In this post, we will work our way through Ruth 1:6-14. We will be utilizing the ESV translation.

Ruth 1:6-14, “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”

Commentary:

Ruth 1:6, “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.”

The previous passage we engaged left the reader at a proverbial cliffhanger with Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, ‘Orpah and Ruth, on the brink of starvation and disaster. Ruth 1:6 presents a massive shift, one that provides an element of hope with a large amount of God’s divine grace mixed in for good measure. While verse 6 seems to be a simple statement for the reader focused on the famine that had perhaps passed in Beit-lechem, closer inspection reveals there is quite a bit of information to be had in this passage that both sets the stage for future events and continues to demonstrate the theme of this book, specifically the aspect of divine grace extended by God to Naomi and Ruth.

Old Testament scholar Daniel Block aptly notes some important points to consider in this passage, most notably in the notation of the provision of food by God:

“First, it was a gift from God that in the midst of her grief and pain Naomi was able to hear good news. Second, Naomi heard Yahweh had intervened on behalf of his people. The critical word in this clause is paqad, which bears a wide range of meanings. It occurs most often in military contexts, where it means “to assemble, count, and muster” men for battle. But it is also common in theological contexts, with God as the subject. In such cases it means generally “to attend to, to visit”, but this visitation may be either favorable or unfavorable. In negative contexts (usually expressed by paqad ‘al) it denotes “to intervene against”, that is, “to punish”, though always in keeping with the covenant stipulations. In positive contexts (expressed by paqad ‘et, as in our text), the word means “to intervene on behalf of, to come to the aid of.” The latter is certainly the case here. Third, the object of the divine favor is identified as ‘ammo, “his people”, the nation of Israel. The term expresses the normal covenant relationship between deity and his people. The return of the rains was a signal that God had not forgotten or rejected them. Fourth, Yahweh had given his people bread. The read of Hebrew will recognize the play on the name Bethlehem. The “house of bread” is being restocked.”[1]

In this passage, God had not forgotten his people but has once again provided them with their daily bread in keeping with His covenant promises. Given the cycle of rebellion and turning back to God that is found throughout the period of the Judges, which is likely the period noted in this passage is a time when the people returned to God, possibly finding deliverance from oppression or the lifting of the famine. Either approach was divinely provided, something this passage clearly notes.

Ruth 1:7-8, “So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.”

We now find Naomi leaving the plain of Mo’av where she had been living, departing that place with ‘Orpah and Ruth, journeying back to Beit-lechem on the road that leads back to Judah. Furthermore, the text notes Naomi is urging her two daughters-in-law to return to their homeland, expressing the desire for the grace of God to be extended to them in the same manner as they extended grace to her by staying with her following the death of her husband and their husbands.

An interesting element of these two verses is found in the use of the Hebrew word hesed, a word most scholars note is very difficult to translate fully into English accurately. In this particular context, it can be averred that hesed “encompasses deeds of mercy performed by a more powerful party for the benefit of the weaker one.”[2] One must not forget that ‘Orpah and Ruth could have left Naomi after their husbands died, given their young age and the potential to be re-married. At this juncture in the story, Naomi believes that both ‘Orpah and Ruth would have a far better future and the potential for success if they returned to their homeland.

Ruth 1:9, “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.”

This verse has some very interesting elements to it once the ANE elements of what being married meant for a woman in that culture and point in history. Huey saliently notes the word rest or security, the Hebrew word mĕnuwchah, refers to the security in the ancient Near Eastern culture that marriage gave a woman, not to freedom from work. Naomi expressed her blessing on ‘Orpah and Ruth that Adonai would grant them the security and rest found in the covenant of marriage, an umbrella of protection they had sorely been lacking since the death of their husbands. This statement reflects on the idea of God’s hesed; grace extended towards two foreign women.

Following this declaration, Naomi kissed her daughters-in-law in the expectation they would be parting ways, however, both ‘Orpah and Ruth began to weep.

Ruth 1:10, “10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”

In response to Naomi’s desire for them to return to their homeland, a place of familiarity where they would likely find rest through marriage, both ‘Orpah and Ruth express at least their unwillingness to part ways with Naomi. Maybe they felt within them the desire to place even a tiny bit of faith in this Adonai to whom Naomi kept referring.

Ruth 1:11-13, “11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

In this pericope, we find Naomi trying to talk a bit of sense to ‘Orpah and Ruth. She begins by noting her own inability to produce children due to her age and a lack of a husband. Verhoef comments “Naomi based her persistent urging of Orpah and Ruth to return on the fact of her own advanced age. According to tradition (Gen. 38), or as stipulated in the law (Deut. 25:5-10; cf. Mt. 22:23-28), a levirate marriage was no longer possible (1:11-13).”[3] Naomi continues her strong recommendation for them to return by noting what seems to be a rather obvious question, referring once again to her lack of ability to produce children. She asks them a somewhat rhetorical question that of even if Naomi could bear children by some miracle would ‘Orpah and Ruth be willing to wait around until those children were reared to a sufficient enough age to wed? Even if that were possible, ‘Orpah and Ruth would themselves be too old to marry any offspring of Naomi.

Naomi expresses her belief that God’s hand is against her in regards to progeny. Huey aptly comments in regards to this belief, “the true bitterness of Naomi’s lot was that she believed the Lord was punishing her. Underlying the Book of Ruth and the theology of the entire Old Testament is the belief that nothing happens by chance. God is sovereign and does whatever he desires. Naomi offered no explanation as to why she thought God was her enemy. Perhaps, like Job, she could not really understand the calamities that had struck her.”[4]

The reader of this passage, at least one familiar with the overall message and events of Ruth, will understand that God is setting the stage for a Kinsman-Redeemer to emerge, one that would provide the means for a Moabite woman to wed a man of Judah, a marriage that itself would set the stage for King David and the coming of the Messiah. What appeared at the time to Naomi to be God’s hand against her was in actuality God’s sovereignty once again playing out in the grand flow of history.

Ruth 1:14, “14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.”

Following Naomi’s recommendation for them to return home, all three wept aloud. At first, it appears the speech by Naomi had no impact as the weeping gives the impression that ‘Orpah and Ruth both still desired to stay with Naomi rather than returning to their homeland. Instead what takes place is ‘Orpah kissing Naomi goodbye with Ruth standing firm in her commitment to stick it out with her mother-in-law. There is no further mention of ‘Orpah in the Book of Ruth, so the reader is left to wonder if Naomi’s blessings of God’s favor upon her to find rest and security through marriage came to fruition. We perhaps will never know as the author begins to shift the focus of the story to Naomi and Ruth and their return to Beit-lechem.

Some may feel compelled to cast shame on ‘Orpah for not having faith in God or the desire to stay with Naomi. This is something the author does not do at all in the story, in fact, ‘Orpah is not demeaned by the author for choosing to return home. Block suggests ‘Orpah “is not presented as a negative example of unbelief; the narrator interprets her role in the narrative as a foil for Ruth. Her actions also highlight the incredible fortitude and faith of this other Moabite, qualities that will become even more evident in the final interchange.”[5]

As previously noted, the text states ‘Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and then exists the scene and the overall story. What is of interest is the kiss extended by ‘Orpah to Naomi. Old Testament scholar Edward Campbell comments that in verse 1:9, “the order is kissing and lamenting; here it is reversed (chiasm). The effect is to bracket the episode of persuasion artistically. Notice also that the kiss in 1:14 goes from Orpah to Naomi, while in 1:9 it was Naomi who kissed the young woman. This is just the signal needed to say that the relationship between Orpah and Naomi is here terminated; we need no further words…to make clear that her Orpah takes her leave. A one-way kiss of farewell is usual in stories of the conclusion of intimate relationships.”[6]

Conclusion:

Ruth 1:6-10 provides the reader with a transition in the story. Naomi has learned that God’s hand of blessing has returned to His people, providing in her a desire to return to her homeland. Recognizing the difficulty that would arise should ‘Orpah and Ruth accompany her back to Bethlehem, she strongly recommends they return to their homeland, noting her own inability to produce sons for them to marry and the reality their chances would fare much better should they return to their homes to find rest and security in marriage. As with the previous segment of this first chapter of Ruth, the author leaves the reader with a bit of a cliffhanger as we wonder what will happen to Naomi and Ruth.

In our next segment, we will look at Ruth 1:15-22 to see what takes place as Ruth begins to take center stage.

References

[1] Daniel Block, The New American Commentary: Judges-Ruth (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), 631.
[2] 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, 521.
[3] P. A Verhoef. “Commentary on Ruth” in The Biblical Expositor Commentary, Vol.I: Genesis to Esther. Edited by Carl F. H. Henry. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 265.
[4] Huey, 522.
[5] Block, 638.
[6] Edward Campbell, Jr. Anchor Bible Commentary: Ruth (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 72.