From BIBLE STUDY TOOLS, a quick “5 Essential Lessons You Need to Know from the Book of Ruth”
EVERY WOMAN IN THE BIBLE
Ruth was a Moabitess who married an Israelite. Her husband’s family had left Judah during a famine and migrated to Moab. There all the men of the family died, leaving three women alone and helpless: Naomi, the mother-in-law, and Ruth and Orpah, her daughters-in-law. The women were helpless for a simple reason. Property was owned by men, not by women. With no men left in the family, the women lacked any means of support.
Only one course of action seemed open to Naomi. She would return to Judah and seek aid from her relatives. Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to return to their fathers’ households, where they would be supported until they could remarry. Orpah followed Naomi’s advice, but Ruth insisted on staying with her mother-in-law. The loyalty and support she offered Naomi proved to be the turning point in her own life.
EXPLORING RUTH’S RELATIONSHIPS
The Book of Ruth is a rich source of insights into healthy interpersonal relationships. It reminds us that even during the dark days of the judges, godly men and women could and did live blessed and happy lives.
Naomi and Ruth’s relationship with God (Ruth 1:9–17). Ruth’s relationship with God began the way that most relationships with Him do. Ruth came to know and value someone who knew Him well. For Ruth, that person was Naomi.
Naomi spoke easily about God because He was real to her. We see this in the blessing she gave her two daughters-in-law after Naomi had decided to return to Judah: “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband” (Ruth 1:9). Naomi clearly loved her daughters-in-law and loved God. In loving she became the bridge over which Ruth passed to faith.
When Naomi urged the two young women to go home and find new husbands, Orpah turned back. However, Ruth refused to return home. She truly loved her mother-in-law and would not desert her.
The biblical text clearly shows that Ruth realized that this decision called for a faith-commitment to Naomi’s God. When Naomi continued to urge Ruth to return home, Ruth expressed her commitment in unmistakable terms.
“For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.
Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
The order in which Ruth expressed her commitment is significant. In Old Testament times Israel alone had a covenant relationship with God. Ruth, aware of this relationship, pledged that “your people shall be my people,” fully aware that in committing herself to God’s covenant community she was also committing herself to Israel’s God.
Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi was also her commitment to God. Ruth had chosen “the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:12).
Ruth’s relationship with Naomi. The first chapter of Ruth makes it clear that Ruth deeply loved and appreciated her mother-in-law. That love was expressed in a loyalty that surpassed all other ties. Rather than return to her father’s home, and stay in her own country, Ruth chose to accompany Namoi into an uncertain future in a strange land.
To see how Ruth’s commitment to her mother-in-law continued to work itself out is fascinating. For Ruth, Judah was a strange land, with unfamiliar customs. But in Naomi Ruth had a mentor, and she wisely followed her advice. The two women had returned at harvest time. Old Testament Law provided that the poor and landless could gather food in fields owned by others. That law said, “When you reap the harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deut. 24:19). Naomi sent Ruth out to gather grain that the harvesters missed, a process called gleaning.
Gleaning was hard work, but for the poor each kernel of grain was precious. And Ruth “continued from morning” until late in the day gathering food for Naomi and herself.
Later, after Ruth’s modesty and virtue had won the admiration of one of Naomi’s relatives, Naomi explained to Ruth the law of the redeeming relative. When a man died childless a near relative could marry his widow. The first son produced by the couple would be given the name of the dead husband and inherit his estate. Hearing of the admiration of such a relative for Ruth, Naomi urged Ruth to approach the man and ask him to take on the redeeming relative’s responsibility.
Ruth allowed herself to be guided by her mother-in-law in the selection of a potential husband. Although Naomi’s choice was neither young nor especially handsome, Ruth realized that he was a man of quality, and she followed her mother-in-law’s advice.
In every way Ruth showed herself to be loyal, hard-working, sensible, and responsive to Naomi’s advice. Clearly Ruth had a deep respect for Naomi, as well as a real love for her mother-in-law.
Ruth’s relationship with Boaz. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of a woman’s reputation. Long before Boaz met Ruth or knew her by sight, he had heard good things about her.
In the small farming community it was impossible to keep secrets. Everyone knew that Naomi had come back from Moab and that she was accompanied by her daugher-in-law, Ruth. They knew of Ruth’s choice to commit herself to Naomi’s people and their God, and they had formed definite opinions about her character. When Boaz first met her he was able to say,
It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before (Ruth 2:11).
Well aware of her good qualities, Boaz treated her favorably. He invited her to eat with his harvesters, told her to glean with his own servants, and instructed the young men not to molest her. That this instruction was necessary reminds us of how dangerous life could be for a woman alone in the era of the judges. Boaz even instructed his harvesters to be sure to leave handfuls of grain for Ruth to collect.
When Naomi learned of what had happened and realized that Boaz was a near relative of hers, she felt that God was opening a door for Ruth. She instructed Ruth to continue to work in Boaz’s fields through the barley and wheat harvests. When the several weeks of the harvests had passed, Naomi took Ruth aside and explained her concern for Ruth’s future security.
As a near relative, Boaz was qualified not only to marry Ruth but also to reclaim the lands of Naomi’s husband. So Naomi told Ruth how to approach Boaz.
During the harvest season workers often slept outside in the fields. Naomi told Ruth to go at night to the place where Boaz was sleeping and lie down at his feet. Some have taken this as an attempted seduction. However, the position Ruth took was symbolic and a request that Boaz take her under his protection as a wife. Boaz clearly understood the symbolism and promised to do as she requested, “for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11).
Before Boaz could marry Ruth he had to obtain the permission of a man who was an even nearer relative of Naomi. When Boaz explained that to redeem the fields of Naomi’s dead husband the man would also have to marry Ruth, the man declined. He already had grown sons. If he should father more than one son with Ruth, he would have to provide for them from the estate he intended to reserve for his first family. With this claim disposed of, Boaz married Ruth.
The marriage was blessed with a son, and that son became the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.
RUTH: A CLOSE-UP
Ruth is one of Scripture’s most attractive women. She was a woman with a marvelous capacity for love and loyalty. While Ruth was decisive and ready to risk an uncertain future out of loyalty to Naomi, she was far from headstrong. She was wise enough to follow Naomi’s advice, ready and willing to work to support the two of them. Ruth quickly established a good reputation in her adopted homeland and won the approval of all who knew her. Her reputation rather than her physical attributes first won the admiration of Boaz, who responded by treating her graciously. The relationship that grew between them was founded solidly on the mutual appreciation of each for the good and gracious qualities of the other.
While Ruth truly is a love story, it is far from those romantic novels that emphasize passion and physical attributes. Ruth’s and Boaz’s love grew out of their commitment to values far more significant than mere good looks.
NAOMI: A CLOSE-UP
Naomi’s name, “pleasantness,” is suggestive. She cared for her daughters-in-law and earned their love and loyalty. Even Orpah, who chose to remain in Moab, wept when she left Naomi to return home. We can sense in Naomi an especially generous spirit. Although alone, she urged her daughters-in-law to think of their own future rather than Naomi’s welfare. Back in Judah, Naomi felt a deep responsibility to Ruth and determined to “seek security” for her, “that it may be well with” you (Ruth 3:1).
We should hardly be surprised that Naomi was such a powerful influence in Ruth’s life. People who truly and selflessly love others have a tendency to draw those others to them and through them to the Lord.
RUTH AND NAOMI: EXAMPLES FOR TODAY
- Naomi is a wonderful example of how to evangelize. She didn’t try to talk Ruth to faith. Instead she loved Ruth and lived a life that Ruth recognized was worth emulating. Ruth wanted the peace, character, and loving-kindness she saw displayed in her mother-in-law’s life.
- Naomi shows us how to be a gracious in-law. We don’t know whether Naomi had counseled her sons against marrying out of their faith. We do know that she loved both her daughters-in-law enough to put their welfare above her own. Eventually she even loved Ruth to faith in God.
- Many parents hesitate to offer advice to adult children. While we cannot force our will on them, we can share our thoughts and our wisdom with those willing to listen. When advice is given lovingly and with respect for our children’s independence, it will often be welcomed.
- Naomi is a glorious reminder of how God can make one of the least likely to be remembered into someone who will never be forgotten. When we feel insignificant we can remember how God used a starving widow to win a woman to faith who became an ancestress of Jesus Christ.
- Ruth reminds us that character does count. Good men are more concerned about finding a godly spouse than a sexy one!
Sue Poorman Richards and Larry Richards, Every Woman in the Bible (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 105–107.
BAKER ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE BIBLE
Ruth (Person). Moabitess and the widow of Mahlon, the son of Naomi and Elimelech, who were Ephrathites from Bethlehem living in Moab because of a severe famine in Judah. Upon the death of Elimelech and Naomi’s two sons, Naomi returned to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law Ruth during the time of the barley harvest (Ru 1:4–22). While gleaning in the barley fields of Boaz, Ruth found favor in his eyes (2:2–22). She later married Boaz, when he, serving as nearest kin to the childless Naomi, purchased Naomi’s estate to keep it within the family (4:5–13). Ruth is mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy of Christ as the mother of Obed and the great-grandmother of David (Mt 1:5).
RUTH, BOOK OF
Author and Data. The author of the book is unknown. The question of authorship has particular connection with the date of writing, and a few clues provide at least an “educated guess.” The book must have been written sometime after the beginning of David’s reign. The reference of 4:18–22, which pertains to the historical significance of Ruth as David’s great-grandmother, bears this out. Since foreign marriages were not approved in the Book of Ruth, it scarcely could have been written during the period in which Solomon began his policy of foreign marriages. Also, David’s close friendship with Moab might have prompted someone in his kingdom to write the book, thus presenting objective rationale for David’s actions (see 1 Sm 22:3–5). Consequently the author may have been someone close to David, possibly Samuel, Nathan, or Abiathar.
This view is not without its critics, however. Some scholars consider the opening statement, “in the days when the judges ruled,” to demonstrate the late composition of the book. However, such a phrase need not refer to an extensive period. In today’s world one might use a similar phrase in reference to conditions at the beginning of the 20th century. The dates of the judges probably comprise a period of about 300 years, beginning with the judgeship of Othniel and concluding with that of Samson, though Samuel also served as a judge. If the genealogical information is complete in 4:18–22, the events took place during the life of David’s great-grandfather and mark the birth of his grandfather. Allowing a 35-year generation span, the events would have taken place somewhere about the turn of the 11th century bc, or about 100 years before David’s birth.
Purpose. The book’s purpose is closely related to its date of composition. Assuming an early date, that is, one close to David’s lifetime, its principal thrust must be the authentication of the Davidic line. The book may be considered as a justification for including the godly Moabitess in the nation of Israel.
Introduction (1:1–5). Driven by famine, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, cross the Jordan to stay for a period of time in Moab where there was sufficient provision. The two sons, after marrying Moabite women, die, and their father dies as well. Naomi is left a widow with two foreign daughters-in-law.
Return to Bethlehem (1:6–22). Hearing reports from Bethlehem that the famine had ended, Naomi makes preparations to return. Both of her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, accompany her for at least a portion of the journey. Probably thinking of the problems which might be encountered by them as foreigners in Judah, Naomi strongly urges the girls to stay in their own land. Both of the young widows refuse, but Naomi presents the facts. First, she is not pregnant, so the chance of a younger brother fulfilling the levirate responsibility is not imminent. Second, she has no prospects of remarriage and consequently no prospect of further children. Then, she also notes that even if the first two conditions were met immediately, the possibility of their waiting was impossible. Orpah is persuaded and kisses her mother-in-law good-bye.
But Ruth “clung to her” (neb). The verb, having the connotation of being glued to something, is the same verb used of marriage (Gn 2:24). Ruth demonstrates her serious intentions by making five commitments. In essence, Ruth renounces her former life in order to gain a life which she considers of greater value. At this point, she is contrasted with Naomi, who had encouraged both of them to return to Moab and its gods (1:15). But Ruth decides to follow the God of Israel and his laws. Ruth’s appeal to the God of Israel was more than equal to Naomi’s pleas, and the two of them return together.
Their arrival in Bethlehem is traumatic for Naomi. Having left Bethlehem with a husband and two sons, she returns empty. She tells her friends to call her “Mara” (bitter). But she has returned at a propitious time, the beginning of the harvest season.
Reaping in the Fields of Boaz (2:1–23). The first verse of the chapter provides the setting for the narrative which follows, introducing Boaz, a wealthy relative of Elimelech.
Ruth volunteers to glean the fields, to follow the reapers and pick up the insignificant amounts left behind. Gleaners were also permitted to harvest the grain in the corners of the fields, a provision for the poor contained in Yahweh’s Law (Lv 19:9,10).
She happens to come to the field of Boaz. As he visits this field, he notices Ruth, inquires about her, and learns her identity. His overseer reports that she has industriously worked the fields from early morning until that time. Boaz, attracted to her because of her loyalty and concern for Naomi, graciously makes additional provision for her. She is given a favored position in reaping, directly behind the main body of reapers. Further, she is to receive water which has been drawn for her by the young men—an unorthodox arrangement.
Ruth, falling before Boaz in a gesture of great humility and respect, asks why as a foreigner she should be accorded such favor. Boaz gives two reasons, her kindness to her mother-in-law, and her spiritual insight which led her to seek after Israel’s God, “under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (neb).
She is also given a place at the reapers’ table and, upon Boaz’s orders, returns to the fields—this time to reap from the unharvested grain. At the end of the day she returns home to Naomi and tells her of the day’s events. Naomi informs Ruth that Boaz has the right of redemption. Ruth returns to his fields until the end of the harvest season.
Relying upon the Kinsman (3:1–18). Naomi advises Ruth with regard to approaching Boaz as a goel, or kinsman-redeemer.
The plan suggested by Naomi seems peculiar, yet some thoughts may give a certain colouring to it. (1) Naomi seems to have believed that Boaz was the nearest kinsman, being ignorant of the yet nearer one (v 12). Consequently, according to Israelite law (Dt 25:5ff.), it would be the duty of Boaz to marry Ruth to raise up seed to the dead. (2) The general tone of Naomi’s character is clearly shown in this book to be that of a God-fearing woman, so that it is certain that, however curious in its external form, there can be nothing counselled here which really is repugnant to God’s law, or shocking to a virtuous man such as Boaz, otherwise Naomi would simply have been most completely frustrating her own purpose. (3) Her knowledge by long intimacy of Ruth’s character, and doubtless also of that of Boaz by report, would enable her to feel sure that no ill effects could accrue (Sinker, Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Ruth, p 283).
His response to Ruth’s actions demonstrates his gentlemanly concerns for her. He explains the situation of not being the nearest kinsman, but promises that he will take care of the necessary procedures the next day. Protecting her reputation, Boaz sends her home before daylight. Naomi, wise in these matters, succinctly predicts of Boaz, “He will not rest until he has settled the matter today” (neb).
Redeeming the Inheritance (4:1–21). Boaz goes to the place of business, the city gate. The city gate area comprised the forum of the city where the public affairs of the city were discussed. Boaz indicates that he wishes to discuss a matter of business with the nearer kinsman. Ten of the city elders act as witnesses. Beginning with the property matter, Boaz inquires whether this nearer kinsman is willing to acquire the property for Naomi, including the traditional stipulation, “On the day when you acquire the field from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the dead man’s wife” (neb). The nearer kinsman is unwilling because to marry Ruth would inevitably cost him some financial loss, since he would have to divide his own property with any son of his born to Ruth. Thus he relinquishes his rights by the custom of taking off his shoe. Significantly the shoe was symbolic of the land rights which belonged to the inheritance. So Boaz takes the part of the kinsman-redeemer.
The marriage of Boaz and Ruth produces a son who, under Israel’s laws, is reckoned as Naomi’s child and heir.
Teaching. The Book of Ruth traces the lineage of David to the Messiah. The completion of that line is in Matthew 1 and finds its focus in Jesus.
A second teaching is the beauty of God’s grace. A foreigner, even a Moabitess, can be linked with Israel’s blessing.
Theologically, the concept of kinsman-redeemer as a type of Messiah is clearly evident. He must be a blood relative, have the ability to purchase, be willing to buy the inheritance, and be willing to marry the widow of the deceased kinsman.
And finally, the love which Ruth shows becomes a pattern of devotion, a woman of whom it was said to Naomi, “your daughter-in-law who loves you is better to you than seven sons.”
Bibliography. A.E. Cundall and L. Morris, Judges and Ruth; G. Gerleman, Ruth; R.M. Halo, The Theology of the Book of Ruth; A.R.S. Kennedy, The Book of Ruth; C. Lattey, The Book of Ruth.
Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Ruth (Person),” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1871–1873.