its terraination, and means "God is sweet," or, very literally, "Jab is sweetness." It had been originally imposed as a name by some grateful and happy mother, who, by gracious providences, or by other gracious revelations, had been led to think that "sweet are the ways, sweet are the dealings, and sweet is the character of God." The word does not mean beautiful, as some suppose; nor gracious, as others suppose; nor my delight, as others still suppose. It was not intended to describe the character of the person who was to bear the name. It was intended to signalize, in the spirit of a manifesto, a much-prized feature in the Divine character—that feature, namely, that is displayed when "he deals sweetly with men." Gesenius is doubtless right when he makes sweetness the fundamental idea of the whole group of affiliated words (see his 'Thesaurus,' in voc.). The cognate Hebrew adjective is rendered sweet in 2 Samuel 23:1 and Proverbs 23:8. In the light of this interpretation, and of it alone, can the full significance of what Naomi said on her return to Bethlehem be apprehended: "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me" (Proverbs 23:20). And the name of his two sons. In our idiom we should say, "and the names of his two sons." The two sons, however, were for the moment regarded as a unity among the other units of the household. Mahlon, or rather "Machlon," and Chillon. We need not dip deeply into the etymological import of these names, or attach to them, as applied to Elimelech's children, any peculiar significance. The names, unlike those of the parents, are devoid of theological tinge, and, in these modern times at all events, their import is liable to endless debate. One would at the first blush of consideration suppose that the one meant sickliness, and the other consumptiveness, or consumption—rather uninteresting and melancholy ideas. But they are peculiarly confounding when we consider that the individuals, so named in our story, had apparently inherited a delicate constitution, which developed in both of them into premature sickliness and decay. The names have the aspect of being prophetic. And yet, even though we should assume that Elimelech, in virtue of some element of bodily delicacy, was afflicted with feelings of morbid despondency, it is hard to come to the conclusion that he would deliberately stereotype his most hypochondriacal anticipations in the names of his children. The probability is, that the names, as names, would originally have some other import, Dr. Cassel supposes that they meant, respectively, joy and ornament; but he trusts to impossible etymologies. Raabe, taking his cue from Sanskrit roots, interprets the one thus "He who brings gifts with him;" and the other thus—"He who conceals his wife in his house." Warner, taking his cue from Chaldea cognates, interprets the former of the two names as meaning ready to forgive, and the latter as holding forth the idea of hopeful. All of them unlikely derivations. And yet something quite distinct from the ideas of sickliness and consumption, but lying so far on parallel lines of thought, may be conceived. The primary import of מָחַל, the root of Machlon, is apparently to be tender. Thence the word came by one line of thought to mean to be physically tender, that is, to be sick; and by another that runs out in Chaldea it came to mean to be morally teenier, to be mild or forgiving. Machlon may mean mildness or tender-heartedness. Again, the primary idea of כָּלָה, the root of Chillon, is to complete. But, besides the completion that is realized in consuming, consumption, or ending, there is moral completeness, the completeness or finish that is realized in perfection (see Psalms 119:96 : "I have seen an end of all perfection"). This idea of beautiful completeness, or perfection, is more likely to be the meaning of the name than the idea of consumptiveness, or consumption. Ephrathitas of Bethlehem Judah. It is not simply the two sons who are so designated. It is the whole group. They were Ephrathites, that is, Bethlehemites, for the old name of Bethlehem was Ephrath, or Ephratha. As, however, the word Ephrathite also meant Ephraimite (see Jdg 12:5; 1 Samuel 1:1; and 1 Kings 11:26), it gave precision to the designation, although at the expense of a little redundancy, to say "Ephrathites of Bethlehem Judah." And they came into the country of Moab. The Hebrew emigrants reached the fields or pastoral terrgtory of Moab. And continued there. The phrase in the original is of primitive simplicity—"and were there." It has been asked by theological critics whether Elimelech was justifiable in removing to an "idolatrous country" to avoid the inconveniences of a famine in the land of his nativity. It is enough to say in reply that there is no hint in the text itself that the step taken was blamable or blamed. "No man ought," says Lawson, "to be condemned, whether dead or alive, without proofs of guilt; and no certain proofs of guilt appear in the present case." "The beam of Elimelech's judgment," says Dr. Thomas Fuller, "is justly weighed down to go from Bethlehem, Judah, into the land of Moab."
"In these words," says Fuller, "we have two marriages ushered and followed by funerals."
And Elimelech Naomi's husband died. Apparently soon after the settlement of the family. No details, however, are given, as, on the one hand, no blame is attached to the conduct of Elimelech, and as, on the other, the line of biographical interest runs in another direction. And she was left, and her two sons. Not only was the mother her husband's relict; they were all left behind. He had gone somewhither in advance, and they "remained." So the word is frequently rendered.
And they took to themselves wives of the women of Moab. It was their own act. Josephus, reproducing the narrative from memory, represents the event as occurring in the father's lifetime, and as brought about by his arrangement. He says of Elimelech, "Coming into the territory of Moab, he sojourns there, and, things prospering according to his mind, he gives in marriage to his sons (ἄγεται τοῖς υἱοῖς) Moabitish wives." Theological critics have here again raised the question, Was it sinful in these emigrant Hebrews to take in marriage daughters of the land? The Chaldee Targumist did not hesitate in his decision. He begins his paraphrase of the verse, thus—"And they transgressed the edict of the word of the Lord, and took to themselves alien wives of the daughters of Mesh." Dr. Thomas Fuller represents Naomi as passionately remonstrating with her sons. He says of himself, "My mouth denieth to be the orator of an unjust action." "Nothing can be brought," he adds, "for the defense of these matches. Something may be said for the excuse of them, but that fetched not from piety, but from policy." It is note worthy, however, that in the text itself, and throughout the entire Book, there is nothing of the nature of condemnation, not the least hint of blame. There was a law, indeed, which laid an interdict upon marriages with Canaanites (see Deuteronomy 7:3). But these Canaanites occupied a peculiar relation to the Hebrews. They were within the line of that Canaan which had become the land of Israel. Israelites and Canaanites were thus living within the same borders as rival claimants of the same territory. It was no wonder that the Canaanites' claim was not to be recognized by the Hebrews. The Moabites, however, living within the lines or "coasts" of their own distinct territory, stood in quite a different relation. And while, for purity's sake, great restrictions were to be laid upon all overtures for naturalization (Deuteronomy 23:3-6), yet the law could never he intended to apply to the families of Hebrews who were settlers in Moab, or to Moabitish females living in their own land, and rather awarding than seeking the prerogatives' of natives. The name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. No doubt native Moabitish names. Much ingenuity has been expended on that of the more interesting person. Some have unwarrantably assumed that Ruth is a contraction of the Hebrew word רְעוּת meaning a female companion or friend. Still more unwarrantable, though more captivating to the aesthetic imagination, is the signification which is given to the word by Weruer and Eadie, namely, beauty. It is founded on an impossible derivation from the Hebrew רָאָה. Still more aesthetically captivating is the conjecture of Cassel, that the name is the ancient Semitic form of the Indo-European word rodon or rose. "At all events," says he, "the thought of Ruth as the Rose of Moab is in itself too attractive not to be proposed as a conjecture." It is certainly, most attractive and most admirable as a jeu d'esprit, but too imaginative to be vindicated on grounds of comparative philology. And they dwelt there. Or, "settled themselves there; literally, "sat them." We still call a gentleman's mansion his seat. About ten years, which, however, are treated by the writer as a mere blank in his story. He hastens on.
And, to make a long story short, Machlon and Chillon died also both of them. "Like green apples," says Fuller, "cudgelled off the tree." But why "cudgelled?" There is no evidence in the text of Divine displeasure, and the Christian expositor, when going beyond the text in quest of principles, should not forget the tower of Siloam, and the victims of Pilate s bloodthirstiness (see Luke 13:1-5). And the woman was left of her two children and of her husband. That is, "of her two children as well as of her husband." She became as it were their relict too. She remained behind after they had gone on before. If all sentiment were to be taken out of the expression, it might then be simply said, in very commonplace prose, she survived them. Poor woman! "Of the two sexes," says Fuller, "the woman is the weaker; of women, old women are most feeble; of old women, widows most woeful; of widows, those that are poor, their plight most pitiful; of poor widows, those who want children, their case most doleful; of widows that want children, those that once had them, and after lost them, their estate most desolate; of widows that have had children, those that are strangers in a foreign country, their condition most comfortless. Yet all these met together in Naomi, as in the center of sorrow, to make the measure of her misery pressed down, shaken together, running over. I conclude, therefore, many men have had affliction—none like Job; many women have had tribulation—none like Naomi."
The emigrants and their trials.
We are introduced to the Hebrew family into which the Moabitess Ruth was married.
I. THE BEAUTIFUL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NAMES of both the Hebrew parents.
II. THE WOLF OF HUNGER HAD COME PROWLING TO THE HEBREWS' DOOR. In those conditions of society in which there is little commerce to unite people to people, or when a city is in a state of siege, the consequences of famine are inexpressibly sad and harrowing. Examples:—The recurring famines in India; the famine in Jerusalem when besieged by the Romans, and as narrated by Josephus: the famine in Leyden, when that city was, in 1573, besieged by the Spaniards, and when one of the patriotic magistrates—a noble soul—said to the hungry and mutinous people, "Friends, here is my body. Divide it among you to satisfy your hunger, but banish all thoughts of surrendering to the cruel and perfidious Spaniard. As commerce, however, grows under the fostering care of those Christian influences that aim at realizing the brotherhood of all earth's nations, local famines become more and more amenable to control and neutralization.
III. THE HEBREW FAMILY WAS CONSTRAINED TO EMIGRATE. Many tender ties get ruptured when emigration takes place. But the heart is pulled onward by new hopes. Consider the importance of emigration from old and over-crowded countries to the numerous rich fields lying fallow abroad. These fields are just awaiting the presence of the cultivator to pour forth into the lap of industry overflowing riches of food for the teeming millions of mother countries, and corresponding riches of raw material for the skilled and skilful hands of manufacturers.
IV. THE EMIGRANTS SEEM TO HAVE GOT A CORDIAL WELCOME IN MOAB. It was creditable to the Moabites. Kindness and sympathy should always be shown to strangers, and to all who are far removed from the sweet influences of home.
V. MORTALITY SOON SADLY RAVAGED THE HEBREW HOME. All are mortal. All must die. But in Christ—"the Resurrection and the Life"—we may get the victory even over death. He has "brought life and immortality to light." He who believeth in Him "shall never see death" (John 8:51; John 11:26). He "hath," and "shall have," everlasting life.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
On the Book of Ruth.
That the Book of Ruth is included in the canon of Scripture need excite no surprise.
I. IT IS A CHAPTER FROM THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN HEART. Contrast it with the Book of Judges, to which it is a supplement, and which records feats of arms, deeds of heroism, treachery, violence, and murder. Here we are led aside from the highway of Hebrew history into a secluded by-path, a green lane of private life. Here are simple stories of heart and home. In human life, home, with its affections and relationships, plays an important part. In this Book we have a glimpse into the domestic life of Israel, with its anxieties, sorrows, and sweetness. Women and children, honest work and homely talk; deaths, births, and marriages; loves, memories, and prayers, are all here. The Bible is the book of man as God has made him.
II. IT IS A RECORD OF HUMAN VIRTUE, AND THE PROVIDENTIAL CARE AND REWARD ASSURED TO VIRTUE. Human kindness, filial piety, affectionate constancy, uncomplaining toil, true chastity, sweet patience, strong faith, noble generosity, simple piety—are all here, and they are all observed by God, and are shown to be pleasing to him, who rewards them in due time.
III. IT IS A PROOF OF THE SUPERIORITY OF HUMANITY TO NATIONALITY. The Hebrews are often blamed for intense exclusiveness and bigotry, yet no ancient literature is so liberal and catholic as the inspired books of the Old Testament. This narrative shows no trace of national narrowness; it proves that "God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." A pure and gentle Moabitess is welcomed into a Hebrew home.
IV. IT SUPPLIES A LINK IN THE CHAIN OF THE GENEALOGY OF DAVID, AND OF THAT SON OF DAVID WHO WAS DAVID'S LORD. Ruth was one of three foreign women whose names are preserved in the table of our Lord's descent from Abraham.—T.
Ruth 1:1, Ruth 1:2
A family of Bethlehem.
This Book is precious as a record of domestic life. The peaceful, prosperous, happy home of the Ephrathite is rather suggested than described.
I. The TIME and STATE of society. "The days when the judges ruled." The preceding Book enables us to picture what times of unsettlement, and occasionally of anarchy, these were. The customs of the time were primitive, and the habits of the people were simple. The elders sat at the gates of the little city. Business was transacted with primitive simplicity. The tranquil course of agricultural life diversified by a feast at sheep-shearing, or a mirthful harvest-home.
II. The SCENE. "Bethlehem-judah." The fields of Bethlehem, in the territory of Judah, are among the classic, the sacred spots of earth.
1. In Old Testament history. The home of Boaz; the scene of Ruth's gleaning, and of her marriage. In these pastures was trained, in the household of Jesse, and among his stalwart sons, the youthful David, who became the hero and the darling, the minstrel and the king, of Israel.
2. In New Testament history. Between the pastures of Bethlehem and the stars of heaven was sung the angels' song of good-will and peace. Hers was born the Son of David, who was the Son of God. The visit of the shepherds and the wise men. Herod's massacre of the babes, &c.
III. The PURSUITS of rural life. In Bethlehem-Ephratah Elimelech had his inheritance. Here, for a time, he, like his fathers, tilled the fields and fed the flocks he owned in peace. Even in times of trouble and disorder some secluded spots are quiet; the bleating of the sheep is familiar, and the shouts of war are unheard. In most men's breasts the scenes and pursuits of rural life are cherished; perhaps it is hereditary. "God made the country." A simple and natural piety is fed by fellowship with nature, the work of God's own hands.
IV. The PEACEFUL JOYS of home. In the sweet society of his wife Naomi ("the pleasant"), his young sons Mahlon and Chillon, growing by his side in stature and intelligence, the freeholder of Bethlehem passed the jocund days. How can we think and speak quite worthily of the family and the home? Here is the Divine nursery of the soul, the Divine school of life! Let us have no terms with the fanatics who would reconstruct society upon another basis than domestic life. The great lesson—gratitude to Providence for peace, congenial occupation, and a happy home.—T.
Ruth 1:1, Ruth 1:2
Famine and impoverishment.
The former scene one bright and joyous. An honest Hebrew, of the tribe of Judah, living upon the land of his inheritance, with the wife of his heart and the children of his youth. Thus were formed the bonds which prosperity could not dissolve and adversity could not snap. Here were learned the hereditary and traditional lessons of faith, patience, forbearance, piety, and hope. A contrast follows.
I. FAMINE. Probably from some incursion of the hostile forces of Midian into the vale of Bethlehem; or, if not so, from a succession of bad harvests, or a failure of pasture, scarcity and famine invaded the abodes of plenty and of peace.
II. IMPOVERISHMENT. Upon Elimelech the pressure of the times was peculiarly severe, compelling him to break up his home, quit the modest but cherished inheritance of his fathers, and seek subsistence elsewhere.
1. Change of circumstances is a common incident in human life. Every person has either experienced some such change, or has witnessed such reverse in the condition of kindred or acquaintance. A fall from comfort, or even affluence, to poverty frequently happens among occupiers, and even owners, of land, and still more frequently in manufacturing and commercial communities.
2. Religion teaches sympathy with those in reduced circumstances. When a neighbor is deprived not only of the usual conveniences of life, but of the means of educating his children and of providing for his old age, we should net offer reproach, or even cold, hard advice, but, if possible, substantial help, and always considerate sympathy.
3. Religion has consolation for those in adversity. A message from heaven bids them "be of good cheer!" Let diligence and frugality contend with circumstances! Be patient and uncomplaining, and avoid that sign of a petty and broken spirit, the dwelling fondly upon bygone prosperity! The sun of prosperity may yet break through the clouds. Even if it be not so appointed, there may still remain those blessings which are dearer than fortune's gifts—wife, child, a good conscience, health, fortitude, hope I If calamity has come upon you through your own fault, repent, and learn "the sweet uses of adversity." If through the fault of others, refrain your heart from malice and revenge, and your lips from cursing. Think rather of what Heaven has left than of what Heaven has taken. "Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." Remember that, if Christians, "all things are yours!"—T.
Ruth 1:1, Ruth 1:2
Picture the removal of this family from the home they loved. Taking with them, it may be, the remnant of their cattle, they bade adieu to the familiar scenes where they had known content and plenty, where they had formed their friendships and alliances. The best prospect for them lay towards the east, and eastwards accordingly they traveled. Whether they struck southwards by the foot of the Salt Sea, or crossed the Jordan at the ford, they must soon have reached the verdant highlands of Moab. Here it was, they were to seek a settlement and make a home.
I. THESE CHANGES OF ABODE ARE IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROVIDENTIAL APPOINTMENT. Migrations have at all times been common among pastoral, nomadic people. The tillers of the soil and the dwellers in cities have been more stationary. Emigration a great fact in the social life of Britain in our time. Owing to the increase of population, to geographical discovery, to the application of steam to ocean voyages, emigration common among our artisan and agricultural classes. Some become colonists through the pressure of the times; others from love of adventure, and desire for a freer life. All of us have friends who have emigrated. Thus God replenishes his earth.
II. THESE CHANGES AFFECT DIFFERENTLY DIFFERENT PERSONS. Naomi would feel the severance most keenly, and would look forward with least interest and hope to new surroundings and acquaintances. Her sons would not realize the bitterness of change; the novelty of the circumstances would naturally excite and charm them. Picture the emigrants, the friends they leave behind, the scenes awaiting them, etc.
III. THESE CHANGES SHOULD BE WATCHED BY CHRISTIANS WITH WISE AND PRAYERFUL INTEREST. Remember that the undecided are yonder free from many restraints. By prayer and correspondence seek to retain them under the power of the truth. Guide emigration into hopeful channels; induce colonists to provide for themselves the word of God, the means of education, the ministry of the gospel.—T.
In the country of Moab Elimelech and his family found a home. A period of repose seems to have been granted them. They learned to reconcile themselves to new scenes and associations. But life is full of vicissitude. "Boast not thyself of tomorrow." O, to live as those whose treasure and whose heart are above! "Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left." A brief, pathetic record!
I. The widow's SORROW. The observation of all, the experience of some hearers, may fill up the outline. In every social circle, in every religious assembly, are women who have been called upon to part with those upon whom they had leaned for support and guidance, to whom they gave their hearts in youth, to whom they had borne sons and daughters.
II. The widow's LOT. It is often one of hardship and trouble. As in the case before us, it may be aggravated by—
2. Distance from home and friends.
3. The charge and care of children, who, though a blessing, are a burden and responsibility.
III. The widow's CONSOLATION.
1. The promise of God: "Thy Maker is thy husband."
2. Opportunity of Christian service.
How different the widow's condition in Christian communities from that of such among the heathen! The honor and the work of "widows indeed."
1. Submission and patience under bereavement.
2. Sympathy with the afflicted and desolate.—T.
The notes of time found in this narrative are meager. It is not easy to decide to what the "ten years "here mentioned refer. After the death of Elimelech, the two sons were spared to be the occupation and the solace of the widow's life. Naomi saw them grow up to manhood. Then the young men "took them wives of the women of Moab."
I. MARRIAGE IS LAWFUL BETWEEN PERSONS OF DIFFERENT NATIONS. There was nothing in the law of Moses to prevent these young men from acting as they did, although the children of Israel were not allowed to intermarry with the Canaanites. Later in Jewish history Nehemiah interpreted the law as forbidding marriage with the children of Moab, But he seems to have acted with unjust severity. These Moabitish women were virtuous, kind, devoted; conformed to the religion of their husbands, and one of them found a solid satisfaction in the worship of Jehovah. The conduct of the young men seems to have been natural and blameless.
II. MARRIAGE SHOULD ONLY BE-ENTERED UPON AFTER SERIOUS AND PRAYERFUL DELIBERATION, AND WITH A CONVICTION OF ITS ACCEPTABLENESS TO GOD. Sensible and Christian people should discountenance the practice of treating marriage with levity. Consideration should be given to time, to circumstances, and, above all, to character. Confidence and esteem must be, with affection, the basis of wedded happiness; and these cannot exist in their completeness where there is dissimilarity of conviction and aim—where one party is living to the world, and the other would live unto the Lord. Error here involves misery, and perhaps disaster and ruin.
1. Let elders inculcate just views of the marriage relationship upon the young.
2. Let the young avoid committing themselves to a contract of marriage until a fair experience of life has been acquired.
3. Let Christians marry "only in the Lord."—T.
In the happiness of her children Naomi would revive the happy years of her own early married life. But the bright sky was soon clouded over by the shadow of death. Perhaps inheriting their father's constitution, her sons died in early manhood. She became a childless widow. Three widows were in one house, each bearing in her silent heart her own burden of grief.
I. SOME ARE CALLED UPON TO ENDURE REPEATED BEREAVEMENTS. Households there are which have been visited again and again by the angel of death. Youthful lives are snapped asunder; youthful hearts are left desolate. Some are called upon to endure prolonged age, whilst children and friends, the joy of their hearts, are taken from them. Here and there is one who can exclaim, "All thy waves and thy billows are gone over me."
II. FOR SUCH GOD HAS PROMISES OF GRACE AND PURPOSES OF MERCY.
1. The assurances of the Divine remembrance and kindness. "The mountains shall depart," etc.
2. The sympathy of the Divine High Priest. The miracle of the raising of the widow's son at Nain is an illustration.
3. Grace of submission shall be imparted. "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
4. Intentions of Divine wisdom shall be accomplished. Thus shall the heart be weaned from earth; thus shall Christian character be matured; thus shall saints be prepared for glory. How can the vicissitudes of life be borne by those who are strangers to Christian principles, to Christian consolations, to Christian hopes? May ours be the happy lot of the Christian, from whom (as from all the children of men) the future is hidden; but who knows himself to be the object of a Father's love and a Savior's care, and to whose heart comes day by day a voice from heaven, saying, "I will never leave thee! I will never forsake thee!"—T.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
"In the days when the judges ruled." This is the age in which the story happened which constitutes Ruth's history, beautiful as an epic, and touching as a pathetic drama of home life. The judges. Whether the earlier or later we know not. Whether in the days of Deborah or the days of Gideon. Probably, however, the latter, as history tells then of a famine through the invasion of the Midianites. The judges. Religion means law, order, mutual respect, and, with all diversity of circumstance, equality in the eyes of the law. A nation that perverts justice has undermined the foundations of the commonwealth.
I. ALL JUDGES ARE REPRESENTATIVES AND INTERPRETERS OF THE LAW. They are not creators of it; they are not allowed to govern others according to their own will, but they are to be fair and wise interpreters of the national jurisprudence. Law is a beautiful thing if it is founded on the Divine sanctions; it means protection for the weak, safety for the industrious.
II. THE BEST ADMINISTRATION CANNOT MEET THE WANT CAUSED BY WARS. Famine came! The Midianites came up and "destroyed the increase of the earth." "And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites." Here are the old border wars. Nature was as beautiful as ever, and the flowers of Palestine as fragrant, and the corn as golden; but the enameled cup of the flower was soon filled with the blood of slaughter, and the beautiful sheaves were pillaged to supply the overrunning enemies of Israel. Such is the heart of man. In every age out of that come forth wars; and although modern legislation is enabled to fill the empty granary from other shores, yet in the main it still remains true, war means, in the end, not only bloodshed and agony, but want.
III. ALL EARTHLY RULERSHIP IS THE SYMBOL OF A HIGHER GOVERNMENT, As the fatherly relationship is symbolical of the Divine Fatherhood, and the monarchical of the Divine King, so the earthly judge is to be the emblem of a Divine Ruler, whose reign is righteousness, and who hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world. There are schools of thought that question human responsibility, that teach a doctrine of irresistible law, the predicate of which is, that sin is not so much criminal or vicious, as the result of innate tendencies which come under the dominion of resistless inclinations. But it is to be noticed that these teachers would not excuse the thief who has robbed them, or the murderer who has slain their child. To be consistent, however, they ought; for they object to punishment in the plan of the Divine government. Human instinct, however, and Divine revelation are at one in this; alike they ask, "Wherefore should a man complain, a man for the punishment of his sin?" In all ages and amongst all races where society is secure, and progress real, and innocence safe, they are "those where the judges rule."—W.M.S.
"There was a famine in the land." Providence led Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his two sons Mahlon and Chillon, into the land of Moab, on the other side of Jordan. Whilst there was scarcity of bread in Israel, there was plenteous supply in Moab. So they left their fatherland and home in Bethlehem. We carry "home" with us when we go with wife and children. It is the exile's solitary lot that is so sad. It is when God setteth the solitary in families, and the child is away from home in a foreign land, amongst strange faces, that the heart grows sick. We ought always to remember in prayer the exile and the stranger. Sometimes, amongst the very poor, a man has to go and seek substance far away from wife and child; but in this case sorrow was mitigated by mutual sympathy and help.
I. THERE ARE WORSE FAMINES THAN THIS. It was famine of another sort that led Moses from Egypt, when he feared not the wrath of the king, that he might enjoy the bread of God; and it was religious hunger that led the Pilgrim Fathers first to Amsterdam, and then to New England, that they might find liberty to worship God. In the day of famine we read Elimelech could not be satisfied. No. And it is a mark of spiritual nobility never to be contented where God is dishonored and worship demoralized. The word "Bethlehem" signifies the house of bread; but there was barrenness in the once wealthy place of harvest. And the name of Church cannot suffice when the place is no longer the house of God, which the word Church means.
II. IS THIS FAMINE ELIMILECH'S NAME WAS A GUARANTEE OF GUIDANCE AND SUPPLY. It means, "My God is King." Beautiful that. He reigns, and will cause all things to work together for good. Mark the words, My God; for as Paul says, "My God shall supply all your need." King! Yes, "the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof," and he will not let his children want bread. They go without escort, but the Lord goes before them. There are no camels or caravanserai behind them, but the Lord God of Israel is their reward. So is Divine promise translated into family history.
III. THE TROUBLE THAT SEEMS LEAST LIKELY OFTEN COMES. Bread wanting in Bethlehem, "the house of bread." Yes! But have not we often seen this? The sorrows of life are often such surprises. They do not take the expected form of the imagination, but they assume shapes which we never dreamed of. The king not only loses his crown, but becomes an exile and a stranger in a strange land. The rich man in health loses all in a night. A sudden flicker, and the lamp of health which' always burned so brightly goes out in an hour.
IV. BETHLEHEM WAS A QUIET, RESTFUL ABODE. Nestling in its quiet beauty, ten miles or so from time-beloved Jerusalem, who would have thought that the golden ring of corn-fields which surrounded it would ever have been taken off its hand? Very early in history it was productive. Here Jacob fed his sheep in the olden times. Famine in a city impoverished and beleaguered we can understand; but famine in Bethlehem! So it is. The rural quietness does not always give us repose. There too the angel with the veiled face comes—the angel of grief and want and death. Happy those who have a Father in heaven who is also their Father and their King.—W.M.S.
Ruth 1:4, Ruth 1:5
A foreign land.
"And they dwelled there about ten years." Memorable years! Marriages and births had given place to separation and bereavement. Elimelech the father died; so also did the two sons Mahlon and Chillon. Thus we have the sad picture of three widows.
I. WE CAN FLY FROM FAMINE, BUT NOT FROM DEATH. We need not enter upon the argument of some expositors, as to whether Elimelech did right to leave Bethlehem; whether by famine is not meant insufficiency of plenty rather than actual want. We must be content with the fact that he thought it prudent and wise to go. And now with fullness of bread came the saddest experience of all. How often it happens that when circumstances improve, those we hoped to enjoy them with are taken away. We climb the hill together, and then with new and fair prospect comes the desolation of death amid the beauties and blessings of earth and sky. These are darker clouds than covered them in Bethlehem. We never know how dear are the living till they are gone; then we see it was their presence that gave life and peace to so many scenes, that gave inspiration to labor and sweetness to success.
II. TROUBLES OFTEN COME WAVE UPON WAVE. Ten years! and lo, three out of the four pilgrims are at rest. No more fatigue, no more distress for them. True; but those that are left! What of them? It is often easier to go than to remain. It is all summed up in the consciousness, I have but to live, and to live without them. Nor is this a morbid feeling. It is a most sacred emotion. True, time will alleviate; but there will always be graves in the heart, and men and women who have lost their beloved ones can never be the same again. Character will be softened, purified, elevated. Heaven will be nearer and dearer to the heart. Ten years! How fleetly they fly, and yet what a long volume of experience may be bound up in them.
III. EVERY HOME IS BUT AS A TENT LIFE. They dwelled there. Got used to the new people, the new skies, the new ways. After a time, to a family removed to another shore, there are always some tendrils gathering round the place, and in time they feel in leaving that a sense of loss. Strange as it all seemed at first, in time touches of experience make it homelike to them. Still the old first home, the dear village of childhood and youth, nestles in the heart. How many in life's evening like to go back and live near the abode of the morning. We dwell! So it seems; and we look at the picture of the world's life-pilgrimage as though, like some panorama, it was all outside us. But we pass onward too, and ere long grey hairs are here and there upon us, though we know it not. At times we look back. Ten years! And their experience is within us, as well as behind us.—W.M.S.
Then—the conjunction in Hebrew is the common generic copulative and—she arose. She had been sitting, as it were, where her husband had settled, and she now rose up to depart (see Ruth 1:4). She, and her daughters-in, law. The word for "her daughters-in-law—" כַּלּתֶיהָ—is literally "her brides," that is, the brides of her sons. That she might return—an admirable rendering into English idiom. The phrase in the original is simply "and she returned," that is, "and she began to 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. Or, more literally, "for she heard in the country of Moab that Jehovah"—or, rather, "Yahveh," or, as Epiphanius gives it, Ἰαβέ—"had visited his people to give them bread." There is no warrant, however, and no need, to add, with the Chaldee Targumist, that the news was conveyed by the mouth of an angel. And the representation is not that Yahveh, in giving, bread to his people, had thereby visited them; it is that he hid visited them" to give them bread. The word פָקַד, rendered visited, is quite peculiar, with no analogue in English, German, Greek, or Latin. Yahveh had directed his attention to his people, and had, so to speak, made inquisition into their state, and had hence taken steps to give them bread (see Exodus 3:16; Exodus 4:31). They had already got it, or, as the Septuagint translates, they had got loaves (ἀρτοῦς). The Vulgate translates it meats (escas). It is assumed in the tidings that the seasons and their products, and all beneficent influences in nature, belong to Yahveh. It is likewise assumed that the Hebrews were his people, albeit not in such a sense as to secure for them more "bread" and "milk and honey" than other peoples enjoyed. Their chief prerogatives were spiritual and moral. They were his Messianic people. That is the key to unlock the secret of the whole Old Testament Scriptures.
And so she went forth out of the place where she was. There is no attempt on the part of the writer to localize the spot. And her two daughters-in-law with her. They had kept, it seems, on terms of affectionate sympathy with their mother-in-law. The jealousies that so often disturb the peace of households had no place within the bounds of Naomi's jurisdiction. The home of which she was the matronly center had been kept in its own beautiful orbit by the law of mutual respect, deference, affection, and esteem—the law that insures happiness to both the loving and the loved. "If there were more Naomis," says Lawson, "there might be more Orpahs and Ruths." And they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. Having left her Moabitish abode, and got into the frequented track which led in the direction of her native land, she journeyed onward for a stage or two, accompanied by her daughters-in-law. Such is the picture. It must be subsumed in it that her daughters-in-law had made up their minds to go with her to the land of her nativity. The subject had been often talked over and discussed. Naomi would from time to time start objections to their kind intention. They, on their part, would try to remove her difficulties, and would insist on accompanying her. So the three widows journeyed onward together, walking. Adversity had pressed hard on their attenuated resources, and they would not be encumbered with burdensome baggage.
And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, Go, return each to her mother's house. She reverted, with deeper earnestness, to their theme, of discussion. She acknowledged that most kindly had they acted toward her. Her heart was filled with gratitude. It was likewise agitated with grief at the prospect of bidding them a final farewell, Nevertheless, she felt that it would be unreasonable and unkind to invite them to be, to any further degree, sharers of her adversity. Hence, thanking them for their loving convoy, she would remind them that every step further on would only increase the length of their return-journey; and she said, Go, return each to her mother's home. There, in the females' apartment, and in the bosom of their mothers, they would surely find a welcome and a refuge. She judges of their mothers by herself, and she refers rather to them than to their fathers, partly, perhaps, because she bears in mind her own motherhood, but principally, no doubt, because, in those Oriental countries, it lay very particularly within the province of mothers to make arrangements in reference to their daughters. May Yahveh deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the deceased, and with me. It is beautiful gratitude, and at the same time a touching monument to the faithfulness and gentleness that had characterized and adorned the young widows. Her simple Hebrew theology, moreover, comes finely out. She assumes that her own Yahveh reigned in Moab as in Judah, and that all blessing descended from him. There is a little peculiarity in the Hebrew pronouns in this clause. They are masculine instead of feminine. The influence of the stronger sex overrides grammatically, for the moment, the influence of the weaker.
May Yahveh grant to you that ye may find rest, each in the house of her husband. Naomi again, when the current of her tenderest feelings was running full and strong, lifts up her longing heart toward her own Yahveh. He was the God not of the Hebrews only, but of the Gentiles likewise, and rifled and overruled in Moab. The prayer is, in its form, full of syntactical peculiarity: "May Yahveh give to you," and, as the result of his giving, "may you find rest, each [in] the house of her husband." The expression, "the house of her husband," is used locatively. It is an answer to the suppressed question, "Where are they to find rest?" And hence, in our English idiom, we must insert the preposition, "in the house of her husband." As to the substance of the prayer, it has, as truly as the grammatical syntax, its own tinge of Orientalism. Young females in Moab had but little scope for a life of usefulness and happiness, unless shielded round and round within the home of a pure and devoted husband. Naomi was well aware of this, and hence, in her motherly solicitude for her virtuous daughters-in-law, she gave them to understand that it would be the opposite of a grief to her if they should seek, in the one way open to them in that comparatively undeveloped state of society, to brighten the homes of the lonely. In such homes, it circumstances were propitious, they would find deliverance from unrest and anxiety. They would find rest. It would be a position in which they could abide, and in which their tenderest feelings and most honorable desires would find satisfaction and repose. The peculiar force of the Hebrew מְנוּחָה is finely displayed by the texture of the associated expressions in Isaiah 32:17, Isaiah 32:18 : "And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance forever; and my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting-places" (מְנוּחֹת). And she kissed them, locking them lingeringly and lovingly in a farewell embrace. "Kissed them." The preposition to, according to the customary Hebrew idiom, stands before the pronoun. In kissing, Naomi imparted herself passionately to her beloved daughters-in-law, and clung to them. There would be full-hearted reciprocation, and each to each would cling "in their embracement, as they grew together" (Shakespeare, Henry VIII.). And they lifted up their voice and wept. The idea is not that all three wept aloud. The pronoun "they" refers to the daughters-in-law, as is evident both from the preceding and from the succeeding context. The fine idiomatic version of the Vulgate brings out successfully and unambiguously the true state of the case—quae elevata voce flere coeperunt. The lifting, up of the voice in weeping must be thought of according to the measure of Oriental, as distinguished from Occidental, custom. In the East there is less self-restraint in this matter than in the West.
And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. So King James's version. The expression in the original is broken at the commencement: "And they said to her, For with thee we shall return to thy people." It is as if they had said, "Do not insist on our return to our mothers' homes, for with thee we shall return to thy people." Note the expression, "we shall return, instead of "we shall go with thee in thy return to thy people." For the moment they identify themselves with their mother-in-law, as if they had come with her from Judah.
And Naomi said, Turn back, my daughters. To what purpose should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that might be husbands to you? According to the old Levirate law—a survival of rude and barbarous times—Orpah and Ruth, having had husbands who died without issue, would have been entitled to claim marriage with their husbands' brothers, if such surviving brothers there had been (see Deuteronomy 25:5-9; Matthew 22:24-28). And if the surviving brothers were too young to be married, the widows, if they chose, might wait on till they reached maturity (see Genesis 38:1-30.). It is in the light of these customs that we are to read Naomi's remonstrance's. The phraseology in the second interrogation is very primitive, and primitively ' agglutinative.' "Are there yet to be sons in my womb, and they shall be to you for husbands?" (see on verse 1).
Turn back, my daughters, go; for I am too old to have a husband. But even if I could say, I have hope; yea, even if I had a husband this very night; yea, even if I had already given birth to sons; (Ruth 1:13) would ye therefore wait till they grew up? would ye therefore shut yourselves up so as not to have husbands? nay, my daughters; for my lot is exceedingly bitter, more than even yours, for the hand of Yahveh has gone out against me. Most pathetic pleading, and not easily reproduced on lines of literal rendering. "Go, for I am too old to have a husband." A euphemistic rendering; but the original is euphemistic too, though under another phraseological phase. "But even if I could say, I have hope." The poverty of the Hebrew verb, in respect of provision to express "moods, ' is conspicuous: "that," i.e. "suppose that I said, I have hope." Mark the climactic representation. Firstly, Naomi makes, for argument's sake, the supposition that she might yet have sons; then, secondly, she carries her supposition much higher, namely, that she might that very night have a husband; and then, thirdly, she carries the supposition a great deal higher still, namely, that even already her sons were brought forth: "Would you therefore wait?" Note the therefore. Ibn Ezra, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and King James's version assume that לָהֵן means for them. The feminine pronoun, however, as applied to Naomi's sons, is, on that supposition, all but inexplicable. It is much better to assume, with the majority of modern critics, that it is equivalent to לָכֵן, whether we call it a Chaldaism or not. Certainly it was current in Chaldee (see Daniel 2:6, Daniel 2:9). But it may have floated in circles of Semitic society that were never included within Chaldaea proper. Indeed, there were no precise limits bounding off the Chaldee language from the kindred dialects, just as there are no such limits in English or in German, or in any member of a linguistic group. Idioms often overlap. In the two interrogative clauses, "Would ye for that purpose wait till they grew up. Would ye for that purpose seclude, yourselves, so as not to have husbands? there is a parallelism; only, in the second clause, the representation rises. "For my lot is exceedingly bitter, more than even yours;" literally, "for it is bitter to me exceedingly, beyond you." The verb is used impersonally. Naomi means that her case was even more lamentable than theirs, so that she could not encourage them to hang their dependence on her help, or to hope for a retrieval of their circumstances in becoming partakers of her fortunes. The translation of King James's version, "for your sakes," though decidedly supported by the Septuagint, is unnatural. Pagnin and Drusius both give the correct rendering, "more than you." So do Michaelis and Wright, But Bertheau and Gesenius agree with King James s version. The Syriac Peshito, strange to say, gives both translations, "I feel very bitterly for you, and to me it is more bitter than to you."
And they, the daughters-in-law, lifted up their voice in unison and unity, as if instead of two voices there had been but one. Hence the propriety of the singular number, as in Ruth 1:9. And wept again. The "again" doubles back on the statement in Ruth 1:9. With uplifted voice, in shrill Oriental wail, and amid streams of tears, they bemoaned their hapless lot. Then, after the paroxysm of grief had somewhat spent itself, Orpah yielded to her mother-in-law's dissuasives, and at length imprinted on her, reluctantly and passionately, a farewell kiss. Then, not waiting to ascertain the ultimate decision of Ruth, or rather, perhaps, having now a fixed presentiment what it would be, she moved regretfully and tearfully away. She was afraid, perhaps, that if she, as well as Ruth, should insist on accompanying her mother-in-law, the two might be unreasonably burdensome to the aged widow. Perhaps, too, she was not without fear that her own burden in a foreign land, amid strangers, might be too heavy to be borne. There is not, however, the slightest need for supposing that she was, in any respect, deficient in attachment to her mother-in-law. But, it is added, Ruth clave to her mother-in-law, all reasonings, remonstrances, dissuasives on Naomi's part notwithstanding. Ruth would not be parted from her. "Clave." It is the same word that is used in the primitive law of marriage. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). It occurs again in Psalms 63:8 : "My soul followeth hard after thee; and in Psalms 119:31 : "I have stuck to thy testimonies." Joshua said, "Cleave unto the Lord thy God" (Joshua 23:8); and many have had sweet, while others have had bitter, experience of the truth that "there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24).
Longing for the old home.
Brings to view
(1) Naomi's resolution to return to the land of Judah, and then it records
(2) a touching scene that occurred at her departure.
I. NAOMI'S RESOLUTION. No wonder that she formed it; for—
1. The ties that bound her to the land of Moab had been snapped by the hand of death. In the death of her husband there was the disruption of the house-band. In the deaths of her two sons who had become husbands, the only other bands or bonds that could keep together for Naomi a home in Moab were burst. Matthew Henry says, "The land of Moab was now become a melancholy place to her. It is with little pleasure that she can breathe in that air in which her husband and sons had expired; or go on that ground in which they lay buried out of her sight, but not out of her thoughts."
2. Her heart had got sick for the home of her youth, that home which was now to her imagination and recollection "home, sweet home." "Heaven," she remembered, "lay around her" in her childhood. And such feelings as then thrilled within her are the stuff out of which, as years roll on, patriotism is woven.
3. She was reduced to absolute poverty. Diseases and death are costly, especially in a strange land, among strangers. And pitiable is the condition of those who, in a strange land and among strangers, are unable to "pay their way."
4. She would shrink, moreover, from the possibility of being burdensome to her daughters-in-law, who might, in consequence of their own widowhood, have difficulty in lending efficient assistance. However much she was pulled down in her circumstances, in her spirit her fine womanly independence stood erect.
5. She had learned that brighter days bad dawned on the land of her early love. "The Lord had visited his people to give them bread." And "bread," as Dr. Thomas Fuller remarks, "is a dish in every course. Without it can be no feast; with it can be no famine." The Lord gave it.
The miracle of the loaves was a sudden putting forth of God's bountiful hand from behind the veil of his ordinary providence; the miracle of the harvest is the working of the same bountiful hand, only unseen, giving power to the living grains to drink the dew and imbibe the sunshine, and appropriate the nourishment of the soil during the long bright days of summer. I understand the one miracle in the light of the other".
II. SCENE AT NAOMI'S DEPARTURE.
1. Her daughters-in-law, who had "dealt kindly" with their husbands, had likewise dealt kindly with her. What was to become of them?
2. They convoyed Naomi for some distance, and then, as they all halted, she reminded them that every step in advance took them further from their mothers' homes, and she insisted on their returning. Not for her own sake, however, but for theirs. In their own land their prospects would be brighter than in Judaea. Their mothers were still living, and would no doubt be motherly. Their other relatives would be at hand. They themselves might each be the means of brightening some solitary home. She prayed that they might have "rest." This word, so sweet to the weary and the distracted, reveals one element that is essential to the comfort of a home, whether that home be a cottage or a castle.
3. Naomi's words overwhelm the hearts of her daughters-in-law. They passionately express their desire to accompany her to her old home. But she persists firmly, though tenderly and meltingly, in her dissuasives. It is a scene of weeping—a valley of Baca. At length Orpah yields, and tears herself away. But Ruth would not yield. She "clave to her mother-in-law." The character of both the young widows is beautiful, but that of Ruth is heroic. This world is a constantly checkered scene of arrivals and departures. Looming in the near or more remote future, there is one departure which must be made "in solemn loneliness." Whither? With what convoy?
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Tidings reached Naomi that peace and plenty had returned to Judah, and she resolved to return to Bethlehem. She acknowledged the Lord's goodness, who "had visited his people in giving them bread." Doubtless she sought the Lord's guidance with reference to her return. It must have needed courage on her part to form and carry out this resolution. Her affectionate daughters-in-law accompanied her part of the way. Then came the hour of separation. As Naomi bade the young widows return, she uttered words of testimony to their kindness, words of prayer that Heaven might deal kindly with them. Coming from her lips, this witness was precious. They had dealt kindly with the dead—their husbands, her sons. They had dealt kindly with her, in her bereavements and loneliness; they had sympathized with her, and now were willing to accompany her to the land of her birth and early days.
I. THE FOUNDATION OF KINDNESS. We must seek this below what is called "good nature;" and, taught by Christianity, must find it in the brotherhood of man, the fatherhood of God. The sacrifice of Christ is the power and the model of true Christian kindness.
II. THE SPHERE OF KINDNESS. The family, as in the passage before, s, comes first. "Kind" is related, as a word, to "kin." "Charity begins at home." But, as has been remarked, it does not end there. Kindness should be shown to our fellow-creatures, as Christians, as neighbors, as fellow-countrymen, as members of the human race.
III. THE DIFFICULTIES in the way of kindness. It is not always easy for persons of one nation to agree with those of another; foreigners are often foes. It is not always easy for mothers-in-law to agree with daughters-in-law. Yet these difficulties may be overcome, as in this narrative.
IV. THE RECOMPENSE of kindness. Naomi's prayer was answered, and the Lord dealt kindly with those who had shown kindness. True kindness will breathe many a prayer. And the Lord's loving-kindness, condescending, unmerited, and free, is his people s most precious possession; it is "better than life!"—T.
These three women were bound together by the memory of common happiness, by the memory of common sorrows. The proposal that they should part, however reasonable and just, could not but reopen the flood-gates of their grief. Orpah found her consolation in her home in Moab, and Ruth found hers in Naomi's life-long society and affection. But as the three stand before us on the borders of the land, as Naomi begs her daughters-in-law to return, the sorrow and the sanctity of human separations are suggested to our minds.
I. SEPARATIONS BETWEEN LOVING FRIENDS ARE OFTEN EXPEDIENT AND NECESSARY.
II. SEPARATIONS ARE SOMETIMES THE OCCASION OF ALMOST THE BITTEREST SORROWS OF HUMAN LIFE.
III. SEPARATIONS MAY, BY GOD'S GRACE, BE MADE A DISCIPLINE OF THE SOUL'S HEALTH AND WELFARE.
IV. SEPARATIONS MAY BE OVERRULED, BY GOD'S PROVIDENCE, FOR THE REAL GOOD, PROSPERITY, AND HAPPINESS OF THOSE WHO ARE PUT APART.
V. SEPARATIONS REMIND US OF HIM WHO HAS SAID, "I WILL NEVER LEAVE THEE; I WILL NEVER FORSAKE THEE"—T.
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Ruth 1:6, Ruth 1:7
"Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, that she might return. And they went on their way to return." Home again! The first step is everything! "She arose." It was all well with the prodigal when he did that. Not simply when he said, "I will arise;" but when be arose and went to his father. Directly the eye and the heart and the step agree, then the whole is settled. We read nothing of the preliminaries of departure. Who does not know the power of the loadstone when it first begins to act? When the breeze swells the sail from the foreign port, the sailor sees not the intervening waters, but the home cottage under the familiar cliffs. There are many beautiful home-returnings in the Bible, but the best of all is the son seeking the father's house.
I. HEARTS ARE UNITED BY COMMON EXPERIENCES. These daughters-in-law were not of her land, nor of her religion; they were not Hebrews; but they were widows! A common sorrow is a welding power, uniting hearts more closely than before. It is said that a babe in a house is a new clasp of affection between husband and wife. True; but an empty cradle has done more than a living child. During the time of these ten years these two wives remained still heathen. We do not know what family they sprang from, or if they were sisters. We do know that Naomi exercised no control or domination over their religious principles. She respects their personal liberty and responsibility; she even urges Ruth not to let natural affection for her override her religious convictions, but to go back to "her gods," as Orpah did. "Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law." What a sorrow it must have been to her that her sons had married heathen women. We can respect that sorrow. And we can see that Naomi did not slight her own religion when she said these words, but used them as a test of the sincerity of Ruth. A common sorrow had brought them all very close together. "For," as Bailey says in Festus, "the world is one, and hath one great heart."
II. RETURN JOURNEYS HAVE A TOUCHING ELOQUENCE IN THEIR SCENES. There were the places Naomi had traversed with her husband and her boys; places of rest under the shadow of the rocks, and of refreshment at the wells. Much must there have been, to recall conversations touched with anxiety concerning their future in the land of Moab. So would many places speak to us today. There, care gazed at us wistfully, and we remember all the thoughts it suggested. There she heard the tinkling of the bells of the camels, as the little trading cavalcade passed by her. What reminiscences! And they would all remind her of the good hand which had led her on, and never forgotten or forsaken her.
III. RETURN JOURNEYS REMIND US OF LITTLE EPISODES OF LIFE THAT ARE OVER FOR EVER. We cannot in the ordinary course of an unbroken and unshifting home realize the flight of time so well as when we have marked changes, which by their very abruptness divide life into chapters, which, like volumes, have their commencement and close. A new nest has to be built, and new trees have to be sought to build it in. Thus with ordinary observation we may notice how those who have had to seek new homes find the pilgrim-nature of life more marked in their thought than those who are born and brought up and settled through the long years in one home. There is a dreamy sense of continuance unbroken in some lives! "That she might return!" But she would not, could not take all of herself with her. She would leave, as we all do, a memory of character, an influence of good or evil over those who had been associated with her in the foreign land.—W.M.S.
The Hebrews were fond of benedictions. "The Lord bless thee and keep thee," "And Jacob blessed Joseph, and said, The God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads." "The Lord bless thee out of Zion." These Scriptures of olden time touch us so tenderly, because they recognize the living hand, the loving heart of God. It is this which will make them never grow old. It is this which makes their inspiration living, and keeps their fountains of consolation open still. We are always meeting and parting, journeying forth and returning home. Our families are broken up, our churches have gates of entrance and departure, and the picture of life is always one of a tent-life. We are pilgrims and strangers, as all our fathers were. The keynote of all that I have to say to you from this text is in that word "kindly." The argument is this. We can understand kindness in the sphere of the human, and rise from that to a prayer for the Divine kindness. No society in any age can be cemented together by force alone. Feudalism, for instance, in olden times, was not all terror. The baron could command his dependents in time of war, as he fed and housed and clothed them in times of peace; but, as the old chroniclers tell us, there was often a rare hospitality, a hearty cheerfulness, a chivalrous affection in the somewhat stern relationship; nor will any political economy of government ever be able to preserve nations in allegiance to each other, or at peace amongst themselves, without the cultivation of Christian brotherhood.
I. THE LORD KNOWS BEST WHAT KINDNESS IS. The Lord deal kindly with you. Has he been kind? That is the question for us all. At times we should have been tempted to answer, No! The vine is blighted, the fig tree withered, the locusts have spoiled the green of spring, the little lambs have died. Kindly? Yes, we shall answer one time when we stand in our lot at the end of days. For kindness is not indulgence. I am thankful that this once common word has dropped out of our prayers—Indulgent Father. No word in the English language describes a feebler state of being than the word indulgence; it refers always to the weaker side of our nature; that which is pleasant to us, that which eases us of pain and of discipline and effort. Prayer like this goes to the heart; more especially from the Naomis of the universe who have had so hard a time of it, to whom life has been so full of bereavement and battle. But if you study life, you will see it is the indulged who complain; it is those nursed in the lap of luxury who whine and whimper if the sun does not shine, if the pomegranate, and the fig, and the grape do not supplement the bread. Indulgence breeds supercilious mannerism and contempt for common things in them; and all seems so very strange if men, and women, and things are not ready for their comfort. God's kindness to us may take forms which surprise us. At the heart of his severest judgments there is mercy, in the bitter spring there is healing water, in the desolated altar there is the downfall of idolatry. Abba, Father, we cry, and he seems not to hear us. The wild winds seem to waft away into empty space our cries for help and pity, but he who sitteth in the heavens hears and answers according to the wisdom of his own will. The kindest things God has ever done for us have been, perhaps, the strangest and severest. So it was with Daniel, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Abraham our father. All God's ways are clone in truth, and truth is always kindness, for the music of the universe is set in that key. The throne of the Almighty himself has its firm pillars planted on that. Away we go to business and duty. Farewell to son and daughter. Go thy way, pilgrim of life, with knapsack and staff; henceforth our paths are separate, and for you there will come battles when we cannot fight beside you, burdens we cannot help you to bear. To another hearth you will come at evening, when the day's work is done, and the anodynes of sympathy are needed for the worker's heart. "Go thy way. The Lord deal kindly with thee."
II. THE LORD ALONE WILL BE WITH US ALL THROUGH OUR FUTURE PILGRIMAGE. Apart from Divine power, which we have not to bless with, there is Divine presence which we all need. Christ will be with us to the end. Never will come a battle, a temptation, a solitude, a sorrow, a needful sacrifice, but the Lord will be at hand. The scepter will never be laid in front of an empty throne. The Lord reigns. It is touching to see the struggles of modern thought in the minds of men who have drifted away from the incarnation and resurrection of our Lord. "The ocean encroaches more and more each year"—to use a figure of one who has marked the "ebb" of thought—"and he watches his fields eaten up from year to year." Yes, says the same writer, who is depicting the drift:—"The meadow-land, whereon he played in the innocent delights of childhood, has now become a marshy waste of sand. The garden where he gathered flowers, an offering of love and devotion to his parents, is now sown with sea-salt. The church where he offered up his childish prayers, and wondered at the high mysteries of which his teachers spoke, stands tottering upon the edge of a crumbling cliff that the next storm may bring down in ruin." And this is rightly called "an experience of spiritual misery." Pathetic, indeed, is this. The picture is most touching and saddening! Who can feel it more than those who suffer the eclipse of faith? We, who worship here, trust in the living God, who as we believe revealed himself to our fathers by the prophets, and who in these last days has spoken to us by his Son, whom he hath made heir of all things, and hath given us this testimony, in that he hath raised him from the dead.—W.M.S.
"As you have dealt with the dead and me." This beautiful analogy, which has its root idea in love and home, is very suggestive.
I. THE LORD KNOWS BEST WHAT OTHERS HAVE BEEN TO US. "As you have dealt with the dead and me." You have been good and true to them, Naomi says, with a voice that trembles with remembrances of the old days gone forever. It is a touching little sentence. The dead. So silent now. Never to come back for us to touch imperfectness into riper good; never to charm away with pleasant thoughts the dull hours; never to fill with deeper meanings of love the half-empty words; never to make more Divine the common service of life; never to put the best interpretation upon conduct; never to lift the leaden crown of care from the anxious brow; never to help to transfigure the mean and lowly with heavenly hopes and aspirations. Gone! What a world of vacancy, and silence, and subtle mystery! Is it strange we should wish well to those who were kind to the dead? And Naomi links her own being with them still. "The dead and me." And with true hearts they never can be disassociated. Anniversaries of remembrance make our separations no more distant. They soften them. They give place for comforting remembrances; but the dead are near as ever! "The dead and me!" Who shall separate? None. Christ died, yea, rather is risen again, and he will raise us up together to the heavenly places. What a blessing so to live, so to fill our place as sons and daughters, so to sweeten, sublime, and sanctify life that others may make our conduct a plea with that God who has known our heart and life, and say, "The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and me."
II. THE LORD HAS GIVEN US GUARANTEES OF HIS KINDNESS. We are not left to meditate on rain and fruitful seasons only. Not the green of spring, nor the south wind of summer, nor the gold of autumn alone proclaim his goodness. So long as the story of the cross has Divine meaning for us, so long as we believe it, not alone as the spirit of a good man's life, but as the revelation of God manifest in the flesh, so long can we exclaim, "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us." Nor can we exclude conscience from our argument; that, too, is a guarantee that the Almighty cares for us, that he will not let us sin and suffer without the very voice Divine awakening, alarming, and arresting us. None but a good Being would have put conscience there, and made it universal, and filled it with such sweet benedictions for the soul. We are surrounded by evidences of the Eternal pity. God who spared not his own Son, will with him also freely give us all things—for man is still his child, and he has a desire to the work of his hands. When we pray, therefore, "The Lord deal kindly with thee," we only ask him to be like himself, we only put him in remembrance of his promise to hear when we call upon him. Some would think God kind, indeed, if he were less severe on sin; to them all law is baneful, and the sorest evils are only evidences of an imperfect brain, or an untrained mind, or an ungovernable power of impulse. How, then, should the law of God be other than dislikable—nay, detestable to them; but he who prepared the light, prepared also the throne of his judgment, and he will by no means clear the guilty—for the love of God would be but a weak sentiment if it were not harmonized with a law which means order, truth, righteousness, and justice in all domains of his eternal empire. We only predicate that love is the root of law, as it is also the essence of mercy, and how God's kindness even on the cross shows that justice and mercy blend with each other.
III. THE LORD LOOKS FOR OUR LOVE TO HIM IN OUR LOVE TO EACH OTHER. If we love him we shall feed his lambs, forgive our enemies, and fulfill the whole law of love. How many there have been who, professing even an extreme sanctity, have robbed their partners, deluded their followers, and sometimes darkened forever a brightly opening life. It is saddening to think what religion has suffered from those whose countenances advertise asperity and contempt, selfishness and pride, whilst they carry their Bibles under their arms, and seem shocked at the exuberance of a healthy joy. Deal kindly? Not they. Their silken words are often the soft sheaths of dagger purposes, and their sham friendship is often only the occasion of stealing mental photographs of you to distribute among their friends. Deal kindly? Why they sleep as well when they have wounded as when they have healed, and they do not understand what the plan of salvation has to do with a conscientious rectitude, a tender consideration, and a warm and loving heart. Deal kindly. Let the Church arise and shine, and put on her beautiful garments. Let the venerable Apostle John take his place once more in the midst of the Churches, and say, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, for God is love." "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth." "He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him." How true we feel all this to be, and yet how hard in such a world as this. God is light, God is love, but unless we walk in the light with him we know nothing of it at all. It is still more popular to discuss a mystery than to seek after a Divine ideal. It is still true that many appraise their goodness by their greater enlightenment on some disputable points of religion, and they greatly hope their friend and brother will come to see like themselves. Alas! alas! all the while we may perchance be so untrue to Christ, we may be experiencing no sensitive grief that we are unlike the chief Shepherd of the sheep, so worldly, so captious, so dull in all Divine sensibilities. Naomi's prayer, therefore, may teach us much today about God—our Savior; much, too, about ourselves. This, at all events, is true. If the harvests of love come late, they are very real and very precious. Years alone can reveal character. We know what others are in times of test and trial, as Naomi did in a strange land. She was a mother-in-law, and that is a hard part to fulfill, often the subject of satire, too often, indeed, an experience which awakens slender sympathy; she yet gained the crown of trust, and honor, and love. And now, how can she speak better for others than by speaking to God for them? The God who has never left her, the God who has been the husband of the widow, the God who sent her human solace in the trying hours of her bereavement in the far away land. "The Lord deal kindly with you." When once in the hush of death a girl stood at the threshold of the door, trembling, as childhood does, in the presence of death, the mother, bending over the quiet sleeper, beckoned her in. She regained confidence then, and taking up the cold hand kissed it, and said of her dead brother, "Mother, that hand never struck me." How beautiful I Can we say the same, that we never wounded the dead? Can we say it of the Christ himself, that we never crucified the Son of God afresh? And now we look up to the great Father of our spirits, and the God of our salvation, and pray him to bless all we love, to make them his own now and evermore. His kindness is truer, deeper, wiser than our own. "The Lord bless them and keep them." "The Lord deal kindly with them."—W.M.S.
And she said, Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back to her people, and to her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law. The expression that stands in King James's version thus, "and to her gods," is rendered by Dr. Cassel "and to her God." The same interpretation, it is noteworthy, is given in the Targum of Jonathan, who renders the expression, "and to her Fear" (וּלְוַת דְּחַלְרָּהּ). Such a translation assumes that the Moabites were not only theists, but monotheists. And yet in the mythology, or primitive theology, of Moab, we read both of Baal-Peor and of Chemosh. As to the former, see Numbers 25:8, Numbers 25:5; Deuteronomy 4:3; Psalms 106:28; Hosea 9:10. As to the latter, see Judges 11:24; 1Ki 11:7, 1 Kings 11:33; Jeremiah 48:7, Jeremiah 48:13. In Numbers, moreover, Numbers 21:29, and in Jeremiah 48:46, the Moabites are called the people of Chemosh, and frequently is their national god called Chemosh in the inscription of King Mesha on the Moabitish Stone, so recently discovered and deciphered. It is supposed, not without reason, that the two names belonged to one deity, Chemosh being the old native name. Nevertheless, the translation "to her god" is an interpretation, not a literal rendering, and, on the other hand, the translation "to her gods" would, on the hypothesis of the monotheism of the Moabites, be unidiomatic. The original expression, "to her Elohim," does not tell anything, and was not intended by Naomi to tell anything, or to hint anything, of a numerical character concerning the object or objects of the Moabitish worship. It was an expression equally appropriate whether there was, or was not, a plurality of objects worshipped. It might be liberally rendered, and to her own forms of religious worship. The word elohim was a survival of ancient polytheistic theology and worship, when a plurality of powers were held in awe. "For," says Fuller, "the heathen, supposing that the whole world, with all the creatures therein, was too great a diocese to be daily visited by one and the same deity, they therefore assigned sundry gods to several creatures." The time arrived, however, when the great idea flashed into the Hebrew mind, The Powers are One and hence the plural noun, with its subtended conception of unity, became construed with verbs and adjectives in the singular number. It was so construed when applied to the one living God; but it readily retained its original applicability to a plurality of deifies, and hence, in such a passage as the one before us, where there is neither adjective nor verb to indicate the number, the word is quite incapable of exact rendering into English. Orpah had returned to her people and her Elohim. Return thou after thy sister-in-law. Are we then to suppose that Naomi desired Ruth to return to her Moabitish faith? Is it with a slight degree of criticism that she referred to Orpah's palinode? Would she desire that Ruth should, in this matter, follow in her sister-in-law's wake? We touch on tender topics. Not unlikely she had all along suspected or seen that Orpah would not have insuperable religious scruples. And not unlikely, too, she would herself be free from narrow religious bigotry, at least to the extent of dimly admitting that the true worship of the heart could reach the true God, even when offensive names, and forms, and symbolisms were present in the outer courts of the creed. Nevertheless, when she said to Ruth, "Return thou after thy sister-in-law," she no doubt was rather putting her daughter-in-law to a final test, and leading her to thorough self-sifting, than encouraging her to go back to her ancestral forms of worship. "God," says Fuller, "wrestled with Jacob with desire to be conquered; so Naomi no doubt opposed Ruth, hoping and wishing that she herself might be foiled."
And Ruth said, Insist not on me forsaking thee: for whither thou goest, I will go. Ruth's mind was made up. Her heart would not be wrenched away from her mother-in-law. The length of the journey, its dangers, and the inevitable fatigue accompanying it, moved not, by so much as a jot, her resolution. Had not her mother-in-law the same distance to travel, the same fatigue to endure, the same perils to encounter? Might not the aged traveler, moreover, derive some assistance and cheer from the company of a young, ready-handed, and willing-hearted companion? She was resolved. Nothing on earth would separate them. Wheresoever thou lodgest, I will lodge. A better version than Luther's, "Where thou stayest, I will stay" (wo du bleibest, da bleibe ich auch). The reference is not to the ultimate destination, but to the nightly halts, לוּן is the verb employed; and it is rendered "to tarry all night" in Genesis 24:54; Genesis 28:11; Genesis 31:54; Judges 19:6, etc. It is the Latin pernoctare and the German ubernachten, the former being the rendering of the Vulgate, and the latter the translation in the Berlenburger Bibel. Thy people (is) my people, and thy God my God. There being no verb in the original, it is well to supply the simplest copula. Ruth claims, as it were, Naomi's people and Naomi's God as her own already.
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried. She wished to be naturalized for life in Naomi's fatherland. Nor did she wish her remains to be conveyed back for burial to the land of her nativity. So may Yahveh do to me, and still more, but death only shall part me and thee. She appeals to the God of the Israelites, the one universal God. She puts herself on oath, and invokes his severest penal displeasure if she should suffer anything less uncontrollable than death to part her from her mother-in-law. "So may Yahveh do to me." It was thus that the Hebrews made their most awful appeals to Yahveh. They signified their willingness to suffer some dire calamity if they should either do the evil deed repudiated or fail to do the good deed promised. So stands in misty indefiniteness; not, as Fuller supposes, by way of "leaving it to the discretion of God Almighty to choose that arrow out of his quiver which he shall think it most fit to shoot," but as a kind of euphemism, or cloudy veil, two-thirds concealing, and one-third revealing, whatever horrid infliction could by dramatic sign be represented or hinted. And still more—a thoroughly Semitic idiom, and so may he add (to do) There was first of all a full imprecation, and then an additional 'bittock,' to lend intensity to the asseveration. "But death only shall sever between me and thee!" Ruth's language is broken. Two formulas of imprecation are flung together. One, if complete, would have been to this effect: "So may Yahveh do to me, and so may he add to do, if (אִם) aught but death sever between me and thee!" The other, if complete, would have run thus: "I swear by Yahveh 'that' (כִּי) death, death only, shall part thee and me. In the original the word death has the article, death emphatically. It is as if she had said death, the great divider. The full idea is in substance death alone. This divider alone, says Ruth, "shall sever between me and thee;" literally, "between me and between thee," a Hebrew idiom, repeating for emphasis' sake the two-sided relationship, but taking the repetition in reverse order, between me (and thee) and between thee (and me).
And she perceived. In our idiom we should have introduced the proper name, "And Naomi perceived." That she was determined to go with her. She saw that Ruth was fixed in her resolution. And she left off speaking to her. She "gave in." Ruth, as Fuller has it, was "a fixed star."
And they two went—they trudged along, the two of them—until they came to Bethlehem. In the expression "the two of them" the masculine pronoun (הֶם for הֶן) occurs, as in Ruth 1:8 and Ruth 1:9. It mirrors in language the actual facts of relationship in life. The masculine is some- times assumptively representative of both itself and the feminine. And sometimes, even apart from the representative element, it is the overlapping and overbearing gender. And it came to pass, as they entered Bethlehem, that the whole city got into commotion concerning them, and they said, Is this Naomi? Naomi, though greatly altered in appearance, besides being travel-worn and weary, was recognized. But who was that pensive and beautiful companion by her side? Where was Elimelech? Where was Machne and Chillon? Why are they not with ir mother? Such would be some of the questions started, and keenly talked about and discussed. Then on both the wayfarers the finger-marks of poverty, involuntary signals of distress, would be unconcealable. Interest, sympathy, gossip would be alive throughout the little town, especially among the female portion of the population, and loud would be their exclamations of surprise. The verb they said is feminine in Hebrew, וַתּאֹמַרְנָה a nicety which cannot be reproduced in English without obtruding too prominently the sex referred to, as m Michaelis's version—"and all the women said." So the Vulgate. The verb which we have rendered got into commotion is found in 1 Samuel 4:5—"the earth rail again;" and in 1 Kings 1:45—"the city rang again."
And she said to them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. Salutations were respectfully addressed to her as she walked along in quest of some humble abode. And when thus spoken to by the sympathetic townspeople, she was called, of course, by her old sweet name. But as it fell in its own rich music on her ears, its original import flashed vividly upon her mind. Her heart "filled" at the contrast which her circumstances represented, and she said, "Address me not as Naomi, call not to me (לֵי) Naomi: address me as Mara,"—that is, bitter,—"for the Almighty has caused bitterness to me exceedingly" (see on Ruth 1:2). The Almighty, or שַׁדַּי, an ancient polytheistic name that had at length—like לֱיהִים and אֲדֹנָי dna לֱ—been reclaimed in all its fullness for the one living and true God. It had become a thorough proper name, and hence it is used without the article. In the Septuagint it is sometimes rendered, as here, ὁ ἱκανός, the Sufficient; in Job, where it frequently occurs, ὁ παντοκράτωρ, the Omnipotent. But it is one of those peculiar nouns that never can be fully reproduced in any Aryan language, Naomi's theology as indicated in the expression, "the Almighty hath caused bitterness to me exceedingly," need not be to its minutest jot endorsed. God was not the only agent with whom she had had to do. Much of the bitterness of her lot may have been attributable to her husband or to herself, and perhaps to forefathers and foremothers. It is not fair to ascribe all the embittering element of things to God. Much rather might the sweetness, which had so often relieved the bitterness, be traced to the band of him who is "the Lord God, merciful and gracious, abundant in goodness."
I went forth full, and Yahveh has caused me to return in emptiness. Why should you call me Naomi, and Yahveh has testified against me, and the Almighty has brought evil upon me? She went forth "full," with husband and sons, not to speak of goods. She was under the necessity of returning in emptiness, or with empty hands. The Hebrew word רֵיקָם does not exactly mean empty, as it is rendered in the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and King James's version. It is not an adjective, but an adverb, emptily. This lamentable change of circumstances she attributed to the action of Yahveh. He had, she believed, been testifying against her by means of the trials through which she had passed. She was right in a certain conditional acceptation of her language; but only on condition of that condition. And, let us condition her declarations as we may, she was probably in danger of making the same mistake concerning herself and her trials which was made by Job's comforters in reference to the calamities by which he was overwhelmed. In so far as penal evil is concerned, it may be traced directly or circuitously to the will and government of God. "Shall there be evil—that is, penal evil—in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6). But there are many sufferings that are not penal. The evil that is penal is only one segment of physical evil; and then there is besides, metaphysical evil, or the evil that consists in the inevitable imperfection of finite being. It is noteworthy that the participle of the Hiphilic verb הֵרַע employed by Naomi is always translated in King James s version evil doer, or wicked doer, or evil, or wicked, Naomi, in using such a term, and applying it to Yahveh, was walking on a theological precipice, where it is not needful that we should accompany her. Instead of the literal expression, 'and' Yahveh, we may, with our English wealth of conjunctions freely say, 'when' Yahveh. There is a charm in the original simplicity. There is likewise a charm in the more complex structure of the free translation.
So Naomi returned. The narrator pauses to recapitulate his narrative of the return, and hence the recapitulatory so is, in English, very much to be preferred to the merely additive and of the original. And Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the land of Moab. The cumulative and apparently redundant expression, "who returned out of the land of Moab," is remarkable, at once for its simplicity and for its inexactitude. Ruth, strictly speaking, had not returned, but she took part in' Naomi's return. And they arrived in Bethlehem at the commencement of barley-harvest. Barley ripened before wheat, and began to be reaped sometimes as early as March, but generally in April, or Abib. By the time that the barley-harvest was finished the wheat crop would be ready for the sickle.
I. Ruth was fixed in her desire and determination to CAST IS HER LOT WITH HER DESOLATE AND DESTITUTE MOTHER-IN-LAW. The absolute unselfishness of this determination is noteworthy, for—
1. Be it noted that Naomi was not one of those who are always murmuring and complaining because they do not receive sufficient consideration.
2. Still less did she claim as a right, or urge as a duty, that her daughter-in-law should become her companion in travel, and wait upon her as an attendant.
3. On the contrary, she was careful to put Ruth in an attitude of entire freedom, so that, if she had a secret wish to go back to her Moabitish friends, she could have gratified her desire without laying herself open to the imputation of coldness or ingratitude.
4. Ruth was tested nevertheless, as all of us in our respective relations have either already been or will be. Eve, for instance, was emphatically tested. So was Adam. Abraham too. Joseph also. Very particularly the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ, when he was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. Judas was tested when the demon of cupidity entered into his heart. So was Peter when he stood warming himself at the fire in the court of the high priest's palace. All who are tried are tested. And all men without exception have to endure trial and trials. It was as regards the strength of her attachment to her mother-in-law that Ruth was tested. Not only did Naomi hold out no hopes of home-comfort in Judah, she expressly said, dissuasively, when Orpah had gone back, "Behold, thy sister-in-law has gone back to her people, and to her Elohim: return thou after thy sister-in-law" (verse 15).
5. Ruth stood the test. Not so did Eve. Not so Adam. But Abraham stood it. So Joseph. Emphatically did Jesus stand it, so that lib knows how to succor those who are tempted. Judas did not stand the test Nor at first did Peter, though afterwards He repented, and, when reconverted, was able to strengthen his brethren. Ruth, for love to Naomi, was able to say in her heart, "Farewell, Melchom! Farewell, Chemosh! Farewell, Moab! Welcome, Israeli Welcome, Canaan! Welcome, Bethlehem!" (Fuller).
6. She witnessed a good and most noble confession of love and devotedness (see verses 16, 17). She said, "Insist not on me forsaking thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; wheresoever thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people is my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried. So may Yahveh do to me, and still more, if aught but death part thee and me." "Nothing," says Matthew Henry, "could be said more fine, more brave." "Truly," says Dr. Kitto, "the simple eloquence of the mouth that speaks out of the abundance of the heart never found more beautiful and touching expression than in these words of this young widow" ('Daily Bible-Illustrations'). "Her vow," says S. Cox, "has stamped itself on the very heart of the world; and that not because of the beauty of its form simply, though even in our English version it sounds like a sweet and noble music, but because it expresses in a worthy form, and once for all, the utter devotion of a genuine and self-conquering love. It is the spirit which informs and breathes through these melodious words that make them so precious to us, and that also renders it impossible to utter any fitting comment on them". Be it borne in mind that something of the same enthusiasm of love, that dwelt in the heart of Ruth, should be found in the center of every home. Wheresoever a heart is swayed and dominated by the might and mastery of a great affection, the entire character becomes clothed with mingled dignity and beauty.
II. THE ENTRY OF THE TWO WIDOWS INTO BETHLEHEM. There was no more talk, no more thought, of turning back. The hearts of the two widows were locked together forever. Hence they traveled on from stage to stage, until, worn and wearied, they entered Bethlehem.
1. Note the effect on the citizens, especially the female portion of them (see verse 19). Naomi, passing along through the streets, was recognized. The news flew from individual to individual, from house to house, from lane to lane. There was a running to and fro of excited mothers and maidens. All were eager to see the returned emigrant, and her pensive Moabitish companion. Her old acquaintances, in particular, when they had seen and identified her, broke up into groups, and talked, and said, Is that Naomi? That, Naomi I Is this Naomi? This, Naomi! "So unlike is the rose when it is withered to what it was when it was blooming."
2. Note the effect on Naomi herself. As she looked on old scenes, and witnessed the excitement and commotion of old neighbors and acquaintances, her heart felt overwhelmed within her, and she said to the sympathizing friends who clustered around her, "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me" (see verses 20, 21). But it surely will be permitted to us not only to mingle our tears with those of the afflicted widow, but likewise to pause reverently ere we unreservedly accept or endorse her attribution of all her trials and woes to the hand and heart of the Lord. It should nevertheless be borne in mind that even those trials that come most directly from men's own acts or choices come to pass by the permission of the Almighty, and are so overruled by him that they will be made to work for good to them who love him (Romans 8:28).
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
For simple pathos and unstudied eloquence, this language is unsurpassed. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." Here is the fervent outpouring of a true heart. Love and resolution are at their height. Thousands of human souls have expressed their mutual attachment in these words. They are not words of extravagance or of passion, but of feeling, of principle, of a fixed and changeless mind. Constancy must be admired, even by the inconstant.
I. THERE WERE INFLUENCES OPPOSED TO RUTH'S CONSTANCY.
1. Early associations and friendships would have tied her to Moab.
2. The entreaty of Naomi that she would return set her perfectly free to do so, if she had been disposed.
3. The example of her sister-in-law, Orpah, could not but have some weight. Orpah had been, like Ruth, kind alike to the living and the dead, yet she wept, kissed her mother-in-law, and returned.
4. The religion of her childhood could scarcely have been without attractions for her. Could she leave the temples, the deities, the observances of her earliest days behind?
II. THERE WERE MANIFESTATIONS OF PIOUS CONSTANCY IN RUTH'S RESOLVES.
1. She would go with Naomi, though by an unknown route.
2. She would dwell with Naomi, though in an unknown home.
3. She would die with Naomi, though to be buried in an unknown grave.
III. THERE WAS A RELIGIOUS FOUNDATION FOR RUTH'S CONSTANCY.
1. Apparent from the resolution—"Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
2. Apparent from the adjuration she employed—"The Lord do so," etc.
IV. THE TRIUMPH AND RECOMPENSE OF RUTH'S CONSTANCY.
1. Her fidelity and devotion were reciprocated by Naomi.
2. In the providence of God Ruth was rewarded by an honorable position and a happy life.—T.
Heart wounds reopened.
Return after long absence to scenes of youth always affecting; he who returns is changed; they who receive him are changed too. Observe the reception which Naomi met from her former neighbors at Bethlehem. Their question, "Is this Naomi?" evinces—
1. Surprise. She is living! We see her again! Yet how is she changed!
2. Interest. How varied has been her experience whilst absent! And she loves Bethlehem so that she returns to it in her sorrow!
3. Compassion. "All the city was moved about them." How could those who remembered her fail to be affected by the calamities she had passed through? Consider the sentiments expressed by Naomi upon her return.
I. HER GRIEF WAS NATURAL AND BLAMELESS. "I went out full," i.e. in health, in youth, with some earthly property; above all, with husband and sons. "The Lord hath brought me home again empty," i.e. aged, broken down in health and spirits, poor, without kindred or supporters. "Call me not Naomi," i.e. pleasant; "call me Mara," i.e. bitter. Her lot was sad. Religion does not question the fact of human trouble and sorrow. And she was not wrong in feeling, in the circumstances, the peculiar pressure of grief and distress. We remember that "Jesus wept."
II. HER RECOGNITION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS RIGHT; WAS A SIGN OF PIETY. She attributes all to the Almighty, to the Lord. Observe that in two verses this acknowledgment is made four times. In a world over which God rules we should acknowledge his presence and reign in all human experience. If trouble comes to us by means of natural laws, those laws are ordered by his wisdom. If by human agency, that agency is the result of the constitution with which he has endowed man. If as the result of our own action, he connects actions with their consequences. Therefore, let us reverently recognize his hand in all that happens to us!
III. HER INTERPRETATION OF GOD'S PROVIDENCE WAS MISTAKEN. "The Lord," said Naomi, "hath testified against me." Men frequently imagine that if God could prevent afflictions, and yet permits them, he cannot regard the afflicted in a favorable and friendly light. But this is not so. "Whom he loveth he chasteneth." The Book of Job warns us against misunderstanding the meaning of calamity. Christ has also warned us against supposing that Divine anger is the explanation of human griefs and sufferings. "All things work together for good unto those who love God." How often is it true, as the poet Cowper knew and sang—
"Behind a frowning providence
God hides a smiling face!"
HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM
Ruth 1:16, Ruth 1:17
"Entreat me not to leave thee." A mother and a daughter-in-law are to go together. The daughter wishes it, and petitions with most eloquent ardor that it shall be so. A mother-in-law is sometimes—alas, too often—the subject of criticism and satire. It is a difficult position to fill, and many bitterly unkind and untrue caricatures have been made upon the relationship. In this case Naomi had made herself beloved by both Orpah and Ruth, and it was only through Naomi's words, "Turn again," that Orpah went back; for they had both said, "Surely we will return with thee unto thy people." Ruth, however, remained firm, and her fidelity has made these words quickening to many undecided souls.
I. ENTREATY MAY PROVE TOO EARNEST. "Entreat me not." It is the language of a heart that feels what limits there are to the power of resistance within us. Test may turn in unwise hands into overpowering temptation. Naomi knew where to stop, and Ruth remains to us a picture of heroic devotion. Orpah failed in courage, but was not destitute of affection, for her farewell is accompanied with a kiss of love. In her character we see impulse without strength. But "Ruth clave unto her." And it was no light sacrifice to leave fatherland and home. We can hardly call the test at first a religious one, for it is evident that Ruth's love for her mother-in-law was the immediate occasion of her cleaving to her, and leaving the Moabitish gods. In time, doubtless, her nominal faith turned into a living heritage.
II. LOVE CREATES THE FINEST ELOQUENCE. There is no utterance in the Old Testament more pathetic and melodious than these words. They are idyllic in their eloquence. There is nothing stilted or artificial in them, and they have in them a rhythm of melody which is more beautiful than a mere rhyme of words. Courage and sacrifice, love and devotion, breathe all through them. They condense too all that is prophetic of coming experience—the lodging and the loneliness, the weary pilgrimage and the grave in a foreign land. The mind cannot frame sentences like these without the glow of a sincere and sacrificial heart. We feel as we read them what grandeur there is in human nature when love evokes all its depth of power. It is not a skilful touch that can do this, but a soul alive to the calls of love and duty.
III. NO TRUE LIFE WAS EVER LIVED IN VAIN. It was what Naomi had been to her, what she was in herself, that made this sacrifice possible. Love creates love. The charm of friendship may be merely intellectual, and then, after the feast of reason, all is' over. But Naomi's character was rooted in religion. She did not carry the mere roll of the prophets in her hand; she carried the spirit of the Holy Book in her heart. Ruth had never been in synagogue or temple; she had listened to no Rabbi, and never sat at the feet of the doctors; but as "the earliest piety is mother's love," so the character of a true mother is a stem around which the tendrils of the young heart climb to the mother's God. None of us liveth to himself. And so from the flower of piety, the seed drops into other hearts, and brings forth fruit after many days.—W.M.S.
"When she saw that she was steadfastly minded." "Then she left speaking." The test had done a true work, and we see the heroine who could stand fast. Yes; "having done all, to stand," is something in the great emergencies and temptations of life. There are times when to stand in the rush of the stream, as the river breaks into spray around us, is as much for the hour as we can do, and God knows and honors that.
I. THE STEADFAST MIND GIVES THE STEADFAST STEP. A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Veering here and there like the wind, there is no dependence on the direction he may take. The man or the woman is made by something within them invisible to the world. When Christ was led as a lamb to the slaughter, the great conflict had been fought out in Gethsemane, and then the steps were calm and steadfast. What an hour is that in which, in common parlance, "the mind is made up," the resolution taken. This is firmness, as opposed to obstinacy, which acts with out reasons, and often in the teeth of them. The misery caused in this world by obstinate people is to be seen sometimes in the home, where sulkiness of temper makes the lives of others miserable Firmness is the result of the thoughtful decision of an enlightened mind and a consecrated heart.
II. THE STEADFAST MIND MAKES THE REST COMPANION. Ruth was ready for the companion journey back to Bethlehem. And in all our life journeys nothing is so precious as a steadfast heart. There are times of misinterpretation in all lives—times of disheartenment, times of shadow and darkness. In such hours a steadfast companion is God's richest gift to us. What consolation it is to know that even humanly every support will not give way, that there will always be one eye to brighten, one hand to help, one heart to love, one mind to appreciate. The fickle and irresolute may have a transient beauty and a winning manner, but these are poor endowments without a steadfast mind.
III. THE STEADFAST MIND IS FREED FROM THE INFINITUDE OF LESSER WORRIES. It is made up. It is not open to every solicitation. It is negative to doubt and distrust. This is the right way, and naught can move it. The feeble and irresolute have a restless life. They are constantly balancing expediences and advantages. Christ our Divine Lord set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. The hardest journey of all to the shame and spitting, the awful darkness and the cruel cross. If we are firm and decided in our purposes we shall not be wasting either time or strength upon the solicitations of the popular or profitable. A voice within will say, "This is the way, walk ye in it."—W.M.S.
"So they two went till they came to Bethlehem." "They two!" Sometimes it is husband and wife. Sometimes it is two sisters commencing life together in the great city where they have to earn their bread. Sometimes it is two lovers who have large affection and little means, and who have to wait and work and hope on. Sometimes it is widow and child. "They two!" What unrecorded histories of heroism there are written in God's book all unknown to us.
I. HERE IS THE COMMENCEMENT AND CLOSE OF A PILGRIMAGE. They went. They came. So is it of the life history itself. All is enfolded in these brief words. What a multitude of figures in Scripture suggest the brevity of life. A tale that is told. A post. A weaver's shuttle. The morning flower. So indeed it is. What a multitude of incidents would be included even in this brief journey of Naomi's; but these are the two clasps of the volume of life. They went. They came. "Every beginning holds in it the end, as the acorn does the oak."
II. HERE IS THE SIGHT OF A CITY. Bethlehem. Cities with them were not like cities with us. Even Bethlehem was called a city. But the old dwelling-places, after ten years, have a mute eloquence about them. Other feet come to the well. Little children who gathered flowers on the wild hills are now bearing pitchers to the well. But after a weary journey how refreshing to the Easterns was the glimpse of the white houses on the hills. We look for a city. A city which hath foundations. A city where our beloved are; for God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. We do not think of it in health and strength and excitement of human interest, but one day we shall look with quiet longing for the city gates. The evening of life will come upon us, and we shall pray, "Let me go, for the day breaketh."
III. HERE IS A PILGRIMAGE ENDED. Better is the end of a thing than the beginning, said the wise man. And so it is. "I have finished my course." How much is included in that. When the battered ship comes into harbor we take more interest in her than the spick and span new vessel with trim decks, and untorn sails, and scarless masts. When the battle is over we think more of the shot-pierced flag than of the new banner borne out by the troops with martial music. We like to see the pilgrim start. But some pilgrims turn back. We like to hear Ruth's resolve. How much better is it to see the resolve written in letters of living history. We can call no man hero, no woman heroine, till the march is over and the victory won.—W.M.S.
Never seemed there a sadder contrast. Naomi left Bethlehem in the full bloom of womanhood, with a husband and two sons. Elimelech, her husband, died, we read, "and she was left and her two sons." They took them wives, and, as mothers do, she lived in the hopes and honors of their new homes; but, after dwelling in Moab about ten years, we read Mahlon and Chillon died also, both of them, and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband, A strange land is not so strange when we carry home with us; but it is strange when all that made home, is gone. We need not wonder, therefore, that not alone for the bread of harvest, but for the bread of love, she and her daughters-in-law "went on the way to return to the land of Judah." But, with a fine instinct, Naomi felt that what would be home again for her would be an alien land to them; and the tender narrative tells us how she suggested they should remain, and find rest, each of them, in the place of their people. We well know the sequel to the words of Naomi, "Turn again my daughters;" for Ruth has become with us all a beautiful picture of truehearted womanhood, and a very household name. But it is with the question, "Is this Naomi?" that we now have to deal. She went out full. Not wealthy, perhaps,—though love is always wealthy, for it alone gives that which worlds want wealth to buy. She is coming home "empty," as many have done since Naomi did, in all the generations. Bent, and sad, and gray, her worn dress tells of her poverty, her garb bespeaks the widow. All in a few years; all crowded into these few opening verses. The pathway of the past is an avenue now, along which she looks to the opening days, when the light flooded her steps, and she walked in the warm glow of companionship and love. Is this Naomi? And have not we had this to say again and again concerning those whose early days we knew? There we heard the merry shout of children, and there we saw manhood in its strength and prime. Naomi it cannot be: that the face we knew as a bride and as a mother! Never! Yet so it is. They went out full and came home empty. Yet not empty, if, like Naomi, they keep their fellowship with God.
I. NAOMI IS A RETURNING PILGRIM. Home has been but a tent life, and the curtains have been rent by sorrow and death. She tells us the old, old story. Here have we no continuing city. Beautiful was the land to which she returned, and in that dear land of promise there never was a fairer time than barley-harvest. Many and many a harvest-time had come and gone since Naomi went forth, and many a reaper's song was silent evermore. As she passed the vines and the oleanders fringing the broad fields, bronzed and bright-eyed faces were directed towards her; and here, in the distance, was Bethlehem, its little white houses dotting the green slopes, its well by the wayside. Bethlehem—home! Oh! that strange longing to live through the closing years in the country places where we were born l It is a common instinct. The Chinese have it, and will be buried nowhere else. It is a beautiful instinct too—to look with the reverent eyes of age on the tombstones we used to spell out in the village, to hear the old rush of the river, the old murmur of the sea. Strange thoughts fill this woman's mind, as the old picture is there with a new peopling of forms and faces. Yet not all new. The workers turn to the passing figure, and a gleam of recognition, doubtful at first, lights up their eyes. And then the word passes from one to the other, Is this Naomi? It is the same world in which we live today. There is also something to remind us that we are pilgrims and strangers, that unresting time will not wait one hour for us. The unseen angels hurry us on through love and grief and death. Happy for us if we say plainly that we seek a country, for the only escape from the ennui of life is the satisfaction of the immortal thirst within us by the gospel revelation of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
II. NAOMI IS A GODLY PILGRIM. Travel-worn and weary, with sandaled feet, she is coming to a city sanctified by the faith of her fathers. She had lived in a heathen country so devoutly, that Ruth could say, "Thy God shall be my God"—a beautiful testimony to Naomi's fidelity, to her victory over idolatrous usages, to her own personal influence over others. Thy God l How serious the eye, how sober the mien, of this woman as she comes into the city. She has had a battle of life to fight, and she has fought it well. How brave and noble and faithful a woman she is! Is this Naomi? If there is not so much of what the world calls beauty in her face, there is character there, experience there. The young Christian starting on his pilgrimage is cheerful enough. His armor is bright and new, his enthusiasm is fresh and keen. He goes forth full of enterprise and hope. Do not be surprised if in the after years you ask, Is this Naomi? How careful, how anxious, how dependent on God alone! What bright visions once filled his soul, how ready he was to criticize Christian character, how determined and unflinching he looked! Well, it was a noble promise, and where would the world be without the enthusiasm of youth? Be not surprised now if he looks worn and weary. He has had battles to fight that the world knows not of. He has made strange discoveries in the continent of his own heart; he has been well-nigh overcome, and casting himself entirely on his Lord, he says, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Look at that weary heart. Is that Luther? Look at that faithless spirit. Is that Peter? Look at that worn soldier. Is that Paul? But the Lord is with them I Empty, indeed, in a human sense was Naomi. Call me not Naomi, she said; it has lost its meaning. Life is no longer pleasant. Call me Mara, for life is bitter. True-hearted soul I She knew that it was bitter, indeed, though it was God's will; "for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me." Very bitterly! And are we to cover over that? Can we sing—
"Thy will is sweetest to me when
It triumphs at my cost?"
We may sing it; but it is hard to live it. It is glorious to believe in God at such times at all, and to bow with the pain all through our hearts, and to say, "My God."—W.M.S.
Ruth 1:22; Ruth 2:1-3
Naomi's history may now be carried on in the light of these texts.
I. NAOMI IS AN ANCESTRAL PILGRIM. Ancestor of whom? Turn to Matthew 1:5, and you will find in the genealogy of our Lord the name of Ruth. The earlier part of that Divine life, how fresh and beautiful it is—the advent, the angels, the shepherds' songs! The mother, the first visit to the temple, the doctors! And beautiful ministry too. Power wedded to mercy, miracles of healing, mighty deeds of love, sermons amid the mountains and the cities. True! But stand here a moment. It is an early evening of life, I admit; but it s evening. Do you see in the blue distance One coming from the judgment hall? Do you hear the wild cry of the mob, "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him! Crucify him!"? Do you mark the crush of the crowd round one fallen form, who fainted beneath the burden of that cross which he bore for us all? Follow him on to the slopes, while Simon, the Cyrenian, helps to bear his cross. The soldiers mock him. The crowd insult him. They spat upon him, they smote him with their hands, they buffeted him. And now his hands and feet are nailed; his pale face is bowed. Come nearer and gaze. Behold the man I As the reapers asked, "Is this Naomi?" so we ask, "Is this Jesus?" Is this he whose sweet face lay in the manger? Is this he whose bright inquisitive face was in the temple? Is this he who passed the angels at heaven's high gate, and came to earth, saying, "Lo! I come to do thy will, O God." Yes! Bowed, bruised, broken for us. The same Savior, who now endures the cross, despising the shame. Well may we wonder and adore! He saved others, himself he cannot—will not—save! More beautiful now than in the stainless infancy of the Holy Child. More beautiful now than when by the shores of Galilee's lake, he spake words which mirrored heaven more purely and clearly than those waters the gold and crimson of the sky. It is the bowed, broken, forsaken, suffering, dying Lord that moves the world's heart. He knew it all. In that hour, when his soul was made an offering for sin, he, being lifted up, had power to draw all hearts unto him. Is this Naomi? Well might angels ask, Is this the eternal Son of the Father? Is this he of whom the Almighty said, "He is my fellow." Is this he to whom command was given, Let all the angels of God worship him? Yes! It is he. It is finished. "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in."
II. NAOMI IS A PROVIDED-FOR PILGRIM. Back to Bethlehem; but how to live? how to find the roof-tree that should shelter again? She knew the Eternal's name, "Jehovah-Jireh," the Lord will provide. A kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man Of wealth, lived there: of the family of Elimelech; his name was Boaz. We must not mind criticism when we talk of chance, or happening. The Bible does. It is simply one way of stating what seems to us accidental; although in reality we know that the least secrets are in the good hand of him "to whom is nothing trivial." Ruth wants to glean! And Naomi says, Go, my daughter; "and her hap—her chance—was to light on the part of a field belonging unto Boaz?' We know that the same old love story, which is new in every generation begins again; so Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife. So that a new home begins, and a smile plays through the tears of the lonely widow. Naomi has some human light again in her landscape; she will see the children's children, and take them by the hand into the coming barley-harvests; she will have some appropriate hopes and joys and interests still. Life to her will not be desolate, because she has still a God above her and a world around her to call forth interest and hope. Her sorrow was not greater than she could bear, and the summer over, even autumn had its tender beauties before life's winter came. So it ever is. Trust in the Lord, and you shall never want any good thing. Believe still in your Savior, and provided for you will be with all weapons of fence, all means of consolation, all prosperity that shall not harm your soul. So true, then, is the Bible to the real facts of human life. It is not a book of gaiety, for life is real and earnest, and its associations are mortal and mutable. It consecrates home joy, and yet reminds us that every garden has its grave, every dear union its separation. But, on the other hand, there are no utterances of unbearable grief, or unmitigated woe. It says ever to us, Jehovah-Jireh, the Lord will provide. And the facts of experience in every age endorse its truth. As the snows bide flowers even in the Alps, so beneath all our separations and sorrows there are still plants of the Lord, peace, and hope, and joy, and rest in him. Blessed, indeed, shall we be if we can rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. We, too, shall all change. Time and sorrow will write their experiences on our brow. There will be hours in which we feel like Naomi, empty, oh I so empty. The cup of affection poured out on the ground, the forest without its songsters, the garden without its flowers, the home without its familiar faces. We shall see these pictures every day, and wonder, more and more, how any hearts can do without a Brother and a Savior in Jesus Christ. But if character be enriched and trained, all is well; for this very end have we bad Divine discipline, and the Lord will perfect that which concerneth us for the highest ends of eternal life in him. The baptism with which our Lord was baptized changed his face, altered his mien, enlarged even his Divine experience. He was made "perfect through suffering," and became the Author of eternal salvation to all who trust in him. Coming back even to Bethlehem is only for a season. As Naomi returns, nature alone remains the same; the blue roller-bird would flash for a moment across her path, the music of the turtle-dove remind her of the melody of nature in her childhood;—the peasant garb would tell her of the old unchanged ways; and the line of hills against the sky would remind her that the earth abideth forever. But for her there was a still more abiding country, where Elimelech, like Abraham, lived, and where Mahlon and Chillon waited for the familiar face that had made their boyhood blessed. And so we wait. The redemption we celebrate here is a passover, a memorial of deliverance and a prophecy of home. Home where sorrow and sighing, night and death, will flee away; where, no longer pilgrims, we shall no more go out, and where the worn face and the weary heart shall be transfigured into the immortal life.—W.M.S.
"I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty." It seemed, indeed, a via dolorosa, this path homeward. How expressive the words.
I. LOVE MAKES LIFE FULL. Why, I thought they went out poor? Yes. Seeking bread? Yes. Yet Naomi's description is true and beautiful. We are "full" when we have that which makes home, home indeed, and we are poor if, having all wealth of means, we have not love. Well, indeed, has it been said that "the golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone." We never know how empty life is till the loved are lost to us.
II. THE LORD IS THE DISPOSER OF ALL EVENTS. "The Lord hath brought me home." We talk of Providence when all goes well with us, when the harvests are ripened, and the fruits hang on the wall. But we must not limit Providence to the pleasant. The Lord "takes away" as well as gives. It is said that, in the order of reading at the family altar, when the late John Angell James was about to conduct worship after a severe bereavement, the Psalm to be read was the hundred and third. The good man stopped, tears rolled down his face; and then, gathering up his strength, he said, "Why not? It is the Father!" and he read on, "Bless the Lord, O my soul!"
III. THE FULLEST HOME MAY SOON BE EMPTIED. Yes! We too should feel it so. A husband and two sons gone! What converse there had been! what interest in each other's pursuits I what affectionate concern for each other's weal and happiness! and what a wealth of love for Naomi, the center of all I We feel at such seasons that death would be blessed relief for us. The thought comes across us, "I have got to live;" to live on from day to day, attending to the minutiae of duty, and coming here and there so often on the little relics of the dead. Home again! That has music inb it for the school-children, who come back to the bright home; but to the widow, oh, how different! Home again, but how empty! Yet we may learn, even from Naomi, that rest and refreshment come to hearts that trust in God their Savior; and we may learn too what mistakes we make. Naomi said, "Why call ye me Naomi, seeing that the Lord hath testified against me?" Natural enough; but life was still to have a pleasant side for her.—W.M.S.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ruth 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany