Introduction to the Bible - 09 - Book of Ruth

Introduction to Ruth

by Shad Sluiter 

Overview

During the time of the Judges in Israel, a family from Bethlehem migrated to the country of Moab in order to escape from a famine.  The two sons married foreigners of Moab and then suddenly died.  The father also died which left three widows alone in the world – Noami, the mother and her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah.

Ruth pledged her loyalty to her Naomi her mother-in-law and they returned to Israel together.  In order to make a meager living, Ruth collected left-over grain in the barley fields of a rich farmer named Boaz.  In the course of a year, Ruth and Boaz were married.  Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s husband which had great significance in Israel.  Their land, family name and inheritance was kept within the family even though all the men of the family had died.  Ruth had a son, Obed, who became the great grandfather of King David.

Historical Background

The events of the Book of Ruth fall in the time period “when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). The people were morally lost in that time.  In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Israel suffered oppression and moral weakness in a series of downward spirals.  See the book of Judges for more details.  However, Boaz and Ruth are two people who stand in sharp contrast to the trouble times.  Boaz maintained purity, honesty, generosity and fidelity throughout the good times and bad.  Ruth ran “upstream” from the decline being foreign idol worshiper who came to Israel to know the One True God.

Samuel has traditionally been credited with writing the book of Ruth.  Samuel survived long enough to know that David would eventually become king after Saul.

Historical Significance

The seemingly insignificant decision made by Ruth throughout her life – marrying a Jew, leaving home as a poor widow with Naomi, choosing to clean leftover barley in a particular field – eventually lead to her becoming part of the genealogy line of the Messiah (Matthew 1:3,5-6,16).  Only two books in the Bible are named after women – Ruth and Esther.

Customs and Laws

The heart of the story revolves around the law of inheritance given in Leviticus 25:25-34 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10. The land of a man who is forced to sell because of poverty can be bought back (redeemed) by a relative.  Also, if a man dies, his brother or closest relative is supposed to marry the widow.  Any children born to the woman were to be considered children of the dead man.  Boaz married Ruth because he was the closest relative of Ruth’s departed husband who was willing to marry her.

Figures and Characters in the Book

The Redeemer (Boaz) of a gentile woman (Ruth) brings to mind the imagery of Christ, the Redeemer, paying the ultimate price to purchase the right to have a Gentile Bride – his church (Ephesians 5).

The names in the story represent characteristics of their lives. The following talbe shows the interpretation or the meaning of names in the original language.

Name

Meaning

Bethlehem

House of Bread.  God was supposed to be blessing Israel.  However a famine tested the fortitude of Elimelech and his loyalty to God’s commands.

Elimelech

My God is King.  However, Elimelech chose to flee Israel in time of famine, abandoning his inheritance.

Naomi

Pleasant.  However, for a period of time after her return to Israel, she called herself “Mara”, or bitterness, since the Lord had dealt bitterly with her.

Mahlon and Chilion.

Sick and Pining.  Perhaps they died of illness which would be true to their names.

Orpah

Back of the Neck or StubbornnessOrpah was the widow who chose to return to her gods instead of following her mother-in-law back to Israel.

Ruth

Friend or Friendly.  She was perhaps the last friend that Naomi had in the world.  She refused to abandon her even when Naomi was at the lowest point in her life.

Boaz

Strength.  He fulfills his name becoming the stable, redeemer of Ruth to keep the family line going.

Obed

Servant

Other figures in the events of the book have been viewed as the following:

Famine in Bethlehem – This was a test from God to Elimelech who was supposed to preserve his ownership of the land for all generations. The lack of family leadership in Elimelech lead to his own demise, the death of his two sons, a depressed and grieving widow. See the online book Marriage and the Family by Dr. Sandy Higgins for more information.  Specifically, read the chapter titled Failing Fathers.

Field of Boaz – Gleaning in the field is like finding spiritual food in the Word of God.  Handfuls of barley heads, grains, and “beating it out” are symbols of how someone searches the scriptures, meditates and finds spiritual strength.

Controversy

Some scriptures related to Ruth have caused some students of the Bible to see contradictions in the interpretation of the law:

·        Deuteronomy 23:3 forbids Moabites from worshiping in the tabernacle of the Lord.  How could God provide a place for Ruth in His worship?  Isaiah 56:1-8 tells us that foreigners who turn to God will be included in his covenant with Israel.

·        Deuteronomy 25:5-6 demands that a man marry his brother’s widow if his brother dies.  How does God reconcile this with incest and polygamy?  It is believed that a brother or closest relative would marry his brother’s widow only if he had not been married yet.  In the case of Boaz, the story makes to mention of any other wife in the family other than Ruth.

·        Deuteronomy 7:1-3 forbids the Israelites from marrying the inhabitants of the Land of Canaan.  Why would God authorize this marriage to a pagan?  First, Moab was not included in the list of forbidden countries in which to marry.  However, Moab was a country of idolatry.  Ruth, at the time of her proposal to Boaz, was no longer part of the idol worshiping nation of Moab.  She had left that behind making her a seeker after Jehovah.