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Scene One: Moab (1:6-18)

1:6 "daughter-in-law" has a slightly wider range of meanings than in English, it is also used for a "bride". As in English the stress is on family relationship. 

Family language is very frequent in this book 
7 occurrences of this word out of 17 in the whole Bible
other family vocabulary occurs at a rate of about 1 item per verse throughout the book
Naomi is the only woman to have a daughter-in-law in the OT, the word is only used with respect to fathers-in-law elsewhere!

Each of these draws attention to the centrality of "family" in Ruth.

The verbs are singular, despite the reference to "she... with her daughters-in-law". Clearly the focus is still on Naomi, and in the most literal way neither Orpah nor Ruth really "count" yet (cf. v.5).

"Given them food" latheth lahem lachem compare the name of the place to which Naomi will return "Bethlehem" beth lechem, our author means the puns.

"return" shub this verb is frequent in this act. 12/15 occurrences for the book are in 1:6-22. Clearly this notion of "return" is an important motif here. The exact form used here recurs at v.22 thus forming an inclusion.

1:7 Things have been turned upsidedown. In verse one "a certain man" set out from Bethlehem with his family, because there was no food. Now Naomi and her foreign daughters-in-law set out for Bethlehem for there is food, food but no family - since Ruth and Orpah don't signify.

It is in fact in the middle of this verse where the verbs begin to be plural, as they set out together the foreigners begin to "count".

1:8 The first conversation begins. Our author will use direct speech a lot, 50 of the 85 verses will contain some.

In verses 6-7, the introduction to this "act", we have been reminded that Naomi sets out from "the country of Moab" (the phrase is used twice in v.6) to return to "the land of Judah" (v.7). Now, as the action begins, Naomi orders the Moabites to return home. Their foreignness is underlined even though she speaks kindly to them. 

"mother's house" is nearly unheard of, the usual expression is "father's house" (Gen 38:11; Lev 22:13; Num 30:16; Dt 22:21; Judg 19:2,3).  Many explanations for this usage have been given. There are only three other occurrences of the phrase in the OT, and all seem to have something to do with marriage. The use of the expression here in any case is a further hint of the importance of women and their point of view to the telling (and therefore to the teller?) of this story.

When Naomi has asked both to leave her, she blesses them. It is here that the word chesed (love/goodness/faithfulness) occurs for the first time (cf. note on Campbell's doublets). English Versions often use "kindness/kindly" etc. for chesed, however such a wishy-washy notion, even if it is appropriately warm and glowing will not do. At least it will not work in the other two occurences. In this book the word is used only in blessing. In other books it is linked to the notion of covenant. When it recurs in 2:20 and 3:10 "loyalty" is clearly a good rendering. The word seems to reflect the loving loyalty which ought to build up within families and others in a covenant relationship. Notice that in v.8 it refers equally to Orpah and Ruth.

At the beginning of the conversation between Naomi and her daughters-in-law Naomi invokes Adonai, at the end (v.17) Ruth will do so making him the guarantor of her promise.

1:9 Poses the problem of the book, in a sideways fashion. Returning to "her mother's house" has the goal of finding "rest" in a husbands house. NRSV smooths the translation giving "security" for menuchah (traditionally rendered "rest", RSV with "a home" was rather good). 

The word as such does not recur in Ruth, but compare 3:1 where Naomi herself seeks "some security" manoach for Ruth - in this verse she is asking it of God. (Such an interrelationship of prayer and action is a feature of this book.)

The bond between Naomi and the two Moabite girls is shown us again as they "wept aloud".

1:10 Naomi has asked them to "go back" (shub) v.8, here they demand to "return" (shub) with her to Bethlehem. (This verb will play throughout the chapter, and its games light up the themes.)

Again it is both daughters-in-law who oppose Naomi's expressed wish because they want to stay with her.

1:11 Naomi repeats her instruction, but notice that this time she calls them "my daughters". Her choice of words conflicts with her surface message! This form for the word "my daughters" benotay has half its uses in the OT in these three verses 1:11,12,13. The singular form of the possessive bitt ("my daughter") is only used in chapters 2 and 3, and there it has 8 out of 15 OT uses (2:2,8,22; 3:1,10,11,16,18). Notice how important family ties and women are in this book.

1:12 "Turn back, my daughters, go" repeats in reversed form v.8 "go, return" (in the more literal RSV rendering). In v.11 we shall read "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me?" Naomi repeats her instruction three times, the first as an imperative statement, the second in form of a rhetorical question and this last returning to instruction. Is it significant that she says this three times (cf. Jn 21:15-17)?

1:13 For the young there is always hope. Naomi is "old" - about 45 - but her daughters-in-law only in their twenties at this time. She cannot replace the family she has lost, they can. Note the word "bitter" for it will return and Naomi will use it more bitterly in v.20. Even here, she describes her lot using the expression "Adonai's hand has turned against me", almost she calls him her enemy. We shall discuss this below at v. 20-21.

1:14 At first, the response to Naomi's third demand to leave her produces the same result, "they wept aloud again". However this time "Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her" (in v.9 it was Naomi who kissed them, for the kissing is in expectation of separation). The word "cling" will recur at 2:8,21,23 (translated "stay close") perhaps there it marks the first signs of a new kind of attachment?

1:15 In v.14 the narrator has not spelled out Orpah's departure. Naomi herself now tells us (by implication) our narrator uses a reticent style. 

Religious questions enter into play in Naomi's argument, for the first time here:  "gone back to her people and to her gods". Notice how this  progresses in Ruth's promise "her gods... your God, my God." v.16. 

Twice in this short verse, 9 words in Hebrew, Naomi repeats her order to Ruth to "return".

1:16-17 At last Ruth speaks, and denies that she could obey, for her it is not a question of "returning (shub) to her people" but of "turning back (shub) from following you (Naomi)".

The words that follow are among the best known in the OT and the most emotive.

Having denied the sense of "returning to her people" she fills this out with the clear promise never to forsake her mother-in-law, next she declares "your people (shall be) my people, your God my God".

The word "lodge, pass the night" (lun) will prove to be another of those infrequent key-words. For at 3:13 Boaz will instruct her to "remain this night" with him.

1:18 After this Naomi can say no more.

© Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.

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Tim Bulkeley, "Ruth: Genre" in Study Notes on Ruth [downloaded today's date].

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Tim teaches Hebrew Bible (First or Old Testament) at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and at Carey Baptist College his other sites include:
Amos - Postmodern Bible commentary
Study Notes on Jonah
Images of Archaeological Sites in Israel (Focusing on the Iron Age)