The Book of Ruth

The book of Ruth is a short story located in the Hebrew scriptures. The author of the book is anonymous and some have proposed that it was written by a gifted woman who had mastery of literary art and access to the oral or written tradition of David’s family.[1]  The date of the writing has been debated with no overwhelming decisive evidence, but suffice it to say, most scholars agree that based on references to David in the book (4:17, 22) the earliest date would be ca. 1000 B.C. The latest date would be sometime prior to 164 B.C. based on its acceptance into the canon of the Hebrew scriptures.[2]

The book of Ruth focuses on three main characters: Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. This warm and endearing story that has down-to-earth qualities in which readers can relate. In fact, some have classified its genre as an idyll due to the lack of villainous characters and its portrayal of simple, common people living a rustic life.[3]  The story engages several elements of the human life (i.e. tragedy, famine, grief, loneliness, despair, exile, loyalty, love, redemption).

The story is set in the day when the judges ruled (1:1) which is during the time after the death of Joshua and before the rise of Saul as king of Israel.  This time was defined by disorganization and many failures by the Israelites.  They ceased to remove the Canaanites from the land which resulted in continual interaction with Baal worshippers and their fertility rites. The Israelites were constantly tempted to forsake their God and worship Baal.[4] Thus, apostasy and covenant ignorance ran rampant leading to all types of sin, lawlessness, darkness and oppression among the people.[5] In the book of Judges there are two refrains that describe the period 1) “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2:11; 3:7,12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). 2) “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25).  This was the historical context in which the author of Ruth tells the story about a people who were loyal and faithful.

While God is referred to only a few times in the book, his presence and involvement is witnessed throughout the story as he moves and works in the ordinary and everyday events of his faithful people. God shows covenant loyalty and provides for the characters in the book of Ruth.  Through these individuals, David is eventually born and established as king, and this lineage ultimately brings forth Israel’s promised messiah.

 Outline of the Book of Ruth

The book begins by introducing a Bethlehem married couple (Elimelech and Naomi) and their two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) and due to the famine in Bethlehem the family moves to Moab (1:1-2). While in Moab, tragedy strikes the family with the deaths of Naomi’s husband and two sons (1:3-5). As a result, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and her loyal and committed daughter in-law, named Ruth, returns with her (1:6-21). At the beginning of chapter two, there is a brief introduction of a man named Boaz followed by a narration about Ruth gleaning for food in Boaz’s fields (2:1-7). When Boaz notices Ruth in his fields and hears about her character, he shows favor, blesses and protects her (2:8-17). Ruth returns home to Naomi with grain and gives a report about Boaz and her work (2:18-23). Chapter three begins with Naomi and Ruth discussing a plan to get Ruth married to Boaz (3:1-5). Thus, Ruth approaches Boaz at the threshing floor signaling her availability of marriage (3:6-9). Boaz responds to Ruth (3:10-15), and then Ruth returns to Naomi, and they debrief (3:16-18). Next, Boaz goes to the town gate presenting the kinsman-redeemer situation (4:1-8), which results in Boaz purchasing the property and claiming Ruth in order for her to become his wife (4:9-10). The elders and the people witness the purchase and bless Boaz and Ruth (4:11-12). Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son, named Obed (4:13), and Naomi is redeemed and blessed (4:14-17). The book concludes with a genealogy of David, highlighting Boaz and Obed in the lineage (4:18-22).

[1] Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989) EPUB edition, Introduction, “Authorship and Date.” [2]Hubbard, Ruth, Introduction, “Authorship and Date.” [3] Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 184. [4] J.P. Payne, “Judges, Book of” in NBD³, eds. D. G. W. Wood, I. Howard Marshall, J. D. Douglas, and N. Hillyer. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 627. [5] Hill and Walton, A Survey, 184.