1Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
[Hebrew taken from “Scripture 4 All” http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OTpdf/rut1.pdf]
1καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν τῷ κρίνειν τοὺς κριτὰς καὶ ἐγένετο λιμὸς ἐν τῇ γῇ καὶ ἐπορεύθη ἀνὴρ ἀπὸ βαιθλεεμ τῆς ιουδα τοῦ παροικῆσαι ἐν ἀγρῷ μωαβ αὐτὸς καὶ ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ καὶ οἱ υἱοὶ αὐτοῦ
[Greek Septuagint from Biblos.com]
This first verse from the book of Ruth sets the setting of the book. Every word of Scripture is important and so we should never rush over anything as important as one single verse.
“In the days of the judges” or ἐν τῷ κρίνειν τοὺς κριτὰς (in [during] the judgement of the judges).
We cannot be certain exactly during what judges reign this was, but it must have been one of the latter judges, because that the generations (Ruth 4) from Boaz to David were comparatively few and so a later judge’s reign would be preferred.
There was a famine in the land
Clarke writes in his commentary: “There was a famine - Probably occasioned by the depredations of the Philistines, Ammonites, etc., carrying off the corn as soon as it was ripe, or destroying it on the field.”
The Targum says this was the sixth of ten famines that had been in the world.
“A targum (Hebrew: תרגום, plural: targumim, lit. "translation, interpretation"), referred to in critical works by the abbreviation 𝔗, is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) written or compiled from the Second Temple period until the early Middle Ages (late first millennium).” (Wikipedia)
Though the validity of some of the things written in the Targum are somewhat disputed.
And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah
~This is that same Bethlehem in which Christ was born. David also was born in Bethlehem. And in Genesis 48:7 we read that Rachel was buried in Bethlehem.
Beth-lehem בֵּית לֶחֶם is Hebrew for House of Bread - probably so called because of the prosperity of the area in being such fertile plains for agriculture. This is rather ironic seeing that in this verse we have a famine in the land.
Called here in this passage Bethlehem-Judah because that it was in the part of Israel that was given as an inheritance to the tribe of Judah. Possibly there was another Bethlehem and they suffixed “Judah” for the distinction.
Went to sojourn in the country of Moab
He left the land of his fathers to go to live in a heathen nation. This would have been a major disgrace for a Jew, as the Jews took great pride in their identity as the “chosen” nation. But this man, (we later find is called Elimelech) so feared for his life that he didn’t care what other people thought of him, he needed to find food for himself and his family.
The word “country” here can be literally transliterated as “fields” which gives us some idea as to what the country of Moab was like.
The Moabites were the descendants of Lot (Genesis 19:37) and so were related to the Israelites. Lot was the nephew of Abraham.
He, and his wife, and his two sons
The next verse tells us the names of these characters: 2And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion.