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Ruth

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Introductory Material

The book of Ruth is a well-loved short story. Part of this affection is that the narrative has all the elements of good drama: an engaging plot, interesting characters, tension, romance, conflict, people overcoming hardship, and so much more. The moving account ends like a Cinderella story, in which the two main figures find love, marry, and have children. Some commentators rely on this type of reading as they explain the intent of the book, seeing the major characters and their love for each other as a model of God’s love for us.

Along similar lines, some writers—perhaps even the earliest Hebrew readers of the book—emphasize the moral virtues of the people in the book. For example, in Ruth 3:11, Boaz calls Ruth “a worthy woman;” the Hebrew term for “worthy” is one that reflects integrity, skill, and honor. In the English Bible, Ruth is the eighth book in the Old Testament immediately after the book of Judges, but in the Hebrew Bible, it comes right after the book of Proverbs. Why so? In the last chapter of Proverbs, the author asks whether anyone can find “a worthy woman” (Prov 31:10). The book of Ruth answers the question of Proverbs with a historical example: Boaz found a worthy woman. In fact, the book refers to Boaz as “a worthy man” (Ruth 2:1). The upright characters of Ruth and Boaz are certainly worthy of emulation, but the theme of moral virtue still does not fully reflect the purpose of the book.

The book has a greater purpose than simply being a moral story of human uprightness. The author tells a story that took place in the time of the judges (see commentary on Judges for more on this period), which is one where “there was no king in Israel” (Judg 21:25). The book of Ruth provides an account of the ancestry of David, perhaps the greatest king of ancient Israel. The story ends by disclosing the fact that Ruth and Boaz are David’s great grandparents. The story, therefore, is not merely a moral story of integrity, but it points ahead to the coming king.

But even David’s appearance is not the climax of the book. David himself ultimately points to the coming of a final king, who is Jesus Christ, the son of David. The genealogy of David at the close of the book of Ruth (4:18–22) is essentially the same found in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:3–6). The one difference between the two genealogies is that Matthew includes the names of two Gentile women, Rahab and Ruth, in the ancestry of Jesus. One reason for that incorporation is to point to the reality of the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s kingdom. The glorious conclusion of the book of Ruth is the coming of the Messiah, and the reader needs to keep this in mind when studying the book.

Purpose

The book of Ruth describes the redemption and inclusion of Gentiles into the lineage of David and of David’s son, the Messianic King.

Key Verse

“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.’”

— Ruth 1:16 ESV

Outline

The book of Ruth may be outlined simply according to four scenes, as follows:

Scene 1: In Moab (1:1–18)

A Setting of Adversity (1:1–5)

The Lord’s Compassion (1:6–9)

The Great Cling (1:10–14)

Ruth’s Confession (1:15–18)

Scene 2: In Bethlehem (1:19–2:23)

Homecoming (1:19–22)

In the Fields (2:1–7)

The Conversation (2:8–17)

Ruth Returns from the Field (2:18–23)

Scene 3: At the Threshing Floor (3:1–18)

Hatching a Plan (3:1–6)

At the Heap of Grain (3:7–13)

Back to Bethlehem (3:14–18)

Scene 4: At the Gate (4:1–22)

In the Courtroom (4:1–12)

The Descendant (4:13–22)

Scene 1: In Moab (1:1–18)

A Setting of Adversity (1:1–5)

1:1 The opening words of the text “in the days when the judges ruled” provide the timing and setting of the story. What do we know of this period? The book of Judges ends with the statement, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). It was a time of moral relativism, decay, and anarchy. No central political authority or spiritual focus existed in Israel. As a result, the book of Judges records a downhill spiral in Israel’s moral activity. By the end of the book, we read of the downright salacious and obscene story of the Benjaminites. This setting serves as a foil to the book of Ruth (see commentary on Judges for more on this period). Although many in Israel lacked moral fiber and acted in-line with the ungodly Canaanites, not everyone was behaving that way. In this vein, the author invites us to consider Boaz and Ruth. This bright spot in a dark time testifies to the reality that the Apostle Paul would later proclaim, namely that God “did not leave himself without witness” in past generations (Acts 14:17).

Besides the general historical timing of the events of the book, the author opens by explaining that a physical famine had come upon Israel—a likely sign of God’s displeasure with Israel’s unfaithfulness (Lev 26:18–20). The story then becomes particularized, as one man and his family left Israel because of the natural disaster. Ironically, the man was from the town of Bethlehem, a name that means “house of food”! For the reader, the name is also a reminder that this town was the home of the later great king of Israel, David, and the place of birth of the later even greater Messianic king, Jesus.

The text then says that the man traveled to Moab to sojourn there. A sojourner was one who worked in a foreign country but had few of the rights and privileges of the citizenry. He was one who did not own land but was generally in the service of a native (in this case, a Moabite). The Moabites were a pagan people who worshipped the gods Chemosh, Baal Peor, and many others. During the period of the judges, they were an archenemy of Israel (see Judg 3:12–30). So, this Israelite man left his ancestral lands allotted to him by the Lord, and he went to Moab to work under pagan authority. He, therefore, appears to have put his family in harm’s way. Was it the right thing to do? One point to consider is the fact that not everyone reacted to the famine by resorting to sojourning. Apparently, many—like Boaz—remained in the land of promise.

1:2 The names of the family members are important for interpreting the story. The man’s name was Elimelech, which means “my God is king;” his name is ironic, since “there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). This man and his actions were a testimony to the relativism of the time. His wife’s name was Naomi, which means “sweet” or “pleasant.” Later in the story, after much suffering, the woman told the women of Bethlehem not to call her Naomi (“sweet”) but rather to address her as Mara (“bitter”).

Elimelech’s family were Ephrathites. This clan was part of the tribe of Judah that lived near Bethlehem. This denotation is to remind the reader, again, of the future coming of King David: we read in 1 Samuel 17:12 that David “was the son of an Ephrathite of Bethlehem in Judah, named Jesse, who had eight sons.” David was not only from the tribe of Judah and a Bethlehemite, but he was of the very clan of Elimelech’s family.

1:3–5 The family was in dire straits. They lived under famine, and then they came under Moabite authority for “about ten years.” They were obviously affected by their circumstances, as is evident in the fact that the two sons married Moabite women in disobedience to God’s word (see Deut 7:3–4). Tragedy then struck, as both Elimelech and his two sons died. This left Naomi in a grave situation. As an Israelite widow with no sons, she was unprotected and faced destitution, poverty, and perhaps even enslavement. She was now a cast-off, one of the unwanted class. What was she to do?

The Lord’s Compassion (1:6–9)

1:6 Naomi now planned to return to her family’s inheritance in Judah for two reasons. First, her life in Moab had become untenable: she was a widow without any means of support in a pagan society. Second, she heard that God had visited his people and ended the famine. Yahweh had brought the famine, and now he graciously removed it. The text underscores the providence of God over nature.

A leading word appears throughout Ruth 1:6–22: the verb “to return” occurs twelve times. Although this verb has a common usage of a person changing course and physically returning to a place, it also has a spiritual significance in the Old Testament. The Old Testament uses the word to describe a person repenting and turning to God (e.g., Hos 3:5; 6:1; 7:10). Its repetition in the text likely indicates that the characters were not only returning/going to the land of promise, but also returning/turning to Yahweh.

1:7–9 As Naomi began her journey back to Bethlehem, her two widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, accompanied her. Ironically, the two of them would arrive in Bethlehem in the same state as Naomi in Moab; they would be widows with no male protection and sojourners in a foreign land. According to ancient Near Eastern law, the two women were not required to go with Naomi but had every right to return to their own families. Naomi urged them to return to their Moabite families where they would receive care and protection. She then pronounced a blessing on them by invoking the name of Yahweh, the covenant name of the God of Israel. She called for Yahweh to “deal kindly” with them—a strong word in Hebrew (chesed), best translated as “covenant loyalty.” Naomi was requesting that the covenant God of Israel would show covenant loyalty to these two Moabite women and entrusting them to his care.

The Great Cling (1:10–14)

1:10–13a Although Orpah and Ruth asserted that they would yet go with their mother-in-law, Naomi was insistent that they do no such thing. She argued that Israel held no prospects for these Moabite women. Naomi would have nothing to offer them. She was indigent, widowed, and had no sons who could marry Orpah and Ruth. Here, the reader is introduced to the important Hebrew custom called “the levirate law” (the word levir is Latin for “a husband’s brother”). The law is related most clearly in Deuteronomy 25:5–6:

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.

Naomi was emphasizing for Orpah and Ruth that she has no sons to perform this custom and, therefore, was attempting to dissuade them from traveling with her. (As an aside, this law will play an important role later in the book.)

1:13b–14 Naomi then highlighted her own bitter plight that would have negative effects on Orpah and Ruth. She concluded that “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Naomi understood that her adversity was not due to chance or mere circumstance, but history was playing out according to the providence of God. Naomi’s rational plea resulted in a divergence of response: Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, but Ruth clung to her so as not to be separated.

Ruth’s Confession (1:15–18)

1:15–16a Naomi then urged Ruth to follow her sister-in-law and return to Moab. Ruth, however, was resolute. She dedicated herself to Naomi and was determined to follow her to Israel. This commitment is underscored by a series of statements grammarians call by the Latin phrase idem per idem (a figure of speech in which the same verb or noun is used of the actions of two different people). The series of statements “where you go, I will go”; “where you lodge I will lodge”; “your people shall be my people”; and so on underscores the oneness of purpose and unity of action between the two women. Ruth was pledging undying allegiance and fidelity to Naomi.

1:16b–18 Ruth’s vow, however, was not only to Naomi. She declared the idem per idem, “your God, my God.” That affirmation is a non-verbal statement (no verb is stated explicitly), having a unique force in the Hebrew. The claim was like a thunder-clap. Back in Ruth 1:15, Orpah had returned to her gods. Ruth, on the contrary, was renouncing the polytheism of the Moabites and embracing the monotheism of the Hebrews. Ruth 1:17 confirms this conversion as Ruth invokes the name of the Lord, the name Yahweh, the covenant name of the God of Israel. Ruth’s conversion and oath silenced Naomi.

The conversion of a Gentile, pagan Moabite to the true faith ought to shock us as well. This conversion further points to a greater reality: The Gentiles are included in the people of God by faith. And, as we mentioned in the introduction, this is one important reason that Matthew includes Ruth (and Rahab) in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:5).

Scene 2: In Bethlehem (1:19–2:23)

Homecoming (1:19–22)

1:19 Nothing is said in the text about the journey to Bethlehem. It simply says that they “went on until they came to Bethlehem.” Thus, a time gap exists between Ruth 1:18, 19. This trip was approximately 40–50 miles or 65–80 kilometers in rugged terrain that was mostly uphill. It would have taken days to complete the trip. This gap should remind us to slow down when reading and realize that some events take a long time to unfold.

When the women arrived in Bethlehem, the entire town was “stirred.” This word in the original carries the idea of “being in commotion,” and so the town was in turmoil and confusion because of their unexpected arrival. The gossip was abuzz, as the women of the town asked, “Is this Naomi?” This question may have had a malicious angle, or it may have been asked out of mere curiosity.

1:20–21 Naomi responded directly by using a wordplay on her own name. Back in Ruth 1:2, her name was defined as meaning “sweet” or “pleasant.” She told the women of Bethlehem not to call her that, but rather, they were to call her Mara, meaning “bitter.” Naomi had used that word back in Ruth 1:13 when she told Orpah and Ruth that “it is exceedingly bitter to me . . . that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Her name change reflected her understanding of the providence of God. She declared in Ruth 1:20–21 that God had done four things to her: dealt bitterly with her, brought her back empty, testified against her (the verb “testified” can mean “afflicted” in the original), and brought trouble upon her. These were all bitter providences. Naomi, however, was not blaming God for her situation. She was simply recognizing God’s hand in all the eventualities of life and responding with endurance and patience to them all.

1:22 This section ends with the statement that Naomi and Ruth had come to Bethlehem “at the beginning of the barley harvest.” The barley harvest was the first harvest of grain during the agricultural year, and it was soon followed by the wheat harvest. This year, the harvest was rich (Ruth 1:6), and abundant workers would be needed in the fields. Ruth, then, would be able to find work, feed the family, and meet Boaz. This certainly was God’s timing, and it was a sweet providence.

In the Fields (2:1–7)

2:1 The opening verse of this section is a parenthesis, interrupting the flow of the story. The author now introduces the reader to a man named Boaz. Boaz was a “relative” of Naomi’s husband Elimelech. This word had a broad range of meaning in ancient Hebrew and, therefore, the reader is uncertain of the exact relationship between the two men. The verse also says that Boaz was of Elimelech’s “clan,” which was an extended family based on consanguinity (a multi-generational blood relationship). Yet, the drama heightens in the story because we do not yet know how close the relationship between the two men is.

Boaz was “a worthy man;” the word “worthy” can refer to wealth, but it often can mean integrity, valor, and honor. His character was confirmed by the meaning of his name: “in him is strength.” Later, when Boaz’s great-great-grandson Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, he called one of the foundational pillars of the edifice “Boaz” (1Kgs 7:21). The man Boaz and the pillar of the same name shared similar characteristics; one was a pillar in Bethlehem, upholding the community, and the other was a pillar in the temple, upholding the monumental structure.

2:2–3 Here the author picks up the story of Ruth again. According to Hebrew law, the farmer must only glean and reap his fields one time during the harvest; he was not to strip his fields bare (Lev 19:9–10). He was to leave the edges of his fields unharvested, and what was missed in the fields was to be left for the disadvantaged in Israel. Ruth asked Naomi if she could go to the fields and glean after the reapers, as one of the indigents in the land.

After receiving her mother-in-law’s permission, she went out to labor in the fields, and “she happened to come” to the field belonging to Boaz. How is the reader to understand this comment that appears to say that she came to this field by chance? Perhaps it was a tongue-in-cheek line by the author who was aware of God’s providence driving the story. Or, perhaps, from Ruth’s perspective it appeared to have been by chance; she had not planned it. The popular statement attributed to John Flavel is helpful in understanding the perspective of the writer in this passage: “God’s providence is like Hebrew, it must be read backwards.”

2:4–7 Ruth 2:4 begins with the word “behold”; this is an emphatic statement of surprise. Our new character is now reintroduced. Boaz’s timing was perfect because it was God’s timing. Here was the industrious, hard-working, “worthy” man coming to oversee the work; he was not an absentee landlord. Inspecting the work, Boaz noticed an unfamiliar person, and he discreetly asked his head reaper about her. Ruth’s reputation as an upright woman had preceded her work in the field; her care for her mother-in-law gave her a sterling name among the people of Bethlehem. In addition, her work in the field testified to her honorable, diligent character. The chief reaper explained to Boaz that Ruth worked in the field all day “except for a short rest.” A precise, direct reading of the reaper’s claim is, “This (field) is her dwelling, the house is little.” In other words, the field has been Ruth’s dwelling place all day long, and her house in town meant little to her. She was a person of industry and fortitude; in fact, she was much like Boaz!

The Conversation (2:8–17)

2:8–9a After hearing the report, Boaz turned to speak directly to Ruth. He spoke to her with kindness and respect. Then he provided for her in two ways. First, he gave her protection. He told her to glean only in his field and to keep close to his “young women.” These women were likely not slaves or servants but young, unmarried women from Boaz’s clan—well protected due to kinship. He also told the young men working in the field not to assault her. Ruth, as an indigent foreigner, was vulnerable and so Boaz safeguarded her well-being.

2:9b–16 Second, Boaz provided for Ruth’s sustenance. He told her to take from the water provided for the laborers in the field. He then invited her to a meal prepared for the reapers, that included roasted grain. When they returned to work, Boaz told the reapers to let Ruth glean right in the areas where they labored: here she would not get mere leftovers but the very best pickings of the crop. Additionally, he ordered his workers to leave sheaves of grain that she could easily pick up and bundle.

Ruth responded to Boaz’s actions with great humility and surprise. Ruth uses a play on words here (the verb “take notice” and the noun “foreigner” are related), expressing her wonder at the generosity of Boaz. Foreigners were those who usually lived unnoticed and unrecognized: Ruth thus wondered, why was she noticed by Boaz? She was further startled that he would speak to her so kindly and comfort her although she was merely “a servant” and not “even one of your servants.” Here again Ruth’s humility and honesty shone forth.

Finally, Boaz pronounced the blessing of Yahweh on Ruth, calling for the Lord to bring Ruth’s deeds and conduct to full fruition. In this blessing, he fully recognized Ruth’s conversion, as he described her relationship to the Lord as “under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Boaz pictured God as a mother bird who protects its young; this is a metaphor in the Old Testament used of God’s people belonging to him and under his care (e.g., Deut 32:11; Exod 19:4).

2:17 Ruth continued to glean until the evening. Then she went and threshed what she had gleaned, separating the good grain from the husks. After this hard labor, Ruth came away with about an ephah of barley (an ephah is about two-thirds of a bushel or eight liters in volume and 30 pounds or 14 kilograms of weight, capable of producing 672 slices of whole grain bread). This was a generous amount for her labors.

Ruth Returns from the Field (2:18–23)

2:18 After her labors, Ruth returned to Naomi and showed her the liberal amount of grain she had gleaned. She then gave to Naomi the food “she had left over after being satisfied.” The same wording appeared earlier in Ruth 2:14; in other words, Ruth provided Naomi with some of the roasted grain she had received from Boaz at mealtime in the fields. She not only dragged home the 30 pounds or 14 kilograms of barley from the field, but she also brought home a meal for Naomi. Ruth was one who put others before herself.

2:19–20 Naomi responded by invoking two blessings on Boaz. Naomi’s excitement particularly shines through as she describes the man as “one of our redeemers.” The Hebrew term “redeemer” is go’el, and it plays an important role in the book of Ruth.

What Is a Kinsman-Redeemer?

A go’el was one who delivered his kin from difficult circumstances, redeeming them from danger. In ancient Israel, the go’el had four basic duties:

1. He was to buy his kin out of bondage, usually brought about when someone went into debt and indentured himself to another Hebrew (Lev 25:47–49; Deut 15:12–17);

2. He had the duty to buy back tribal land that a relative had sold (Lev 25:23–25);

3. He was to perform the Levirate Law by marrying a widow in the family who had no male heirs and produce a progeny for the dead husband (Deut 25:5–6; see comment on Ruth 1:11);

4. He was to avenge the blood of a relative (Num 35:16–19).

The concept of redemption by a go’el was a wonderful picture in Scripture of God’s work for his people. Throughout the Old Testament, the term go’el was used for God interceding on the behalf of his people (Job 19:25–26; Psa 19:14). The exodus out of Egypt was the great redemptive act of the Old Testament wherein God redeemed his people from bondage (Exod 6:6–8). In the New Testament, Jesus is the go’el who brings liberty to his people (Luke 4:16–21). He released his kin from bondage (Rom 8:29), he reclaimed an inheritance for his people (1Pet 1:3–4), he raised up a seed in his name (Eph 1:5), and he served as blood avenger (see the book of Revelation). Jesus, the true go’el has come!

2:21–23 Finally, observe how Ruth is described as “the Moabite.” The reference to this status in Ruth 2:2 serves as an inclusio, reminding the reader from the beginning to the end of the chapter that Ruth was an outsider who was in need of redemption.

Scene 3: At the Threshing Floor (3:1-18)

Hatching a Plan (3:1–6)

Ruth had been working in the field of Boaz for about three months, until the end of the wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23). No redemptive activity on the part of Boaz had taken place during this time, so Naomi decided to act and help set in motion the process.

3:1 Some commentators argue that Naomi’s actions were manipulative—almost deceitfully so—in order to get what she wanted. Such underhanded dealings are unlikely because Naomi cared much for Ruth’s welfare, and she was concerned for the temporal provision that a redeemer would supply. Indeed, the two of them were eking out a living, but Naomi was at the point that she may have to sell her land to survive (Ruth 4:3). In addition, Ruth, being a Moabite, may have not known how Israelite redemptive laws worked and, thus, Naomi was guiding her.

3:2 Naomi told Ruth to go down to the threshing floor that very evening where Boaz would be overseeing the winnowing of his crop. He would be there all night in order to guard his harvest. Naomi then explained what Ruth was to do: she was to wash herself, anoint herself, and change her clothes. Some commentators believe that Naomi was instructing Ruth to be seductive or alluring. More likely, her actions demonstrated to Boaz that Ruth’s time of mourning was over. In 2 Samuel 12:20, David did the same three things to indicate that he had completed his mourning over his dead child.

3:3–6 Ruth should wait until Boaz was alone before approaching him. Again, this was not a case of scandalous entrapment. She was approaching him privately so that Ruth’s reputation would be preserved in case Boaz rejected her proposal. He was a godly man who would not take advantage of her but would handle matters in a proper way. But it would surely seem that Naomi’s command that Ruth “uncover his feet and lie down” next to Boaz was a lure to sexual activity. To the contrary, it was a highly symbolic act. By entering in and lying at Boaz’s feet under the edge of the blanket, Ruth was coming to the place reserved for a wife. She was, in effect, saying that she wanted to be his wife through redemption. Her act was one of submission and not scandal. The next section of the book provides further testimony to the virtuous activity of both Ruth and Boaz.

At the Heap of Grain (3:7–13)

3:7 The drama continues as Boaz finishes his food and drink and then lays down to sleep. His “heart was merry”—meaning “to be satisfied or content” and not indicating drunkenness or susceptibility to enticement. Ruth, then, came to him “softly,” a translation that wrongly assumes a tantalizing pose on Ruth’s part. That word, however, bears the sense of her coming to Boaz in “secrecy” and “privacy” (see its use in 1Sam 18:22). This was not a scene of seduction.

Ruth “uncovered his feet” and lay down. Again, some writers see this act as one of sexual activity. To be fair, the verb “uncover” can be used that way in the Old Testament (see, e.g., Lev 20:11, 19–21). On the other hand, the phrase used elsewhere is “to uncover one’s nakedness” and not “to uncover one’s feet.” We ought to take Ruth’s action at face value: she uncovered Boaz’s feet by lifting the blanket, laying down next to his feet, and covering herself with the blanket. Ruth will later explain her metaphorical intent by asking that Boaz “spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Ruth’s placing the blanket over herself was imagery that she wanted to come under Boaz’s redemptive protection and care. In support of this idea, in Ruth 2:12, Boaz had talked to Ruth about her having come under the “wings” (i.e., protection) of Yahweh.

3:8–13 Boaz woke up “startled” and asked the woman to identify herself. If the two of them were in the midst of a sexual encounter, this question would make no sense. The entire scene was Ruth’s humble and virtuous request for Boaz to act the part of a redeemer. Boaz recognized her sterling character, explaining that the entire town of Bethlehem knew Ruth as a “worthy woman” (similar to the description of Boaz in Ruth 2:1). They were both people of integrity and honor, and to view this scene as a seedy, seductive event diminishes their upright characters.

Boaz promised to act, but he introduces a possible snag to his plans: another go’el was closer in kinship and had the first right of refusal. This meant that Boaz would have to find a way to encourage the nearer redeemer to decide the matter. In any event, Boaz gave his oath to Ruth, and he sealed it by using the covenantal name of Yahweh. His vow was based on the very existence of the God of Israel.

Back to Bethlehem (3:14–18)

3:14 Ruth stayed at the threshing floor for the remainder of the night and lay at Boaz’s feet. This was a place of protection with no sense of impropriety. The scene portrays restraint and caution. Ruth then arose before dawn: Boaz was concerned for her reputation and, thus, made certain that she would be gone early and unrecognized.

3:15 Before she left, Boaz gave her six measures of barley. Some commentators believe this to have been some type of payment for sexual favors (cf. Gen 38, in which Judah paid-off Tamar for prostitution). Such an interpretation is unseemly. Instead, the grain served as a pledge from Boaz to both Ruth and Naomi that he would keep his word. He was providing a token as a promise that he would seek redemption that very day. The last line of the verse confirms Boaz’s intentions. The ESV renders the line as “then she went into the city” (emphasis mine). The problem is that the Hebrew text has a masculine subject, that is, “then he went into the city.” The point of the masculine subject in the text is that Boaz was serious about his pledge, and he went into Bethlehem immediately to do his duty.

3:16–18 Ruth returned to her home, and she reported to Naomi all that took place. She concluded her account by quoting Boaz that it would not be right for Ruth to return to Naomi “empty-handed.” This is the same word used back in Ruth 1:21, where Naomi declared that Yahweh had returned her from Moab “empty.” Instead, Naomi will no longer be empty, but she will be full because of Boaz’s redemptive promise.

Scene 4: At the Gate (4:1–22)

In the Courtroom (4:1–12)

4:1 The setting of the story now shifts, and Boaz appears at the main gate of Bethlehem. The central gate of an ancient town served as the gathering place for the elders of the city, and legal matters were decided there: it was the place of the ancient courtroom. Boaz’s timing was perfect, for the closest redeemer passed by the gate. Boaz called to him, “Turn aside, friend.” The word “friend” in Hebrew is actually two words that commonly mean “whoever, such and such.” The man was not called by name, and this was significant. Perhaps the omission of his name was a mark of shame because he ended up not doing his duty in the matter of redemption (see Deut 25:9–10). In other words, he made his own name disreputable.

4:2–4 Now with the closest redeemer present, Boaz gathered ten elders of the town to serve as a judicial quorum. He then laid out the case before them. We learn that Naomi was planning to sell Elimelech’s land in order to support herself; she was facing indigence. Land, however, could not be sold in perpetuity but must be redeemed by the clan (Lev 25:23–24). Boaz was forcing the nearest go’el to make his decision, and he responded with “I will redeem it.”

4:5–6 Boaz then provides a plot twist: if the nearest go’el would redeem Naomi, he would also have to act on the Levirate law, marry Ruth, and raise descendants for the dead. The first redeemer now drew a different conclusion, “I cannot redeem it.” He knew that if he acted on the redemption, it would sow familial discord because his own inheritance would have to be shared with his progeny and with Ruth. Also, if he had no other sons, the entirety of his estate would pass to the son of the levirate union. He decided to protect his own interests.

4:7–11a So Boaz received the right of redemption and sealed it with an ancient custom of giving one’s shoe to another. This was an act of attestation to the transaction. The elders and people at the gate legally validated the deal by bearing witness to the court case. Their attestation in the original language was only one word: “Witnesses!” All of them spoke in unison and agreement.

4:11b–12 The people, finally, pronounced a three-part blessing on Ruth and Boaz. First, they asked that Yahweh would make Ruth like Rachel and Leah. These two were wives of Jacob, along with their handmaidens, gave birth to the twelve sons of Jacob and, thus, “built up the house of Israel.” Second, they called for Boaz to continue acting “worthily” (same word used of Boaz in 2:1 and Ruth in 3:11), and they asked that his name would be remembered in Bethlehem. And, finally, the people prayed that the house of Boaz would be like “the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah.” This request refers to Genesis 38, in which Tamar, a foreign woman, resorted to the Levirate law to perpetuate the family lines of the tribe of Judah. The people of Bethlehem were from that tribe, and thus, they had great hope that the progeny of Ruth and Boaz would also continue the line of Judah.

The Descendant (4:13–22)

4:13 In Ruth 4:13–17 we see the story of the book coming to an initial climax. Ruth’s story has ascended in an arc: she arrived in Bethlehem as “not one of Boaz’s servants” (Ruth 2:13), eventually announced to Boaz, “I am your servant” (3:9), and now, in the present passage, she is declared to be his wife. She then conceived; the sovereignty of God was unmistakable in this event as he opened her womb and she bore a son. Here was the male heir who would carry on the family name and inheritance!

4:14–16 The women of the town showed up and pronounced a blessing on Naomi. They had first appeared in the account back in Ruth 1:9, in which they perhaps denigrated Naomi by asking, “Is this Naomi?” Now they bless Yahweh for providing her with a redeemer. The two speeches of the women of the town serve as an inclusio, bracketing the events in Bethlehem. The women, in a sense, function as a chorus commenting on the movement of the story from bitter to sweet.

4:17 The women of Bethlehem named the child “Obed,” which means “the one who serves.” Obed’s name was apt because he served to preserve the line of Elimelech and the family’s land inheritance. The author now provides an even greater significance in Obed’s carrying on the lineage by recording that Obed became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David, the great king of Israel. Thus, the reader  begins to see a larger picture: we see God at work establishing the royal line of Israel through this unlikely pairing of Ruth and Boaz.

4:18–22 The book of Ruth ends with a broader genealogy that traced the lineage from Perez, Judah’s son, to David. This more extensive genealogy exists to link David back to Judah, who was promised a royal line and kingship (see Gen 49:8–10). Observe that the genealogy is selective; it does not list every generation from Perez to David. The genealogy lists ten names, and in Hebrew culture the number ten often signifies completion. The idea behind this genealogy is not to provide a historically exhaustive list, but to show that the genealogy reaches its climax and completion in the person of David.

This selective genealogy, however, not only looks backward, but it also looks forward. The list of the ten descendants, from Perez to David, is exactly what Matthew records in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:3–6), adding the three women Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. This demonstrates that the genealogy found at the end of the book of Ruth finds its ultimate climax in the coming of Jesus, the son of David, and the final king of Israel. Observe how the main characters of the Ruth story—Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth—have faded from the narrative. Their story is not the main story. The coming of the Messiah is the be-all and end-all of the book of Ruth.

Bibliography

Block, D. L., Judges, Ruth. New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: B&H, 1999.

Campbell, E. F., Ruth. The Anchor Bible, vol. 7. New York: Doubleday, 1975.

Duguid, I. M., Esther and Ruth. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005.

Ferguson, S. B., Faithful God: An Exposition of the Book of Ruth. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2005.

Hubbard, R. L., The Book of Ruth. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This edition (version 1.0) was published 06/25/2021 and may be cited in print works as follows: Currid, John D. Ruth. TGCBC. Austin, TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021.

This work is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Ruth 1

ESV

Naomi Widowed

1:1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Ruth’s Loyalty to Naomi

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.

Naomi and Ruth Return

19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;1 call me Mara,2 for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Footnotes

[1] 1:20 Naomi means pleasant

[2] 1:20 Mara means bitter

(ESV)

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