Ruth 1:2-5 Commentary

Ruth 1:2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. (NASB: Lockman)

KJV: Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

Young's Literal: And the name of the man is Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites from Beth-Lehem-Judah; and they come into the fields of Moab, and are there.

Septuagint (LXX): kai onoma to andri Abimelech kai onoma te gunaiki autou Noemin kai onoma tois dusin huiois autou Maalon kai Chelaion Ephrathaioi ek Baithleem tes Iouda kai elthosan (3PAAI) eis agron Moab kai esan (3PIAI) ekei

English of Septuagint: And the man's name was Elimelech, and his wife's name Noemin, and the names of his two sons Maalon and Chelaion, Ephrathites of Bethleem of Juda: and they came to the land of Moab, and remained there.


Shakespeare asks, "What’s in a name?

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

In fact Shakespeare might be surprised that Biblical names are often very instructive but in Elimelech's case can be sadly ironic.

Elimelech means "my God is king" When his friends called to him, they didn't say, "Elimelech," in English. They said, "My God is King," or, "God is my King."

What a wonderful name to have---his very name a testimony of the sovereignty (a king is often called a sovereign) of His God. It is sad that he had such a name and yet sought solace in Moab rather than in the sovereign sufficiency of Jehovah Who is "I Am"… "I Am… anything and everything you will ever need"!

He seems to have forgotten that

"The name of the LORD is a strong tower. The righteous runs into it and is safe (or literally "set on high")" (Pr 18:10-notes) (see chart on the Name of the LORD is a Strong Tower)

His actions belie not only his name but more significantly his trust in what that name represents.


One needs to be cautious attaching too much significance to some of these Hebrew names because there is not a clear consensus on the original meaning. With that as a caveat, most sources state that "Naomi" means "pleasant one".

Mahlon (''sickly or unhealthy") became the husband of Ruth the Moabitess (as we discover - Ru 4:9, 10-notes). Boaz, a distant relative to Mahlon, married the dead man's widow, Ruth.

Chilion means "weakness, wasting away, puny, failing" and the root word for his name means ''consumption'' ( tuberculosis).


  • Ge 35:19; 1Sa 1:1; Mic 5:2
  • Ruth 1 Resources - Multiple Sermons and Commentaries

Ephrathites (6738) - Ephrata or Ephrathah (meaning "fruitful") was apparently the same as Bethlehem. It was evidently named after Ephrath, the wife of Caleb (1Chronicles 2:19). In a spiritual analogy, one could note that the Messiah's home was both the house of bread and the field of the fruit of the vine, as the Messiah would become both "the bread of life" (John 6:48) in His broken body and "the true vine" in His redeeming blood (John 15:1).

Bethlehem-Ephrata was thus an appropriate

"place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood" (Psalm 132:5, 6-note).

Judah (3063) (yehuda) means celebrated, praised or praise Jehovah and in context describes a territory. We first encounter the name Judah (Judah 1; Judah 2) as given to one of Jacob's sons by his wife Leah in Ge 29:35

"And she conceived again and bore a son and said, "This time I will praise the LORD." Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing." (cf Gen 49:8)


Moab (4124) may mean "of my father" and is the name of a man (a son of Lot by an incestuous union with his older daughter) and as used in this book, the name of a nation, situated along the eastern border of the southern half of the Dead Sea, on a high plateau (see picture below) between the Dead Sea and the Arabian desert. Moab was about 35 miles in length and 25 miles in width.

Remained (1961) (hayah) means to exist, to be or to come to pass. They were "existing" in Moab. What began as just a "sojourn" (temporary) turned into a settled existence.

We sometimes think we can move away from our problems, but find we just bring them with us. No matter where you go, you bring yourself with you - so the same problems can continue but now just in a different place. I have found that the biggest problem I have always moves with me for my old flesh nature is my biggest problem!

Woodrow Kroll observes that…

Sometimes we intend for situations to be only temporary. We think, Just as soon as the kids are through college, we'll start tithing again. Or perhaps you reason, "As soon as I get through this busy period at work, I'll get back to having a daily quiet time." But days turn into weeks, weeks into months and before you know it, circumstances that were only going to be temporary have become a way of life. Have you allowed something that was intended as transient to become a permanent fixture in your life? Have you been waiting for a more convenient time to do what you know you should be doing now? If time has slipped away for you, don't linger another day "in a distant land." If you're not where you should be, this is the day to do something about it. Don't expect time to stand still just because you do. (See full devotional on Ruth 1:2-4)

Ruth 1:3 Then Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. (NASB: Lockman)

Young's Literal: And Elimelech husband of Naomi dieth, and she is left, she and her two sons; Septuagint (LXX): kai apethanen (3SAAI) Abimelech o aner tes Noemin kai kateleiphthe (3SAPI) aute kai oi duo huioi autes

English (Lxx): And Elimelech the husband of Noemin died; and she was left, and her two sons.


What irony - in fleeing famine to seek life, they instead found death. Nevertheless, it is hard to say that this was the direct hand of God’s judgment against them although this is the emphatic conclusion of many commentaries. If we are honest, it is sometimes difficult to discern why tragic things happen. What is certain is that the change of scenery did not improve the circumstances of Elimelech's family (at least not in Ruth 1!).

The pagan Canaanites referred to muth (4191) (Hebrew for "died") as the name of their god of death. He fought with Baal, the god of fertility, for which he suffered the displeasure of El, the head of the pantheon. The Canaanites normalized death through these myths. They practiced elaborate rituals, which included mutilation of their bodies and sacrifices for the dead which were strictly forbidden to the sons of Israel and even went to the extreme of sacrificing children (Dt 12:31).


Selwyn Hughes writes that

These circumstances reinforce the point we made yesterday about the folly of making decisions based on expediency rather than on the will of God. How prone we are to allow materialistic or economic values to influence our judgment. A man and his family emigrated, lured by the appeal of financial security. He wrote: "Would to God I had thought of the spiritual implications before I made the move. My life and family are in ruins." This is why it is always wise to pray over a move to another town, city or country, as there may be unseen dangers that are revealed only through prayer. A change of circumstances will not necessarily solve our problems. We think if we had a new home, a new church, a new husband or wife, a new minister, or a new job, that all our difficulties would be over. As Christians, every major decision we make ought to be set against God's perfect will. We owe it to God to bring Him into our decision making. Otherwise we may find we have gained economically but lost out spiritually. (Ruth 1:3)

God Moves in a Mysterious Way
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain. (Play)

Ruth 1:4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. (NASB: Lockman)

KJV: And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.
Young's Literal: and they take to them wives, Moabitesses: the name of the one is Orpah, and the name of the second Ruth; and they dwell there about ten years.

Septuagint (LXX): kai elabosan (3PAAI) heautois gunaikas Moabitidas onoma te mia Orpha kai onoma te deutera Routh kai katokesan (3PAAI: katoikeo: settle down & be at home) ekei os deka ete

English (Lxx): And they took to themselves wives, women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpha, and the name of the second Ruth; and they dwelt there about ten years.


  • Dt 7:3; 23:3; 1 Ki 11:1, 11:2

Weren't they guilty of transgressing the instruction to "not intermarry with" pagan women who God said would "turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods"?

The Moabites are not listed with the 7 Canaanite nations in (Dt 7:1), but they were certainly idolaters, worshipping a false god named Chemosh. Therefore some say that Dt 7:1, 2, 3 only prohibits Canaanite marriage and that marriages to Moabites were not condemned.

Ruth, a Moabite, sought the living God (Ru 1:14-note) and married an Israelite man. The treatment of Ruth by Boaz along with other Israelites of Bethlehem demonstrates that this law was never meant to exclude one who said

”Your people will be my people and your God my God“ (Ru 1:16-note).

Solomon’s experience later showed that the greatest problem in such a marriage is the temptation to serve the gods of one’s foreign wife (1Ki 11:1, 2, 3, 4,5, 6). Thus there is a striking difference in Ruth's marriage to Boaz which was in the line of Messiah and Solomon's marriage which resulted in introduction of idolatry into Solomon's court and for which God tore the kingdom apart (10 northern tribes and 2 southern tribes in Judah and Jerusalem) in 931BC. Ruth sought after the One True God in contrast to the polytheistic idol worshipers in her native land.

Although such mixed marriages were not specifically forbidden in the Mosaic Law, male offspring could not be admitted into the congregation of Israel to the tenth generation.

Not till Ru 4:10 (see note) does the reader learn that it was Mahlon who married Ruth.



  • Descended from Lot -Genesis 19:37


  • Children of Lot -Deuteronomy 2:9
  • People of Chemosh -Numbers 21:29; Jeremiah 48:46
  • Are given to, as a possession -Deuteronomy 2:9
  • Separated from the Amorites by the river Arnon -Numbers 21:13
  • Expelled the ancient Emims -Deuteronomy 2:9, 10, 11
  • Possessed many and great cities -Nu 21:28,30; Isa 15:1, 2, 3, 4; Jer 48:21, 22, 23, 24
  • Governed by kings -Numbers 23:7; Joshua 24:9


  • Proud and arrogant -Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 48:29
  • Idolatrous -1Kings 11:7
  • Superstitious -Jeremiah 27:3,9
  • Rich and confident -Jeremiah 48:7
  • Prosperous and at ease -Jeremiah 48:11
  • Mighty men of war -Jeremiah 48:14
  • Deprived of a large part of their territories by the Amorites -Numbers 21:26
  • Refused to let Israel pass -Judges 11:17,18
  • Alarmed at the number, &c of Israel -Numbers 22:3
  • With Midian send for Balaam to curse Israel -Numbers 22:1-24:25


  • Enticed to idolatry by -Numbers 25:1-3
  • Forbidden to spoil -Deuteronomy 2:9; Judges 11:15
  • Forbidden to make leagues with -Deuteronomy 23:6
  • Sometimes intermarried with -Ruth 1:4; 1 Kings 11:1; 1 Chronicles 8:8; Nehemiah 13:23
  • Excluded from the congregation of Israel forever -Deuteronomy 23:3,4; Nehemiah 13:1,2
  • Always hostile to Israel -Psalms 83:6-note; Ezekiel 25:8
  • Harassed and subdued by Saul -1 Samuel 14:47
  • Gave an asylum to David’s family -1 Samuel 22:4
  • Made tributary to David -2 Samuel 8:2,12
  • Benaiah slew two champions of -2 Samuel 23:20
  • Paid tribute of sheep and wool to the king of Israel -2 Kings 3:4; Isaiah 16:1
  • Revolted from Israel after the death of Ahab -2 Kings 1:1; 3:5
  • Israel and Judah joined against -2 Kings 3:6,7
  • Miraculously deceived by the colour of the water -2 Kings 3:21-24
  • Conquered by Israel and Judah -2 Kings 3:24-26
  • King of, sacrificed his son to excite animosity against Israel -2 Kings 3:27
  • Joined Babylon against Judah -2 Kings 24:2


  • Terror on account of Israel -Exodus 15:15
  • Desolation and grief -Isaiah 15:1-9; 16:2-11
  • Inability to avert destruction -Isaiah 16:12
  • To destroyed in three years -Isaiah 16:13,14
  • To be captives in Babylon -Jeremiah 27:3,8; 48:7
  • Their desolation as a punishment for their hatred of Israel -Jeremiah 48:26,27; Ezekiel 25:8,9
  • Restoration from captivity -Jeremiah 48:47
  • Subjugation to Messiah -Numbers 24:17; Isaiah 25:10
  • Subjugation to Israel -Isaiah 11:14


Orpah may mean "Forelock" or "fawn"

Ruth means "friendship" which is so fitting as this book contains one of the most touching examples of friendship in the Bible.


About ten years - Recall Ru 1:1 where they initially went to Moab to "sojourn", which describes a temporary stay.

There is a Jewish tradition that a woman who has been widowed for ten years will not have a child again; whether this tradition stems from v4 or predates it is not known


Ruth had both reputation and character as we see this story unfold. Reputation is what other people say about you. Character is what God knows to be true of you (cp 1Sa 16:7 as Samuel anoints one of Jesse's sons. Cp God's viewpoint Isa 55:8, 9. Ps 147:10, 11, Pr 31:30 - surely Ruth was a woman who "feared the LORD", Pr 31:10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 - see brief study of fear of the Lord). Ruth was both a woman of reputation and character.

For women Ruth stands out as an example to be followed. For men Ruth is the model of a woman to be pursued. Ruth is a woman with a wrong beginning who makes a right turn which brings her the right ending (cp Mt 1:5).

How paradoxical that in Judges the chosen people forsook God (Jdg 2:11, 12, 13, 14, 15, Jdg 10:6, 10, 13) for idols (cp Jdg 17:5, 18:14, 17, 18, 19, 20).

SIN will take you further than you ever meant to STRAY,

Will keep you longer than you ever planned to STAY,

Will cost you more than you ever dreamed that you'd PAY!

And in the book of Ruth we see Ruth forsake idols for God! (cp Paul's description of the repentance [change of mind/heart resulting in a change of direction/behavior] of pagan idol worshippers in 1Th 1:9, 10-notes). Ruth (like another Gentile woman Rahab the harlot - Josh 2:1, 2, 3, 6:17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, Mt 1:5, He 11:31, James 2:25-notes) chose to believe God when most around her rejected His grace and goodness. Ruth is a paradox from beginning to end…

Ruth begins with a famine in the land
Ends with a future in the Lord

Ruth has been called the most beautiful short story ever written. In later Judaism, at least since the twelfth century A.D., the Book of Ruth became one of five books (called the Megilloth) read at the various Jewish festivals. Ruth was read during the Feast of Weeks (known also as Shabouth or Pentecost), which marked the end of grain harvest. The other books of the Megilloth are Song of Songs (read at Passover), Lamentations (read on the ninth of Ab), Ecclesiastes (read during the Feast of Booths), and Esther (read during Purim). The story has been called a folktale

The little Book of Ruth… consists of only eighty-five verses but these enclose a garden of roses, as fragrant and full of mystic calyxes, as those which the modern traveler still finds blooming and twining about the solitary ruins of Israel and Moab, this side of Jordan and beyond. The significance and beauty of the brief narrative cannot be highly enough estimated, whether regard be had to the thought that fills it, the historical value which marks it, or the pure and charming form in which it is set forth. (Paulus Cassel)

Ruth 1:5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (NASB: Lockman)

NKJV: Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband

TEV: Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left all alone, without husband or sons.

Young's Literal: And they die also, both of them -- Mahlon and Chilion -- and the woman is left of her two children and of her husband.

Septuagint (LXX):kai apethanon (3PAAI) kai ge amphoteroi Maalon kai Chelaion kai kateleiphthe (3SAPI) e gune apo tou andros autes kai apo ton duo huion autes

English (Lxx): And both Maalon and Chelaion died also; and the woman was left of her husband and her two sons.


Then - Whenever you see a "then" (see notes on importance of expressions of time in inductive Bible study) stop (observe) and ask questions like "What happened then?", "When is then?", "What sequence being explained?" (interrogate with the 5W'S & H). Then, although a small word, is very important in narratives to establish the sequence of events. Similarly "then" is vitally important to recognize in prophetic passages where the Holy Spirit uses it to lay out the sequence of or timing of the prophetic events (eg, see Jesus' Olivet discourse describing the end of this age [Mt 24:3, cp this "age", the church age, which will be followed by the 1000 year Messianic age {Lk 18:30} - cp Da 13:13, Mt 12:32, 13:39, 40, 49, Mt 28:20, regarding "this age" and the "age to come" see also Lk 20:34, 35, Mk 10:30, 1Co 2:6, 7, 8, 3:18, Gal 1:4, Ep 1:21-note, Titus 2:12-note, He 6:5-note] - Mt 24:14, 15, 16, 21, 23, 30 describing the timing of events in the Great Tribulation).

Matthew Henry has an interesting comment:

"Earth is made bitter to us, that heaven may be made dear." (cp Naomi's testimony Ru 1:20, 21)

Now there were three childless widows - Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. To be a childless widow was to be among the lowest, most disadvantaged classes in the ancient world. There was no one to support you, and you had to live on the generosity of strangers. Naomi had no natural family in Moab, and no one else to help her. Clearly the narrative is sketching the picture of an utterly hopeless, desperate situation! Just the kind of impossible situation the Almighty (Shaddai, the Sufficient One - see Ru 1:20, 21 - note) specializes in. The psalmist affirms that

The LORD protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow; but He thwarts the way of the wicked. (Ps 146:9-note)

Naomi was both a "stranger" and a "widow". Subsequent events prove that God is true to His Word. If you're a widow, you will find great encouragement in the book of Ruth. As someone has well said

"God's comfort
compensates for life's losses."

He will be your heart's sure comfort,
Counselor Divine, and Friend;
Coming years need not distress you,
He will guard you to the end. --Anon.

The Targum (OT Hebrew translated into Aramaic) adds,

“And because they transgressed the decree of the word of the Lord, and joined affinity with strange people, therefore their days were cut off.”

One must be aware that although the Targum is a "translation" that is sometimes literal and exact, it was also often a paraphrase of the original Hebrew because many "translators" took the opportunity to comment upon the Hebrew. In this sense, some Targumim (plural) are best understood as a form of commentary on the original Hebrew texts, and that certainly appears to be the case with the Targum "paraphrase" of Ruth 1:5.

Traditionally many if not most Jewish and Christian commentators have presumed that the death of these men was a matter of divine retribution. After all Elimelech had removed his family to pagan country, and Mahlon and Chilion had married pagan women. In fairness to the text, one must observe that the writer neither explains the deaths nor criticizes Elimelech. The reality is that for the women, it does not matter why their husbands have died but that all the men are gone.


Bereft (07604) (sha'ar) seems to be used almost exclusively to indicate the static action of surviving after an elimination process. Sha'ar indicates that which remains or survives after an elimination process, in this case death of all the husbands. The Septuagint (LXX) translates the Hebrew with the Greek verb kataleipo (2641) (from kata = intensifies meaning + leipo = leave behind, forsake) which is a stronger way of saying she was left behind. She must have felt this deeply but she was not entirely alone either literally nor spiritually, one being reminded of God's promise to Moses…

Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the One Who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. (Deut 31:6)

Comment: The writer of Hebrews quotes from this verse in Hebrews 13:5 (note) where the promise in the Greek strongly emphasizes that God will not abandon His own no matter how bleak the circumstances. One can paraphrase it "I will never, never, never leave thee… "

Naomi's condition is complicated by several factors that were negatives in ancient times -- she was old, she was barren, she was in a foreign country, and she had two alien and childless daughters-in-law. Things indeed looked bleak and hopeless at this juncture of her life. But fortunately, the narrative does not stop here.

Naomi's emptiness is complete: She has neither husband nor sons. She has only two young daughters-in-law, both of them foreigners and childless. She is running on empty and all seems lost yet One Person has not left her… the Covenant Keeping God Jehovah ("I Am" - "I Am… anything and everything you will ever need.") is in control and is ordering providence to meet the need of not only Naomi and Ruth but eventually the need of the entire world of empty humanity, as He provides the lineage through which the ultimate and final Kinsman-Redeemer will come, our Lord Jesus Christ.

These widows would seem to be the most unlikely prospects regarding the playing out of the Lord’s redemption of mankind, but then this is most often who He uses to fulfill His plans and purposes. Paul writes that

God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God. (1Cor 1:27, 28, 29)

John Angell James (1841) writes of the benefits of affliction (see also notes on Ruth 1:1) summarized as follows (Read full discussion)

1. Affliction quickens DEVOTION.

2. Affliction discloses, mortifies, and prevents SIN.

3. Affliction tends to exercise, improve and quicken our GRACES.

4. Afflictions tend to wean us from the world, and to fix our affections on things above.


These words are generally used for very young children but in context would here refer to young adults, which points to these two expiring at a relatively young age even for the ancient near east.

Although God's Name is not mentioned in this verse, the events clearly illustration His sovereignty for by His own testimony

there is no god besides Me. It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal and there is no one who can deliver from My hand. (Dt 32:39)

Hannah declared, even in the face of her barrenness, that

Jehovah kills and makes alive. He brings down to Sheol and raises up. (1Sa 2:6)

Clearly God is in control of the circumstances of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah. The clouds may temporarily hide His face but not His lovingkindness and His sovereign working of all things out together for good, as the subsequent chapters so eloquently and masterfully prove.

Woodrow Kroll draws an interesting application from this section noting that Naomi..

had left Israel with a husband and two sons; now only she was left—alone, and yet not alone. God had brought into her life two compassionate daughters-in-law, one of whom would follow her all the way back to Israel. Even though Naomi intensely felt the loss of her loved ones, God had not deserted her. He provided, even in a foreign land, those who would love and care for a forlorn widow. God never really leaves us alone. When He removes those whom we expect to love and support us, He always provides another way for this need to be met. While you may experience the pain of separation, you never need to feel totally abandoned. Sometimes God grants you an unmistakable sense of His company. Other times He uses people around you to be the instruments of His love and comfort. In either case, His compassion never fails and His presence never falters.

Perhaps you have lost the one dearest to you. Maybe you have moved far away from family and friends. Let God fill your life with His presence in whatever way He chooses, and rejoice that He never forgets nor forsakes. Be assured that even though there may be an empty place in your home, there can be a fullness in your heart.

You may feel lonely, but you need never feel alone. (See full devotional on Ruth 1:3, 5)