Ruth 1:22 (NASB) “So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter–in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.”
Ruth 1:22 (Hebrew) וַתָּ֣שָׁב נָעֳמִ֗י וְר֨וּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּ֤ה כַלָּתָהּ֙ עִמָּ֔הּ הַשָּׁ֖בָה מִשְּׂדֵ֣י מוֹאָ֑ב וְהֵ֗מָּה בָּ֚אוּ בֵּ֣ית לֶ֔חֶם בִּתְחִלַּ֖ת קְצִ֥יר שְׂעֹרִֽים׃
The last several posts have featured observations from the English and Hebrew underlying texts of Ruth 1. We’ve labored to introduce readers to some of the workings of the Hebrew text, observations from both the Hebrew and English translations and various life-practical observations for spiritual enrichment. Today we close out our study of Ruth 1. We have journeyed with Naomi, Ruth and Orpah in their emotionally wrenching journey from Moab to Bethlehem. Orpah by this point in Ruth has returned to her native land of Moab, leaving a loyal Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi to conclude their journey to Bethlehem. For readers who prefer to skip ahead to the life-practical section of this post, please see the final section where we bring to bear practical applications and final thoughts from analysis of the Hebrew and English text of Ruth 1:22.
Studying the Hebrew and English text of Ruth 1:22
In this final verse we find the emphasis of Ruth’s final decision to turn her back on her former life underscored by the opening verb “returned”, describing Naomi’s choice and a second verbal form “who returned”, describing Ruth’s agreement with Naomi. The first verb is a continuation of the narrative, indicating the ongoing journey that Naomi has undertaken from Moab to Bethlehem. The form for this first verb
(וַתָּ֣שָׁב = “returned”) is what is called a waw consecutive third person feminine singular, which simply indicates the continuation of the journey.
The second verbal form is translated by the NASB as “who returned” (Hebrew = הַשָּׁ֖בָה ), which rightly indicates the identity of Ruth. The Hebrew letter “heh” ( ה) to the far left (which would be the last letter of הַשָּׁ֖בָה, since Hebrew is read right to left) is the tell-tale sign of the feminine singular, pointing us back to Ruth. The other “heh” at the beginning of the word (that is, the one on the furthest-most right) is the definite article in Hebrew, or the word translated “the”. This occurrence of the definite article with הַשָּׁ֖בָה (“who returned”) is grammatically functioning as a relative pronoun (which in our English language is normally translated “who”). Whenever we see a relative pronoun or a word functioning as one, we look for a noun to which it indicates (called “the antecedent”) – which in this instance would be the noun before it, “Ruth”. This sort of grammatical gymnastics is intended to emphasize the identity of Ruth as “the one who returned”.
Practical Applications and final thoughts
I’m laboring these points to underscore the fact that Naomi and Ruth each had to individually make a decision to go to Bethlehem, and thus leave behind Moab. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I cannot base my spiritual life on what others may or may not do. I have to follow the Lord as a matter of personal commitment. Moreover, leaving behind what was formerly dear to us is part of the “denial of self” that Jesus speaks of as the criteria for discipleship in Luke 9:23-24. There will be those times in our walk with God where we’re not certain of the details of the current situation, nor why God is leading us in a certain direction. Ruth and Naomi were not able to see God’s purpose yet, which is why Ruth 2-4 is given to reveal and unfold that plan and purpose.
As a final note, God’s timing in this text is amazing. As they arrive in Bethlehem, we are told it was at the beginning of the Barley harvest. This harvest would had been around the time of the season of Passover (which is spoken of in Exodus 12 and Leviticus 23). Whether the Jews at this point in their history were celebrating the festival, the text doesn’t say. What’s important to realize is that in Bethlehem would be born centuries later, from the bloodline which God planned to continue on through Ruth and her future husband Boaz, the Messiah – Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the Passover was right around the time Jesus began His public ministry (based on the chronology of John 2) and the same season that Jesus would be crucified as the Lamb of God for our sins.
Why these details? Again, even though the immediate context of Ruth 1 looked bleak, nonetheless – God had Ruth and Naomi right where He had ordained them. There placement in the history of Israel would not only impact their immediate situation, but ultimately the whole of history. God’s purposes for His people are amazing to think about. May we chew on these thoughts as we ponder on what God has done through Christ and His word for us.