And Naomi said, Turn back, my daughters. To what purpose should you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb, that might be husbands to you? According to the old Levirate law—a survival of rude and barbarous times—Orpah and Ruth, having had husbands who died without issue, would have been entitled to claim marriage with their husbands’ brothers, if such surviving brothers there had been (see Deu_25:5-9; Mat_22:24-28). And if the surviving brothers were too young to be married, the widows, if they chose, might wait on till they reached maturity (see Gen_38:1-30.). It is in the light of these customs that we are to read Naomi’s remonstrance’s. The phraseology in the second interrogation is very primitive, and primitively ‘ agglutinative.’ “Are there yet to be sons in my womb, and they shall be to you for husbands?” (see on verse 1).
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.
Turn back, my daughters, go; for I am too old to have a husband. But even if I could say, I have hope; yea, even if I had a husband this very night; yea, even if I had already given birth to sons; (Rth_1:13) would ye therefore wait till they grew up? would ye therefore shut yourselves up so as not to have husbands? nay, my daughters; for my lot is exceedingly bitter, more than even yours, for the hand of Yahveh has gone out against me. Most pathetic pleading, and not easily reproduced on lines of literal rendering. “Go, for I am too old to have a husband.” A euphemistic rendering; but the original is euphemistic too, though under another phraseological phase. “But even if I could say, I have hope.” The poverty of the Hebrew verb, in respect of provision to express “moods, ‘ is conspicuous: “that,” i.e. “suppose that I said, I have hope.” Mark the climactic representation. Firstly, Naomi makes, for argument’s sake, the supposition that she might yet have sons; then, secondly, she carries her supposition much higher, namely, that she might that very night have a husband; and then, thirdly, she carries the supposition a great deal higher still, namely, that even already her sons were brought forth: “Would you therefore wait?” Note the therefore. Ibn Ezra, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and King James’s version assume that לָהֵן means for them. The feminine pronoun, however, as applied to Naomi’s sons, is, on that supposition, all but inexplicable. It is much better to assume, with the majority of modern critics, that it is equivalent to לָכֵן, whether we call it a Chaldaism or not. Certainly it was current in Chaldee (see Dan_2:6, Dan_2:9). But it may have floated in circles of Semitic society that were never included within Chaldaea proper. Indeed, there were no precise limits bounding off the Chaldee language from the kindred dialects, just as there are no such limits in English or in German, or in any member of a linguistic group. Idioms often overlap. In the two interrogative clauses, “Would ye for that purpose wait till they grew up. Would ye for that purpose seclude, yourselves, so as not to have husbands? there is a parallelism; only, in the second clause, the representation rises. “For my lot is exceedingly bitter, more than even yours;” literally, “for it is bitter to me exceedingly, beyond you.” The verb is used impersonally. Naomi means that her case was even more lamentable than theirs, so that she could not encourage them to hang their dependence on her help, or to hope for a retrieval of their circumstances in becoming partakers of her fortunes. The translation of King James’s version, “for your sakes,” though decidedly supported by the Septuagint, is unnatural. Pagnin and Drusius both give the correct rendering, “more than you.” So do Michaelis and Wright, But Bertheau and Gesenius agree with King James s version. The Syriac Peshito, strange to say, gives both translations, “I feel very bitterly for you, and to me it is more bitter than to you.”
Keil and Delitzsch
Naomi endeavoured to dissuade them from this resolution, by setting before them the fact, that if they went with her, there would be no hope of their being married again, and enjoying the pleasures of life once more. “Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?” Her meaning is: I am not pregnant with sons, upon whom, as the younger brothers of Mahlon and Chilion, there would rest the obligation of marrying you, according to the Levitate law (Deu_25:5; Gen_38:8). And not only have I no such hope as this, but, continues Naomi, in Rth_1:12, Rth_1:13, I have no prospect of having a husband and being blessed with children: “for I am too old to have a husband;” year, even if I could think of this altogether improbable thing as taking place, and assume the impossible as possible; “If I should say, I have hope (of having a husband), yea, if I should have a husband to-night, and should even bear sons, would ye then wait till they were grown, would ye then abstain from having husbands?” The כִּי (if) before אָמַרְתִּי refers to both the perfects which follow. לָהֵן is the third pers. plur. neuter suffix הֵן with the prefix לְ, as in Job_30:24, where הֵן is pointed with seghol, on account of the toned syllable which follows, as here in pause in Rth_1:9 : lit. in these things, in that case, and hence in the sense of therefore = לָכֵן, as in Chaldee (e.g., Dan_2:6, Dan_2:9,Dan_2:24, etc.). תֵּעָגֵנָה (vid., Isa_60:4, and Ewald, §195, a.), from עָגַן ἁπ. λεγ. in Hebrew, which signifies in Aramaean to hold back, shut in; hence in the Talmud עֲגוּנָה, a woman who lived retired in her own house without a husband. Naomi supposes three cases in Rth_1:12, of which each is more improbable, or rather more impossible, than the one before; and even if the impossible circumstance should be possible, that she should bear sons that very night, she could not in that case expect or advise her daughters-in-law to wait till these sons were grown up and could marry them, according to the Levirate law. In this there was involved the strongest persuasion to her daughters-in-law to give up their intention of going with her into the land of Judah, and a most urgent appeal to return to their mothers’ houses, where, as young widows without children, they would not be altogether without the prospect of marrying again.
One possible case Naomi left without notice, namely, that her daughters-in-law might be able to obtain other husbands in Judah itself. She did not hint at this, in the first place, and perhaps chiefly, from delicacy on account of the Moabitish descent of her daughters-in-law, in which she saw that there would be an obstacle to their being married in the land of Judah; and secondly, because Naomi could not do anything herself to bring about such a connection, and wished to confine herself therefore to the one point of making it clear to her daughters that in her present state it was altogether out of her power to provide connubial and domestic happiness for them in the land of Judah. She therefore merely fixed her mind upon the different possibilities of a Levirate marriage.
(Note: The objections raised by J. B. Carpzov against explaining Rth_1:12 and Rth_1:13 as referring to a Levirate marriage, – namely, that this is not to be thought of, because a Levirate marriage was simply binding upon brothers of the deceased by the same father and mother, and upon brothers who were living when he died, and not upon those born afterwards-have been overthrown by Bertheau as being partly without foundation, and partly beside the mark. In the first place, the law relating to the Levirate marriage speaks only of brothers of the deceased, by which, according to the design of this institution, we must certainly think of sons by one father, but not necessarily the sons by the same mother. Secondly, the law does indeed expressly require marriage with the sister-in-law only of a brother who should be in existence when her husband died, but it does not distinctly exclude a brother born afterwards; and this is the more evident from the fact that, according to the account in Gen_38:11, this duty was binding upon brothers who were not grown up at the time, as soon as they should be old enough to marry. Lastly, Naomi merely says, in Rth_1:12, that she was not with child by her deceased husband; and when she does take into consideration, in Rth_1:12 and Rth_1:13, the possibility of a future pregnancy, she might even then be simply thinking of an alliance with some brother of her deceased husband, and therefore of sons who would legally be regarded as sons of Elimelech. When Carpzov therefore defines the meaning of her words in this manner, “I have indeed no more children to hope for, to whom I could marry you in time, and I have no command over others,” the first thought does not exhaust the meaning of the words, and the last is altogether foreign to the text.)
בְּנֹתַי אַל, “not my daughters,” i.e., do not go with me; “for it has gone much more bitterly with me than with you.” מָרַר relates to her mournful lot. מִכֶּם is comparative, “before you;” not “it grieveth me much on your account,” for which עֲלֵיכֶם would be used, as in 2Sa_1:26. Moreover, this thought would not be in harmony with the following clause: “for the hand of the Lord has gone out against me,” i.e., the Lord has sorely smitten me, namely by taking away not only my husband, but also my two sons.
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 she said, Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back to her people, and to her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law. The expression that stands in King James’s version thus, “and to her gods,” is rendered by Dr. Cassel “and to her God.” The same interpretation, it is noteworthy, is given in the Targum of Jonathan, who renders the expression, “and to her Fear” (וּלְוַת דְּחַלְרָּהּ). Such a translation assumes that the Moabites were not only theists, but monotheists. And yet in the mythology, or primitive theology, of Moab, we read both of Baal-Peor and of Chemosh. As to the former, see Num_25:8, Num_25:5; Deu_4:3; Psa_106:28; Hos_9:10. As to the latter, see Jdg_11:24; 1Ki_11:7, 1Ki_11:33; Jer_48:7, Jer_48:13. In Numbers, moreover, Num_21:29, and in Jer_48:46, the Moabites are called the people of Chemosh, and frequently is their national god called Chemosh in the inscription of King Mesha on the Moabitish Stone, so recently discovered and deciphered. It is supposed, not without reason, that the two names belonged to one deity, Chemosh being the old native name. Nevertheless, the translation “to her god” is an interpretation, not a literal rendering, and, on the other hand, the translation “to her gods” would, on the hypothesis of the monotheism of the Moabites, be unidiomatic. The original expression, “to her Elohim,” does not tell anything, and was not intended by Naomi to tell anything, or to hint anything, of a numerical character concerning the object or objects of the Moabitish worship. It was an expression equally appropriate whether there was, or was not, a plurality of objects worshipped. It might be liberally rendered, and to her own forms of religious worship. The word elohim was a survival of ancient polytheistic theology and worship, when a plurality of powers were held in awe. “For,” says Fuller, “the heathen, supposing that the whole world, with all the creatures therein, was too great a diocese to be daily visited by one and the same deity, they therefore assigned sundry gods to several creatures.” The time arrived, however, when the great idea flashed into the Hebrew mind, The Powers are One and hence the plural noun, with its subtended conception of unity, became construed with verbs and adjectives in the singular number. It was so construed when applied to the one living God; but it readily retained its original applicability to a plurality of deifies, and hence, in such a passage as the one before us, where there is neither adjective nor verb to indicate the number, the word is quite incapable of exact rendering into English. Orpah had returned to her people and her Elohim. Return thou after thy sister-in-law. Are we then to suppose that Naomi desired Ruth to return to her Moabitish faith? Is it with a slight degree of criticism that she referred to Orpah’s palinode? Would she desire that Ruth should, in this matter, follow in her sister-in-law’s wake? We touch on tender topics. Not unlikely she had all along suspected or seen that Orpah would not have insuperable religious scruples. And not unlikely, too, she would herself be free from narrow religious bigotry, at least to the extent of dimly admitting that the true worship of the heart could reach the true God, even when offensive names, and forms, and symbolisms were present in the outer courts of the creed. Nevertheless, when she said to Ruth, “Return thou after thy sister-in-law,” she no doubt was rather putting her daughter-in-law to a final test, and leading her to thorough self-sifting, than encouraging her to go back to her ancestral forms of worship. “God,” says Fuller, “wrestled with Jacob with desire to be conquered; so Naomi no doubt opposed Ruth, hoping and wishing that she herself might be foiled.”
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.
Keil and Delitzsch
To the repeated entreaty of Naomi that she would follow her sister-in-law and return to her people and her God, Ruth replied: “Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return away behind thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou stayest, I will stay; thy people is my people, and thy God my God! where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried. Jehovah do so to me, and more also (lit. and so may He add to do)! Death alone shall divide between me and thee.” The words יֹסִיף … יַעֲשֶׂה י כֹּה are a frequently recurring formula in connection with an oath (cf. 1Sa_3:17; 1Sa_14:44; 1Sa_20:13, etc.), by which the person searing called down upon himself a severe punishment in case he should not keep his word or carry out his resolution. The following כִּי is not a particle used in swearing instead of אִם in the sense of “if,” equivalent to “surely not,” as in 1Sa_20:12, in the oath which precedes the formula, but answer to ὅτι in the sense of quod introducing the declaration, as in Gen_22:16; 1Sa_20:13; 1Ki_2:23; 2Ki_3:14, etc., signifying, I swear that death, and nothing else than death, shall separate us.
Naomi was certainly serious in her intentions, and sincere in the advice which she gave to Ruth, and did not speak in this way merely to try her and put the state of her heart to the proof, “that it might be made manifest whether she would adhere stedfastly to the God of Israel and to herself, despising temporal things and the hope of temporal possessions’ (Seb. Schmidt). She had simply the earthly prosperity of her daughter-in-law in her mind, as she herself had been shaken in her faith in the wonderful ways and gracious guidance of the faithful covenant God by the bitter experience of her own life.
(Note: “She thought of earthly things alone; and as at that time the Jews almost universally were growing lax in the worship of God, so she, having spent ten years among the Moabites, though it of little consequence whether they adhered to the religion of their fathers, to which they had been accustomed from their infancy or went over to the Jewish religion.” – Carpzov.)
With Ruth, however, it was evidently not merely strong affection and attachment by which she felt herself so drawn to her mother-in-law that she wished to live and die with her, but a leaning of her heart towards the God of Israel and His laws, of which she herself was probably not yet fully conscious, but which she had acquired so strongly in her conjugal relation and her intercourse with her Israelitish connections, that it was her earnest wish never to be separated from this people and its God (cf. Rth_2:11).
Rth_1:18. And when she saw that she was firmly resolved. Older expositors have imagined that Naomi’s efforts to persuade her daughters-in-law to return homeward, were not altogether seriously meant. She only wished to test them. They take this view in order to free Naomi from the reproach of being too little anxious to introduce her daughters into Israel and the true faith (Rambach: Quœrunt hic interpretes an recte fecerit Noomia, etc.). But this whole exposition is a dogmatic anachronism. Naomi could entertain no thoughts of missionary work as understood in modern times, and for that she is not to be reproached. The great love on which the blessing of the whole narrative rests, shows itself precisely in this, that Naomi and her daughters-in-law were persons of different nationality and religion. This contrast—which a marriage of ten years has only affectionately covered up—it is, that also engenders the conflict of separation. During more then ten years the marriage of Naomi’s sons to Moabitesses was and continued to be wrong in principle, although, in the happy issue of their choice, its unlawfulness was lost sight of. What she had not done then in the spring-tide of their happiness, Naomi could not think of doing now. Her generous love shows itself now rather in dissuading her daughters-in-law from going with her to Israel. For they surely would have gone along, if their deceased husbands, instead of remaining in Moab, had returned to Israel. But their death had in reality dissolved every external bond with Naomi. No doubt, Naomi now feels the grief which the unlawful actions of her husband and sons have entailed. Had her daughters-in-law been of Israel, there would naturally be no necessity of her returning solitary and forsaken. She feels that “the hand of Jehovah is against her.” How indelicate would it be now, nay how unbecoming the sacredness of the relations involved, if Naomi, at this moment, when she is herself poor, and with no prospect in the future, were to propose to her daughters-in-law to leave not merely the land but also the god of Moab, that thus they might accompany her. If she had ever wished, at this moment she would scarcely dare, to do it. It is one of the symptoms of the conflict, that she could not do it. The appearance of self interest would have cast a blot on the purity of their mutual love. Naomi might now feel or believe what she had never before thought of,—she could do nothing but dissuade. Anything else would have rudely destroyed the grace and elevation of the whole beautiful scene. The great difference between Orpah and Ruth shows itself in the very fact that the one yields to the dissuasion, the other withstands. Ruth had the tenderly sensitive heart to understand that Naomi must dissuade; and to all Naomi’s unuttered reasons for feeling obliged to dissuade, she answers with her vow. Naomi dissuades on the ground that she is poor,—“where thou abidest, I will abide,” is the answer; that she is about to live among another people,—“thy people is my people;” that she worships another God,—“thy God is my God;” that she has no husband for her,—“only death shall part me from thee.” Under no other circumstances could the conflict have found an end so beautiful. Naomi must dissuade in order that Ruth might freely, under no pressure but that of her own love, accept Israel’s God and people. Only after this is done, and she holds firmly to her decision, does Naomi consent and “cease to dissuade her.”
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
Ruth … said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean — The right of gleaning was conferred by a positive law on the widow, the poor, and the stranger (see on Lev_19:9 and Deu_24:19). But liberty to glean behind the reapers [Rth_2:3] was not a right that could be claimed; it was a privilege granted or refused according to the good will or favor of the owner.
And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, Let me go, I pray thee, to the cornfields, that I may glean among the ears after whosoever shall show me favor. In modern style one would not, in referring, at this stage of the narrative, to Ruth, deem it in the least degree necessary or advantageous to repeat the designation “the Moabitess.” The repetition is antique, and calls to mind the redundant particularization of legal phraseology—”the aforesaid Ruth, the Moabitess.” She was willing and wishful to avail herself of an Israelitish privilege accorded to the poor, the privilege of gleaning after the reapers in the harvest-fields (see Le 19:9; 23:22: Deu_24:19). Such gleaning was a humiliation to those who had been accustomed to give rather than to get. But Ruth saw, in the pinched features of her mother-in-law, that there was now a serious difficulty in keeping the wolf outside the door. And hence, although there would be temptation in the step, as well as humiliation, she resolved to avail herself of the harvest season to gather as large a store as possible of those nutritious cereals which form the staff of life, and which they would grind for themselves in their little handmill or quern. She said, with beautiful courtesy. “Let me go I, pray, thee;” or, “I wish to go, if you will please to allow me.” Such is the force of the peculiar Hebrew idiom. “There is no place,” says Lawson, “where our tongues ought to be better governed than in our own houses.” To the cornfields. Very literally, “to the field.” It is the language of townspeople, when referring to the land round about the town that was kept under tillage. It was not customary to separate cornfield from cornfield by means of walls and hedges. A simple furrow, with perhaps a stone here and there, or a small collection of stones, sufficed, as in Switzerland at the present day, to distinguish the patches or portions that belonged to different proprietors. Hence the singular word field, as comprehending the sum-total of the adjoining unenclosed ground that had been laid down in grain. “Though the gardens and vineyards,” says Horatio B. Hackett, “are usually surrounded by a stone wall or hedge of prickly pear, the grain-fields, on the contrary, though they belong to different proprietors, are not separated by any enclosure from each other. The boundary between them is indicated by heaps of small stones, or sometimes by single upright stones, placed at intervals of a rod or more from each other. This is the ancient landmark of which we read in the Old Testament”. The word field in Hebrew, שָׂדֶה, denotes radically, not so much plain, as ploughed land (see Raabe’s ‘Glosser’). In English there is a slightly varied though corresponding idiom lying at the base of the Teutonic term in use. A field (German Fold) is a clearance, a place where the trees of the original forest have been felled. The expression, that I may glean ‘among’ the ears, proceeds on the assumption that Ruth did not expect that she would “make a clean sweep” of all the straggled ears. There might likely be other gleaners besides herself, and even though there should not, she could not expect to gather all. After whosoever shall show me favor. A peculiarly antique kind of structure in the original: “after whom I shall find favor in his eyes.” Ruth speaks as if she thought only of one reaper, and he the proprietor. She, as it were, instinctively conceives of the laborers as “hands.” And she said to her, Go, my daughter. Naomi yielded; no doubt at first reluctantly, yet no doubt also in a spirit of grateful admiration of her daughter-in-law, who, when she could hot lift up her circumstances to her mind, brought down her mind to her circumstances
Ruth, having obtained the consent of her mother-in-law, went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers. That is, she “went forth,” viz; from the city, “and came to the cornfields, and gleaned.” “There are some,” says Lawson, “whose virtue and industry lie only in their tongues. They say, and do not. But Ruth was no less diligent in business than wise in resolution.” The later Jews had a set of fantastic bylaws concerning gleaning, detailed by Maimonides. One of them was, that if only one or two stalks fell from the sickle or hand of the reaper, these should be left lying for the gleaners; but if three stalks fell, then the whole of them belonged to the proprietor. Happily for Ruth, her steps were so ordered that the field which she entered as a gleaner belonged to Elimelech’s kinsman, Boaz. And it so happened, runs the story, that it was the portion of the fields that belonged to Boas, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.
Boaz’s interest and admiration grew. And Boaz answered and said to her, It has been fully showed to me, all that thou hast done toward thy mother-in-law since the death of thy husband: and that thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and hast come to a people whom heretofore thou knewest not. When Boaz says, “It has been fully showed to me,” he probably refers to the information which he had received from his overseer. The expression rendered “fully showed” is a fine specimen of a very antique idiom, showed-showed (הֻגֵּד הֻגַּד). “Toward thy mother-in-law.” The preposition which we render “toward” is literally “with,” which, indeed, when laid side by side with the Hebrew preposition, looks as if it were organically identical. (אֵת = eth. Compare the old Hebrew etha with the Sanscrit itah. See Raabe’s ‘Glossar’). The expression which we render “heretofore” is literally “yesterday and the day before,” a very primitive way of representing time past. It must have been like balm to the anxious heart of Ruth to hear from the lips of such a man as Boaz so hearty a “well-done.” “Ruth,” says the venerable Lawson, “showed no disposition to praise herself. She did not claim a right to glean from what she had done for Naomi, but wondered that such kindness should be showed by Boaz to her who was a stranger, and she hears the voice of praise from the mouth of one whoso commendations were a very great honor. No saying was oftener in the mouth of Jesus than this, He that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
May Yahveh requite thy work, arid may thy recompense be complete from Yahveh God of Israel, to trust under whose wings thou art come. Already there were streaks of light shooting athwart Boaz s horizon. His very phraseology is getting tipped with unwonted beauty. He sees Ruth cowering trustfully under the outstretched wings of Him who is “good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works” in all lands (see Psa_91:1-4). The metaphor, says Fuller, “is borrowed from a hen, which, with her clucking, summons together her straggling chickens, and then outstretcheth the fan of her wings to cover them.” “Who would not,” says Topsell, “forsake the shadow of all the trees in the world to be covered under ‘such’ wings?”