Naomi in Moab. 1Once back in the time of the judges* there was a famine in the land; so a man from Bethlehem of Judah left home with his wife and two sons to reside on the plateau of Moab. 2The man was named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his sons Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem of Judah. Some time after their arrival on the plateau of Moab, 3Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4They married Moabite women, one named Orpah, the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion died also, and the woman was left with neither her two boys* nor her husband.
6She and her daughters-in-law then prepared to go back from the plateau of Moab because word had reached her there that the LORD had seen to his people’s needs* and given them food. 7She and her two daughters-in-law left the place where they had been living. On the road back to the land of Judah, 8Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you to your mother’s house.* May the LORD show you the same kindness as you have shown to the deceased and to me. 9a May the LORD guide each of you to find a husband and a home in which you will be at rest.” She kissed them good-bye, but they wept aloud, 10crying, “No! We will go back with you, to your people.” 11Naomi replied, “Go back, my daughters. Why come with me? Have I other sons in my womb who could become your husbands?* 12Go, my daughters, for I am too old to marry again. Even if I had any such hope, or if tonight I had a husband and were to bear sons, 13would you wait for them and deprive yourselves of husbands until those sons grew up? No, my daughters, my lot is too bitter for you, because the LORD has extended his hand against me.” 14Again they wept aloud; then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her.
15“See now,” she said, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god. Go back after your sister-in-law!” 16* But Ruth said, “Do not press me to go back and abandon you!
Wherever you go I will go,
wherever you lodge I will lodge.
Your people shall be my people
and your God, my God.
17Where you die I will die,
and there be buried.
The Return to Bethlehem. 19So they went on together until they reached Bethlehem. On their arrival there, the whole town was excited about them, and the women asked: “Can this be Naomi?” 20b But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi [‘Sweet’]. Call me Mara [‘Bitter’], for the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21* c I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why should you call me ‘Sweet,’ since the LORD has brought me to trial, and the Almighty has pronounced evil sentence on me.” 22Thus it was that Naomi came back with her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth, who accompanied her back from the plateau of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.*
* [1:1–2] Back in the time of the judges: the story looks back three generations before King David (4:17) into the time of the tribal confederation described in the Book of Judges. David’s Moabite connections are implied in 1 Sm 22:3–4. Bethlehem of Judah: Bethlehem, a town in which part of the Judean clan-division called Ephrathah lived; cf. 1 Chr 2:50–51; 4:4; Mi 5:1. Jos 19:15 mentions a different Bethlehem in the north. The plateau of Moab: on the east side of the Jordan valley rift, where the hills facing west get more rain, and where agricultural conditions differ from those in Judah. Ephrathites: a reminder of David’s origins; cf. Mi 5:1.
* [1:6] Had seen to his people’s needs: lit., “had visited his people.”
* [1:8] Mother’s house: the women’s part of the home, but also perhaps the proper location for arranging marriage; Sg 3:4; 8:2; Gn 24:28. Kindness: Hebrew hesed. The powerful relationship term used here will recur in 2:20 and 3:10; kindness operates on both the divine-human and human-human level in Ruth.
* [1:11] Other sons…husbands: a reference to a customary practice known from Dt 25:5–10, levirate marriage, which assigns responsibility to the brother-in-law to produce heirs in order to perpetuate the name and hold the patrimonial land of a man who died childless. How far the responsibility extended beyond blood brothers is unclear; cf. Gn 38:8 and the upcoming scene in Ru 4:5–6. Naomi imagines the impossible: were she to have more sons they could take Ruth and Orpah as their wives.
* [1:16–17] Ruth’s adherence to her mother-in-law in 1:14 is now expressed in a profound oath of loyalty, culminating in a formulary found frequently in Samuel and Kings; cf. especially 1 Sm 20:13. Even death: burial in Naomi’s family tomb means that not even death will separate them.
* [1:21] Naomi’s despair is made clear by her play on the meaning of her name in v. 20 and now by her accusation, like that in many psalms and in Job, that God has acted harshly toward her. The language belongs to the realm of judicial proceedings. By crying out in this way, the faithful Israelite opens the door to change, since the cry assumes that God hears and will do something about such seemingly unjust circumstances.
* [1:22] Barley and wheat harvests come in succession, from as early as April–May into June–July; Dt 16:9–12 suggests that the grain harvest lasts about seven weeks. The time reference leads effectively to the next episode.