Chapter 1


Introduction: Naomi’s Family Dies (1:1-5)

      • In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah went to live as a foreigner in the land of Moab bringing with him his wife and two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of their two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were of the clan of Ephrath from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the land of Moab and settled there.

* Note: We are not told where exactly in Moab Elimelech settled.  Also, there are alternative routes from Bethlehem to Moab other than the one suggested in this map.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “The matriarch, Rachel, had died on the way to Ephrath (Ge 35:16-19), which was an earlier name of Bethlehem (familiar to us from Mic 5:2...). The use of Ephrathite may reflect an old aristocratic family of Ephrath/Bethlehem from which Elimelech descended.”

      • Guzik says, “God specifically promised there would always be plenty in the land if Israel was obedient. Therefore, a famine in the land meant that Israel, as a nation, was not obedient unto the LORD (Deuteronomy 11:13-17).”

      • Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the second named Ruth. They lived there about 10 years, then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, leaving Naomi without her two sons and her husband.

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible adds, “…the equivalents of Elimelek, Naomi, and Kilion are preserved in Ugarit, Amorite and/or Akkadian (demonstrating that they are authentic period names), while Mahlon, Ruth and Orpah have not been identified.”

        • The same source explains, “The hazards of widowhood in antiquity were great. In most rural areas, women would have little opportunity to pursue independent careers, and therefore overwhelmingly depended upon their husbands for sustenance…Upon her husband’s death, the widow normally relied on her sons for support; if she had none, she might have to sell herself into slavery, resort to prostitution or die. It is in part to prevent this harshness for which the guardian-redeemer legislation exists (Lev 25:39-55). The Mosaic Law was concerned for the widows and the poor (Dt 10:17-18; cf Ps 68:5; 146:9; Jer 49:11), and issued instructions for their preservation (e.g., Ex 22:22-24; Dt 14:28-29; 24:17-20; 26:12-13; 27:19).”

Scene 1: Naomi Returns to Bethlehem with Ruth (1:6-22)

      • When Naomi heard that Yahweh had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law got up to return from Moab. She and her two daughters-in-law set out from where they were onto the road that led back to Judah. But, Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mother’s home. May Yahweh show kindness to you, just as you have shown to your deceased husbands and to me. May Yahweh enable each of you to find security in the home of a new husband.” Then she kissed them, and they cried loudly. And they told her, “No, we will go with you to your people.”

        • On the Hebrew word used for “providing” food above and “enable” the girls to find new husbands, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The same Hebrew verb is used…These two notices of God’s acts enclose the story between similar phrases (an inclusio, literary ‘bookends’). God gives good things, such as food and children, and he works providentially behind the scenes in the ordinary course of things.”

      • But, Naomi replied, “Go home, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Am I able to have any more sons that could become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters. I am too old to have another husband. Even if there were hope of me having a husband, and I were to marry tonight and bear sons, would you refrain from remarrying and wait for them to grow up? No, my daughters, it is far more bitter for me than for you, because Yahweh’s hand has turned against me.”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains, “…Since Naomi does not mention the prospect of marrying her husband’s brother, technically, her proposed scenario would not be levirate marriage, since the husband she might hypothetically secure would not, in a patrilineal society, produce brothers to her deceased sons. Instead she emphasizes how futile was any prospect of securing husbands for her widowed daughters-in-law, in contrast to the implied resources of their ‘mother’s home.’”

      • Again, they cried loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods, follow her.”

        • On Ruth “clung” to Naomi, NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “The Hebrew verb used here emphasizes the strength of Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law; it is the same word used to describe a man being ‘joined to’ his wife (Gen 2:24) and to describe a person staying faithful to the Lord (Deut 4:4; 10:20; Josh 22:5).”

      • On the daughters-in-law returning to their gods, the ESV Archaeology Study Bible notes, “Returning to her people meant returning to her gods, as deities and territory went together. Many ancient peoples believed that each territory belonged to a certain god (see 1 Kings 20:23-25).” NLT Illustrated Study Bible agrees, “Every nation believed in its own territorial god. Naomi assumed that Ruth would continue to worship the Moabite gods.”

      • But Ruth answered: Don’t urge me to leave you or to go back and stop following you. Because wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and I will be buried there. May Yahweh do this to me and even more if anything other than death separates you and me.”

          • On Ruth’s statement “May Yahweh do this to me and even more…” NET notes explains, “The construction… is an oath form of self-imprecation (1 Sam 3:17; 14:44; 20:13; 25:22; 2 Sam 3:9, 35; 19:14; 1 Kings 2:23; 2 Kings 6:31). In this formula the exact curse is understood but not expressed…In ancient Near Eastern imprecations, when the curse was so extreme, it was not uttered because it was unspeakably awful…Ruth here pronounces a curse upon herself, elevating the preceding promise to a formal, unconditional level. If she is not faithful to her promise, she agrees to become an object of divine judgment…Ruth’s devotion to Naomi is especially apparent here. Instead of receiving a sure blessing and going home (see v. 8), Ruth instead takes on a serious responsibility and subjects herself to potential divine punishment. Death, a power beyond Ruth’s control, will separate the two women, but until that time Ruth will stay by Naomi’s side and she will even be buried in the same place as Naomi.”

      • When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. The two of them traveled together until they reached Bethlehem.

      • When they got to Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” But she answered, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara, because the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I left here full, but Yahweh has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when Yahweh has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

      • Guizik says, “The name Naomi means ‘pleasant’; the name Mara means ‘bitter.’ Naomi used this to tell the people of Bethlehem that her time away from Israel, her time away from the God of Israel, had not been pleasant – it was bitter…Naomi wasn’t a phony. She wasn’t going to go home, pretend everything was fine, and be ‘pleasant.’ She was going to be honest and say ‘Here I am and my life has been bitter.’”

      • HCSB notes, “Naomi correctly recognized that God did not necessarily bring only good situations into one’s life but that He, at times, brought difficulties (cp Jb 1:21; 2:10). Elsewhere in Scripture such difficulties are understood to be for the purpose of testing or discipline (e.g., Pr 3:11-12; Heb 12:7-11), but Naomi has not attained insight at this stage.”

      • On the Hebrew here translated “Almighty,” NET notes writes, “In terms of use, Shaddai (or El Shaddai) is presented as the sovereign king/judge of the world who grants life/blesses and kills/judges. In Genesis he blesses the patriarchs with fertility and promises numerous descendants. Outside Genesis he blesses/protects and also takes away life/happiness. In light of Naomi’s emphasis on God’s sovereign, malevolent deprivation of her family, one can understand her use of this name for God.”

      • So Naomi returned from Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth, the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

      • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “…The barley harvest was in mid to late April, when the rainy season came to an end, and was a period of intense labor requiring everyone in the family and community to participate.”