Ruth

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The story of Ruth focuses on the story of three people: Naomi, a widow from Bethlehem in Judah; Ruth, the daughter-in-law who comes from Moab; and Boaz, a land-owning farmer from Bethlehem. This well-known and well-loved story tells of Ruth’s dedication to Noami in following her mother-in-law back to her home and finding ways to take care of her. It ends with her marriage to Boaz and her giving birth to one of King David’s ancestors. There are two levels on which to read this story: the surface level which reveals a story of love and commitment, and the deeper level which reveals a message of what ‘foreigners’ (even hated foreigners like the Moabites) might contribute to God’s story of salvation.

Reading time: Fifteen minutes.
Short of time? Just read 1.1–18; 2.1–11; 3.1–10; 4.13–22
Short story

16 But Ruth said, 'Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!' (Ruth 1.16–17)

May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge! (Ruth 2.12)

There is not much tricky here – it’s a lovely story.

The trickiest bit is deciding what you think about Ruth lying down beside Boaz’s feet – that was against all rules of the day.  Some people even think that ‘feet’ is used euphemistically here to refer to Boaz’s genitals, making her action even more bold.

No one knows anything about the author – it could have been almost anyone from a village storyteller to someone keen to tell the story of King David's ancestry.

No one knows anything about when it was written, either. It could have been written any time from King David’s reign to the post-exilic period.

What were people feeling? 

As noted in the summary, the tale has a bit of an agenda as well as being a lovely story. Ruth showed ‘loving kindness’ to Naomi. The Hebrew word for this is hesed and it is the word that sums up the covenant between God and his people – God shows loving kindness to his people and expects them to show it in return.

It is worth knowing that, as near neighbours, the Moabites were bitter enemies of the Israelites. So for Ruth, a Moabite, to show such profound loving kindness (and then to be the ancestress of King David), could mean that the author of the story was making a strong point about how to view and treat foreigners.

Other books set around this time

Joshua and Judges

It is a short story with a strong theological message about loyalty, faithfulness and loving kindness.

1.1–22 Naomi returns home with Ruth, both bereft 
2.1–23 Ruth gleans wheat to survive and meets Boaz
3.1–18 Ruth enacts a risky plan to ensure a safe future for her and Naomi
4.1–12 Boaz honours Ruth and ensures her future safety
4.13–22 Ruth has a child (which she gives to Naomi) and ensures her line which stretches onwards to King David

There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.

Place

Moab, Ephrathah, Judah, Moab

The names of people and peoples

Moabites

​There is a discussion about the importance of names for people in this story. Some think their meanings are important:

  • Naomi means 'pleasant' (which she plays on in 1.20 because Mara, the name she takes instead, means 'bitter')
  • Ruth means 'companion'
  • Elimelech means 'my God is king'
  • Mahlon means 'sickly'
  • Boaz means 'strong redeemer'

Other words 

Threshing floor, glean

The theme of blessing runs all the way through the book. Look out for it as you read and see what role it plays in the story.

Another theme is redemption. What do you think redemption means in the book of Ruth and how does it relate to how we normally use the word?

What do you think about the relationships in the story? Naomi and Orpah; Naomi and Ruth; Ruth and Boaz? Are they healthy relationships?

Is there anyone to whom you would say the words: ‘Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die – there will I be buried’?  What would make you say them?

  • Were there any parts of the book that you particularly liked or that inspired you?
  • Were there any parts of the book that you disliked or that troubled you?
  • What did you think the book was about?
  • Ruth’s loyalty to and love of Naomi were costly; in the end she even gave her son to her. Discuss this and reflect on why you think Ruth was prepared to pay such a high price for her love.
  • Ruth and Naomi came up with a plan (Ruth lying down with Boaz on the threshing floor) to gain the protection they both needed from Boaz. What were the risks they ran? Were they right to do it? What might be the modern equivalent of this kind of plan? When would you say it wasn’t OK to do that kind of thing?
  • How do you think you should read Ruth? As an inspiring story about love and relationship? As a gritty narrative about survival? As a political statement about how we treat foreigners? Or as something else?
  • Did you read anything in the book that touched you, expanded your faith or made you think more deeply about your life and how you live it?

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