From Moab to Bethlehem.
Naomi and her family in Moab.
The judges (chieftains) were tribal leaders of Israel in the period before the monarchy. Several biblical texts reflect tension between the Israelites
and the Moabites, who lived east of the Dead Sea (see Num. 21.29–30; Deut. 23.4; Jer. 48.1–9
). This tension, however, is not apparent in the book of Ruth (cf. 1 Sam. 22.3–4
). Bethlehem means “house of bread”; this v. thus contains a pun of a famine in “the house of bread.”
Ephrathites: Ephrathah (see 4.11
) is another name for Bethlehem.
The names of Naomi and her family members may have symbolic significance. Elimelech literally means “my God is king”; Mahlon means “sickness”; Chilion may mean “consumptive”; Orpah is interpreted as “back of the neck”; Ruth may be “friend” or “companion”; Naomi is “pleasant”; and Boaz (
) is “in him is strength.” These traits describe, to some degree, the role or the fate of the character within the story.
Combined with the pun in v. 1
, the symbolic nature of these names suggests that Ruth should not be read as a historical text.
Naomi plans her return to Bethlehem.
Naomi attributes relief from the famine to God. This is one of several hints of a divine hand guiding the events in the story.
The term mother’s house occurs elsewhere (Gen. 24.28; Song 3.4; 8.2
). Childless widows are normally portrayed as returning to their fathers’ homes (Gen. 38.11; Lev. 22.13
). The unusual formulation is appropriate because Naomi is asking the young women to return to their mothers rather than remaining
with their mother‐in‐law.
According to Deut. 25.5–10
, a childless widow is bound to marry her dead husband’s brother. This is referred to as levirate law (from Latin “levir,”
“brother‐in‐law”). The first son of a levirate marriage will legally be the dead man’s son for purposes of inheritance. Even
were Naomi to give birth to more sons, they would not be obligated by levirate law to marry the widows, because they would
not have had the same father as did the dead men.
Ruth Rabbah points out that Naomi urges her daughters‐in‐law to turn back three times (vv. 8, 11, 12
). This number corresponds to the number of times that potential converts should be strongly discouraged. Those who persist,
however, should be educated and accepted as sincere converts.
Ruth clung to her: Ruth’s attachment to Naomi is reminiscent of Gen. 2.24
, which refers to the “clinging” of husband to wife. The connotation here is not sexual, but rather signifies Ruth’s unswerving
devotion to Naomi.
This moving plea is among the best‐known lines of the book. It expresses Ruth’s devotion and loyalty to Naomi. Ruth Rabbah and Rashi view Ruth’s passionate declaration of allegiance as the point at which Naomi instructs Ruth in a formal process
of conversion. The story, however, contains no reference to formal conversion, since that institution did not come into existence
until rabbinic times. Thus…do to me: Ruth’s oath underscores the seriousness of her declaration. It has been interpreted to mean “only death will part us” or
“not even death will part us.”
Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem.
Shaddai, a divine epithet, perhaps used here as an archaism; in Job, where it is frequent (
.), it is translated “the Almighty” (see translators’ note d).
The beginning of the barley harvest is associated in Lev. 23.10
with the Passover festival, in the spring.
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