Exposition of Ruth 1:15-22

Posted by on Jan 16, 2014 in The Book of Ruth

Exposition of Ruth 1:15-22

Ruth1 300x168 Exposition of Ruth 1:15 22 In this post, we will work our way through Ruth 1:15-22. We will be utilizing the Complete Jewish Bible translation unless otherwise noted.

Ruth 1:15-22:

15 She said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god; go back, after your sister-in-law.”

16 But Rut said,
“Don’t press me to leave you
and stop following you;
for wherever you go, I will go;
and wherever you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people
and your God will be my God.
17 Where you die, I will die;
and there I will be buried.
May Adonai bring terrible curses on me,
and worse ones as well,
if anything but death
separates you and me.”

18 When Na‘omi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

19 So the two of them went on until they came to Beit-Lechem. When they arrived in Beit-Lechem, the whole city was stirred with excitement over them. The women asked, “Can this be Na‘omi?”

20 “Don’t call me Na‘omi [pleasant],” she answered them; “call me Marah [bitter], because Shaddai has made my life very bitter.

21 I went out full, and Adonaihas brought me back empty. Why call me Na‘omi? Adonai has testified against me, Shaddai has afflicted me.”

22 This is how Na‘omi returned, with Rut the woman from Mo’av, her daughter-in-law, accompanying her from the plain of Mo’av. They arrived in Beit-Lechem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Commentary:

15 She said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god; go back, after your sister-in-law.”

We find Na’omi trying once again to convince Ruth of the wisdom of returning to her homeland of Mo’av. An additional appeal is made that was absent from the previous encouragement provided by Na’omi to both ‘Orpah and Ruth. The extra element of persuasion from Na’omi was the notation that ‘Orpah had not only returned to her people, but that she had also returned to her god Chemosh, the god worshiped by the Moabites. Huey notes such a statement is significant because “In ancient times it was believed that a deity had power only in the geographical region occupied by his worshipers. Thus to leave one’s land meant separation from one’s god(s). Naomi, though a worshiper of Yahweh, encouraged Ruth to join her sister-in-law and return to her land and to her own “gods.”[1]

Essentially, Na’omi after recognizing her previous appeals concerning rest and security found in marriage back in Mo’av, now attempts to persuade Ruth to return home by appealing to rest and security that Ruth might have believed would come from under the protection of her gods.

16 But Rut said,
“Don’t press me to leave you
and stop following you;
for wherever you go, I will go;
and wherever you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people
and your God will be my God.

17 Where you die, I will die;
and there I will be buried.
May Adonai bring terrible curses on me,
and worse ones as well,
if anything but death
separates you and me.”

Ruth’s response to Na’omi’s attempt to persuade her return to Mo’av goes a long way to provide the reader with true insight into the character of Ruth. OT scholar Daniel Block describes Ruth’s response as “among the most memorable in all of Scripture. Few utterances in the Bible match her speech for sheer poetic beauty, and the extraordinary courage and spirituality it expresses.”[2]

She begins her speech with the strong request for Na’omi to stop trying to convince her to return to Mo’av with her sister ‘Orpah. The Hebrew word Ruth uses that is often translated as “press” or “entreat” is the word paga. In this context, this word connotes the idea of assailing someone with petitions, something Na’omi had certainly been feverishly attempting over the previous several verses. So we have Ruth asking Na’omi to cease with the petitions for her to leave and to stop following her. What comes next in Ruth’s speech is truly an amazing statement. Ruth declares “for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die; and there I will be buried. May Adonai bring terrible curses on me, and worse ones as well, if anything but death separates you and me.”

At the surface, this may seem like a great statement of commitment based on the love Ruth had for her mother-in-law. While that is definitely true, there is much more going on in this statement which we will now explore in some detail. Block provides salient exposition as to what Ruth was declaring. He notes that Ruth:

“answers Naomi’s final plea to join Orpah in returning to the people and the god of Moab. With radical self-sacrifice she abandons every base of security that any person, let alone a poor widow, in that cultural context would have clung to: her native homeland, her own people, even her own gods. Like any Near Easterner of her time, she realized that is she would commit herself to Naomi and go home with her, she must also commit herself to Naomi’s people (Israel) and to Naomi’s God (Yahweh).”[3]

This is truly a momentous decision and it presents a major shift in the overall story. No longer is Eli-melekh or Na’omi the focus of the story with their two sons and two daughters-in-law as minor characters in the main plot. Ruth now jumps to the center stage, declaring her commitment not just to stay with Na’omi wherever that may lead, even unto death. Ruth also knowingly declares her commitment to the people of Israel and their God. A Gentile who formerly worshiped the pagan god Chemosh now expresses her faith, albeit small, in Yahweh. This is the definition of God’s hesed being extended to both Na’omi and now Ruth. God in His divine sovereignty is paving the way for Ruth to be an important part of His plans, one that would result in the emergence of King David and most importantly, the coming of the Messiah.

Huey provides some additional insight into the manner in which Ruth responded to Na’omi, stating “By first naming the people and then God, Ruth revealed that she could not relate to God apart from His people. Nothing but death would separate her from Naomi. She swore a solemn curse on herself if she did not keep her promise.”[4] Declaring an oath in that culture was serious business and represented acknowledgement that breaking that oath would bring about the blessing or curse associated with the statement or agreement made between the two parties.

18 When Na‘omi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Based on the nature of the oath declared by Ruth along with the request for Na’omi to cease protesting Ruth accompanying her to Beit-Lechem, Na’omi stopped her appeals. Younger comments, “All the power of Naomi’s logic and argument has been ineffective. Ruth’s faith defies human logic and wisdom.”[5] As faith often does, Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, the people of Israel and the God of Israel defied all logic of the time. Instead of returning to a place where physical rest and security was likely awaiting her, Ruth placed her faith in the unknown, in a people she did not know and a God she did not know. This expression of faith by Ruth is reminiscent of how faith is defined in Hebrews 11:1 which states “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (NKJV)

19 So the two of them went on until they came to Beit-Lechem. When they arrived in Beit-Lechem, the whole city was stirred with excitement over them. The women asked, “Can this be Na‘omi?”

20 “Don’t call me Na‘omi [pleasant],” she answered them; “call me Marah [bitter], because Shaddai has made my life very bitter.

21 I went out full, and Adonai has brought me back empty. Why call me Na‘omi? Adonai has testified against me, Shaddai has afflicted me.”

This pericope describes Na’omi and Ruth’s journey to Beit-Lechem and the accompanying excitement amongst the people of that town at Na’omi’s return. A number of things are interesting about these three verses beginning with the question posed by the people of Beit-Lechem, specifically the question “Can this be Na’omi?” It has been many years since Eli-melekh, Na’omi and their two sons departed from Beit-Lechem for the plains of Mo’av. The question posed by the people of the town is a rhetorical style question rather than asking whether the woman who had returned was indeed Na’omi. Younger comments, that the question “is not addressed by the women to Naomi but rather to one another, creating excited commotion.” We must remember that a town like Beit-Lechem, according to most scholars only had around 500-600 people living there during the time of Christ so this was a relatively small town.

The response by Na’omi to the commotion her return has caused is again rather telling of the mindset she had at this time. She continues to believe that God has moved against her, using a word play with her the meaning of her name and the Hebrew word marah. Na’omi’s name, as we discussed in our first post in this series, means “pleasant”, so Na’omi is purposely employing this comparison between pleasant and marah which means bitter to focus again on her perception that it was God who has made her life unpleasant and bitter.

Something else of interest is the shift from the use of the word Adonai to describe God to that of Shaddai which means “Almighty” or “most powerful”, another attempt to describe that it is God who has decided in His divine power to afflict her with the woe and suffering she has endured to this point. Some may assert that Na’omi is blaming God for her lot in life, however, Huey rightly notes “She did not mean it as an accusation but as an acknowledgement of his total control of all things.”[6] While her life has by no means been a piece of cake, Na’omi still recognizes the reality of her present situation, also noting that everything that has transpired is part of God’s plan, even though at the moment it seems to be very unpleasant.

Na’omi also comments on the fact that she depart Beit-Lechem full but she came back empty which is again another method used by the author to drive home the underlying idea of provision, in this case the provision of family. While she acknowledges God’s sovereignty, she still cannot comprehend at this point in the story why she left with her family intact, a husband to provide for her and to provide her rest and security, sons to carry on the family, only to return to her homeland empty. Apparently she had just forgotten the declaration made a few verses earlier by Ruth.

22 This is how Na‘omi returned, with Rut the woman from Mo’av, her daughter-in-law, accompanying her from the plain of Mo’av. They arrived in Beit-Lechem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

The first chapter of Ruth concludes with a summary statement that Na’omi and Ruth with Ruth described as the “woman from Mo’av, arrived in Beth-Lechem at a rather fortuitous time of the year, the beginning of the barley harvest. Yet again the author mentions the idea of provision, this time returning to the idea of the provision of food that would come via the harvest. Huey notes that “according to the Gezer calendar – the oldest known calendar yet found in Palestine – barley harvest was the eighth month of the agricultural calendar (i.e., April/May).[7] It is the harvest and the fields of one named Boaz to which the story will now shift.

Conclusion:

Ruth 1:15-22 provides a pivotal turning point in the first part of the Book of Ruth. Na’omi tries one last time to convince Ruth to return to Mo’av only to have Ruth respond with a truly magnificent declaration and oath of commitment to Na’omi, the people of Israel, and the God of Israel. The chapter concludes with the return of Na’omi to Beth-Lechem along with her daughter-in-law Ruth to the great excitement of the townspeople. Na’omi yet again expresses her belief that God is punishing her based on her limited perception of God’s divine plan. The story shifts in focus to the barley harvest and the entrance in chapter two of Boaz.

In our next segment, we will look at Ruth 2:1-7 to see what takes place as Ruth begins to interact with Boaz.

References

[1] F. B. Huey, Jr. “Commentary on Ruth” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol.3: Deuteronomy through 1&2 Samuel. Edited by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 523.
[2] Daniel Block, The New American Commentary: Judges-Ruth (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), 640.
[3] Ibid., 641.
[4] Huey, 524.
[5] K. Lawson Younger, Jr. NIV Application Commentary: Judges-Ruth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 424.
[6] Huey, 525.
[7] Ibid.

 Exposition of Ruth 1:15 22

Michael lives in Belleville, IL, a suburb of St. Louis, MO with his wife Erica, adopted daughter Alissa, two cats Molly and Sweetie Pie and horse Beckham. After spending eight years in the United States Navy as a Yeoman, he has been employed for the past ten years by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) where he oversees advanced educational programs. Michael holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Religion (Biblical Studies) from Liberty University and is currently closing in on completing a Master of Arts in Religion (Biblical Studies) from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an avid reader and blogger operating the website Christian Apologetics and Intelligence Ministry (http://intelmin.org) which provides both original content and relevant posts and articles from around the web.

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