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Ruth: Chapter 1

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1In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

6Then she started to return with her daughters‐in‐law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters‐in‐law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters‐in‐law, “Go back each of you to your mother's house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.” 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother‐in‐law, but Ruth clung to her.

15So she said, “See, your sister‐in‐law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister‐in‐law.” 16But Ruth said,

“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”

18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

19So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20She said to them,

“Call me no longer Naomi, a Traditional rendering of Heb Shaddai call me Mara, b Or has testified against for the Almighty c Compare Gk Vg: Meaning of Heb uncertain has dealt bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the LORD has dealt harshly with d Or one with the right to redeem me, and the Almighty c Compare Gk Vg: Meaning of Heb uncertain has brought calamity upon me?”

22So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter‐in‐law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Notes:

c Traditional rendering of Heb Shaddai

d Or has testified against

a Compare Gk Vg: Meaning of Heb uncertain

a Or one with the right to redeem

Text Commentary view alone

1.1–22 : Naomi and Ruth.

1 :

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 ).

2 :

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 ).

4 :

The etymology of both Orpah and Ruth remains obscure.

6 :

Only here and in 4.13 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 .

8–9 :

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.

12 :

In a society that valued women primarily as childbearers, postmenopausal Naomi is too old to remarry. She faces destitution.

13 :

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 ).

17 :

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.

19 :

The women of Bethlehem, commenting collectively on the new arrivals (cf. 1 Sam 18.6–7 ) call attention to Naomi's sad fate; in 4.17 they will celebrate her good fortune.

20 :

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 ).

22 :

Describing Ruth as the Moabitefrom 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 1.21 and propels the story into the next chapter.

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