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(MT versing)
Naomi Widowed Elimelech's Family Goes to Moab Ruth and Naomi Elimelech and His Family Move to Moab Ruth and Naomi
1:1-5 1:1-5 1:1-5 1:1-5 1:1-7
Naomi Returns to Judah Naomi and Ruth Return to Bethlehem
1:6-13 1:6-14 1:6-14 1:6-9a
Ruth's Loyalty 1:11-13
1:14 1:14-15
1:15-18 1:15-18
1:16-17 1:16-17
1:18 1:18
1:19-21 1:19-21 1:19-21
1:19 1:19-20
1:22 1:22 1:22 1:22 1:22

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


1Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his 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, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3Then Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband.

1:1 "Now it came about in the days when the judges governed" It is best to understand the term "judges" (BDB 1647, KB 1623), not in the judicial sense but as a supernaturally empowered, military deliverer.

There is a double use of the word "judged" here, in both the NOUN and the VERB. The "judges who judged" would be an attempt to translate this idiom. This first verse also shows us the general historical setting into which the book of Ruth fits.

It is interesting that although the book of Ruth appears in the final section of the Hebrew Canon called "The Writings," in the LXX it was placed immediately after the book of Judges. This was followed in the Latin Vulgate and then in the modern English translations.

▣ "days" The term "days" refers to a period of time.


▣ "there was a famine in the land" Throughout the book, one of the central motifs which is repeated again and again, in rather oblique ways, is God's sovereignty over the affairs of nations/history. Here, the famine seems to be the direct result of God's activity. It possibly reflects the cursing and blessing sections of Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 27, 28, and Joshua 8.

▣ "And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah" This "certain man" was a very wealthy and influential man in his community. His leaving the Promised Land during the time of famine almost seems to be a recrimination on his faith in YHWH. The Jewish writing, Baba Bathra 91a, attributes the death of Elimelech and his two sons to their leaving the Promised Land.

There is a possible word play between "the famine" (not mentioned in Judges) and the name "Bethlehem," which means "house of bread." There should have been agricultural abundance in Israel (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-30), but because of the sin of the Israelite tribes (i.e., especially Judges 17-21), there was judgment (i.e., lack of bread in the house of bread).

▣ "to sojourn" This VERB (BDB 157, KB 184, Qal INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT) is used often of Abraham (eight times in Genesis). It refers to "an alien resident," or someone who

  1. had no permanent citizenship
  2. had limited rights
  3. apparently planned to dwell for a long period of time in a given land (see NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 836-839)

▣ "in the land of Moab" Moab, though a relative of Abraham through Lot and the incestuous relationship with one of his daughters, is not seen as an appropriate covenant partner (cf. Deut. 23:3). This event must have occurred when there were relatively good relationships between Judah and Moab. The historical setting, because of the genealogy at the closing of the book, seems to be during the time of David. 1 Samuel 22:3-4 shows this amiable relationship between David and Moab that was during this time.

1:2 "Elimelech" The name (BDB 45) means "God is king" or "My God is king" (surprisingly the LXX has "Abimelek"). The implication of the name is that, although it reflected the authority of God, his life showed him fleeing from the presence of YHWH and His judgment on the land of Judah. This is the result of Judah's sin, which is evident when one reads the book of Judges.

▣ "Ephrathites" There were two Bethlehems in Israelite territory (cf. Joshua 19:15). This designation identifies this family as being from Judah.

In Genesis the city, later called Bethlehem, is named Ephrah (cf. Gen. 35:19; 48:7).

The UBS Handbook for Translators, p. 7, lists several things "Ephrathites" might mean.

  1. the inhabitants of the country around Bethlehem
  2. the citizens of Bethlehem; Ephrathah is another name for Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)
  3. refers to a clan of Judah which settled at Bethlehem

▣ "Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there" This was not a visit. It was a planned, permanent move.

1:3 See note in the Introduction to Ruth, III. Genre, B. 1. for the surprising meaning of these names.

▣ "died" See Jewish tradition in Baba Bathra 91a, which attributes his death, and the death of his sons, to their leaving Judah.

1:4 "They took for themselves Moabite women as wives" Although there is no specific condemnation on Moabite wives at this point in Scripture, there is tension between Israel and Moab, as can be seen in Balaam's account in Numbers 22-25.

The rabbis assert that the cause of death of these three men was because (1) they moved to Moab or (2) the boys married Moabite women (this seems to be somewhat unrealistic in light of the favor in which Ruth is treated in this book).

▣ "And they lived there about ten years" This would be significant later on because although they were married for ten years, Ruth had no children. She was barren (or her husband was infertile), as are other women (i.e., the wives of the Patriarchs) in the OT, in order to show God's power and sovereignty over the line of the Messiah.

6Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. 7So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband." Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10And they said to her, "No, but we will surely return with you to your people." 11But Naomi said, "Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13would you therefore wait until they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters; for it is harder for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me."

1:6 The VERB "return" (BDB 996, KB 1427) is used ten times in this chapter. The VERB can also have the connotation of "repentance."


▣ "for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food" Israel was meant to be a witness to the nations of God's generosity and graciousness. Apparently the fact that God had visited (i.e., here, in a positive sense, cf. Gen. 21:1; Ps. 8:4; Zeph. 2:7) the land with fruitfulness was a fulfillment of this statement. Naomi decides to return home because of the change of circumstances in her home village and the loss of her husband and children.

The phrase "land of Moab" (NASB) occurs twice in this verse, but in the MT one is PLURAL and one SINGULAR. It is lexically possible that the PLURAL (cf. Ruth 1:1, 2) is an archaic SINGULAR form.

1:7 "and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah" Both women began the journey with Naomi but as they were on the way, Naomi spells out the implication of their decision.

1:8 "Go, return each of you to your mother's house" This does not so much reflect a matriarchal system as it does the separate abodes for the wives and the men of the family. These widows would obviously return to the women's quarters.

This verse has several commands used as requests.

  1. go ‒ BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERFECT; literally it means "walk" or "go" (i.e., return home)
  2. return ‒ BDB 996, KB 1427, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. Ruth 1:11,12
  3. the VERB "do" (BDB 793, KB 889) is used twice
    1. the MT has an IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense ("may the Lord deal kindly with you")
    2. the Masoretic scholars changed it to a JUSSIVE form
    3. this is followed by a Qal PERFECT form (i.e., "as you have dealt with the dead")
  4. Same as 3.

Numbers 3 and 4 are prayer requests, as is Ruth 1:9a. This possible use of IMPERFECTS as JUSSIVES continues in Ruth 1:16, 17, 20.

▣ "deal kindly" This is the power of the Hebrew term hesed.


1:9 "May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband" There are two significant things here.

  1. Naomi addresses these two girls in the covenant name for God. Naomi had apparently shared with them her faith in YHWH, as is evident from Ruth's response. Orpah seems to have rejected this witness because she returned to her own family and, by implication, to her own gods, although it does not specifically say this.
  2. Naomi assumes that the girls are young enough that they should remarry and have families of their own and she blesses this possibility.


NASB, NKJV, LXX  "rest"
NRSV, JPSOA, REB  "security"
TEV  "marry again"
NJB  "happiness"

This is the FEMININE form of a NOUN (BDB 629) that has several connotations.

  1. a resting place ‒ Num. 10:33; Ps. 23:2
  2. word of comfort ‒ 2 Sam. 14:17
  3. an idiom for the Promised Land ‒ Deut. 12:9; Ps. 95:11; 132:14; Isa. 32:18
  4. YHWH's ark ‒ 2 Chr. 6:41; Ps. 132:8; Isa. 11:10; 66:1
  5. here it denotes the security of a husband's protection and care, cf. Ruth 3:1

▣ "Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept" These women had been through a lot together. They felt deeply for each other (cf. Ruth 1:14). They were family!

1:11-13 These verses describe an unusual Hebrew practice known as Levirate marriage (cf. Deut. 25:5-10; NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 902-905). The inheritance rights in Israel were so important that if a man died childless, his brother or near relative would try to raise up an heir by his widowed wife. Naomi's assertion that she was too old to provide suitable husbands for these two girls, even if she married that very day, is an obvious logical attempt to convince them to return to their homes with the hope of a normal family life.

1:13 "for it is harder for me than for you" "Harder" is literally the word "bitter" (BDB 600), a Hebrew word that will be developed in Ruth 1:20. Naomi is asserting that although these two women had lost their husbands, she had lost her own husband as well as her children. Notice that in this verse she attributes this to the activity of the covenant God in her life. This is another underlying sign that God is in control of history, although it often seems negative; it is somehow in the plan of God. This will be brought out in Ruth 4, as God uses this event in the line of the Messiah.

▣ "the hand of God has gone forth against me" The term "hand of God" is an anthropomorphic use of this physical term. We know that God does not have a physical body, that He is a spirit; however, the only vocabulary we have to describe Him is by human physical characteristics.

The term "gone forth" is a military term to reflect Naomi's attitude that God has been aggressively against her.



14And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

1:14 "but Ruth clung to her" This VERB (BDB 179, KB 209, Qal PERFECT) is a powerful VERB.

  1. used of Adam's love for Eve ‒ Gen. 2:24
  2. used of holding fast to YHWH ‒ Deut. 10:20; 11:22; 13:4; Jos. 22:5; 23:8; 2 Kgs. 18:6; Ps. 101:3
  3. used of Boaz telling Ruth to stay close to his female servants ‒ Ruth 2:8, 21, 23
  4. used of Solomon's idolatry to his young wives' gods ‒ 1 Kgs. 11:2
  5. used of holding fast to YHWH's covenant ‒ Ps. 119:31

15Then she said, "Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law." 16But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; 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. 17Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me." 18When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

1:15 "her gods" This refers to the fertility god, Chemosh (cf. Num. 21:29; 1 Kgs. 11:7).

1:16-17 This is a beautiful and strongly-worded statement of

  1. Ruth's love and loyalty to Naomi
  2. Ruth's faith commitment to YHWH

Ruth fully realized the consequences of returning to the land of Israel with Naomi. It would be a life of poverty and lack of a husband's love. It shows the relationship between these two ladies. Ruth had decided to stay with Naomi, no matter the consequences. This is one of the character traits of this Moabitess which is developed with such positiveness, but must have been shocking to the Israelites who read it.

1:17 "Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me" It is interesting that Ruth uses a covenant oath formula in the name of YHWH (cf. 1 Sam. 3:17; 14:44; 20:13; 25:22; 2 Sam. 3:9, 35). It is obvious that she converted to the faith of YHWH, as is seen in the way she is addressed in YHWH's name by both Naomi and Boaz, and here as she swears a basic oath in His name.


19So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, "Is this Naomi?" 20She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"

1:19 "all the city was stirred because of them" This VERB (BDB 223, KB, 242, Niphal IMPERFECT with waw) is a strong word. This stem is used in

  1. 1 Sam. 4:5 for the Israelites' shouting as the ark came into the camp
  2. 1 Kgs. 1:45 for Solomon's anointing as David's successor

The Qal stem is used in Deut. 7:23 for YHWH's defeat of the nations in "holy war."

There has been some speculation among commentators about why all the city was stirred because of the return of a widow and her foreign daughter-in-law. Some of the theories are:

  1. Elimelech's was a well known family
  2. there was curiosity about Naomi's return after all these years
  3. the presence of a young Moabitess with her

Possibly all three theories are developed in the story.

▣ "the women said" The men would have been in the field, involved in the harvest (Ruth 1:22). Naomi's former friends and neighbors recognized her and began to spread the news.

1:20 "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara" The term "Naomi" means "pleasant" or "sweetness" (BDB 654), while the term "Mara" means "bitter" (BDB 600). This is Naomi's theological view of the situation, as reflected in Ruth 1:20-21, where she says that "the Almighty" has dealt bitterly with me. She recognizes God's hand in her life but not the means or the reason for the tragedy that has befallen her family.

The term "Almighty" is the patriarchal name for God, "El Shaddai" (BDB 994, cf. Exod. 6:3). Many translations assume that this means "the Mighty One," but further archaeological evidence gives some validity for the interpretation that it comes from the metaphor of a woman's breast (i.e., a nursing mother), which may mean that God is the "all sufficient One."

The root "bitter" occurs twice.

  1. the NOUN (BDB 600) is Naomi's new name
  2. the VERB (BDB 600, KB 638, Hiphil PERFECT) refers to YHWH's treatment of her family (cf. Ruth 1:13)


1:21 "I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty" Again, we have another hint of the theological attitude of Naomi at this point (i.e., left "full"; came back "empty"), which will totally change by the end of the book. It is best for us to take the long look in our lives, for tunnel vision will always cause us to have a bitter spirit, while faith in God will always see us through the dark days and will even, sometimes, see the purpose of them! A book that has helped me is Hannah Whithall Smith, The Christian's Secret Of a Happy Life.

22So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

1:22 "Ruth the Moabitess" Throughout the book, Ruth's national origin is stated repeatedly (cf. Ruth 2:2, 6, 21; 4:5, 10; also note 2:10). The very fact that a Moabitess is in the line of David was no compliment and, therefore, shows the historicity of this book and yes, may even be the very purpose as God shows His faithfulness to a non-Jew in her family dealings and personal life.

▣ "barley harvest" Much of the plot of the book centers around this harvest (note Lev. 23:9-14). This was the first grain to ripen (i.e., in May).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why did Elimelech and his family go to the land of Moab?
  2. Does Naomi believe that God caused the death of her husband and two children?
  3. What is the implication of Ruth's strong statement in Ruth 1:16-17?
  4. What is the implication of Naomi blaming God for her life situation in Ruth 1:20, 21?

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