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.
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.
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.
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.
Moab, Ephrathah, Judah, Moab
There is a discussion about the importance of names for people in this story. Some think their meanings are important:
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?