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Verse by verse comments (Ruth 1:1-5)
Early Jewish commentators, reading from diaspora, found it difficult that Elimelek chose to leave the promised land, and some saw this as the cause of the series of deaths which strike his family in the succeeding verses. This negative attitude is strongly expressed by Rashi who says "He left the Land of Israel for regions outside the Land out of stinginess, for he resented the poor who came to press him; therefore he was punished."
Inevitably discussion of this verse centres on the names, and their meaning and origins have been greatly discussed. The only safe conclusion is that there can be no firm conclusion yet!
"They remained there" as a short closing phrase, is also ironic, for the men will soon die.
After famine and emigration comes death. The emptying of this family continues.
"the husband of Naomi", as Elimelek is now called, is unheard of, men are not identified with respect to their wives in the OT. Rashi saw this unusual phrasing as a clue, Elimelek is called "the husband of Naomi" to draw attention to the fact that Naomi is not punished since she was under Elimelek's authority. Since this is the only textual clue to support this reading it seems better to simply notice here a first hint of the place of women in this book, the book of Ruth is often told from a woman's perspective, Scripture otherwise almost always portrays male points of view.
"These took Moabite wives" already in the orientation the story begins to suggest false hopes of solution. (Even though the problem has not yet been posed!) The boys marry, one supposes they will soon father children, though sadly (cf. Dt 23:3) with foreign mothers. No sooner suggested than disposed of, "about ten years" and still no sign of offspring - what a contrast will meet us at 4:13, there Boaz and Ruth marry, "know one another", Adonai gives them a child and the child is born, all in the space of 13 words!
"they died also both Mahlon and Chilion" (as the opening words read literally) the verse begins with death.
"so that the woman" (note that the word is singular, as yet neither Ruth nor Orpah matter!) "was left" as indeed she was in v. 3 where the same Hebrew word is used. Naomi, the only remaining "true" representative of this Judean family, is "left" in a foreign land with no men and two dependant foreign daughters-in-law.
"sons" in Hebrew the gender neutral word "children" is used, it will recur in 4:16 where Naomi will take "the child" to her bosom.
© Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.
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Tim Bulkeley, "Ruth: Genre" in Study Notes on Ruth http://www.hypertextbible.org/ruth/genre.htm [downloaded today's date].
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