Notes on Ruth 1:6-22
by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Ruth 1:6. KJV: Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread. 7 Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.
This is almost a miracle, how that news reached Naomi in Moab that the famine (or more than one?) was over in Israel. “Bread” is most likely a generic term for “food”.
Now Naomi was ready to return to the land of Israel. Verses 1 and 2 state she was a resident of Bethlehem in Judah so that was her likely destination. Notice that her two daughters in law went with her—at least part of the journey.
8 And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.
Naomi’s reaction here seems almost strange. She’s telling them to remain in Moab and go back to each of their original homes (your mother’s house). Naomi had done the opposite, remaining in Moab after her husband had died, even after her sons had died.
She does leave them with a prayer that the LORD, God of Israel, would deal kindly with each one. How much each of these pagan girls had come to know about the God of Israel is not certain at this point.
9 The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each (of you) in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
Naomi continues with her prayers for each girl to find “rest”—perhaps another husband—in Moab. She seems determined not to take these girls back to Israel with her.
The reason for a kiss is not certain; it may have been a sign of farewell. Compare this with other examples of kissing: Jacob kissed Rachel when he discovered they were related (Genesis 29:10-12) and before that, Isaac had asked Jacob, who was pretending to be Esau (Gen, 27:26) Joab used a kiss, generally to show friendship, as a pretext to murder Amasa (2 Sam 20:9).
Sometimes a kiss means to praise or show allegiance to, as God told Elijah that 7,000 northern Israelites would not “kiss” Baal (1 Kings 19:18). The worst example of a kiss was the kiss of Judas, when he betrayed Jesus in the garden by kissing Him (Matt 26:49, Mark 14:45).
10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.
They seemed to be genuinely sincere at this point. After all, they had gone with Naomi up to this point. Although it is nowhere stated, they may have been at the crossing or fords of the Jordan. Some call this “the moment of truth” or “the point of no return”.
11 And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? (are) there yet (any more) sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
Why Naomi is doing this is not certain. Clearly she knew Orpah and Ruth better than anyone else did at the time. Was she testing their devotion? The Law of Moses provided for a relative to marry a widow and name the child after the father (Deuteronomy 25:5-10); before this, Judah knew that his second son was to marry his sister-in-law to keep his older brother’s line alive (Genesis 38:6-10) but we do not know if Moab or other countries had similar laws or customs.
12 Turn again, my daughters, go (your way); for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, (if) I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; 13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.
Naomi is pouring out her heart to her daughters-in-law. Here she is saying it would take years for her to remarry, conceive two sons, and have them grow up to be old enough to marry Orpah and Ruth. She seems to be wanting them to face facts—years of widowhood in a foreign country, at best—and for them to make an educated decision about their lives. At this point, it is not clear if either had left the gods of Moab behind and had decided to worship the God of Israel.
14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.
For Orpah and Ruth, this was truly a farewell, regardless of where this event took place (somewhere in Moab, or at the border/Jordan, or someplace else). Orpah’s kiss again appears to be a gesture of farewell. Ruth did not kiss her, according to the verse, but stayed put!
15 And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.
Naomi has apparently seen Orpah walk away, back to her previous life and her gods. It is never stated that she became a believer in the God of Israel. Naomi is still trying to convince
Ruth to return to her own previous life and religion in Moab. 16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, (or) to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people (shall be) my people, and thy God my God:
Now Ruth declares her intent to follow Naomi, anywhere she went. Ruth was well aware of what she was doing, leaving her family and entire life in Moab in order to follow her mother-jn-law.
As an aside, seldom is there a confession of faith in the Old Testament. This is one such case, where Ruth declares that the God of Israel and the God of Naomi is her God too! She was “born again”!17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, (if ought) but death part thee and me.
Ruth now declares that she will follow Naomi to the end of her life. Notice that Ruth has already used a type of oath (“the LORD do so to me. . .”) to prove her sincerity.18 When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.
This most likely means that Ruth was going to follow Naomi, no matter what and no matter where. Ruth had just pledged her allegiance, so to speak, to Naomi and the God of Naomi, and must have spoken with a genuine determination. Ruth had made a decision and she was going to follow through with it.
Naomi then stopped speaking, once she saw that Ruth had made up her mind to follow, and wasn’t going to leave Naomi in any way.19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, (Is) this Naomi?
This was Bethlehem in Judah, the hometown of Naomi and her late husband, Elimelech. How long they had been there before people noticed them is not known, but the people wondered if this was the same Naomi who had left several years before. Age of course had taken its toll on her body.20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
Naomi now reveals all that is in her heart. “Mara” means “bitter”, just like the bitter water the Israelites had encountered shortly after they had left Egypt ((Exodus 15:23).
The so-called play on words was something like, “because God had dealt bitterly with me, call me ‘bitter’ too”.
She uses a Name of God seldom used elsewhere in the Old Testament. “Shaddai”, here translated “Almighty”, is the Name which God first used when He spoke to Abram. Sometimes the Name of God, El, is used with Shaddai.21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why (then) call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
Yet here Naomi uses the name “The LORD”, which is the same Name she used when saying farewell to Orpah and Ruth—before Ruth decided to go along with Naomi.
She seems to be complaining, saying she went out full but the LORD brought her back empty. This is not necessarily true: although there was a famine, the reason (excuse?) to leave Israel, God had promised to meet the nation’s needs if they stayed true to Him. She and her sons could have left Moab at any time and returned to Israel unless there were circumstances we are not aware of. Clearly she is speaking out of the bitterness of her heart but she is not expressing regret and she is not repenting, here, of her less than godly attitude.22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
Now Naomi and Ruth, still called a “Moabitess”, have returned to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley harvest. It is not certain when the barley was actually harvested but it was done before wheat harvest (Exodus 9:31-32). Barley was used and mentioned often in Israel and was still in use during the days of Jesus Christ—He used a little boy’s “snack” of five barley loaves and two small fish to feed 5000 people!
A few other mentions of barley: it was destroyed in one of the Ten Plagues of Egypt (Ex. 9:31); it was used in the case of a jealous husband who thought his wife was unfaithful (Numbers 5:15); Gideon was compared to a “cake of barley bread (Judges 7:13); Hosea bought back his unfaithful wife, Gomer, for silver and a quantity of barley (Hosea 3:2); and Joab had a field of barley which Absalom, David’s son, set on fire (s Sam 14:30 )! Even in the Temple of the Future (Ezekiel 45:13), barley will be used in the offerings of that period. The last mention of barley is in Revelation 6:6, where, as one of the Four Horsemen begin their journey, three measures (perhaps three quarts?) of barley would be sold for a “penny” or day’s wage. Barley was therefore important not only in the past but in the future as well.
Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)