A study of Ruth 1:1-2 in Hebrew and English

Ruth 1:1-2

יְהִ֗י בִּימֵי֙ שְׁפֹ֣ט הַשֹּׁפְטִ֔ים וַיְהִ֥י רָעָ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיֵּ֨לֶךְ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֧ית לֶ֣חֶם יְהוּדָ֗ה לָגוּר֙ בִּשְׂדֵ֣ימֹואָ֔ב ה֥וּא וְאִשְׁתֹּ֖ו וּשְׁנֵ֥י בָנָֽיו׃

2וְשֵׁ֣ם הָאִ֣ישׁ אֱֽלִימֶ֡לֶךְ וְשֵׁם֩ אִשְׁתֹּ֨ו נָעֳמִ֜י וְשֵׁ֥ם שְׁנֵֽי־בָנָ֣יו׀ מַחְלֹ֤ון וְכִלְיֹון֙ אֶפְרָתִ֔ים מִבֵּ֥ית לֶ֖חֶםיְהוּדָ֑ה וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ שְׂדֵי־מֹואָ֖ב וַיִּֽהְיוּ־שָֽׁם׃

Ruth 1:1-2 (NASB)

“Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 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.”


Today’s post will aim to explore the exegetical meaning, interpretation and application of Ruth 1:1-2 as it appears in the Hebrew Text of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia and the English text of the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Updated text. Such studies can be of great spiritual benefit, since reading the English text together with the Hebrew forces one to slow down. For readers who may not had studied Hebrew, today’s post will still be of benefit. Most of the remarks will aim at extracting the meaning of the text (i.e exegesis), interpreting it and then applying it to one’s life. If for anything else, to see the beauty of the Hebrew text alone adds to one’s experience of the precious text of scripture. So, lets do a little exegesis, interpretation and application.

Exegesis of Ruth 1:1-2

Ruth 1:1 begins with a phrase in the Hebrew text that sets the stage for the book. The phrase in the NASB reads, “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed”. The Hebrew text has a tiny diamond above the first word (the word to the uttermost right), indicating a special point of interest in the text: יְהִ֗י בִּימֵי֙ שְׁפֹ֣ט הַשֹּׁפְטִ֔ים. Hebrew is read from right to left, and so what appears to be the last word is actually the first word in the sentence. The tiny diamond highlights the verb translated “Now it came”. This could indicate the timing of Ruth’s composition and the timing of the story. Some scholars believe Ruth may had been appended to the end of the Book of Judges.

In the Hebrew Old Testament, Ruth appears near the end of the Old Testament and would had been read during one of the main Jewish festivals. The next phrase of interest in 1:1 features the words וַיְהִ֥י רָעָ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ (there was a famine in the land) and a description of Elimelech as a sojourner (לָגוּר֙). These two phrases hearken us back to a similar description of Abraham in Genesis 12:10 יְהִ֥י רָעָ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיֵּ֨רֶד אַבְרָ֤ם מִצְרַ֙יְמָה֙ לָג֣וּר שָׁ֔ם (Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there). This appears to be an intentional effort on the part of the author and is a feature common throughout the Hebrew Bible, where words or phrases cross-reference to earlier parts of the Hebrew Bible. This also establishes to our minds that Elimelech was in the line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and specifically – of the tribe of Judah – which is seen more towards the end of Ruth. 

One final note, the phrase וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ שְׂדֵי־מֹואָ֖ב (Now they entered the land of Moab). The Hebrew phrase is literally rendered “fields of Moab”, however the NASB has rightly smoothed out the phrase to capture the fact that Elimelech and his family were in the “region” or “land” or “county of” Moab. The map below shows where Moab is relative to the land of Israel in the days of the book of Ruth: 

Interpretation of Ruth 1:1-2

In doing the spade work of extracting the meaning of Ruth 1:1-2 from the Hebrew and English texts (i.e exegesis), we can now bridge the gaps between the original meaning and our lives today. Historically, Ruth took place some 1100 years before the time of Christ, and 3100 years from our 21st century world.

The point of Ruth is to establish the lineage bloodline existing from Elimelech to the protagonists Ruth and Boaz to King David. This little book of the Bible is vital, since the continuity of the Davidic bloodline will be the opening introduction to Matthew 1:1-17. Many, many themes point us to Christ. The role of famines in the Bible indicate either times of judgment or times in which God will reveal new information to his people in their distress and desperation. We all go through dry times in our lives, and the Book of Ruth tells the story about a woman who would go from despair and sorrow to hope and joy in the experience of God’s redemptive plan.

As a final note, Elimelech appears like he is going to be a major character in the book. However, as one goes ahead, Elimelech dies off and the focus shifts to Boaz – the kinsman redeemer. This theme reminds one of how the Bible itself begins with Adam. Adam dies off and the Biblical saga shifts to Christ, the second Adam, Who would be the Ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer. The Kinsman-Redeemer theme refers to one standing in place and redeeming those belonging to his family. Christ, the Eternal Son, came to assume humanity to represent those who by grace through faith become “kin” to Him (see 1 Timothy 4:10; Hebrews 2:9-10).

Final Applications of Ruth 1:1-2

Today’s post was all about slowing down and considering the exegetical and interpretational meanings of Ruth 1:1-2. As we aim to apply this short block of text, we can note three life-practical truths:

A. God’s plan and purposes cannot be thwarted by situations that appear dry and impossible. Nothing is impossible with God.

B. In a time when the spiritual darkness and dryness seems at its worst, God can move in the hearts of seemingly obscure people to affect the lives of many. God was setting up the scene of Ruth. God does that for His people in today’s world.

C. The Book of Ruth has been called by one scholar “the most beautiful book ever written”. God’s goodness should always be sought after and looked for, even when life is anything but good and beautiful. Do we pine for God? Are we desperate for Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer?


About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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