When the judges ruled, that is, in premonarchic Israel. Although famine is often God's mode of punishment (Lev 26.19–20; Deut 28.23–24; 1 Kings 17.1; Jer 24.10; Ezek 6.12
), here, reminiscent of Abraham (Gen 12.10), Isaac (Gen. 26.1), and Jacob (Gen 45.6–28
), it explains why an Israelite family would abandon its homeland. In the land implies a widespread, not merely local, famine. Bethlehem, 8 km (5 mi) south of Jerusalem, was the home of David's family (1 Sam 16.1–5
). One meaning of the name Bethlehem (“house of bread/food”) is ironic in view of the famine of ch 1
, but also foreshadows the grain harvest of ch 2
, and the parallel human harvest, the birth of an heir, in ch 4
. Food and fertility are key themes in Ruth. Moab occupied the land east of the Dead Sea. Territorial disputes led to enmity between Israel and Moab (Deut 23.3–6
). Israelites claimed the Moabites were related to them through Lot (Gen 19.37
), nephew of Abraham, but many references to Moabites in the Bible are hostile or derogatory (Num 22–25; Deut 23.3–5; Isa 15–16; Jer 48
Ephrathites, people of Ephrathah (see 4.11
), either another name for Bethlehem or a nearby settlement; it was a place associated with David's family (1 Sam 17.12
). Several of the characters’ names have thematic significance. Naomi (“Pleasantness”) pointedly changes her name in v. 21
. Although Elimelech's name (“My God is King”) does not seem symbolically charged, the names of his sons, Mahlon (“Sickly”)
and Chilion (“Frail”) foreshadow their early deaths (v. 5
The etymology of both Orpah and Ruth remains obscure.
Only here and in
does the LORD actively intervene in the story. Food (Heb “lehIem”) supplies the impetus for Naomi's return home and is also an example of word play on the name Bethlehem. Return (Heb “shub”), although not always evident in English translation, this thematically important word occurs ten times in ch 1. See 4.15
The first of a series of blessings (
2.4; 2.12; 2.19–20; 3.10; 4.11–12; 4.14
) that punctuate the story at key moments. Deal kindly (or do “hIesed”), an expression (repeated in
2.20 and 3.10
) that describes, above all, God's covenant relationship with Israel (Ex 20.5–6; 34.6–7; Deut 5.9–10
); both Orpah and Ruth have exemplified this ideal on a human scale. The designation, mother's house, rather than the usual “father's house” (Gen 38.11; Lev 22.13
; etc.), may have been used in circumstances associated with marriage (Gen 24.28; Song 3.4; 8.2
). Only remarriage would ensure a childless young widow's security.
In a society that valued women primarily as childbearers, postmenopausal Naomi is too old to remarry. She faces destitution.
Naomi's experience of the hand of the Lord has been destructive (see Ex 9.15; 1 Sam 5.9
), but she will find that the LORD's hand also rescues (Deut 6.21
) and brings joy (Eccl 2.24
Swearing by the Lord, Ruth makes good her new religious allegiance. She affirms her new kinship ties by her promise to stay with Naomi even in
death, an allusion to burial according to Israelite custom in Naomi's family tomb.
The women of Bethlehem, commenting collectively on the new arrivals (cf. 1 Sam 18.6–7
) call attention to Naomi's sad fate; in
they will celebrate her good fortune.
Almighty (Heb “Shaddai”) is an ancient name for God (Gen 17.1; 28.3; 35.11; 43.14; 48.3; 49.25; Ex 6.3; Num 24.4; Ps 68.14
) that reappeared in the postexilic era (Job 27.2; Ezek 1.24; Joel 1.15; Job 27.2
Describing Ruth as the Moabite … from the country of Moab, the narrative emphasizes her outsider status in Bethlehem. Notice of the barley harvest (April‐May), ironic in view of Ruth and Naomi's poverty, nevertheless hints at a reversal of the motif of emptiness in
and propels the story into the next chapter.
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