Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Ruth Goes With Naomi to Bethlehem - Ruth 1
In the time of the judges Elimelech emigrated from Bethlehem in Judah into the land of Moab, along with his wife Naomi, and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, because of a famine in the land (Rut 1:1, Rut 1:2). There Elimelech died; and his two sons married Moabitish women, named Orpah and Ruth. But in the course of ten years they also died, so that Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left by themselves (Rut 1:3-5). When Naomi heard that the Lord had once more blessed the land of Israel with bread, she set out with Orpah and Ruth to return home. But on the way she entreated them to turn back and remain with their relations in their own land; and Orpah did so (Rut 1:6-14). But Ruth declared that she would not leave her mother-in-law, and went with her to Bethlehem (Rut 1:15-22).
Elimelech's Emigration (Rut 1:1, Rut 1:2). - By the word ויהי the following account is attached to other well-known events (see at Jos 1:1); and by the definite statement, "in the days when judges judged," it is assigned to the period of the judges generally. "A famine in the land," i.e., in the land of Israel, and not merely in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem. The time of this famine cannot be determined with certainty, although it seems very natural to connect it, as Seb. Schmidt and others do, with the devastation of the land by the Midianites (Judg 6); and there are several things which favour this. For example, the famine must have been a very serious one, and not only have extended over the whole of the land of Israel, but have lasted several years, since it compelled Elimelech to emigrate into the land of the Moabites; and it was not till ten years had elapsed, that his wife Naomi, who survived him, heard that Jehovah had given His people bread again, and returned to her native land (Rut 1:4, Rut 1:5).Now the Midianites oppressed Israel for seven years, and their invasions were generally attended by a destruction of the produce of the soil (Jdg 6:3-4), from which famine must necessarily have ensued. Moreover, they extended their devastations as far as Gaza (Jdg 6:4). And although it by no means follows with certainty from this, that they also came into the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, it is still less possible to draw the opposite conclusion, as Bertheau does, from the fact they encamped in the valley of Jezreel (Jdg 6:33), and were defeated there by Gideon, namely, that they did not devastate the mountains of Judah, because the road from the plain of Jezreel to Gaza did not lie across those mountains. There is just as little force in the other objection raised by Bertheau, namely, that the genealogical list in Rut 4:18. would not place Boaz in the time of Gideon, but about the time of the Philistian supremacy over Israel, since this objection is founded partly upon an assumption that cannot be established, and partly upon an erroneous chronological calculation. For example, the assumption that every member is included in this chronological series cannot be established, inasmuch as unimportant members are often omitted from the genealogies, so that Obed the son of Boaz might very well have been the grandfather of Jesse. And according to the true chronological reckoning, the birth of David, who died in the year 1015 b.c. at the age of seventy, fell in the year 1085, i.e., nine or ten years after the victory gained by Samuel over the Philistines, or after the termination of their forty years' rule over Israel, and only ninety-seven years after the death of Gideon (see the chronological table). Now David was the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse. If therefore we place his birth in the fiftieth year of his father's life, Jesse would have been born in the first year of the Philistian oppression, or forty-eight years after the death of Gideon. Now it is quite possible that Jesse may also have been a younger son of Obed, and born in the fiftieth year of his father's life; and if so, the birth of Obed would fall in the last years of Gideon. From this at any rate so much may be concluded with certainty, that Boaz was a contemporary of Gideon, and the emigration of Elimelech into the land of Moab may have taken place in the time of the Midianitish oppression. "To sojourn in the fields of Moab," i.e., to live as a stranger there. The form שׂדי (Rut 1:1, Rut 1:2, Rut 1:22, and Rut 2:6) is not the construct state singular, or only another form for שׂדה, as Bertheau maintains, but the construct state plural of the absolute שׂדים, which does not occur anywhere, it is true, but would be a perfectly regular formation (comp. Isa 32:12; Sa2 1:21, etc.), as the construct state singular is written שׂדה even in this book (Rut 1:6 and Rut 4:3). The use of the singular in these passages for the land of the Moabites by no means proves that שׂדי must also be a singular, but may be explained from the fact that the expression "the field (= the territory) of Moab" alternates with the plural, "the fields of Moab."
אפרתים, the plural of אפרתי, an adjective formation, not from אפרים, as in Jdg 12:5, but from אפרת (Gen 48:7) or אפרתה (Rut 4:11; Gen 35:19), the old name for Bethlehem, Ephrathite, i.e., sprung from Bethlehem, as in Sa1 17:12. The names - Elimelech, i.e., to whom God is King; Naomi (נעמי, a contraction of נעמית, lxx Νοομμείν, Vulg. Nomi), i.e., the gracious; Machlon, i.e., the weakly; and Chilion, pining - are genuine Hebrew names; whereas the names of the Moabitish women, Orpah and Ruth, who were married to Elimelech's sons, cannot be satisfactorily explained from the Hebrew, as the meaning given to Orpah, "turning the back," is very arbitrary, and the derivation of Ruth from רעוּת, a friend, is quite uncertain. According to Rut 4:10, Ruth was the wife of the elder son Mahlon. Marriage with daughters of the Moabites was not forbidden in the law, like marriages with Canaanitish women (Deu 7:3); it was only the reception of Moabites into the congregation of the Lord that was forbidden (Deu 23:4).
"Thus the woman (Naomi) remained left (alone) of her two sons and her husband."
After the loss of her husband and her two sons, Naomi rose up out of the fields of Moab to return into the land of Judah, as she had heard that Jehovah had visited His people, i.e., had turned His favour towards them again to give them bread. From the place where she had lived Naomi went forth, along with her two daughters-in-law. These three went on the way to return to the land of Judah. The expression "to return," if taken strictly, only applies to Naomi, who really returned to Judah, whilst her daughters-in-law simply wished to accompany her thither.
"On the way," i.e., when they had gone a part of the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each one to her mother's house," - not her father's, though, according to Rut 2:11, Ruth's father at any rate was still living, but her mother's, because maternal love knows best how to comfort a daughter in her affliction. "Jehovah grant you that ye may find a resting-place, each one in the house of her husband," i.e., that ye may both be happily married again. She then kissed them, to take leave of them (vid., Gen 31:28). The daughters-in-law, however, began to weep aloud, and said, "We will return with thee to thy people" כּי before a direct statement serves to strengthen it, and is almost equivalent to a positive assurance.
Naomi endeavoured to dissuade them from this resolution, by setting before them the fact, that if they went with her, there would be no hope of their being married again, and enjoying the pleasures of life once more. "Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?" Her meaning is: I am not pregnant with sons, upon whom, as the younger brothers of Mahlon and Chilion, there would rest the obligation of marrying you, according to the Levitate law (Deu 25:5; Gen 38:8). And not only have I no such hope as this, but, continues Naomi, in Rut 1:12, Rut 1:13, I have no prospect of having a husband and being blessed with children: "for I am too old to have a husband;" year, even if I could think of this altogether improbable thing as taking place, and assume the impossible as possible; "If I should say, I have hope (of having a husband), yea, if I should have a husband to-night, and should even bear sons, would ye then wait till they were grown, would ye then abstain from having husbands?" The כּי (if) before אמרתּי refers to both the perfects which follow. להן is the third pers. plur. neuter suffix הן with the prefix ל, as in Job 30:24, where הן is pointed with seghol, on account of the toned syllable which follows, as here in pause in Rut 1:9 : lit. in these things, in that case, and hence in the sense of therefore = לכן, as in Chaldee (e.g., Dan 2:6, Dan 2:9,Dan 2:24, etc.). תּעגנה (vid., Isa 60:4, and Ewald, 195, a.), from עגן ἁπ. λεγ. in Hebrew, which signifies in Aramaean to hold back, shut in; hence in the Talmud עגוּנה, a woman who lived retired in her own house without a husband. Naomi supposes three cases in Rut 1:12, of which each is more improbable, or rather more impossible, than the one before; and even if the impossible circumstance should be possible, that she should bear sons that very night, she could not in that case expect or advise her daughters-in-law to wait till these sons were grown up and could marry them, according to the Levirate law. In this there was involved the strongest persuasion to her daughters-in-law to give up their intention of going with her into the land of Judah, and a most urgent appeal to return to their mothers' houses, where, as young widows without children, they would not be altogether without the prospect of marrying again. One possible case Naomi left without notice, namely, that her daughters-in-law might be able to obtain other husbands in Judah itself. She did not hint at this, in the first place, and perhaps chiefly, from delicacy on account of the Moabitish descent of her daughters-in-law, in which she saw that there would be an obstacle to their being married in the land of Judah; and secondly, because Naomi could not do anything herself to bring about such a connection, and wished to confine herself therefore to the one point of making it clear to her daughters that in her present state it was altogether out of her power to provide connubial and domestic happiness for them in the land of Judah. She therefore merely fixed her mind upon the different possibilities of a Levirate marriage.
(Note: The objections raised by J. B. Carpzov against explaining Rut 1:12 and Rut 1:13 as referring to a Levirate marriage, - namely, that this is not to be thought of, because a Levirate marriage was simply binding upon brothers of the deceased by the same father and mother, and upon brothers who were living when he died, and not upon those born afterwards-have been overthrown by Bertheau as being partly without foundation, and partly beside the mark. In the first place, the law relating to the Levirate marriage speaks only of brothers of the deceased, by which, according to the design of this institution, we must certainly think of sons by one father, but not necessarily the sons by the same mother. Secondly, the law does indeed expressly require marriage with the sister-in-law only of a brother who should be in existence when her husband died, but it does not distinctly exclude a brother born afterwards; and this is the more evident from the fact that, according to the account in Gen 38:11, this duty was binding upon brothers who were not grown up at the time, as soon as they should be old enough to marry. Lastly, Naomi merely says, in Rut 1:12, that she was not with child by her deceased husband; and when she does take into consideration, in Rut 1:12 and Rut 1:13, the possibility of a future pregnancy, she might even then be simply thinking of an alliance with some brother of her deceased husband, and therefore of sons who would legally be regarded as sons of Elimelech. When Carpzov therefore defines the meaning of her words in this manner, "I have indeed no more children to hope for, to whom I could marry you in time, and I have no command over others," the first thought does not exhaust the meaning of the words, and the last is altogether foreign to the text.)
בּנתי אל, "not my daughters," i.e., do not go with me; "for it has gone much more bitterly with me than with you." מרר relates to her mournful lot. מכּם is comparative, "before you;" not "it grieveth me much on your account," for which עליכם would be used, as in Sa2 1:26. Moreover, this thought would not be in harmony with the following clause: "for the hand of the Lord has gone out against me," i.e., the Lord has sorely smitten me, namely by taking away not only my husband, but also my two sons.
At these dissuasive words the daughters-in-law broke out into loud weeping again (תּשּׂנה with the א dropped for תּשּׂאנה, Rut 1:9), and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, and took leave of her to return to her mother's house; but Ruth clung to her (דּבק as in Gen 2:24), forsaking her father and mother to go with Naomi into the land of Judah (vid., Rut 2:11).
To the repeated entreaty of Naomi that she would follow her sister-in-law and return to her people and her God, Ruth replied: "Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return away behind thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou stayest, I will stay; thy people is my people, and thy God my God! where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried. Jehovah do so to me, and more also (lit. and so may He add to do)! Death alone shall divide between me and thee." The words יסיף ... יעשׂה י כּה are a frequently recurring formula in connection with an oath (cf. Sa1 3:17; Sa1 14:44; Sa1 20:13, etc.), by which the person searing called down upon himself a severe punishment in case he should not keep his word or carry out his resolution. The following כּי is not a particle used in swearing instead of אם in the sense of "if," equivalent to "surely not," as in Sa1 20:12, in the oath which precedes the formula, but answer to ὅτι in the sense of quod introducing the declaration, as in Gen 22:16; Sa1 20:13; Kg1 2:23; Kg2 3:14, etc., signifying, I swear that death, and nothing else than death, shall separate us. Naomi was certainly serious in her intentions, and sincere in the advice which she gave to Ruth, and did not speak in this way merely to try her and put the state of her heart to the proof, "that it might be made manifest whether she would adhere stedfastly to the God of Israel and to herself, despising temporal things and the hope of temporal possessions' (Seb. Schmidt). She had simply the earthly prosperity of her daughter-in-law in her mind, as she herself had been shaken in her faith in the wonderful ways and gracious guidance of the faithful covenant God by the bitter experience of her own life.
(Note: "She thought of earthly things alone; and as at that time the Jews almost universally were growing lax in the worship of God, so she, having spent ten years among the Moabites, though it of little consequence whether they adhered to the religion of their fathers, to which they had been accustomed from their infancy or went over to the Jewish religion." - Carpzov.)
With Ruth, however, it was evidently not merely strong affection and attachment by which she felt herself so drawn to her mother-in-law that she wished to live and die with her, but a leaning of her heart towards the God of Israel and His laws, of which she herself was probably not yet fully conscious, but which she had acquired so strongly in her conjugal relation and her intercourse with her Israelitish connections, that it was her earnest wish never to be separated from this people and its God (cf. Rut 2:11).
As she insisted strongly upon going with her (התאמּץ, to stiffen one's self firmly upon a thing), Naomi gave up persuading her any more to return.
So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived, the whole town was in commotion on their account (תּהם, imperf. Niph. of הוּם, as in Sa1 4:5; Kg1 1:45). They said, "Is this Naomi?" The subject to תּאמרנה is the inhabitants of the town, but chiefly the female portion of the inhabitants, who were the most excited at Naomi's return. This is the simplest way of explaining the use of the feminine in the verbs תּאמרנה and תּקראנה. In these words there was an expression of amazement, not so much at the fact that Naomi was still alive, and had come back again, as at her returning in so mournful a condition, as a solitary widow, without either husband or sons; for she replied (Rut 1:20), "Call me not Naomi (i.e., gracious), but Marah" (the bitter one), i.e., one who has experienced bitterness, "for the Almighty has made it very bitter to me. I, I went away full, and Jehovah has made me come back again empty. Why do ye call me Naomi, since Jehovah testifies against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me? "Full," i.e., rich, not in money and property, but in the possession of a husband and two sons; a rich mother, but now deprived of all that makes a mother's heart rich, bereft of both husband and sons. "Testified against me," by word and deed (as in Exo 20:16; Sa2 1:16). The rendering "He hath humbled me" (lxx, Vulg., Bertheau, etc.) is incorrect, as ענה with בּ and the construct state simply means to trouble one's self with anything (Ecc 1:13), which is altogether unsuitable here. - With Rut 1:22 the account of the return of Naomi and her daughter-in-law is brought to a close, and the statement that "they came to Bethlehem in the time of the barley harvest" opens at the same time the way for the further course of the history. השּׁבה is pointed as a third pers. perf. with the article in a relative sense, as in Rut 2:6 and Rut 4:3. Here and at Rut 2:6 it applies to Ruth; but in Rut 4:3 to Naomi. המּה, the masculine, is used here, as it frequently is, for the feminine הנּה, as being the more common gender. The harvest, as a whole, commenced with the barley harvest (see at Lev 23:10-11).