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Ruth 1:1-5

Context
A Family Tragedy: Famine and Death

1:1 During the time of the judges 1  there was a famine in the land of Judah. 2  So a man from Bethlehem 3  in Judah went to live as a resident foreigner 4  in the region of Moab, along with his wife and two sons. 5  1:2 (Now the man’s name was Elimelech, 6  his wife was Naomi, 7  and his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. 8  They were of the clan of Ephrath 9  from Bethlehem in Judah.) They entered the region of Moab and settled there. 10  1:3 Sometime later 11  Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, so she and her two sons were left alone. 1:4 So her sons 12  married 13  Moabite women. (One was named Orpah and the other Ruth.) 14  And they continued to live there about ten years. 1:5 Then Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, also died. 15  So the woman was left all alone – bereaved of her two children 16  as well as her husband!

1 tn Heb “in the days of the judging of the judges.” The LXX simply reads “when the judges judged,” and Syriac has “in the days of the judges.” Cf. NASB “in the days when the judges governed (ruled NRSV).”

sn Many interpreters, reading this statement in the light of the Book of Judges which describes a morally corrupt period, assume that the narrator is painting a dark backdrop against which Ruth’s exemplary character and actions will shine even more brightly. However, others read this statement in the light of the book’s concluding epilogue which traces the full significance of the story to the time of David, the chosen king of Judah (4:18-22).

2 tn Heb “in the land.” The phrase “of Judah” is supplied in the translation to clarify the referent.

3 sn The name Bethlehem (בֵּית לֶחֶם, bet lekhem) is from “house, place” (בֵּית) and “bread, food” (לֶחֶם), so the name literally means “House of Bread” or “Place of Food.” Perhaps there is irony here: One would not expect a severe famine in such a location. This would not necessarily indicate that Bethlehem was under divine discipline, but merely that the famine was very severe, explaining the reason for the family’s departure.

map For location see Map5 B1; Map7 E2; Map8 E2; Map10 B4.

4 tn Or “to live temporarily.” The verb גּוּר (gur, “sojourn”) may refer to (1) temporary dwelling in a location (Deut 18:6; Judg 17:7) or (2) permanent dwelling in a location (Judg 5:17; Ps 33:8). When used of a foreign land, it can refer to (1) temporary dwelling as a visiting foreigner (Gen 12:10; 20:1; 21:34; 2 Kgs 8:1-2; Jer 44:14) or (2) permanent dwelling as a resident foreigner (Gen 47:4; Exod 6:4; Num 15:14; Deut 26:5; 2 Sam 4:3; Jer 49:18,33; 50:40; Ezek 47:22-23). Although Naomi eventually returned to Judah, there is some ambiguity whether or not Elimelech intended the move to make them permanent resident foreigners. Cf. NASB “to sojourn” and NIV “to live for a while,” both of which imply the move was temporary, while “to live” (NCV, NRSV, NLT) is more neutral about the permanence of the relocation.

sn Some interpreters view Elimelech’s departure from Judah to sojourn in Moab as lack of faith in the covenant God of Israel to provide for his family’s needs in the land of promise; therefore his death is consequently viewed as divine judgment. Others note that God never prohibited his people from seeking food in a foreign land during times of famine but actually sent his people to a foreign land during a famine in Canaan on at least one occasion as an act of deliverance (Gen 37-50). In this case, Elimelech’s sojourn to Moab was an understandable act by a man concerned for the survival of his family, perhaps even under divine approval, so their death in Moab was simply a tragedy, a bad thing that happened to a godly person.

5 tn Heb “he and his wife and his two sons.” The LXX omits “two.”

6 sn The name “Elimelech” literally means “My God [is] king.” The narrator’s explicit identification of his name seems to cast him in a positive light.

7 tn Heb “and the name of his wife [was] Naomi.” This has been simplified in the translation for stylistic reasons.

sn The name Naomi (נָעֳמִי, naomi) is from the adjective נֹעַם (noam, “pleasant, lovely”) and literally means “my pleasant one” or “my lovely one.” Her name will become the subject of a wordplay in 1:20-21 when she laments that she is no longer “pleasant” but “bitter” because of the loss of her husband and two sons.

8 tn Heb “and the name[s] of his two sons [were] Mahlon and Kilion.”

sn The name Mahlon (מַחְלוֹן, makhlon) is from מָלָה (malah, “to be weak, sick”) and Kilion (כִליוֹן, khilyon) is from כָלָה (khalah, “to be frail”). The rate of infant mortality was so high during the Iron Age that parents typically did not name children until they survived infancy and were weaned. Naomi and Elimelech might have named their two sons Mahlon and Kilion to reflect their weak condition in infancy due to famine – which eventually prompted the move to Moab where food was abundant.

9 tn Heb “[They were] Ephrathites.” Ephrathah is a small village (Ps 132:6) in the vicinity of Bethlehem (Gen 35:16), so close in proximity that it is often identified with the larger town of Bethlehem (Gen 35:19; 48:7; Ruth 4:11; Mic 5:2 [MT 5:1]; HALOT 81 s.v. אֶפְרָתָה); see F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther (WBC), 64. The designation “Ephrathites” might indicate that they were residents of Ephrathah. However, the adjectival form אֶפְרָתִים (ephratim, “Ephrathites”) used here elsewhere refers to someone from the clan of Ephrath (cf. 1 Chr 4:4) which lived in the region of Bethlehem: “Now David was the son of an Ephrathite from Bethlehem in Judah whose name was Jesse” (1 Sam 17:12; cf. Mic 5:2 [MT 5:1]). So it is more likely that the virtually identical expression here – “Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah” – refers to the clan of Ephrath in Bethlehem (see R. L. Hubbard, Jr., Ruth [NICOT], 91).

10 tn Heb “and were there”; KJV “continued there”; NRSV “remained there”; TEV “were living there.”

11 tn Heb “And Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died.” The vav (ו) functions in a consecutive sense (“then”), but the time-frame is not explicitly stated.

12 tn Heb “they.” The verb is 3rd person masculine plural referring to Naomi’s sons, as the translation indicates.

13 tn Heb “and they lifted up for themselves Moabite wives.” When used with the noun “wife,” the verb נָשָׂא (nasa’, “to lift up, carry, take”) forms the idiom “to take a wife,” that is, to marry (BDB 673 s.v. Qal.3.d; 2 Chr 11:21; 13:21; 24:3; Ezra 9:2,12; 10:44; Neh 13:25).

14 tn Heb “the name of the one [was] Orpah and the name of the second [was] Ruth.”

sn The name Orpah (עָרְפָּה, ’orpah) is from the noun עֹרֶף (’oref, “back of the neck”) and the related verb (“to turn one’s back”). The name Ruth (רוּת, rut) is from the noun רְעוּת (rÿut, “friendship”), derived from the root רֵעַ (rea’, “friend, companion”). Ironically, Orpah will eventually turn her back on Naomi, while Ruth will display extraordinary friendship as her life-long companion (see 1:14). Since they seem to mirror the most definitive action of these women, perhaps they designate character types (as is the case with the name Mara in 1:21 and Peloni Almoni in 4:2) rather than their original birth names.

15 tn Heb “and the two of them also died, Mahlon and Kilion.”

16 tn The term יֶלֶד (yeled, “offspring”), from the verb יָלַד (yalad, “to give birth to”), is used only here of a married man. By shifting to this word from the more common term בֵּן (ben, “son”; see vv. 1-5a) and then using it in an unusual manner, the author draws attention to Naomi’s loss and sets up a verbal link with the story’s conclusion (cf. 4:16). Although grown men, they were still her “babies” (see E. F. Campbell, Ruth [AB], 56; F. W. Bush, Ruth, Esther [WBC], 66).



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