Click on the link above for an audio version of the book of Ruth.
Download a Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling in the car, etc …
Easy: Read Ruth through in one sitting.
Main: Read Ruth several times – make your own notes.
Watch the film Erin Brockovich (2000) – a film about a courageous woman who goes to great lengths and sacrifice to win compensation from sufferers of industrial negligence. Her intelligence and persistence is like Ruth and Naomi working together.
This film was popular and was widely acclaimed. It combines Greek mythology with the cartoon character, Wonder Woman, who leaves the mythological island of the Amazons in order to establish peace on earth. The film touches on many feminist issues. It is hugely enjoyable without being provocative or unduly violent. Perhaps BfL could reference it in books like Ruth where two women courageously and with great wisdom take steps to broker restoration and recovery in a violent and dangerous male society.
Study the introduction to Ruth in a Study Bible.
Study the Bible for Life material and answer the ‘Meal Course’ questions.
Suggested verses for meditation …
Ruth 1:16-17 ‘But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’
The book of Ruth stands out among several short stories told in the Old Testament. This delightful tale must be read alongside stories such as Jonah, Joseph’s suffering in Egypt and the deliverance of Jerusalem at the time when Hezekiah was king, a story told no less than three times in the scriptures. Ruth is a brilliantly crafted literary masterpiece. It is a feminine, womanly story told (probably by a woman) about women in a world of men, violence and tragedy. The two characters are Naomi, whose tragic life sets the context for the drama, and Ruth, her ‘Cinderella’ daughter-in-law whose love, courage and humble wisdom leads her to developments far beyond her expectations. She, a Moabite foreigner, becomes the great-grandmother of David, the greatest Jewish king. The story of Ruth is a beautiful and moving story of the redemption of tragedy, and as such speaks into the one of the deepest questions women and men face: ‘why does God allow suffering?’
From a literary perspective the book follows a conventional structure. There are four sections: the tragedy, the development, the action and the outcome. In each part there is a good deal of dialogue. Indeed, in most of these sections the action is sandwiched between dialogue between the two female characters. Dialogue between the men is only recorded in the final part where the outcome is in their hands. Here is a Bible book formed by women in a men’s world, and in a violent context at that – placed within the lawless societies of Judges and 1 Samuel. Here is a new perspective, and one that brings peace. Out of Naomi’s desperate tragedy – ‘call me bitter’ (1:20) – through love and loyalty, humility and courage, and patient wisdom, redemption comes until the community finally comment ‘Naomi has a son’ (4:17).
The book of Ruth asks many unspoken questions; not only is there ambiguity, there is also dissonance. What actually happened that night on the threshing floor when Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet? The story gently coerces us to ask just how involved is God in our lives? Where does free will end and destiny begin? What about the many ‘other Ruths’ for whom there is no Boaz? Where does God’s sovereignty start and human choice end?
This Old Testament story is a picture of New Testament redemption and as such it is a picture of the Cross and atonement. Alongside Judah substituting himself for Benjamin and the death of Ezekiel’s wife we touch a depth in the heart of the human condition and watch a ‘trailor’ for the redemption worked by the Saviour – great David’s greater son.
Question 1 -
Study the string of statements Naomi makes against God in 1:20-21 (cross reference to Job 4). Was Naomi correct in what she said, and/or the way she said it? Has your life ever been bitter?
Question 2 -
Why did Ruth love Naomi?
Question 3 -
Ruth was kind to Naomi (2:11). Ruth was kind to Boaz (3:10). Boaz was kind to Naomi and Ruth (4:9-10). The Lord was kind to Ruth (4:13). What can we learn from these examples about kindness? Who has shown you the most kindness in life?
Ruth 1 - Audio Commentary
Ruth 2 - Audio Commentary
Ruth 4 - Audio Commentary
Author: Unknown, but given the strongly feminine nature of the subject matter and the story it was quite likely to have been written by a woman.
Date: The book of Ruth states that it records a story that happened ‘in the days when the judges ruled’ (1:1). However, the specific inclusion of David’s name at the end (4:22) indicates that it was written down when (or after) David was king, which would place its origin in a written document soon after this kingship was established in 1010BCE. So, the events happened around 1100BCE and the story was written around 1000BCE.
The overarching genre is story, or narrative. It is a love story, but not a romance, and an ‘idyll’ – a simple story of rural domestic living, where an ‘idealised marriage takes place in an idealised rural setting’. It is also a hero story where the heroine Ruth and hero Boaz embody the godly characteristics of Yahweh himself: kindness and faithful, redeeming love.
The book of Ruth epitomises the Jewish short story:
Compare for example, the book of Jonah, or the story of Joseph in Egypt.
The structure of the story is ‘U’ shaped:
A succession of events leading to a desperate and sad low point are then followed by a further succession of events leading to a happy and beneficial final outcome.
|1:1 - 22||Naomi and Ruth suffer tragedy.|
|2:1 - 23||Naomi and Ruth find security at Bethlehem.|
|3:1 - 18||Ruth finds a husband.|
|4:1 - 22||Ruth marries Boaz and has a son.|
The story and its message:
Ruth is one of the best loved stories in the Bible, and rightly so.
These four chapters not only tell a love story from a woman’s point of view, but the very telling of the story is feminine, sensitive and deeply appreciative of womanhood, while Boaz the kinsman-redeemer is a prototype of Christ.
This is (another) example of exceptional story telling in Scripture, and it touches on the deep resonance of faithful love in the hearts of men and women.
Set in the context of simple rural peasant living, a heroine (Ruth) sacrifices her own happiness to help a suffering relative (Naomi) and in due course falls in love with the male hero (Boaz), who then redeems both women. Ruth later becomes the great-grand mother of David the great King of Israel.
Nevertheless, although the focus of the narrative is the developing relationship between Ruth and Boaz, the overarching figure is Naomi and her progression from barrenness in a foreign country to having a grandson and heir in Bethlehem.
The prologue and epilogue are all about Naomi and the central leading feature of both Ruth and Boaz is their love and care for Naomi and their sacrificial and brave commitment to her welfare.
Here is a straightforward story telling of the blessings that happen when men and women obey God and follow the covenant law instructing them to live life God’s way and love and care for each other.
There are also sub-themes and sub-features:
Question 1 -
What process are you finding most fruitful as you engage with the book of Ruth?
Question 2 -
Ruth is the story of a Moabitess who is brought into the royal line of David. If Islam stands for “I Sincerely Love All Muslims”, how can we show kindness to Muslims in today’s tense political/religious situation?
Question 3 -
Why did Boaz give her so much grain that morning?
Verse by Verse
Naomi is widowed
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
1:1 The first words communicate that the story happened sometime back several decades or even a century earlier, ‘when the judges ruled’. This implies that at the time of writing, the monarchy was now established, and, given the reference to David in 4:21, we should understand that this community-history-story which no doubt circulated orally in connection with the civic genealogies was now considered so important that it must be recorded on parchment. Most of the Old Testament biblical material centres on the tribes of Benjamin and Judah, and this is the case here. The reference to Bethlehem (repeated twice in the first three sentences) is crucial; this is a story about origins, families and the providence of God.
1:1-4 The story develops rapidly and is told economically, with only the briefest facts covering ten years. Here, the young Jewish men marry non-Jews, and then die. The subsequent chapters tell of a non-Jew marrying into the Jewish race and bringing a boy to birth; Obed.
1:4 This is tragedy: a Jewish woman forced by famine to flee her country, she then loses her husband and two sons. She is alone and lost in the world.
Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
1:5-14 This long description, in contrast to the briefest introduction of verses 1-4, sets out the heart of the issues in the book. Naomi is destitute and a broken women. The young family that began so beautifully has been ruined. From the perspective of 3,000 years, we who know the final outcome can clearly see the providence of God, but this is tortuously difficult for those who live in daily desolation. While Naomi saw only destitution, God was working one of the most beautiful acts of redemption in the whole of Scripture. This is a profoundly axiomatic principle for all who choose to deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Christ in pursuit of the Kingdom (Mark 8:34-9:1).
These verses are womanly; they celebrate the feminine. Here is female conversation, embrace and relationship. There is a latent theme of barrenness here, as neither of the younger women had conceived for ten years – a very long period in the culture of the time where with high child mortality and short life expectancy, a woman’s fecundity was vital: not just for her own identity, but for the village community’s survival. Ten years echoes Sarah’s infertility (Genesis 16:3), after which she gave her slave girl Hagar to her husband to bear children on her behalf. Once again we see God working through infertility, through withholding blessing. Everyone who seeks to follow Christ will experience in their discipleship this withdrawal of his hand at times. It is a most vital tool with which he shapes and forms godliness within us; “Is not this the shade of his hand outstretched caressingly?” (lines from the Hound of Heaven). For those who have experienced the blessing of God, who know the vital life of the Spirit, and have often experienced the thrill of answered prayer, the joy of Christ and the delight and healing of worship, the experience of the prolonged absence of God is truly horrible and tests our commitment to Christ at the very deepest level – sometimes almost to the limit, as it seems at times beyond our ability to bear. But (godly) character is formed at precisely these points (Romans 5:4). It is at this point that Naomi turns and seeks God in his land.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
1:15-18 The point of crisis is the point of complete openness, honesty and truth where the heart is revealed. In a time of powerful communication systems it is hard for us to realise the full implications of the choice that Orpah and Ruth were making. Orpah and Naomi loved each other, but they would never see each other again. We must ask what it was about Naomi that caused Ruth to leave her own people to be with her for the rest of her life. Why did Ruth love Naomi? Probably because Naomi understood the horror of being bereaved and widowed, so when Ruth was widowed some years later Naomi was able to love, comfort and befriend Ruth through her grief. Through the comfort she received from Naomi (2 Corinthians 1:3-7), a bond was formed that is beautifully expressed by Ruth in verses 16-17. These are some of the deepest words of commitment to love in the Scriptures, and unsurprisingly some couples include them in their wedding service.
Naomi and Ruth return
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
1:19-22 It is the contrasts that strike hardest here: pleasant/bitter, full/empty. When Naomi says ‘calamity’, she is referring to her losing her husband and sons, being a widow and being childless, and then suffering ‘once removed’ for many years the barrenness of her daughter-in-laws. This is the second time that Naomi speaks out that God’s hand is against her (1:13). There is a touch of defiance, of edge, against God in such a statement, as it holds within it an appeal to God: “you have been unfair”. This section raises deep questions. Openness is usually always a good and important standard in the Christian community, but should Naomi have spoken about God in this way? Did her words please the Lord? Do they spring from faith? I think not. When a believer is brought by God to the point of long-term barrenness in life, ministry, or relationships, and you face ruin and the prying questions of those who mean well but in their compassion make clumsy and unkind, pitying statements, the prayer is not for what you want, but “thy kingdom come”.
We should note that Ruth’s ethnic origin, as a Moabite, is often emphasised in this story (1:4, 22; 2:2, 6, 21; 4:5, 10).
Ruth meets Boaz
2 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. 4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”
1:1-7 First we should understand the context of this, which is the Mosaic law stipulating that the Israelites were to allow the poor, the foreigners, the orphans and the widows to glean the corners of the fields and those parts left by the reapers (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19). This paragraph contains a good deal of detail because it is setting the scene for the first conversation between the hero and heroine. Immediately as Boaz is introduced we see him to be a godly man (note the greeting), an efficient farmer, and a man of some influence in the community.
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13 Then she said, “I have found favour in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”
2:8-13 Ruth calls herself a foreigner, although through her association with Naomi she is strictly a sojourner with rights under covenant law.
This initial conversation shows, rather surprisingly, the inequality between the heroine and the hero. The heroine is totally subservient, falling on her face before Boaz. But the foundation of their future relationship is revealed: the deep compassion, even respect, that Boaz has for Ruth because of the extraordinary lengths Ruth has gone to to look after Naomi in her bitter destitution. Here we learn that Boaz has already been overwhelmed by the love Ruth has shown to Naomi. Ruth has shown Naomi astonishing love and care, and Boaz is determined to return the same consideration to Ruth. Boaz’s prayer of benediction in v12 is answered beyond his wildest imagination. His wife-to-be will be in the line of the Messiah, “Great David’s Greater Son” as the hymn puts it. In one sense, this is the leading prayer of the book. Beyond these words is the voice of compassion and blessing from Israel to all the Gentiles who come and show kindness to them.
14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
2:14-16 Boaz calls her to eat with him and his labourers. This is the Jewish invitation to fellowship, an invitation into ‘shalom’. Ruth experiences Boaz’s kindness and generosity which then goes far beyond the stipulation of the law, to the point where he is virtually instructing the labourers to give her grain.
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.”20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” 21 And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” 23 So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
2:17-23 This is a rather long review by the two women of Ruth’s first day at work and her first encounter with Boaz. Ruth’s comment in verse 21 provides more detail than we have yet been told to this point. In terms of the flow of the story, this serves as a point to pause and rehearse what has happened before the crucial development in the next chapter.
Ruth and Boaz at the threshing floor
3 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”5 And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
3:1-5 We should note that chapter 3 has the same structure as chapter 2:
1) Ruth and Naomi talk and plan a strategy.
2) Ruth and Boaz meet and talk.
3) Ruth and Naomi de-brief after the event.
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded 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 grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”
3:6-13 This paragraph is the heart of the story. It exemplifies par excellence the ambiguity of the book of Ruth. Is Ruth a simple story of almost unrealistic naivety, or are there deeper more ambiguous angles and hints to what was actually happening? The issue and question in this crucial paragraph is to what extent this encounter was sexual. The more one studies the words, the context and the development of the story, the more hints are found that it was indeed sexual. The plan is hatched by the sexually experienced mother-in-law who knows perfectly well what men want at the end of the party at the close of the harvest season. The action takes place late at night on the ‘threshing floor’. Ruth uncovers his feet – a word sometimes used in the Old Testament to imply genitals. She lies at his legs, she leaves before sunrise, and Boaz immediately arranges their marriage the next morning!
Nevertheless, to immediately conclude that the narrator is telling a children’s story but giving hints to the adults of the deeper, latent sexual events is also to miss the point. The point here, and throughout Ruth, is that events, stories and the whole outworking of life and God’s purposes are deeply ambiguous. The initiatives and interventions of God throughout Scripture are actually only occasional. Notwithstanding Naomi’s complaint in 1:13, and other occasional references to him, the only recorded action of the Lord in the entire story of Ruth is 4:13 where he gives Ruth a son.
14 So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognise another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her,17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” 18 She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”
3:14-18 Boaz’s concern that it was not known that a woman came to the threshing floor is probably to avoid, first, the impression that he as an older man was being taken advantage of by a foreign younger women, or that they were trying to subvert the proper course of events that subsequently took place at the city gate the next morning. Is the generous gift of the barley more than just a further gift of mercy for Naomi, but actually a foil to provide an explanation if Ruth is seen and identified by someone in the early morning? The implication is that at this stage Boaz has made the decision to take Ruth as his wife. The simple fact is that ambiguity runs through this story. Throughout there are hints as to the motives, but the narrator does not give all the details, and so, very typically, the story-teller is narrating an ambiguous story which has the effect of exposing the condition of the hearts of those who hear and read it.
Boaz redeems Ruth
1 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; 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 down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” 6 Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
4:1-6 The gate was literally the gate of the city (village), where the community decisions were made, and where the village elders sat. It was effectively the “local magistrates’ court”, but also the place where transactions were carried out and witnessed. The narrative is straightforward enough, although the process of redeeming land (effectively ‘buying it so it stays in the family’), which carries the responsibility of marrying a woman under the terms of the levirate marriage, is certainly not practiced today. The relative who had a closer relationship to Naomi than Boaz (perhaps he was a brother of Elimelech, while Boaz was his cousin) says he is concerned that any children born to him and Ruth would have to share his inheritance with his own current children, and thereby his present children would receive less and be poorer as a result.
One of the features of the way this story is told is that at several points, information that was previously unknown is suddenly introduced. In each case the new information forces us to reread the story with this new perspective in mind. Here we are suddenly, and surprisingly, told that Naomi is selling land and that Boaz is handling the transaction for her. So Naomi was more wealthy than we had previously known or supposed, and she and Boaz had been discussing and planning the transaction before the events at the threshing floor. This alters the way we should understand the beginning of 3:1.
7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”11 Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem,12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.”
4:7-12 In verse 9, Boaz buys Naomi’s land from her now that the closer “kinsman-redeemer” has declined the opportunity. The result is that the land is kept in the family: it still belongs in the family but is now the possession of Boaz (Naomi’s cousin-in-law??). So Naomi (and Ruth) can still use the land to make a living.
V10 is Biblically and culturally specific to the Mosaic practice of levirate marriage, a system whereby the brother of the deceased husband fathered an heir through the widow so that the name of the deceased husband remained in posterity. Boaz bought the land to keep it in Elimelech’s family and he ‘bought’ (chose) Ruth as a wife in order to protect Elimelech and Mahlon’s name in prosperity.
Boaz therefore answers Ruth’s request in 3:9, ‘spread your wings over your servant for you are my redeemer’, positively. He chooses to become her husband.
Through marriage (which happens in 4:13), Ruth becomes a full member of the covenant, and conception is the evidence of the blessings of being in the covenant.
Ruth and Boaz marry
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
4:13-17 In Zimbabwe, the Mother’s Union gave a name to our two sons born there. It is not uncommon in such societies for children to have several names. This paragraph focuses on Naomi and this emphasises that the story throughout has been on her redemption from destitution, even though the principle characters in the drama have been Ruth and Boaz. The restorer of life reverses Naomi’s cry of destitution in 1:20-21.
The genealogy of David
18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron,19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
4:18-22 Ten generations are listed and we should note that this corresponds to the ten years of destitution that Naomi suffered (1:4). The listing of genealogies in Scripture follows certain conventions which must be understood carefully. Ten generations of Noah and Abraham’s genealogy’s are listed in Genesis 5:3-32, and 11:10-26. ‘Fathered’ means more accurately he ‘was the direct ancestor of’ and in several cases in Scripture the list passes over several generations, e.g. Matthew 1. The importance of this genealogy is that it is in the Messianic line of Jesus, the King of the Jews.
The overall message of the book of Ruth
The book of Ruth tells the story of two women: Naomi, whose tragic life sets the context for the drama, and Ruth her ‘Cinderella’ daughter-in-law, whose love, courage and humble wisdom leads her to developments far beyond her expectations. She, a Moabite foreigner, becomes the grandmother of David, the greatest Jewish king. This Old Testament story is a picture of New Testament redemption and as such it is a picture of the Cross and atonement. In the book of Ruth, we touch a depth in the heart of the human condition and watch a ‘trailer’ for the redemption worked by the Saviour – great David’s greater son.
The leading imperatives
There are no specific imperatives or commands in the book of Ruth.
The implied imperatives
Imitate Ruth in making loyal and faithful friendships.
Imitate Boaz in returning kindness for kindness.
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
Question 1 -
What does one do if there are no attractive, wealthy, godly men or women left to marry?
Question 2 -
Given that “feet” is sometimes a euphemism for genitals in the Old Testament, are we to understand that Ruth threw herself on Boaz and had sex with him after the party on the threshing floor? Why is the story told in an ambiguous way? What does that tell us about God’s intervention in human lives? What does our perspective on the story tell us about ourselves as readers?
Question 3 -
Why, on both occasions, did Ruth report to Naomi something slightly different from what actually happened (2:21, 3:17)?