Ruth 1:1
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
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(1) When the judges ruled.—Literally, when the judges judged. This note of time is by no means definite. As we have seen, some have proposed to connect the famine with the ravages of the Midianites Judges 6:1); or, supposing the genealogy to be complete (which is more likely, however, to be abridged, if at all, in the earlier generations), then since Boaz was the son of Salmon (Salma, 1Chronicles 2:11) and Rahab (Matthew 1:5), whom there can be no reasonable grounds for supposing to be other than the Rahab of Jericho, the events must be placed comparatively early in the period of the judges.

Beth-lehem.—See note on Genesis 35:19. Judah is added by way of distinction from the Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15).

Moab.—See notes on Genesis 19:37 : Numbers 21:13; Deuteronomy 2:9. The land of Moab seems to have been of exceptional richness and fertility, as allusions in the threats of Isaiah 16 Jeremiah 38, indicate. It was divided from the land of Israel by the. Dead Sea, and on the north by the river Arnon, the old boundary between Moab and the Amorites (Numbers 21:13). The journey of the family from Bethlehem would probably first lead them near Jericho, and so across the fords of the Jordan into the territory of the tribe of Reuben. Through the hilly country of this tribe, another long journey would bring them to the Arnon, the frontier river.

How far Elimelech was justified in fleeing, even under the pressure of the famine, from the land of Jehovah to a land where Chemosh was worshipped and the abominations practised of Baal-peor, may well be doubted, even though God overruled it all for good. It was disobeying the spirit of God’s law, and holding of little value the blessings of the land of promise.

Ruth 1:1. There was a famine in the land — This makes it probable that the things here recorded came to pass in the days of Gideon, for that is the only time when we read of a famine in the days of the judges; namely, when the Midianites, Amalekites, &c., came and destroyed the increase of the earth, and left no sustenance for Israel, nor for their cattle, Jdg 6:3-4.

1:1-5 Elimelech's care to provide for his family, was not to be blamed; but his removal into the country of Moab could not be justified. And the removal ended in the wasting of his family. It is folly to think of escaping that cross, which, being laid in our way, we ought to take up. Changing our place seldom is mending it. Those who bring young people into bad acquaintance, and take them out of the way of public ordinances, thought they may think them well-principled, and armed against temptation, know not what will be the end. It does not appear that the women the sons of Elimelech married, were proselyted to the Jewish religion. Earthly trials or enjoyments are of short continuance. Death continually removes those of every age and situation, and mars all our outward comforts: we cannot too strongly prefer those advantages which shall last for ever.In the days when the Judges ruled - "Judged." This note of time, like that in Ruth 4:7; Judges 18:1; Judges 17:6, indicates that this Book was written after the rule of the judges had ceased. The genealogy Ruth 4:17-22 points to the time of David as the earliest when the Book of Ruth could have been written.

A famine - Caused probably by one of the hostile invasions recorded in the Book of Judges. Most of the Jewish commentators, from the mention of Bethlehem, and the resemblance of the names Boaz and Ibzan, refer this history to the judge Ibzan Judges 12:8, but without probability.

The country of Moab - Here, and in Ruth 1:2, Ruth 1:22; Ruth 4:3, literally, "the field" or "fields." As the same word is elsewhere used of the territory of Moab, of the Amalekites, of Edom, and of the Philistines, it would seem to be a term pointedly used with reference to a foreign country, not the country of the speaker, or writer; and to have been specially applied to Moab.

THE BOOK OF RUTH. Commentary by Robert Jamieson


Ru 1:1-5. Elimelech, Driven by Famine into Moab, Dies There.

1. in the days when the judges ruled—The beautiful and interesting story which this book relates belongs to the early times of the judges. The precise date cannot be ascertained.


A famine in Canaan. Elimelech removes to Moab; with Naomi his wife, and his two sons, who marry Orpah and Ruth there; and die, Rth 1:1-5. Naomi returns to Judah; her daughters-in-law accompany her on her way, Rth 1:6-13. Orpah returns home to her people and gods; Ruth remains, being converted, Rth 1:14-18. They come to Beth-lehem, Rth 1:19-22.

In the days when the judges ruled; which is noted as the cause of the following famine, because in much of that time they were guilty of great defection from God. But under which of the judges this happened, Scripture being silent, it seems presumptuous to determine; nor is it necessary to know. What is said about this matter from the genealogy, mentioned Rth 1:18, &c., it will be most proper to consider it there.

In the land, or, in that land, to wit, of Canaan.

The country of Moab; a fruitful land beyond Jordan, eastward.

Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled,.... So that it appears that this history is of time and things after the affair of Micah, and of the concubine of the Levite, and of the war between Israel and Benjamin; for in those times there was no king nor judge in Israel; but to what time of the judges, and which government of theirs it belongs to, is not agreed on. Josephus (o) places it in the government of Eli, but that is too late for Boaz, the grandfather of Jesse, the father of David, to live. Some Jewish writers, as Jarchi, say it was in the times of Ibzan, who they say (p) is the same with Boaz, but without proof, and which times are too late also for this history. The Jewish chronology (q) comes nearer the truth, which carries it up as high as the times of Eglon, king of Moab, when Ehud was judge; and with which Dr. Lightfoot (r) pretty much agrees, who puts this history between the third and fourth chapters of Judges, and so must belong to the times of Ehud or Shamgar. Junius refers it to the times of Deborah and Barak; and others (s), on account of the famine, think it began in the times the Midianites oppressed Israel, and carried off the fruits of the earth, which caused it, when Gideon was raised up to be their judge; Alting (t) places it in the time of Jephthah; such is the uncertainty about the time referred to:

that there was a famine in the land; the land of Canaan, that very fruitful country. The Targum says this was the sixth famine that had been in the world, and it was in the days of Boaz, who is called Ibzan the just, and who was of Bethlehemjudah; but it is more probable that it was in the days of Gideon, as before observed, than in the days of Ibzan

and a certain man of Bethlehemjudah; so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun, Joshua 19:15 which had its name from the fruitfulness of the place, and the plenty of bread in it, and yet the famine was here; hence this man with his family removed from it:

and went to sojourn in the country of Moab; where there was plenty; not to dwell there, but to sojourn for a time, until the famine was over:

he and his wife, and his two sons; the names of each of them are next given.

par (o) Antiqu. l. 5. c. 9. sect. 1.((p) T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 91. 1. Tzemach David, par. 1. fol. 8. 2. Jarchi & Abendana in loc. (q) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 12. p. 33. (r) Works, vol. 1. p. 48. (s) Rambachius in loc. & Majus in ib. so Biship Patrick. Lampe Hist. Eccl. l. 1. c. 5. p. 22. (t) Theolog. Hist. loc. 2. p. 84.

Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the {a} land. And a certain man of {b} Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

The Argument - This book is called Ruth, who is the main person spoken of in this writing. In which also the state of the Church is set forth figuratively, being subject to many afflictions and yet eventually God gives good and joyful offspring, teaching us to abide with patience till God delivers us out of troubles. In this also it is described how Jesus Christ, who according to the flesh came from David, proceeded by Ruth, of whom the Lord Jesus promised to come, nonetheless she was a Moabite of base condition, and a stranger to the people of God; declaring to us by it that the Gentiles would be sanctified by him, and joined with his people, and that there would be one sheepfold, and one shepherd. It would appear that this account belongs to the time of the judges.

(a) In the land of Canaan.

(b) In the tribe of Judah, which was also called Bethlehem Ephrathat, because there was another city so called in the tribe of Zebulun.

Ch. 1. Ruth’s Devotion: She Leaves Her Home and Follows Naomi to Judah

1. in the days when the judges judged] The scene of the following story is thus placed in a distant age, which the writer pictures as a time of idyllic peace. Evidently the Book of Judges was known to him: the opening phrase is based upon the Dtc. editor’s theory set forth in Jdg 2:16 ff. For judges as a title see Introd. to Judges, p. xi.

a famine in the land] Targ. the land of Israel; more probably, the land in which Beth-lehem was situated. In ancient times it was only strong necessity which induced people to leave their homes, cf. 2 Kings 8:1; for a foreign country meant a foreign religion (Ruth 1:16), ‘How shall we sing Jehovah’s song in a strange land?’ See Amos 7:17, Hosea 9:3.

to sojourn] as a protected alien; cf. Jdg 17:7 n.

the country of Moab] lit. the field of M., similarly in Ruth 1:2; Ruth 1:6; Ruth 1:22, Ruth 2:6, Ruth 4:3; cf. the field of the Philistines 1 Samuel 27:5; 1 Samuel 27:7. Moab lay on the E. of the Jordan.

Verse 1. - Now it came to pass. Or, more literally, "And it came to pass." The "And" is somewhat remarkable, standing at the commencement of the Book. But as it is also found at the commencement of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Ezekiel, Esther, and Ezra, its use, though inartistic, must be amenable to some literary law. The Books specified, even including Ezekiel, are historical They are parcels of history, each narrating events that had their genesis in more or less significant antecedent occurrences. This historical genesis, so very different from an "absolute commencement" of things, is indicated, though probably in unreflective spontaneity, by the copulative "And." In the days when the judges ruled. Or, more literally, "when the judges judged." In primitive times there was no function that was more important for society than that of judiciously settling disputes between man and man. Every such settlement, besides conferring a benefit on society, and in particular on the individuals at variance, would increase the moral influence and social elevation of the judge. By and by his moral and social superiority would, in favorable circumstances, grow into authority, specifically judicial on the one hand, and generically political, or semi-political, on the other. When military prowess and skill in strategy were added, a ruler, champion, or leader would be the result. Many such leaders rose up among the Hebrews ere yet society was compactly organized. They were vanously endowed; but most of them were only very partially equipped for the judicious administration of the affairs of the commonwealth. All, however, were called judges; and the discharge of their high duties was denominated judging, even when it was entirely inconspicuous as regards judicial ability or judicious determinations. The Hebrew word for judge is שֹׁפֵט shofet; and it is an interesting evidence of the very close kinship of Hebrew and Phoenician, that in Carthage the chief magistrate, as we learn from Livy and other Roman writers, was called sufes (originally, as we see from the inflection, sufet). That there was a famine. An admirable though free rendering. In the original the structure of the whole statement is exceedingly primitive and "agglutinative" - And (it) was in the days of the judging of the judges, and (there) was a famine. In the land. Namely, of Israel. The non-specification of the particular country referred to is evidence that the writer was living in it, as one at home. Josephus says that it was under the judgeship of Eli, the high priest, that the famine spoken of occurred ('Antiquities,' 5:9, 1). But here the historian speaks "without book," and without any particular plausibility. Several expositors, such as Bishop Patrick, have antedated, by a very long way, the calculation of Josephus They would assign the famine to the period when the Midianites and Amalekites came up, "as grasshoppers for multitude, to destroy the land," so that Israel was greatly impoverished (see Judges 6.). But it is in vain to multiply guesses. The date of the famine is not given, and it is futile to make inquisition for it. And a certain man. The interpolation of the individualizing word "certain" is quite uncalled for, and now quite archaic. The simplicity of the original is sufficient, "And a man. Of Bethlehem-judah. Or, as it might be still more literally represented, "of Bethlehem, Judah." Them is no such single name as Bethlehem-judah. There is only the apposition, for discrimination's sake, of one geographical name to another, just as we may say, in English, Boston, Lincolnshire, or Alexandria, Dumbartonshire. The localization of the main name is thus effectually indicated. There is another Alexandria in Egypt; there is another Boston in the United States of America; and there was in Palestine another Bethlehem, namely, in the canton of Zebulun (see Joshua 19:15). Bethlehem, Judah, lies about six miles to the south of Jerusalem. "Its appearance," says Dr. Porter, "is striking. It is situated on a narrow ridge, which projects eastward from the central mountain range, and breaks down in abrupt terraced slopes to deep valleys on the north, east, and south. The terraces, admirably kept, and covered with rows of olives, intermixed with the fig and the vine, sweep in graceful curves round the ridge, regular as stairs" ('Syria and Palestine,' D. 199). The valleys below are exceptionally fertile, and have been so from time immemorial. Hence indeed the name Beth-lehem, or Bread-house. Its modern name is Beit-lahm, or Flesh-house. Went to sojourn in the land of Moab. We have no word in English that exactly, corresponds to the verb גּוּר rendered sojourn. The cognate noun is uniformly translated, in King James's version, stranger, and means foreigner. The verb means to dwell as a foreigner, but its root-idea is yet undetermined. The Latin peregrinari admirably corresponds. The man of Bethlehem, Judah, went forth from his own country to "peregrinate" (Greek, παροικῆσαι) "in the land of Moab;" literally, "in the fields of Moab," that is, "in the pastoral parts of the territory of Moab." It was not a very great way off, this land of his "peregrination." Its blue mountains, rising up luridly beyond the silver thread of the Jordan and the gleaming expanse of the Dead Sea, are distinctly visible from the Mount of Olives and the heights about Bethlehem. He, and his wife, and his two sons. The resumptive he is employed for the purpose of linking on to him, in his "peregrination, the other members of the little household. He emigrated "along with his wife and two sons." He had fought hard to keep the wolf of hunger from his door, but was like to be beaten. One after another the props of his hope that better days would soon dawn had been swept from under him, and he saw no alternative but to leave for a season the land of his fathers. Ruth 1:1Elimelech's Emigration (Ruth 1:1, Ruth 1:2). - By the word ויהי the following account is attached to other well-known events (see at Joshua 1:1); and by the definite statement, "in the days when judges judged," it is assigned to the period of the judges generally. "A famine in the land," i.e., in the land of Israel, and not merely in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem. The time of this famine cannot be determined with certainty, although it seems very natural to connect it, as Seb. Schmidt and others do, with the devastation of the land by the Midianites (Judges 6); and there are several things which favour this. For example, the famine must have been a very serious one, and not only have extended over the whole of the land of Israel, but have lasted several years, since it compelled Elimelech to emigrate into the land of the Moabites; and it was not till ten years had elapsed, that his wife Naomi, who survived him, heard that Jehovah had given His people bread again, and returned to her native land (Ruth 1:4, Ruth 1:5).Now the Midianites oppressed Israel for seven years, and their invasions were generally attended by a destruction of the produce of the soil (Judges 6:3-4), from which famine must necessarily have ensued. Moreover, they extended their devastations as far as Gaza (Judges 6:4). And although it by no means follows with certainty from this, that they also came into the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, it is still less possible to draw the opposite conclusion, as Bertheau does, from the fact they encamped in the valley of Jezreel (Judges 6:33), and were defeated there by Gideon, namely, that they did not devastate the mountains of Judah, because the road from the plain of Jezreel to Gaza did not lie across those mountains. There is just as little force in the other objection raised by Bertheau, namely, that the genealogical list in Ruth 4:18. would not place Boaz in the time of Gideon, but about the time of the Philistian supremacy over Israel, since this objection is founded partly upon an assumption that cannot be established, and partly upon an erroneous chronological calculation. For example, the assumption that every member is included in this chronological series cannot be established, inasmuch as unimportant members are often omitted from the genealogies, so that Obed the son of Boaz might very well have been the grandfather of Jesse. And according to the true chronological reckoning, the birth of David, who died in the year 1015 b.c. at the age of seventy, fell in the year 1085, i.e., nine or ten years after the victory gained by Samuel over the Philistines, or after the termination of their forty years' rule over Israel, and only ninety-seven years after the death of Gideon (see the chronological table). Now David was the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse. If therefore we place his birth in the fiftieth year of his father's life, Jesse would have been born in the first year of the Philistian oppression, or forty-eight years after the death of Gideon. Now it is quite possible that Jesse may also have been a younger son of Obed, and born in the fiftieth year of his father's life; and if so, the birth of Obed would fall in the last years of Gideon. From this at any rate so much may be concluded with certainty, that Boaz was a contemporary of Gideon, and the emigration of Elimelech into the land of Moab may have taken place in the time of the Midianitish oppression. "To sojourn in the fields of Moab," i.e., to live as a stranger there. The form שׂדי (Ruth 1:1, Ruth 1:2, Ruth 1:22, and Ruth 2:6) is not the construct state singular, or only another form for שׂדה, as Bertheau maintains, but the construct state plural of the absolute שׂדים, which does not occur anywhere, it is true, but would be a perfectly regular formation (comp. Isaiah 32:12; 2 Samuel 1:21, etc.), as the construct state singular is written שׂדה even in this book (Ruth 1:6 and Ruth 4:3). The use of the singular in these passages for the land of the Moabites by no means proves that שׂדי must also be a singular, but may be explained from the fact that the expression "the field ( equals the territory) of Moab" alternates with the plural, "the fields of Moab."
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