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Ruth 1:1 In the days when the judges judged, there was a famine in the land. A man of Bethlehem Judah went with his wife and two sons to live in the country of Moab-
The famine was because of Israel’s disobedience. The idea of famine was to bring the people back to God, but Elimelech [like many people today] responded poorly to it, and went away from God’s people by moving to Moab. In Moab he would be unable to come to the sanctuary, and his children ran the risk of marrying unbelievers; and seeing marriage required the father’s approval, their marriage out of the faith reflects poorly on Elimelech as well as on his sons. So we see how sin results in Divine intervention [famine, in this case]; that intervention is punishment, but it is aimed at reformation. But it can be taken the wrong way, and people who respond poorly to it are then driven even further from God. This is the way the downward spiral works; but the holy Spirit likewise is the dynamic of the upward spiral. See on :13.


Ruth 1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech-
'God is king', reflecting the belief at the time of the judges (:1) that Israel had no human king because Yahweh was their king. But he went to live in the land of Moloch, a form of the Hebrew melech; Moloch who was presented as the real king rather than Yahweh, and this family were happy to go along with that on a surface level.

His wife’s, Naomi; his two sons’, Mahlon and Chilion-
The names of the sons mean "sickly" and "wasting away". So we are given the impression of a "pleasant" woman ['Naomi'] with two sickly sons and a materialistic husband, ever seeking a better deal in life, which never worked out. To have just two sons was a very small family for those days; for we get the impression they had no other children. We can imagine the child deaths, miscarriages etc. which led her to feel that God was not completely with her. And yet it was through all this that she came to Him so strongly.

They were Ephrathites of Bethlehem Judah. They came into the country of Moab, and stayed there-
As he now shifted to Moab for a better life, perhaps he had already made such a shift before; because he was a man of Ephraim who had moved to Bethlehem in Judah. We are presented with a family who always wanted a better life, but it never quite worked out. We have surely met this type in our lives. We note that many of the histories of apostacy in the book of Judges feature people from Ephraim, and it seems we are intended to read Elimelech's move to Moab as a continuation of that sad theme. The whole point of the story is that out of such weakness, at least one person [Naomi] holds on, and through her, indirectly [through Ruth] a wonderful movement of God's Spirit is seen. And this too is a story we have all seen time and again.  


Ruth 1:3 Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons-
See on :5. "Left" is usually translated "remained". The implication could be that she ought to have returned to Judah at this point, but she didn't. She is really the classic case of someone out of weakness being made strong; Esther is another example. She came to realize and experience that indeed Yahweh is a protector of orphans and widows (Ps 68:5). It may be significant that Naomi is Elimelech's wife in 1:1 but by 1:3 he is now called Naomi's husband; she has had to adopt the prominent role because of his illness and weakness. 

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Ruth 1:4 The sons took wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other was Ruth. They lived there about ten years-
The very phrase "the women of Moab" recalls Israel's apostasy with the women of Moab in 1 Kings 11:1; indeed the Midianite women who led Israel astray in Num. 25:18 were connected with Moab (Num. 22:4). Moabites were not to come into the congregation of Yahweh (Dt. 23:3; Neh. 13:1). The fact the Moabite Ruth was accepted into that congregation in such a major way was therefore an example of God's great value of the human person as an individual, and He is willing as it were to break His own law to demonstrate the degree of that value He placed upon Ruth. With Elimelech dead, we can assume that Naomi was responsible for allowing these marriages to happen, because she refused to return to the land of Israel at that time (see on :3). In their culture, the mother had quite some role to play in the arrangement of marriages (see Song 8:2).

Ruth 1:5 Mahlon and Chilion both died, and the woman was bereaved of her two children and of her husband-
"
Bereaved" is the word translated "left" in :3. We are given the impression of a woman who has the scaffolding around her life removed, bit by bit; for to lose all the men in her life was a major blow. And it brought her to passionate personal relationship with Yahweh. It seems she found Yahweh in Moab and not in Israel. And her commitment was so strong that it exuded from her, to the extent that Ruth was persuaded of Yahweh by her example. And this is the path so many must pass through; isolation and the removal of all human scaffolding leads us to personal relationship with our God.

 
Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law, to return from the country of Moab; for she had heard in the country of Moab how that Yahweh had visited His people-
"Visited His people" is an idiom for God’s action and intervention. It’s clearly not to be taken literally, and likewise the connected idiom of ‘coming down’ should not be read literally either. When God ‘came down’ in Christ, we are not to understand a literal descent of a pre-existent Christ to earth; but rather, the manifestation of God in His Son who was born on earth.


In giving them bread- The implication could be that there was a famine in Moab. Naomi's motives were not paramountly spiritual. Again, as noted on :2, she is moving around in search of a better life. We marvel at how God worked to get Ruth into Israel- the death of three men, the famine in Israel initially, the spiritual weakness of Elimelech, the punishment of the family (:21), the enduring faith of Naomi… all in order to bring Ruth into Israel. In the bringing of each person to Himself, there is likewise complex working with far-reaching effects upon unbelievers, for whom events have no personal meaning, and yet the events were for the sake of others. Thus large numbers of people suffered during the seven years famine in Egypt, with no personal meaning for themselves, because that famine was required to reunite the family of God.


Ruth 1:7 She left the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They began the journey to the land of Judah-
It seems the idea had been to accompany Ruth from where she was living in Moab, at least to the border of Judah. "Left the place where she was" uses the same words about Lot and his daughters leaving the place where they were in Sodom (Gen. 19:12,14) to go to spiritual safety. And of course Moab was the fruit of Lot sleeping with his daughter when they did so. The allusion is therefore purposeful. The theme is as ever of spiritual weakness, and yet of people becoming strong for God out of that weakness. 

The Hebrew is literally "To return to the land of Judah". I suggest the book of Ruth was written up or edited under inspiration in Babylon, as guidance and encouragement for those in captivity in Babylon to return to Judah. Despite having sinned and having endured judgment for that, and despite having lost many of their men folk, Judah were to follow Naomi’s example and return, taking any faithful Gentiles with them, and would like Naomi find unexpected blessing in the land, and a part in the family of Messiah.


Ruth 1:8 Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, Go, return each of you to your mother’s house, Yahweh deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead, and with me-
God blesses those who bless the seed of Abraham, even if the members of the seed are spiritually weak (see on 1:1). Naomi shows her awareness of the Abrahamic promises by wishing this blessing upon her daughters in law, whom she considered had been ‘kind’ to her sons and husband and to herself too. Presumably this was said at the border of Moab and Israel. The women had accompanied Naomi there and the idea was that they should not return. Women travelling alone was unusual. We get the distinct impression of Naomi as being totally without male support in her life. This all drove her towards Yahweh as her Father, protector, provider and redeemer.  


Ruth 1:9 Yahweh grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voice, and wept-
"Find rest in the house of her husband" is an idiom for having a stable family life with children; note how Ruth 3:1 uses the same idiom: “Shall I not seek rest for you?” effectively means ‘I will try to set you up with marriage and a family’. The implication would therefore be that the women had not had children by Naomi’s sons, and the sons had both died suddenly. Naomi interpreted this as God’s judgment upon her (:20,21). Her bitterness with God was because she felt that her daughters in law had unjustly suffered [childlessness was seen as the greatest tragedy] only because of her and her family. Naomi is effectively telling these women that she considers that the God of Israel is responsible for their barrenness, and if they returned to their gods, and married one of their own people, they would likely have children and ‘find rest’ in family life. Ruth’s strong commitment to Naomi personally and to the God of Israel was therefore all the more remarkable; she accepted she may never have children, that Yahweh’s judgments upon His people sometimes affected Gentiles who happened to be involved… but she still so loved Him and wanted to devote herself to Him, despite His harder side. If there is really only one true God, then it is our duty to accept Him, even if we cannot attach meaning to events at the moment we experience them.

We note how Naomi openly and freely uses the word "Yahweh" (also in :8). Clearly she felt strong covenant relationship with Him.


Ruth 1:10 They said to her, No, but we will return with you to your people-
It was Naomi and not those Moabite girls who was returning. But they speak of "we will return" because they had come to so identify with Naomi. Or there may be the idea that they wanted to 'turn to' [another legitimate translation of shub, rendered here "return"] Naomi's people. Lot was the father of Moab, and the same words are used of how he was returned to his people by Abraham (Gen. 14:16). The hint may be that they wanted to have this same grace shown to them due to the Abrahamic covenant. See on :15. 


Ruth 1:11 Naomi said, Go back, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?-
"Go back" is the word for "return" in :10. Naomi is encouraging them to return or turn to their own people, and not hers. And Orpah accepts her encouragement (:15). Naomi apparently had only produced two sickly sons who survived to adulthood, and they had both prematurely died; and she felt herself to be barren. There was no legal requirement for a widow to marry the younger brother of a deceased husband, but it could be argued that any future children of Naomi had a duty to marry their late brother's wife and have children by her in his name. But that would be a very strict reading of the Mosaic legislation in this case, if not simply a wrong interpretation of the Levirate law. For the simple intention of the Levirate law was that if a man died, his brother was to marry his widow and have children by her. And it only applied to "brothers dwelling together". But Naomi has clearly thought it through; for all her apparent weakness and even apostacy as noted so far, she was aware of God's laws. Despite having nobody to teach her there in Moab and no written scripture with her [she was surely illiterate anyway], she remembered the Mosaic law and thought through its implications. However her very strict interpretation of them in this case may suggest she is seeking every reason to discourage the young women to follow her back to Israel. And this makes Ruth's decision the more commendable.  


Ruth 1:12 Go back, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say, ‘I have hope’, if I should even have a husband tonight, and should also bear sons-
See on :11. She considered herself barren (:11), but even if she should be able to have children, and they were males, and they lived... it would mean the young women would have to wait to many years that they would likely then be infertile. So Naomi considers herself a woman without hope, in human terms. And it is for those who perceive their hopelessness that the hope of Israel means the most. She also considers the laws of levirate marriage as unable to provide a way out of her hopeless situation. This is perhaps why she doesn't even suggest that Ruth approach Boaz when they first arrive in Bethlehem. It was really a case of being surprised by grace when she finds that in the end, the levirate laws will in fact be used as the vehicle to effect for her such a great salvation for both her and Ruth.


Ruth 1:13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from having husbands? No, my daughters, for it grieves me much for your sakes, for the hand of Yahweh has gone out against me-
See on :11,12. "Grieves" is a form of the Hebrew word Mara. It would seem from :20 that Naomi, for all her awareness of God’s word and faith in Him, was consumed by bitterness; and she publically acknowledged this. She was bitter because she felt God had unfairly punished her daughters in law for her sin and the apostasy of her family. This is so often a reason for bitterness with God- a sense that His judgments are unjust, and that the innocent wrongly suffer. The book of Ruth concludes with a happy Naomi raising her grandson who is presented as being in the direct line of Messiah. But this was a woman consumed with bitterness earlier. One lesson is that God still works with and through bitter people, even those who are angry and cross at Him. Another lesson is that in the final end, God’s utter grace and love is revealed through all His workings, even if at some points during the process, His actions seem totally unjust to us. But in the final, bigger picture, we realize that this was in fact the way of Divine love and grace, so far above any human plan.

 She was grieved because she felt that the judgments upon her for her sin (see on :1) were of such a nature that they had seriously affected these two Gentile women, in that they had been left young widows without children. The fact the two sons and husband died apparently at the same time would lead to the impression that this was an act from God, which Naomi understood as judgment for sin. The fact she retains her love of God and wants to return to Israel is therefore commendable; she responded the right way to God’s intervention and judgment, rather than going further away from Him as she had done previously when He intervened (see on :1).

Ruth 1:14 They lifted up their voices, and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell, but Ruth stayed with her-
AV "Clave unto her", the same Hebrew word used of the ‘cleaving’ in marriage of Gen. 2:24. And marriage has been the context of the discussion. Ruth is saying that she accepts childlessness and singleness, and in place of those things she wished to ‘cleave’ to Naomi, whom she saw as representative of Israel’s God. She was rewarded for this in an appropriate way- she wanted to dwell under the wings of Israel’s God (2:12), and He came to be manifested in Boaz, under the wings of whose garment she came (3:4,7,9).


Ruth 1:15 She said, Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people-
The word for "gone back" is that translated "return" in :10. The girls had originally intended to 'return' or 'turn to' Naomi's people, but now Orpah had decided to return to her people and not Naomi's people. 

And to her god. Follow your sister-in-law-
Cp. AV “her gods”. The contrast is between Orpah returning to her god [Chemosh?] and Ruth stating in the next verse that she wants to accept Naomi’s God [Yahweh]. "Follow" would imply 'follow her back to follow her god'. And putting it like that, Ruth felt she had no choice but to cross the border of Moab / Israel, and totally commit to Yahweh.


Ruth 1:16 Ruth said, Don’t entreat me to leave you, and to return from following after you-
She has a choice of following her sister in law to follow her gods, or to follow the apparently hopeless case Naomi, and follow her God Yahweh. It seems to me that it was Naomi's faith in her God despite her own personal weaknesses and Yahweh apparently failing to 'come through' for her in a short term sense... which actually attracted Ruth to Yahweh, through Naomi's example. The harder side of God is attractive in this sense. Because He is so evidently real and for real in human life. It is simply untrue that a God who appears to give immediate blessings is going to be the most attractive. The spiritually minded person will believe otherwise. See on Ruth 2:23. 

For where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God-
Ruth's rejection of her national gods and her people was a huge thing to do. We note that the name "Ruth" means "to water"; which was exactly what Moab had refused to do for Israel in Num. 25:1-3. The hope of the restoration prophets was that a repentant Judah would return from the lands of the Gentiles, bringing with them Gentile converts. And I suggest the book of Ruth was rewritten in exile to support this, by demonstrating that it had happened before, historically. Not all Moabites were like Moab had been historically; a xenophobic Judah were to thereby remember that their own beloved king David was from Moabite stock, and any Gentile could come into the people of Israel. Evidence that the book has been rewritten is found in the impression that it was originally all in poetic form in very ancient Hebrew, but that appears to have been rewritten in a way which removes much of the poetic structure whilst adding later Hebrew words and Aramaisms (notably in Ruth 1:13; 4:7). Hence the need in Ruth 4:7 for the book to explain how things were done in "former times" in Israel.

The LXX of Ruth 1:16 is almost quoted by the Lord Jesus in an unusual way, at first blush. The Jesus who loved little children and wept over Jerusalem's self-righteous religious leaders, so desirous of their salvation, is the One who today mediates our prayers and tomorrow will confront us at judgment day. He is the same yesterday [as He was in His ministry], today [in His mediation for us] and for ever, as He shall be at His return. Perhaps the Lord called the disciples His “brothers” straight after His resurrection in order to emphasize that He, the resurrected Man and Son of God, was eager to renew His relationships with those He had known in the flesh. It’s as if He didn’t want them to think that somehow, everything had changed. Indeed, He stresses to them that their Father is His Father, and their God is His God (Jn. 20:18). He alludes here to Ruth 1:16 LXX. Here, Ruth is urged to remain behind in Moab [cp. Mary urging Jesus?], but she says she will come with her mother in law, even though she is of a different people, and “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God”. This allusion would therefore be saying: ‘OK I am of a different people to you now, but that doesn’t essentially affect our relationship; I so love you, I will always stick with you wherever, and my God is your God’. 


Ruth 1:17 where you die, will I die, and there will I be buried. Yahweh do so to me, and more also-
Ruth had learnt the Yahweh Name and already accepted Him as her God. Only a person who was in covenant with Yahweh could swear by Him, for in those days you took an oath by your gods (1 Sam. 17:43). The location of death and burial was significant to those who believed that their gods were geographically limited; you wanted to be buried in the land of your god so he could look after you. It's quite possible that Ruth and Naomi still had a somewhat limited view of Yahweh, as did Jonah and many others, thinking that He was the God of the land of Israel, and therefore must be served there. Their return to the land was a return to Yahweh. But of course the wonder of their stories, as they looked back at them, was that they had both effectively found Yahweh outside the land of Israel, and in a situation of great moral weakness and disobedience to Him. This was exactly the intention for the exiles in Babylon, for whom this book was likely rewritten and republished.

If anything but death part you and me-
The idea is that not even death would not part them, because Naomi says they will be united in their death and burial.


Ruth 1:18 When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, she stopped speaking to her-
It was Israel who were to be "strong" (s.w. "steadfastly minded") in order to leave Moab and enter the land of Israel in faith that Yahweh would go with them, and give them an inheritance in that land (Dt. 31:6,7; Josh. 10:25). Again we see the relevance for the exiles in Babylon, who were urged to likewise be "strong" (s.w.) and leave Gentile lands and come back to Judah (Is. 35:3; 41:10). 


Ruth 1:19 So those two travelled to Bethlehem-
AV "went until they came". This is the phrase repeatedly used of the travels of the patriarchs, who also left a Gentile land and came to inherit the land of Israel and enter relationship with Yahweh (Gen. 11:31; 13:3; 26:13; 28:15). Ruth is clearly presented as one who wished to act in faith as a true member of the seed of Abraham, and thereby to attain the "hope of Israel". We notice the intended contrast with Rachel, who died before she came to Bethlehem; the women likely passed by the spot where she died (Gen. 35:16,19). The idea is that this wayward Israelitess and Gentile Ruth had more faith than Rachel, one of the founding mothers of Israel.

When they had come to Bethlehem, it happened that all the city was agitated about them, and they asked, Is this Naomi?-
They counted Ruth as part of Naomi; so the grammar demands. They were "agitated about them", asking "Is this [not "are these"] Naomi?". Her identity with Naomi was somehow apparent.


Ruth 1:20 She said to them, Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara; for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me-
She uses the term "Almighty" rather than Yahweh, although she knows the Name Yahweh (:21), because shaddai means 'fruitful', from shad, the breast. But she had lost the fruit of her womb and apparently didn't even have any grandsons. She believed in Yahweh passionately, so much so that Ruth came to believe in Him because of her; but she has her deep struggles with His justice, and was bitter ["Mara"] because her character reflected how she felt He had dealt bitterly with her. We see how struggles with God's "justice" do not completely preclude relationship with and faith in Him. There are many Biblical examples of that (like Job, David and Jeremiah). And our character and personality likewise is a reflection of our perceived experience of God. The convinced atheist will have an "empty" aspect to their personality because God is missing. Those who have experienced His grace will likewise have grace and patience as part of their characters.


Ruth 1:21 I went out full, and Yahweh has brought me home again empty-
To be "full" was one of the blessings for obedience to the covenant, and the potential gift of God to Israel when they first entered Canaan (Dt. 6:11; Neh. 9:25 s.w.). But she had left Israel assuming that those blessings were not fulfilled. See on :2. Now she realized that she had seen the cup half empty instead of half full. To be empty was to be without blessing (Gen. 31:42; Ex. 3:21; Dt. 15:13). Boaz later tries to indirectly persuade her that this was not the case ultimately (s.w. Ruth 3:17). She returned to Israel and to Yahweh of her own initiative, and yet she says that Yahweh "brought me home", s.w. "returned" (:22 etc.). He worked, and still works, in confirming the desire of every person who seeks to turn or return to Him and the Hope of Israel. She felt that although she had not experienced blessing from Him, indeed she had lost the potential blessings and was without His blessings, yet still she wanted to return to Him. Contrary to Pentecostal reasoning, the experience of "blessing" was not what attracted her to Him. Rather she wanted to simply be in relationship with Him, like the prodigal son returning from Gentile lands not looking for any material blessing.    

Why do you call me Naomi, since Yahweh has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?-
Judgment is now, in a sense. She felt that God had judged and as it were legally testified against her for her various weaknesses discussed earlier in this chapter; her seeking for a good life rather than putting God first, not returning to Israel when her husband died, allowing her sons to marry Gentiles etc. But what she was yet to realize was that the apparent affliction was but a prelude to her greater deliverance. Likewise God afflicted Israel in Egypt to the point that even Moses felt it was too much (Ex. 5:22,23), but only that He might bring them out to inherit the land of Israel (Gen. 15:13). The God who forbad the affliction of the fatherless and widow like Naomi and her sons (Ex. 22:22) would not ultimately willingly afflict His people, but only with their restoration in view (1 Kings 11:39; Job 37:23; Lam. 3:33).

But at this point, Naomi appears to not grasp this. And yet for all that, her faith in Yahweh was such that she persuaded Ruth to forsake all and follow Him; for all this mystery of His ways with men and apparent affliction of people with no game plan toward salvation yet in view. Indeed the word she uses for "afflicted" is that translated "to do evil" or 'be wicked' with a moral dimension (s.w. Gen. 19:7; 38:10; Lev. 5:4; Ps. 64:2; 92:11; Is. 31:2 and often). She comes close to accusing God of being wicked in His treatment of her. This is how bitter she was. And yet this didn't preclude her desire to come to Him, and that desire and commitment to Him, the God whose ways she didn't understand, was so powerful that it converted Ruth to Him as well. We simply learn from this that solving all the problems of Divine justice is not actually required for a person to have relationship with Him. Indeed the very existence of those problems actually leads humble people to believe in Him. That is the paradox which is totally missed by those who seem to think that endless apologetics will pave the way for folks to therefore and thereby believe in God.     


Ruth 1:22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned out of the country of Moab-

We notice the double stress upon how they "returned". As noted on :21, it was God who 'returned' them. She says that Yahweh "brought me home", s.w. "returned" (:22 etc.). He worked, and still works, in confirming the desire of every person who seeks to turn or return to Him and the Hope of Israel. There is another similarity here with Abraham, who felt God had made him leave his father's house and come to Canaan, even though this is what he had been commanded to do on his own initiative (see on Gen. 20:13). Ruth returned or turned to Israel "out of" Moab, suggesting she came out from her own people in order to come to Yahweh; just as Abraham.

And they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest-
A reminder that there was indeed now bread in Israel. It would have been March or April, the time of Passover (Ex. 9:31), heightening the connection between these women and Israel. For Israel left Egypt after being "afflicted" there (see on :21), to enter the land of promise.