Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, flee from a famine in the land of Israel, and go to sojourn in Moab, Rut 1:1, Rut 1:2. Here his two sons marry; and, in the space of ten years, both their father and they die, Rut 1:3-6. Naomi sets out on her return to her own country, accompanied by her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth; whom she endeavors to persuade to return to their own people, Rut 1:7-13. Orpah returns, but Ruth accompanies her mother-in-law, Rut 1:14-18. They arrive at Beth-lehem in the time of the barley harvest, Rut 1:19-22.
When the judges ruled - We know not under what judge this happened; some say under Ehud, others under Shamgar. See the preface.
There was a famine - Probably occasioned by the depredations of the Philistines, Ammonites, etc., carrying off the corn as soon as it was ripe, or destroying it on the field.
The Targum says: "God has decreed ten grievous famines to take place in the world, to punish the inhabitants of the earth, before the coming of Messiah the king. The first in the days of Adam; the second in the days of Lamech; the third in the days of Abraham; the fourth in the days of Isaac; the fifth in the days of Jacob; the sixth in the days of Boaz, who is called Abstan, (Ibzan), the just, of Beth-lehem-judah; the seventh in the days of David, king of Israel; the eighth in the days of Elijah the prophet; the ninth in the days of Elisha, in Samaria; the tenth is yet to come, and it is not a famine of bread or of water but of hearing the word of prophecy from the mouth of the Lord; and even now this famine is grievous in the land of Israel."
Elimelech - That is, God is my king.
Naomi - Beautiful or amiable.
Mahlon - Infirmity.
Chilion - Finished, completed.
Elimelech - died - Probably a short time after his arrival in Moab.
And they took them wives - The Targum very properly observes, that they transgressed the decree of the word of the Lord, and took to themselves strange women.
And Mahlon and Chilion died - The Targum adds, And because they transgressed the decree of the word of the Lord, and joined affinity with strange people, therefore their days were cut off. It is very likely that there is more here than conjecture.
She had heard - By the mouth of an angel, says the Targum.
The Lord had visited his people - "Because of the righteousness of Ibzan the judge, and because of the supplications of pious Boaz." - Targum.
It is imagined, and not without probability, that Mahlon and Chilion are the same with Joash and Saraph, mentioned Ch1 4:22, where the Hebrew should be thus translated, and Joash and Saraph, who married in Moab, and dwelt in Lehem. See the Hebrew.
Are there yet any more sons - This was spoken in allusion to the custom, that when a married brother died without leaving posterity, his brother should take his widow; and the children of such a marriage were accounted the children of the deceased brother. There is something very persuasive and affecting in the address of Naomi to her daughters-in-law. Let us observe the particulars: -
1. She intimates that she had no other sons to give them.
2. That she was not with child; so there could be no expectation.
3. That she was too old to have a husband.
4. That though she should marry that night, and have children, yet they could not wait till such sons were marriageable; she therefore begs them to return to their own country where they might be comfortably settled among their own kindred.
And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law - The Septuagint add, Και επεστρεψεν εις τον λαον αυτης, And returned to her own people. The Vulgate, Syrian, and Arabic, are to the same purpose.
Gone back - unto her gods - They were probably both idolaters, their having been proselytes is an unfounded conjecture. Chemosh was the grand idol of the Moabites. The conversion of Ruth probably commenced at this time.
And Ruth said - A more perfect surrender was never made of friendly feelings to a friend: I will not leave thee - I will follow thee: I will lodge where thou lodgest - take the same fare with which thou meetest; thy people shall be my people - I most cheerfully abandon my own country, and determine to end my days in thine. I will also henceforth have no god but thy God, and be joined with thee in worship, as I am in affection and consanguinity. I will cleave unto thee even unto death; die where thou diest; and be buried, if possible, in the same grave. This was a most extraordinary attachment, and evidently without any secular motive.
The Targum adds several things to this conversation between Naomi and Ruth. I shall subjoin them: "And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee," for I desire to become a proselyte. And Naomi said, We are commanded to keep the Sabbath and other holy days; and on it not to travel more than two thousand cubits. And Ruth said, "Whither thou goest, I will go." And Naomi said, We are commanded not to lodge with the Gentiles. Ruth answered, "Where thou lodgest, I will lodge." And Naomi said, We are commanded to observe the one hundred and thirteen precepts. Ruth answered, What thy people observe, that will I observe; as if they had been my people of old. And Naomi said, We are commanded not to worship with any strange worship. Ruth answered, "Thy God shall be my God." Naomi said, We have four kinds of capital punishment for criminals; stoning, burning, beheading, and hanging. Ruth answered, "In whatsoever manner thou diest, I will die." Naomi said, We have a house of burial. Ruth answered, "And there will I be buried."
It is very likely that some such conversation as this took place between the elders and those who were becoming proselytes. This verse is famous among those who strive to divine by the Bible. I should relate the particulars, but am afraid they might lead to a continuance of the practice. In my youth I have seen it done, and was then terrified.
The Lord do so to me, and more - May he inflict any of those punishments on me, and any worse punishment, if I part from thee till death. And it appears that she was true to her engagement; for Naomi was nourished in the house of Boaz in her old age, and became the fosterer and nurse of their son Obed, Rut 4:15, Rut 4:16.
All the city was moved about them - It appears that Naomi was not only well known, but highly respected also at Bethlehem; a proof that Elimelech was of high consideration in that place.
Call me not Naomi - That is, beautiful or pleasant.
Call me Mara - That is, bitter; one whose life is grievous to her.
The Almighty - שדי Shaddai, He who is self-sufficient, has taken away the props and supports of my life.
I went out full - Having a husband and two sons.
The Lord hath brought me home again empty - Having lost all three by death. It is also likely that Elimelech took considerable property with him into the land of Moab; for as he fled from the face of the famine, he would naturally take his property with him; and on this Naomi subsisted till her return to Bethlehem, which she might not have thought of till all was spent.
In the beginning of barley harvest - This was in the beginning of spring, for the barley harvest began immediately after the passover, and that feast was held on the 15th of the month Nisan, which corresponds nearly with our March.
The Targum says, "They came to Beth-lehem on that day in which the children of Israel began to mow the sheaf of barley which was to be waved before the Lord." This circumstance is the more distinctly marked, because of Ruth's gleaning, mentioned in the succeeding chapter.
1. The native, the amiable simplicity, in which the story of the preceding chapter is told, is a proof of its genuineness. There are several sympathetic circumstances recorded here which no forger could have invented. There is too much of nature to admit any thing of art.
2. On the marriage of Orpah and Ruth, and the wish of Naomi that they might find rest in the house of their husbands, there are some pious and sensible observations in Mr. Ness's History and Mystery of the Book of Ruth, from which I shall lay the following extract before my readers: -
"A married estate is a state of rest; so it is called here, and in Rut 3:1. Hence marriage is called portus juventutis, the port or haven of young people; whose affections, while unmarried, are continually floating or tossed to and fro, like a ship upon the waters, till they come into this happy harbour. There is a natural propension in most persons towards nuptial communion, as all created beings have a natural tendency towards their proper center, (leve sursum, et grave deorsum), and are restless out of it, so the rabbins say, Requiret vir costam suam, et requiret femina sedem suam, 'The man is restless while he misses his rib that was taken out of his side; and the woman is restless till she get under the man's arm, from whence she was taken.' O! look up to God then, ye unmarried ones, and cry with good Naomi, The Lord grant me rest for my roving affections in the house of some good consort, that I may live in peace and plenty, with content and comfort all my days. Know that your marriage is, of all your civil affairs, of the greatest importance, having an influence upon your whole life. It is either your making or marring in this world; 'tis like a stratagem in war, wherein a miscarriage cannot be recalled when we will, for we marry for life. I am thine, and thou art mine, brevis quidem cantiuncula est, 'is a short song;' sed longum habet epiphonema, 'but it hath a long undersong.' So an error here is irrecoverable; you have need of Argus's hundred eyes to look withal before you leap."
This is good advice; but who among the persons concerned will have grace enough to take it?