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THE BOOK OF RUTH.
I. CONTENTS.—The contents of this book are theseIn consequence of a famine in Palestine, Elimelech of Bethlehem-judah, with his wife Naomi and their two sons, emigrated to the land of Moab. After the father's death his sons married wives of the country, Orpah and Ruth. The sons died also, and the widowed parent Naomi resolved to return to her own land. But though she dissuaded her daughters-in-law from accompanying her, Ruth refused to stay behind. The two came to Bethlehem, where they were gladly received.
Ruth was allowed to glean during the barley harvest in the fields of Boaz, a rich kinsman of her mother-in-law's husband, who took notice of her and directed his servants to be generous to her. “ So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest, and dwelt with her motherin-law."
By the advice of Naomi Ruth went and modestly laid herself down at the feet of Boaz her kinsman, seeking an opportunity for intimating to him the claim she had upon him as the kinsman of her deceased husband. He acknowledged the right of a kinsman to her, but said that there was a nearer one whose title must first be disposed of. Having sent her away with six measures of barley, he called the next kinsman into judgment, who refused to assert his right by purchasing the reversion of Elimelech's estate. After this he proceeded to buy the inheritance himself, according to the legal forms of the time, and to marry Ruth.
So Boaz espoused the widow of Elimelech's son who bare to him Obed, David's grandfather. A brief genealogy traces the line of David through Boaz, to Pharez son of Judah.
II. PLACE OF THE BOOK IN THE Canon.—Many believe that the book before us was originally connected with that of Judges, of which it formed an integral part, as much so as chaps. xvii.xxi. But it cannot be shewn, with any probability, that it was as closely connected with Judges as these last chapters. It is likely that it was simply put after the Judges. Josephus regards them as one book, the whole number of canonical books, twenty-two, requiring this mode of reckoning. Melito of Sardis testifies that the Jews of his day counted them together; Origen appeals to the tradition of the Jews in favour of the same fact; and in Jerome's day the prevailing reckoning proceeded on the same assumption, though some counted them separately. Such traditions do not reach up to a high antiquity. Nor is Jewish tradition unanimous on the point. In the Talmud indeed, Ruth occupies the first place among the Ktubim immediately before the Psalms. In Hebrew MSS. again, it stands among the five Megilloth, immediately following Canticles. Thus it was afterwards taken out of its original place, and now forms one of the twenty-four books into which the Old Testament has been divided by a constant Jewish tradition since the Talmudic time. The Septuagint translators reckon the book to that of Judges without a separate title. In modern times Luther restored it to its original place.
III. TIME OF THE EVENTS NARRATED.—As is stated in the first verse, the history of Ruth belongs to the time of the Judges and towards the conclusion of it; as is inferred from the genealogy at the close, according to which Obed, Ruth's son by Boaz, was grandfather of David. Thus Ruth lived about 100 years before her great descendant. With this general conclusion we are obliged to rest satisfied, being unable to obtain a more specific date. Some indeed have attempted to ascertain the time more nearly, among whom we may specify Ussher? and Hengstenberg;? but their reasoning is precarious. They bring the famine which caused Elimelech and Naomi to emigrate to the land of Moab, into connexien with the devastation of Palestine by the Midianites as far as Gaza, when no sustenance was left for Israel (Judg. vi. 1-4). This destruction is supposed to have been the cause of the famine mentioned in Ruth i. 1. The Midianites oppressed the land seven years (Judg. vi. 1), with which agrees the return of Naomi in about ten years (Ruth i. 4) to the district of Bethlehem yielding an abundant harvest, since a few years are necessary for the restoration of the soil long wasted. It is easy to see that such reasoning is uncertain. According to the history of Gideon, he had little connexion with the territory of Judah. The Midianite camp was in the plain of Jezreel; and though their hostile operations extended as far as Gaza, it is not implied that the district of Bethlehem came within the sphere of their ravages, since the way from the plain of Jezreel and Gaza does not lead over the mountains of Judah. Thus the occurrences of our book cannot well be brought into the time of Gideon, i.e., about 175 years before the commencement of David's reign, but must belong to the period of the Philistine dominion, when either Abdon or Elon was judge. Josephus places the history of the book after Samson, when Eli was judge ; but this is too late, notwithstanding the observations of Welte in its favour. The various opinions which refer it to Ehud, or Shamgar, or Barak, or Abimelek, or Ibzan are mere hypotheses. The genealogy in iv. 18-22 is incomplete. From Perez to David inclusive ten members of the series are given. Hence six members are wanting between Nahshon and Salmon, according to accounts in the historical books. From Perez to David was about 950 years. It is impossible to explain the reason of this imperfection in the genealogy. It may have been owing to the incomplete data at the writer's disposal as Eichhorn conjectures ; 3 or to design, as Keil thinks," it being usual in genealogical tables to mention only the principal persons. The former appears to us more probable. The object of the author plainly appears from the genealogy at the close, which is to throw light upon the origin of David the great king of Israel. As the history of that monarch is the centre of Israel's history, the sacred historians were careful to adduce whatever tended to place it in a more prominent view. Hence many things and persons are noticed which derive their significance only from their connexion with him. The book before us supplies a considerable gap in the accounts of David's ancestors furnished by the books of Samuel. Those accounts would be very incomplete without the narrative of Ruth. The book was written to exalt the royal house of David by presenting its origin in a clear and simple light. For though the maternal ancestor of it was a poor Moabitess belonging to a people hostile to Israel, yet she was counted worthy of being the progenitor of David himself, because of her firm confidence in the God of Israel to whom she turned from the heathenism of her people. If the writer had thought greatness to consist in outward splendour, he would not have chosen this subject. But he had evidently a higher and truer view, considering the honour of a royal house to lie more in the piety of its ancestors than their worldly preeminence. With these ideas of the author's object we cannot approve of the opinion of Bertholdt5 and Benary, as if the intention was to set forth in a beautiful family picture the obligation of the marriage-duties prescribed among the Hebrews, and the union thence arising. It will appear from what has 1 Antiqq. v. 9, 1.
1 Chronologia Sacra, pars xü. ? Die Authentie des Pentateuches, vol. ii. pp. 111, 112.
2 Herbst's Einleitung, zweyter Theil, p. 133. 3 Einleitung. vol. ïï. p. 462.
Einleit., p. 413, second edition. * Einleitung, vol. v. p. 2357. 6 De Hebraeorum Leviratu, page 30.
been advanced that we attach no weight to the doubts of Augusti and Bertholdt respecting the genealogy at the close of the book. There is no proper reason for thinking that an interpolator began with the words "he is the father of Jesse, the father of David ” (iv. 17).
IV. DATE AND AUTHORSHIP.-It is difficult to discover the time when the book was written and the person who composed it. In his day the Israelites must have had kings, for this is implied in the commencing words: “now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled.” And as David is mentioned, it cannot have been before him. It is true that he is not called king, and therefore it might be supposed that it was composed before he came to the throne. In that case it might be assumed with some of the older critics, that Samuel or Eli was the writer; though there is little probability in believing that the latter survived David's birth. There can be no doubt that the writer lived after David: and the only point of difficulty is to define how long. That it was a considerable time after may
be inferred from the following considerations :
(a) In former times in Israel it was a custom in redeeming and changing property for a man to take off his shoe and give it to his neighbour, in ratification of the transaction (iv. 7, 8). This is explained by the writer in such a manner as shews that it had gone out of use in his day. Hence a considerable time must have elapsed between the transaction and its record. Such civil usages are generally laid aside by degrees; and the author must have felt that his contemporaries could not have understood the matter without an explanation.
It has been affirmed by Palfrey that the writer seems to have misinterpreted a provision of the law respecting the rights and liabilities of the nearest kinsman of an Israelite deceased, whence the critic infers either that he lived at a time when that rule had gone into disuse, or that, not professing to write history, he did not feel bound to be precise in his statement of legal requisitions. This assertion is based on a comparison of Ruth iii. 13, iv. 5, with Deut. xxv. 5, 6, where the obligation to marry the widow of an Israelite dying childless is made to rest on his surviving brother, not on a more distant relative. But the law of Levirate in xxv. 5-10, does not apply here; since neither the next kinsman, nor Boaz, was the brother of Ruth's deceased husband. Hence Boaz marries Ruth not as a brother-in-law but a Goel: he redeems her. It was an ancient institution in the Israelite State that the patrimony should continue in the family. If the possessor was obliged to sell it through poverty,
1 Academical Lectures, vol. i. p. 206.
the nearest relation was to redeem it (Lev. xxv. 25); and the present book shews that if he refused, the right of redemption passed to the next kinsman after him. We also learn from the fourth chapter that it was the duty of him who redeemed the property to marry the widow in order “to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren.” There is no contrariety between the provisions of the Mosaic law and the statements of the book. “All that can be inferred is, that additional information is given respecting the redemption of land and the levirate. But whether the regulations which we learn from Ruth belonged to the original statutes, or arose out of them by an extension of their conditions in process of time, it is impossible to tell. One thing is certain, that nothing in Ruth is opposed to the idea of a more distant relative than the brother of a deceased man marrying the widow and raising up an heir by virtue of the law under which he lived.
(b) The object for which the book was written agrees best with a late date. If it was to do honour to David, he must have already attained pre-eminence in the nation's theocratic history. The importance of his person and influence was generally recognised. The glory of his kingdom was established on a permanent basis, which could not be impaired by the poverty of any ancestor, nor the odiousness of her race. On the contrary, that glory would rather be heightened in contrast with the humble origin of a female progenitor, provided she were a God-fearing and virtuous woman.
(c) The language is of a late and partly Chaldaising type. We admit that this feature is not very marked; but the traces of a late period are discernible. Why they are not more apparent can be, accounted for from the not very late date. Examples are 175 i. 13, occurring once in Job (xxx. 24) but a
. Chaldaism ; 148. i. 13; DP iv. 7; 879 with the feminine termination in x i. 20. Though the last two examples are occasionally found in earlier works, their occurrence here in the connexion is significant. nibano iii. 7, 8, 14; a ny i. 21 ;
Such forms as
עֶנֶה בּ ;,מַרְגְּלוֹת
.4 .i נָשָׂא נָשִׂים ;3 .i מִקְרֶה ;4 .iii תַּעֲשִׂין ;4 .iii שָׁכַבְתִּי ;3 .iii יָרַדְתִּי , שָׂמְתִּי ;18 .iii תֵּדְעִין ;8 .ii תִּרְבָּקִין
ym ii. 8; "Spogbo iv. 1, appear in other and earlier books; but their frequency here betrays the later period of the language.
In reply to this it has been urged by Hävernick7 and Keila that these forms belong either to the older state of the language 1 Einleit. II. i. p. 117.
Einleitung, pp. 415, 416.