The book of Ruth is a short, but important, story about the history of Israel and, more specifically, the family line of David. The date of the story and the date of its writing may have been separated by up to a few hundred years. The story itself took place “during the time of the judges” (Ruth 1:1; c. 1374-1054 B.C.), but the family tree would not have been linked to David (one of the major themes of the story) until during or after his reign in 1010-971 B.C.
Ruth’s story illustrates the great truth of the Kinsman-Redeemer. In a similar way that Boaz claimed Ruth for himself when she had nowhere else to go, Jesus has claimed believers for himself because we have nowhere else to turn to receive forgiveness for sin and eternal life. In the same way that Boaz was required to be a relative to redeem Ruth, Jesus had to become human to redeem humankind. Additionally, since Jesus is the long-anticipated “son of David” (the Messiah), it is significant that Ruth appears as one of four women (not including Mary) recorded in his genealogy (Matthew 1:5).
Although the book is one continuous story, the chapter divisions serve like acts or scenes in a play, each one revealing or hinting at the next part of the story’s progression.
Chapter one sets the stage for the story. At some point during one of the famines “during the time of the judges,” a family left Bethlehem to find food in Moab (Ruth 1:1-6). Elimelech and Naomi had two sons, each of whom married a Moabitess. 1 Over the course of time, all three of the men died in Moab, leaving behind the women as widows. When Israel finally returned to God in one of their cycles (see the introduction to Judges for more information), he allowed the harvest to return, ending the famine. Noami, the mother-in-law of the other two, decided that she would return to her family home in Bethlehem.
There is no mention of children from either of the Moabite wives, so it seems as if they may have been young widows. Naomi, however, was old, so Orpah and Ruth offered to return with her (Ruth 1:7-13). Naomi insisted that they return to their own homes. She had nothing left to give to them, including more sons to marry. They would be better off under their fathers’ care until they could marry again. No matter how much they pled with her, she insisted that they stay with their families in Moab.
Finally, Orpah did return home, but Ruth refused (Ruth 1:14-17). In what has become the most famous statement of the book, Ruth declared her loyalty: “Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God.” Naomi finally conceded, and the two of them journeyed to Bethlehem together. Upon their return, Naomi responded to the village women’s welcome by asking them to call her “Mara,” which means “bitter,” because the tragedy she had suffered, apparently at the hand of God, was bitter to her (Ruth 1:19-22). Setting the scene for act two, the writer noted that the summer barley harvest had just begun.
- The Moabites were descendants of the incestuous relationship between Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:36-37). Since Lot was the nephew of Abraham, the grandfather of Jacob (Israel), the Israelites and Moabites were distant relatives. ↩