Introduction to Ruth
and Study of Ruth 1-4
March 20th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2015

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Ruth (Overview)

The book of Ruth is entirely different from any book of the Bible that we have read so far. It is a diminutive book of only four chapters that we will complete in one day. The primary focus of the book is on one person, Ruth, a Moabite woman who becomes grafted into the Israelite family. The underlying theme and main message is the universal love and mercy of God for all people. We also see how key individuals in the story share that mercy with others.

Peruse your Bible’s table of contents and count how many other books are named after a woman. How many did you find? Of the books that we have read so far, Ruth is the second book that is named after a person. When we look at the whole set of books we see many others named after a person, but can see that Ruth is only one of two named after a woman. The other is Esther, which will be the last of the books of history in the Old Testament. Ruth must have been a special person to receive such an honor from the committee that selected the books to become part of the Hebrew Scriptures. As you read the story, you will understand why.

The story of Ruth takes place during the same time period as the book of Judges, perhaps in the 12th or 13th century B.C., or maybe later. The author is unknown, but the book is recognized as one of the best stories of all time. The 18th and 19th century German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (28 August 1749 – 22 March 1832) once said that Ruth is "The loveliest complete work on a small scale (2)."

This is a refreshing book to read after emerging from the dark ending of the book of Judges. From this dark period a story of hope emerges. There are people who have stayed true to God’s laws and they had a positive influence on others. Finding the book of Ruth in this location of the Bible is like finding the first flowers emerging from the earth after a cold, dark winter. We are reminded that the dark days always end, and there is new life that brings hope and joy to us.

References used for the analysis of this book includes the following

  • Abegg, Martin Jr., Flint Peter, and Ulrich, Eugene; The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, HarperCollins Publishers, NY, NY, 1999
  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984
  • Cundall, Arthur E., Morris Leon, Judges & Ruth an Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester England, Downers Grove, IL, 1968
  • Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Noroton Presbyterian Church Sermon Library (2012 and prior)
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 80920, 2005

Ruth 1-4 (Greatest Trade Ever)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”

- Ruth 2:4 (NIV)

Summary of Chapters

The central characters in this story are Ruth, her mother-in-law Naomi, and her kinsman-redeemer Boaz. In chapter 1, we read a brief account of a man named Elimelek, from the tribe of Judah, who emigrated to Moab because of a famine. He had set up a new home with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons. But Elimelek dies in Moab. The sons marry Moabite women, and then they die before having any children. Elimelek is out of the story within the first few verses, but his inheritance and his relationship to his clan will play an important role.

Naomi decides to return to the land of Judah and encourages her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab with their families. One daughter-in-law goes home, but Ruth was determined to remain with Naomi. She makes her stance clear with a quote that is one of the key statements in the whole book:

    But Ruth said, "Don't force me to leave you; don't make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I'll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I'll die, and that's where I'll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!"

    -Ruth 1:16-17 (MSG)

Naomi and Ruth are destitute. In despearation Ruth finds a field where she can pick up grains of wheat that have been left behind by the workers. The owner of the field is Boaz, a relative of Elimelek who praises God and honors his law. When he sees his workers he shouts out, “The LORD be with you!” They answer, “The LORD bless you!” Presumably, they were inspired by these blessings and carried on the harvest as happy reapers. Boaz upheld the law from Leviticus 19:9 that required farmers to leave some grain for the poor to glean, and went above and beyond the law by telling his workers to leave extra grain for Ruth.

Under Naomi’s guidance, Ruth makes it clear to Boaz that she would be interested in marrying him. As an observer of the Law of Moses, Boaz knew that there was a closer relative who had first rights to the inheritance of the land of Elimelek (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This property would have passed to the first-born son, Mahlon, who had died, leaving behind the widow, Ruth, who could not inherit the land on her own. The closest relative could purchase (redeem) the property, but would have to take Ruth as his wife. This closest relative did not want the whole package, but Boaz was more than happy to oblige:

    So I thought I would inform you (said Boaz to the closest relative). Before those here present, including the elders of my people, purchase the field; act as redeemer. But if you do not want to do it, tell me so, that I may know, for no one has a right of redemption prior to yours, and mine is next.” He answered, “I will act as redeemer.”

    Boaz continued, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you also acquire responsibility for Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the late heir, to raise up a family for the deceased on his estate.”

    The redeemer replied, “I cannot exercise my right of redemption for that would endanger my own estate. You do it in my place, for I cannot.”

    - Ruth 4: 4-6 (NAB)

Boaz and Ruth married, and had a son named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, and the grandfather of a ruddy shepherd boy named David. David became the second king of Israel, brought the ark to Jerusalem for the first time, and established that city as the central place of worship. The book of Matthew says that there was fourteen generations from Abraham to David. David's descendants included a carpenter named Joseph, who returned to the city of David (Bethlehem) with his pregnant wife in order to be counted for the census decreed by Caesar Augustus (as noted in the Gospel of Luke). A child was born during their stay, and his parents named him Jesus. He represented the fourteenth generation after the exile, which was fourteen generations after David (Matthew 1:17).

Ruth traded her life in Moab for a life with the God of Israel. Boaz traded a handful of precious metals (or some other consideration) for property and a wife. Together they contributed to the genealogy of kings and the ultimate Redeemer.

Reflection and Application

The story of Ruth illustrates the universal love of God. Yes, Israel was the chosen people, but it was not an exclusive club. Ruth was embraced by the community because of her faith and character and in turn received the inheritance that is available to all people. Boaz redeemed Ruth. Jesus redeemed all of us.

The story of Ruth also represents an inflection point in the history of Israel. We witness the good results that occur when people are loyal to God. There is an old saying, “you reap what you sow.” In the last section of Judges we saw how evil resulted in more evil. In Ruth, we see how good begets good. Boaz was loyal to God's laws. He greeted his workers by declaring, "The LORD be with you! (Ruth 2:4b)” and they responded "The LORD bless you! (Ruth 2:4c)” He also allowed needy people to gather the loose grain in accordance with the laws of Leviticus. The people of the village were also loyal to God's laws, as indicated by their adherence to the laws of inheritance and redemption as described in these chapters. Unlike the people at the end of Judges, these people did what God wanted.

Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz all modeled the self-sacrifice, integrity, and faithfulness that God wants to see from us all. Somehow Naomi inspired Ruth to believe in the LORD, and also respected her daughter-in-laws by encouraging them to remain in their own land. Ruth declined that opportunity, and instead honored her mother-in-law and her LORD – even though the relationship with God was relatively new (and foreign) to her. As a result, she found a new life and a new husband. Boaz was kind to his relative’s widow, and as a result, she took an interest in him and they created a family that became an important line in the tribe of Judah.

Boaz and Ruth became ancestors to the kinsman-redeemer of mankind. If we are faithful, our lives can also have significance beyond our lifetime.

Were these random events, or did God have a plan for Ruth? Why did Mahlon select her instead of another woman? How is it that Ruth just happened to glean in the field of a relative of her husband, who happened to be a man of faith and integrity? If you believe that God had a plan for Ruth, then you can believe that he also has a plan for each of us and wants us to be aware of the ways he is working in our lives.

"Wherever You Go" performed by the Monks of Weston Priory

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Did you have an experience in life where you followed someone to a foreign land (or a different part of your own country)?
    2. How can we provide better care for the poor in our communities?
    3. What are the conditions for receiving God’s inheritance?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you have a plan for each of us. Help us to care for those less fortunate than us and accept the redemption that you offer to us.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People in our own country who don't have enough to eat today


    (1) Cundall, Arthur E., Morris Leon, Judges & Ruth an Introduction and Commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester England, Downers Grove, IL, 1968, p.229

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Overview of 1 Samuel and Study of 1 Samuel 1-3 (Here I am LORD!)

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