An Overview of Ruth

Divine Author: God the Holy Spirit “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

Human Author: Samuel, according to tradition  

Date: c. 1011 and 931 BC                 

Setting: Palestine, during the days of the Judges of Israel     

Key Verse: Ruth 1:16            “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.”

Theme : God’s providential care         

General Facts: The 8th Book of the Bible; 4 Chapters; 85 Verses

THE BOOK OF RUTH

Elimelech / “My God is King / A Hebrew man from Bethlehem-Judah, of the tribe of Ephraim, who moved to Moab due to famine conditions in Israel

Naomi / “pleasant” / The wife of Elimelech

Mara / “bitter” /The name Naomi chose to be called after returning to Israel from Moab

Mahlon / “sickly” / A son of Elimelech and Naomi

Orpah / “neck” / The wife of Mahlon

Chilion / “wasting away” / A son of Elimelech and Naomi

Ruth / “friendship” / The wife of Chilion

Boaz / “strength” / A kinsman-redeemer                                 

I am Going Home: Ruth 1:1-22

There are three central figures in the narrative in the Book of Ruth. There is the mother-in-law, Naomi. There is Ruth, the widowed wife of Chilion, and there is Boaz, a near kinsman-redeemer.

There are four compelling chapters in the narrative in the Book of Ruth. Like a beautiful flower, the story unfolds.

In the opening chapter, we are told that the events took place “when the judges ruled.” There was no king among the Hebrew people in Israel at this time, for the nation was designed to be a theocracy. God was to rule His people by His word and through His appointed leaders. However, not all the judges proved to be faithful to the Lord. Because of this, many of God’s people were led astray, resulting in divine discipline, to include famine in the land.

On one occasion, when there was a national famine in Judah, a man by the name of Elimelech, from the tribe of Ephraim, decided to relocate his family to Moab. There, in Moab, personal tragedy struck. Elimelech died. Ten years later his two sons, Mahlon, and Chilion died as well, leaving in total three grieving widows in Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth.

Realizing her own desperate condition of being a widow in a foreign country, Naomi decided to return to her home in Israel. However, she was not going home alone, for Ruth made a commitment to stay with her saying, “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” (1:16, 17).

Once Naomi and Ruth returned to Israel, Naomi changed her name to “Mara” meaning, “bitter”, saying, “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?” (Ruth 1:20-21).

The Bible commands Christians to guard their hearts against such thoughts and feelings. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31).

Our journey in life can make us better, or bitter. Care must be taken not to become bitter with Divine Providence, but to submit to the Sovereign.

I Have a Kinsman-Redeemer: Ruth 2:1-23

One immediate problem Naomi and Ruth faced after returning to Israel was how to find food. Being a practical woman, Ruth suggested to Naomi that she be allowed to go the field, and glean ears of corn” from the property of Naomi’s kinsman, a mighty, or noble, man of wealth. His name was Boaz (Heb. “lively”). In the providence of God, it happened to be the time of the barley harvest, which began in late April, or early May. It preceded the wheat harvest by two weeks (Ex. 9:31-32). At the beginning of the barley harvest, the Jews were to consecrate the first fruits to the Lord of the Harvest. It was the Law (Lev. 23:10).

During the barley harvest, and other times of ingathering, the Law of Moses provided that mercy be shown to the immigrant, and the poor. “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the LORD your God” (Lev. 23:22).

The concept of showing mercy to the poor remains a part of the Christian faith and practice. “But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:16).

Being a practical woman, Ruth asked that she be allowed to go into the fields of Boaz to glean ears of corn. Ruth was confident she would find grace, and so, Naomi said unto her, “Go, my daughter” (Ruth 2:2).

As Ruth had anticipated, she did find grace in the eyes of Boaz, who was impressed by her loyalty to Naomi, her willingness to work hard, and, no doubt, her innate beauty, grace, humility, and charm. Boaz insisted that Ruth not glean in any other field but his. She must also remain close by the other ladies that worked for him, for Boaz would protect Ruth from hunger, and personal harm (2:8-9).

Later that day, when Ruth returned to Naomi, with an amazing amount of food, an ephah of barley (about 5.8 gallons, or on half to one third of a bushel, weighing about 30 pounds), and told her mother-in-law she had met Boaz, there was immediate joy. Naomi revealed to Ruth that Boaz was a near kinsman. That set the heart of Naomi to mediating, and forming a plan.

I Will Obey: Ruth 3:1-6

Intuitively, Naomi immediately perceived that a marriage for Ruth with Boaz could be arranged.  Perhaps she could help make it happen (3:1). With renewed excitement in her voice, Naomi instructed Ruth what she must do, step by step.

First, Ruth must wash herself thoroughly. The dust and dirt of harvest work must be cleansed from her body.

Second, Ruth must anoint herself with perfume and oil. It is important to look nice, and to emanate a pleasant aroma.  

Third, Ruth must put off the clothing of a grieving widow, and put on a clean and attractive garment. Her clothing would be modest and simple, but Ruth would make it elegant with her fine and youthful feminine figure.

Fourth, Ruth was to go where Boaz would be working that night. However, Ruth was not to interrupt the eating and drinking of Boaz by making an ostentatious display of herself. Meekness is an appealing virtue.

Fifth, Ruth was to notice where Boaz rested for the night. Once he was settled down, Ruth was to go in, uncover his feet, and lay down beside him (3:4). Then, Ruth was to wait to find out what he would tell her to do.

Ruth listened carefully to every instruction of Naomi, and then replied. “All that thou sayest unto me, I will do” (3:5).

I Will be Blessed: Ruth 3:8-18

The plan of Naomi was implemented by Ruth, and every part went well. When Boaz awoke in the middle of the night and discovered Ruth at his feet, he was startled, but not displeased. An important conversation took place, which has been divinely preserved in the will of the Lord.

Boaz: “Who are you?”

Ruth: “I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore your garment over your handmaid; for you are a near kinsman.”

Boaz: “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for you have displayed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to you all that you request: for all the city of my people knows that you are a virtuous woman. And now, it is true, that I am thy near kinsman: however, there is a kinsman nearer than I. Stay this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform unto you 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 you, then will I do the part of a kinsman to you, as the Lord lives: lie down until the morning.”

The Dawning of a New Day

Ruth complied and laid at the feet of Boaz until the dawning of the day. Then, she quietly arose to leave. But before she could go, Boaz spoke to Ruth once more. 

Boaz: “Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor. Now, bring me the veil you have on, and hold it out.”

Ruth took the veil she was wearing to Boaz, who spread it out, and poured on it six measures of barley.

Without comment, Ruth left the presence of Boaz, a woman twice blessed. With the dawning of a new day, Ruth went into the city of Bethlehem-Judah knowing in her heart that a kinsman-redeemer was going to help her.

Observe

The role of a kinsman-redeemer was important in Jewish custom. The practice was instituted that, if a man died and left behind a wife, children, or property, it was the kinsman-redeemer’s responsibility to marry the widow, possess the property, and protect the family. Naomi had hope that Boaz would marry the widowed Ruth who had made herself available to him.

God’s Amazing Grace: Ruth 4:1-22

By her actions, Ruth did nothing improper. Boaz calls her a virtuous woman, meaning a woman of noble character. The Hebrew word (Chayil, [khah’yil]), is the same term used in Proverbs 31:10. In like manner, Boaz is a virtuous man, he is a man of character. Boaz promised to go before the town council, and see if he could not honor his role as a kinsman-redeemer. It might not be easy to do, because there was another kinsman closer than he, who must be given the opportunity to deal with the situation.

Before ten witnesses, with everyone gathered at the gates of the city, Boaz explains to the nearer kinsmen the situation. Naomi has returned from Moab a widow, but, with a piece of land which had belonged to her husband Elimelech. Would the nearer kinsman like to buy the property?

At first, the nearer kinsman said, “I will redeem it.” Then, Boaz added something to the discussion. Whoever bought the land from Naomi must also marry Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the deceased son of Elimelech, so that he might by proxy have descendants.

The new information changed the dynamics of the moment, and the mind of the nearer kinsman-redeemer. The nearer kinsman decided that a marriage to Ruth would prove to be too disruptive for his own family, and so he declined both the hand and the land, the hand of Ruth in marriage, and the land that belonged to Elimelech.

With a wonderful touch of gentle divine humor, the nearer kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy the land for yourself” (4:8). He could have added, “And take Ruth in marriage as well.” That was all Boaz needed to hear. The noble man immediately embraced the role of kinsman-redeemer by taking off a shoe as a pledge in the presence of witnesses. He would purchase the land, and he would take the hand of Ruth the Moabites in marriage. “And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses” (4:11).

Had the people stopped at this point by saying, “We are witnesses,” it would be a touching ending to the moment. However, the Bible says the people bestowed a blessing upon Boaz. The blessing was important to the Israelites. People longed to be blessed by God, and by others. Jacob sought a blessing from his father (Gen. 27:19), and he sought a blessing from God (Gen. 3:2:26). Esau sought to be blessed (Gen. 28:38). Even Pharoah sought to be blessed by Moses (Ex. 12:32). It was a special moment when the people blessed Boaz, and his union with Ruth. This is what they said.

A Special Blessing for Boaz the Farmer

“Boaz, 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 Bethlehem: 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.”

Though the Book of Ruth opened with the story of lost hope and utter ruin, it ends with the restoration of faith, and a fantastic future for Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz as they move within the will of God. In the providence of God, Ruth gives birth to a son named Obed (4:13, 17). The birth of Obed (Heb. “serving”) led to a blessing for Naomi by the women of Bethlehem-Judah.

A Special Blessing for Naomi the Widow

“Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. 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.”

As Ruth reviewed her life, she would, without question, stand amazed at the goodness of God. Little did she realize that she would be the grandmother of King David, and be included in the Messianic lineage (Matt. 1: 5). In like manner, every Christian should stand in utter amazement at the goodness and grace of God, and sing a song of Zion.

“I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner condemned, unclean.

How marvelous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvelous! How wonderful!
Is my Savior’s love for me!

For me it was in the garden,
He prayed: “Not my will, but Thine.”
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat-drops of blood for mine.

In pity angels beheld Him,
And came from the world of light
To strengthen Him in the sorrows
He bore for my soul that night.

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calv’ry,
And suffered, and died alone.

When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me.”

—Charles H. Gabriel

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