The Book of Ruth

Dr. John Boyd, Holywood, N. Ireland

Part 1 of 4 of the series The Book of Ruth

The Position of Ruth in the Canon of Scripture. The order of the Books in the Hebrew Bible is (a) The Torah, or the Law, (b) The Nebi'im, or the Prophets, and (c) The Kethubiniy or the Writings. The Law is composed of the Pentateuch - the first five Books of the English Bible (Genesis - Deuteronomy). The Prophets are divided into two parts - the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings), and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets). The Writings are divided into three groups - (a) The Former Writings (Psalms, Proverbs, Job), (b) The Rolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), (c) The Latter Writings (Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles).

Thus the Book of Ruth is found amongst The Rolls. These books were used by later Jews on special occasions, namely The Song of Songs at the Passover, Ruth at Pentecost, Lamentations at the anniversary of the Destruction of the Temple, Ecclesiastes at the Feast of Tabernacles, and Esther at the Feast of Purim.

The Date of Events in the Book. This cannot be determined exactly, apart from the fact that the events happened during the times when the Judges ruled in Israel, Ruth r. 1. Some commentators put the date as early as the time of the famine in Gideon's day, Jud. 6.4, and some as late as Samuel's judgeship, 1 Sam. 7. 15.

The Time of Writing. This also cannot be pinpointed. The book may have been written by Samuel, possibly after he had anointed David as king, thus explaining the mention of David in the genealogy of Boaz, Ruth 4. 17-22.

The Divisions of the Book. These follow the chapter divisions:

Ruth's Arrival in Bethlehem, 1. 1-22; Ruth's Gleaning in the Field, 2. 1-23; Ruth's Approach to Boaz, 3. 1-18; Ruth's Marriage to Boaz, 4. 1-22.

CHAPTER 1

RUTH'S ARRIVAL AT BETHLEHEM

Verse 1. Some time after the days of the Judges in Israel, or possibly during the life of Samuel, the last of the Judges, the writer tells the story of Elimelech (my God is King) of Beth-lehem-Judah, so-called to distinguish it from Beth-lehem in Zebulun, Josh. 19. 15.

Verse 2. Elimelech was an Ephrathite, another name for a dweller in Bethlehem, Gen. 35.19. He went to Moab to escape the rigours of a famine in the land of Israel, taking with him his wife Naomi (pleasant), and his two sons, Mahlon (sickly) and Chilion (pining). Did the ill-health of the two sons prompt the decision to go to Moab? The likely plan was to return soon to Bethlehem, after the famine conditions had subsided. But the family continued there for some time.

Verse 3. Tragedy soon overtook them, first in the death of Elimelech.

Verse 4. Mahlon and Chilion then married two Moabitish women, Ruth (female companion) and Orpah (turning the back) respectively. The meaning of these two names, being Moabitish, is difficult to ascertain exactly. These alliances were not included in the prohibitions to Israel concerning intermarriage with other nations, Deut. 7. 1-3, (but see Nehemiah 13. 23-30).

Verse 5. Naomi's stay in Moab extended to ten years, during which time she was further bereaved of her two sons - leaving only three widows in the family.

Verse 6. On hearing that God was again blessing His people with plenty, Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. A famine in the land had driven the family to Moab; now a famine in her heart drove her back home.

Verse 7. Orpah and Ruth accompanied their mother-in-law at the start of the journey.

Verse 8. Naomi felt it her duty to advise Orpah and Ruth to go back to their mothers. At least Ruth's father was still living, Ruth 2. 11, but to their mothers they were referred, as being more suitable to comfort them in their sorrow. Naomi commended them to the care of Jehovah as a recompense for their devotion to her two sons, and to herself.

Verse 9. The specific request she made to God was that they might be happily married again to husbands of His provision. As she was kissing them farewell they wept aloud, a token of their reluctance to part from her, insisting that they be allowed to return with her to the people of Israel.

Verse 11. Naomi tried to reason with them, and explained their legal position. According to the Levirate law (the duty of a deceased husband's brother), when an Israelite man died after marriage without leaving a son, then a brother must marry the widow. The firstborn son of the second marriage would be the legal successor to the first husband, to perpetuate his name, Deut. 25. 5-6. As Naomi had no other sons, and in the unlikely event of her having any more, it would be too long to expect Orpah and Ruth to wait until they had reached adult life. It would seem as if this compulsion on a brother-in-law had been extended in Ruth's time to include any next of kin, 2. 20.

Verse 13. As the widows of Mahlon and Chilion would experience difficulty in obtaining husbands in Judah, Naomi thought it better for them to look for husbands again in Moab. She felt aggrieved that they too should suffer the consequences of the hand of the Lord being against her.

Verse 14. Orpah accepted Naomi's advice, and kissed her good-bye. Not so Ruth, who, despite the fact that Naomi had told her she would be leaving her own people and her national god, implored her mother-in-law to take her to Bethlehem. Ruth clave to Naomi. The word "clave" is the word used by God to describe the close affection that should exist between husband and wife, Gen. 2. 24. This word is also translated "joined", like the crocodile's scales, so closely stuck together that air cannot come between them, Job. 41. 15-17. Nothing could separate Ruth from her mother-in-law.

Verse 16. Ruth wanted to share Naomi's journey, her home, her people, her God, her death and her burial. Her intreaty to Naomi is as tender an expression of affection and love as can be found in any literature.

Verse 17. As to the matter of leaving her national god, henceforth she would place herself unreservedly under Jehovah, the God of Israel, as she pledged fidelity to Naomi in His name.

Verse 18. Ruth was determined in her course of action. She had apparently seen in Naomi and her sons what trusting in the God of Israel meant, even though she had seen the hand of Jehovah laid heavily upon them. This was the God she could trust.

Verse 19. Naomi and Ruth journeyed on to Bethlehem, where the former was recognized with difficulty. She had been greatly changed by the sorrows she had endured. The Bethlehemites were astonished by her appearance, and said., "Is this Naomi?" - Is this the pleasant woman we once knew?.

Verse 20. Naomi preferred not to be known by her old name, which meant pleasant, but by a new name, "Mara" (bitter). How could she look pleasant after her bitter experience? She had left Bethlehem full, and Jehovah had caused her to return empty. On leaving home she had as much as any woman could wish for - a husband and two sons. But the Almighty had taken all her loved ones, and life was now bitter. Note how throughout this chapter Naomi sees the hand of God in all her experiences; she realized that the return of plenty in Judah was the work of the Lord, v. 6; she commended her two daughters-in-law to Jehovah for His blessing, v. 8; she besought the Lord to provide a settled home for the two young widows, v. 9; she was much distressed because the hand of Jehovah against her had reacted on them, v. 13; she spoke of how the Almighty God had sent bitterness into her soul, v. 20; she gave praise to Jehovah for bringing her home again, albeit empty, v. 21a; she confessed that the Lord had testified against her, and had afflicted her justly, v. 21b.

Verse 22. Thus Naomi returned to Bethlehem with Ruth. Their arrival coincided with the beginning of the barley harvest, that is, at the end of April - possibly mentioned here because on this timing the ensuing story hangs.

Lessons from Chapter One.

1.   Men sometimes plan things for the best, and they end in seeming disaster. But in the final analysis all works out well, under the perfect control of God.

2.   Naomi afterwards recognized God's governmental hand in everything. So should the believer to-day.

3.   Believers should show absolute frankness in dealings with one another, vv. 11-13.

4.   In this story we see the difference between the amiability of Orpah, and the selfless devotion of Ruth. Am I willing to renounce self for Christ?

My times are in Thy hand;

My God, I wish them there;
My life, my soul, my all, I leave

Entirely to Thy care.