AUTHOR AND TITLE

The book is named for its main character, Ruth, a Moabite widow who married the Bethlehemite Boaz. She became an ancestor of King David (4:17, 22) and thus an ancestor of the Messiah (Matt. 1:1, 5–6). The author of Ruth is never named in the Bible. According to rabbinic tradition (Babylonian Talmud,Baba Bathra 14a–15b), Samuel is the author. This is unlikely, however, since Samuel died before David actually became king, and Ruth 4:17–22 implies that David’s kingship was an established fact at the time of writing.

DATE

The mention of David (4:17) and his genealogy (4:18–22) places the writing after David’s accession to the throne (2 Samuel 2) in c. 1010 b.c. The narrator’s explanation of a custom once current “in former times in Israel” (Ruth 4:7) distances him from the story’s events, which occurred “in the days when the judges ruled” (1:1). Therefore, the book could have been written any time after 1010 b.c. by an author using accurate oral or written material as historical sources.

THEME

This book highlights how God’s people experience his sovereignty, wisdom, and covenant kindness. These often come disguised in hard circumstances and are mediated through the kindness of others.

PURPOSE, OCCASION, AND BACKGROUND

Given the book of Ruth’s interest in all Israel (4:7, 11), it may have been written in hopes that the 12 tribes, which divided into two nations c. 930 b.c. (see 1 Kings 12:1–20), would reunite. The story itself takes place in the time of the judges (after the conquest and before c. 1050 b.c.), before a king was in place to reign over a united kingdom. This book explains the providential ancestry of David, who would become such a king.

CONTENT

In the period of the judges, Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons leave Bethlehem because of a famine to sojourn in Moab (see map). Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies there. Mahlon and Chilion, the sons, marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Ten years later the sons die too, leaving no children. Naomi is bereft of family (1:1–5). Learning that the famine in Israel is over, she decides to return to Bethlehem; Orpah stays behind, but Ruth accompanies Naomi (1:6–22). At harvest time, Ruth goes to glean in a field that happens to belong to Elimelech’s relative, Boaz (2:1–23). Naomi knows he is an eligible kinsman-redeemer. Following Naomi’s daring plan, in a midnight encounter at the threshing floor Ruth boldly asks him, as a redeemer, to marry her (3:1–18). After a closer kinsman refuses to take Ruth, Boaz redeems all the property of the deceased and marries Ruth (4:1–12). They have a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David (4:13–22).

Ruth’s words in the book (as compared with Naomi’s or Boaz’s) are surprisingly few; the story, however, hangs on them. Ruth expresses her lifelong commitment to Naomi, “May the Lord do so to me … if anything but death parts me from you” (1:17), which takes her from Moab to Judah. She resolves to provide for Naomi (“Let me go … and glean,” 2:2), which brings her from Bethlehem to Boaz’s field. She invites Boaz to “spread your wings over your servant” (3:9), which leads her from childless widowhood to marriage and motherhood (4:13).

FAMILY OF RUTH

Family of Ruth

KEY THEMES

1. Kindness. Ruth shows Naomi kindness (Hb. hesed, see note on 3:10), particularly in leaving her country and family to care for her mother-in-law (1:16–17; 2:11, 18, 23), because she loves her (4:15). Then Boaz shows kindness (see note on 2:20) in his welcome to Ruth, acting as a kinsman-redeemer (4:9–10) and marrying Ruth (4:13). Human kindness reflects the kindness (or “steadfast love”) that the Lord shows to his people (cf. Ex. 15:13; Deut. 7:8–9; Ps. 103:4; 106:7, 10; 136:10–15).

2. Redemption. Redemption is bound to kindness and is at the heart of the story (2:20). “Redeem” (Hb.ga’al), “redeemer” (Hb. go’el), and “redemption” (Hb. ge’ullah) appear 23 times. The book of Ruth describes two legal institutions combined in one practice (which the Law of Moses does not require), namely, property redemption by a near kinsman and the “levirate” marriage. Property redemption by a relative assured that land would not remain in perpetuity outside the family (see Lev. 25:23–25). Levirate marriage (from Latin levir, “husband’s brother”) involves a childless widow marrying her husband’s brother to provide an heir for the dead husband (Deut. 25:5–6; cf. note on Matt. 22:24). Differences in Ruth, as compared with these laws, reflect customs applicable to particular circumstances. Boaz, a close relative (but not the closest), redeemed the property (Ruth 4:9), married Ruth (4:10, 13), and fathered Obed (4:13, 17), who became heir to the property of the deceased.

Once redemption occurred, Ruth and Naomi’s desperate conditions radically changed (4:13–17). This reversal is highlighted by contrasts: living/dead (1:8; 2:20); find/seek rest (1:9; 3:1); pleasant/bitter (1:20); full/empty (1:21; 3:17; see note on 4:15); last/first kindness (3:10). The resolution to the narrative conflict is Boaz’s act of redemption (4:9–10), resulting in blessing for Ruth (in marriage, conception, and giving birth; 4:13) and for Naomi (in restored and nourished life in her old age; 4:14–15). Redemption also brought blessing to the community (4:11–12) and—through David—to the nation (4:14, 17).

HISTORY OF SALVATION SUMMARY

As a foreigner and ancestor of David (4:17, 22), Ruth is a forerunner of the universal blessing that Christ’s redemptive work ushered in. Many OT prophecies anticipate a new David (e.g., Jer. 33:15, 17;Ezek. 37:24; Hos. 3:5; Zech. 12:7–10) reigning over Israel and incorporating the Gentiles into his benevolent empire (e.g., Isa. 55:3–5; Amos 9:11–12). This expectation is fulfilled in David’s “son,” Jesus the Christ (or Messiah; cf. Matt. 1:1–6; Luke 3:31–33; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3–5). In him, the “gospel” preached beforehand to Abraham (Gen. 12:3; Rom. 15:8–12; Gal. 3:8), that all nations will be blessed, is fully realized (Rom. 4:9–12; Gal. 3:7–9, 14). Through Christ, David’s throne is reestablished forever (Acts 15:16; Rev. 3:7; 5:5; 22:16). Christ’s reign is universal (Matt. 28:18–20; Rom. 1:5; 15:8–12). In him, redeemed people of all nations, no longer strangers and aliens, become fellow citizens in God’s household (Eph. 2:11–22). (For an explanation of the “History of Salvation,” see the Overview of the Bible. See also History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ.)

LITERARY FEATURES

In terms of compact storytelling, Ruth is a masterpiece of narrative art. It is densely packed, yet the charm of the book is evident even to the most unsophisticated reader. The book of Ruth is the classic love story of the Bible. Few stories in the Bible are told from a woman’s viewpoint, but in the story of Ruth, not only is a woman the protagonist but the world of the story is a woman’s world, and the writer gives attention to feminine values and feelings. Of course Boaz in his role as kinsman-redeemer cuts a striking figure as a man who embodies the Lord’s own kindness. The story exalts virtuous womanhood and strong manhood.

The overall genre is story or narrative, but several further subtypes converge as well. Ruth is a love story. It is also an idyll, i.e., a brief story describing a simple, pleasant aspect of rural and domestic life. As that definition suggests, Ruth has affinities with pastoral (rural) literature, and in this case the idealized rural world provides a setting for the idealized romance of the book: even though readers know from the first verse that the story is set in tumultuous times, these do not come into view. The story is also a hero story built around the life of an exemplary heroine as well as featuring an idealized male hero. Boaz is a rarity in the Bible, a character who gets a uniformly positive portrayal; most other characters reveal their flaws. But this reflects the literary function of Boaz as the embodiment of the Lord’s kindness.

The plot of the story of Ruth is a quest story in which the stated goal is to find Ruth a home (1:9 and 3:1). The plot follows the conventional U-shape of literary “comedy,” with events first descending into potential tragedy and then rising to a happy ending as obstacles to fulfillment are gradually overcome.

THE SETTING OF RUTH

Set in the period of the judges, the book of Ruth records how a famine in Judah forces Naomi and her husband to leave Israel and move to Moab, where their sons marry Moabite women. When Naomi’s husband and sons die, she decides to return to her home in Bethlehem in Judah, and her daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to go with her.

The Setting of Ruth

OUTLINE

  1. Introduction: Naomi Bereft of Family (1:1–5)
  2. Scene 1: Naomi Returns to Bethlehem with Ruth (1:6–22)
  3. Scene 2: Ruth Gleans in Boaz’s Field (2:1–23)
  4. Scene 3: Ruth, at the Threshing Floor, Asks Boaz to Marry Her (3:1–18)
  5. Scene 4: Boaz Arranges Redemption at the Gate (4:1–12)
  6. Conclusion: Naomi Blessed with a New Family (4:13–17)
  7. Genealogy: Extended Blessing (4:18–22)

FACTS

Threshing floors were places where grain was separated from the chaff. The floor was usually packed clay soil that had been worn smooth. Sheaves of grain were spread out on the floor and trampled upon, ideally by oxen. The oxen would also drag notched wooden sleds which would help pull the grain from the sheaves. Thieves would often try to steal grain during harvest time. Thus, it was not uncommon for the workers to sleep at the threshing floor.
Gleaning was the Hebrew practice of allowing the poor to follow behind those harvesting crops to gather any food or grain left by the harvesters. Gleaners often worked from morning to evening, to gather enough to sustain themselves and their families. After sundown they would take the gathered grain and thresh it to separate the edible portion from the husk.
Redemption is a key theme in the book of Ruth. The words “redeem,” “redeemer,” and “redemption” appear 23 times.

THE BOOK OF RUTH

CHAPTER 1

1 Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth-lehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Beth-lehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.

3 And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.

4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years.

5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.

6 ¶ Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.

7 Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah.

8 And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.

9 The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.

10 And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.

11 And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?

12 Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;

13 Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me.

14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.

15 And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law.

16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.

18 When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.

19 ¶ So they two went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Beth-lehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?

20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.

21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?

22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley harvest.

CHAPTER 2

1 And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz.

2 And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter.

3 And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.

4 ¶ And, behold, Boaz came from Beth-lehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee.

5 Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this?

6 And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab:

7 And she said, I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house.

8 Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens:

9 Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.

10 Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?

11 And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore.

12 The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.

13 Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.

14 And Boaz said unto her, At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar. And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left.

15 And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not:

16 And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.

17 So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley.

18 ¶ And she took it up, and went into the city: and her mother in law saw what she had gleaned: and she brought forth, and gave to her that she had reserved after she was sufficed.

19 And her mother in law said unto her, Where hast thou gleaned to day? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee. And she shewed her mother in law with whom she had wrought, and said, The man’s name with whom I wrought to day is Boaz.

20 And Naomi said unto her daughter in law, Blessed be he of the LORD, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen.

21 And Ruth the Moabitess said, He said unto me also, Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest.

22 And Naomi said unto Ruth her daughter in law, It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field.

23 So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and dwelt with her mother in law.

CHAPTER 3

1 Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?

2 And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.

3 Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.

4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.

5 And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.

6 ¶ And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.

7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.

8 ¶ And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.

9 And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.

10 And he said, Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.

11 And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.

12 And now it is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit there is a kinsman nearer than I.

13 Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto thee the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman’s part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to thee, then will I do the part of a kinsman to thee, as the LORD liveth: lie down until the morning.

14 ¶ And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before one could know another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor.

15 Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city.

16 And when she came to her mother in law, she said, Who art thou, my daughter? And she told her all that the man had done to her.

17 And she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother in law.

18 Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.

CHAPTER 4

1 Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down.

2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit ye down here. And they sat down.

3 And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s:

4 And I thought to advertise thee, saying, Buy it before the inhabitants, and before the elders of my people. If thou wilt redeem it, redeem it: but if thou wilt not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee. And he said, I will redeem it.

5 Then said Boaz, What day thou buyest the field of the hand of Naomi, thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.

6 ¶ And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it.

7 Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.

8 Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe.

9 ¶ And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi.

10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.

11 And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Beth-lehem:

12 And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give thee of this young woman.

13 ¶ So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son.

14 And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.

15 And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.

16 And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.

17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 ¶ Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron,

19 And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab,

20 And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon,

21 And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed,

22 And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.

You’ve successfully subscribed to KEVOS
Welcome back! You’ve successfully signed in.
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Success! Your email is updated.
Your link has expired
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.