Ruth 1:1: A Famine of Bread in the House of Bread

[circa 1322 BC] Verse 1:[1] Now it came to pass in the days when (Judg. 2:16) the judges ruled (Heb. judged[2]), that there was (see Gen. 12:10; 26:1; 2 Kings 8:1) a famine in the land. And a certain man of (Judg. 17:8) Beth-lehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.



[In the days of one Judge, וַיְהִ֗י בִּימֵי֙ שְׁפֹ֣ט הַשֹּׁפְטִ֔ים] And it was in the days to judge the Judges[3] (Montanus), in the days of the judging (that is, judicature) of the Judges (Vatablus, Piscator). And it was, is a Hebraic pleonasm, whereby something is signified to have come to pass (Piscator). The ו/and here is not a copula, but converts the future/imperfect into the past/perfect (Hebrews in Vatablus).

[A famine happened] Hebrew: and there was a famine[4] (Montanus), that there was (Drusius), or, when there was a famine (Junius and Tremellius). This famine was grievous, which compelled a wealthy man to withdraw from his ancestral land; and it was long-lasting, that is, of ten years, verse 4 (Bonfrerius).


In the days when the judges ruled; which is noted as the cause of the following famine, because in much of that time they were guilty of great defection from God. But under which of the judges this happened, Scripture being silent, it seems presumptuous to determine; nor is it necessary to know. What is said about this matter from the genealogy, mentioned Ruth 4:18, etc., it will be most proper to consider it there.


[In the land, בָּאָרֶץ] The Hebrew word has the article (Piscator) [which the ָ under the ב indicates; in the place of, בְּהָאָרֶץ]; ἐν τῇ γῇ, in the earth/land (Septuagint). It [the land] is used κατ᾿ ἐξοχὴν, pre-eminently, of Judea, as in 2 Kings 8:1[5] and Joel 1:2[6] (Drusius). In the land of Israel (Jonathan, Arabic, Piscator).


In the land, or, in that land, to wit, of Canaan.



[And a man departed from Beth-lehem-judah[7]] Where the syntax is ambiguous: either, he went from Beth-lehem; or, a man from Beth-lehem, that is, a man originating from there. The former appears to be the genuine sense, because in the following verse the second is expressly related (Piscator, Drusius). Beth-lehem means house of bread, from the fertility of the fields. It is called Beth-lehem-judah from the region in which it is situated, namely, the tribe of Judah; and so that it might be distinguished from Beth-lehem in the tribe of Zebulon (Piscator).


[In the country of Moab] Hebrew: in the field of Moab.[8] Metonymy of the efficient; as Israel is put in place of Israelites (Piscator), and field in the place of region (Piscator, Vatablus).


The country of Moab; a fruitful land beyond Jordan, eastward.


[With his wife] Hebrew: he and his wife.[9] It is a Hebraic Epanalepsis, whereby a preceding noun is repeated by a pronoun, in such a way that other nouns are adjoined. Thus in Exodus 20:10, thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, etc., that is, thou shalt not do any nor, neither shall thy son, etc. (Piscator). The Rabbis invent a fable that another standing-still of the Sun, of which sort was that under Joshua,[10] preceded this famine. Concerning which see what things we have on 1 Chronicles 4:22 (Lapide).

[1] Hebrew: וַיְהִ֗י בִּימֵי֙ שְׁפֹ֣ט הַשֹּׁפְטִ֔ים וַיְהִ֥י רָעָ֖ב בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיֵּ֙לֶךְ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֧ית לֶ֣חֶם יְהוּדָ֗ה לָגוּר֙ בִּשְׂדֵ֣י מוֹאָ֔ב ה֥וּא וְאִשְׁתּ֖וֹ וּשְׁנֵ֥י בָנָֽיו׃


[2] Hebrew: שְׁפֹט.


[3] A woodenly literalistic rendering.


[4] Hebrew: וַיְהִ֥י רָעָ֖ב.


[5] 2 Kings 8:1: “Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the Lord hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the earth (אֶל־הָאָרֶץ, upon the land) seven years.”


[6] Joel 1:2: “Hear this, ye old men, and give ear, all ye inhabitants of the land (הָאָרֶץ). Hath this been in your days, or even in the days of your fathers?”


[7] Hebrew: וַיֵּ֙לֶךְ אִ֜ישׁ מִבֵּ֧ית לֶ֣חֶם יְהוּדָ֗ה.


[8] Hebrew: בִּשְׂדֵ֣י מוֹאָ֔ב.


[9] Hebrew: ה֥וּא וְאִשְׁתּ֖וֹ.


[10] Joshua 10:12, 13.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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