Names in the Bible often tell us something about the person:
Ruth means "lovely friend".
Naomi means "pleasant".
Boaz means "powerful" or "strong".
Mahlon and Chilion mean "sickness" and "used up".
Orpah means "back of the neck"; she turned her back on Naomi.
Elimelech means "my God is king".
What the story is about
Ruth was poor, a foreigner, and a woman, and all this counted against her, but she was helped by an older woman to overcome the difficulties she faced. She had the good sense to listen to the advice given to her by Naomi, and the older woman was rewarded by Ruth's unfaltering loyalty. Her story illustrates the triumph of courage and ingenuity over adverse circumstances. She has special significance for Christians. In the gospel of Matthew, four women were included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:2-17), and Ruth was one of the four.
The story is set in the period of the Judges before the birth of King David. It has the qualities of an historical novel - based on real people but with a message and theme directed at a later audience.
The story contains four episodes.
1 Naomi and Ruth go to Bethlehem (Ruth 1) - the anguish of loss. Naomi and her family suffered great misfortune in a foreign land. Ruth, a girl from that foreign land, decided to migrate with Naomi to Bethlehem. They arrived in time for the barley harvest.
2 Ruth meets Boaz (Ruth 2) - the love story. Ruth, a young widow, met Naomi's relative, a rich man called Boaz. It seems to have been love at first sight for him, and he ordered that Ruth be well treated when she worked in his fields. The older woman Naomi saw immediately what had happened, and encouraged Ruth to continue working in Boaz's fields.
3 Ruth proposes marriage to Boaz (Ruth 3) - ribald peasant humour. Ruth approached Boaz during the night, at the threshing floor. The next morning, Ruth suggested that they marry, reminding Boaz of his obligation to her as her nearest male kin. Boaz promised to do all he could.
Ruth could not be budged. She had shared loneliness, anxiety and grief with Naomi, and now that the older woman was completely alone, Ruth would not abandon her.
4 Ruth and Boaz marry (Ruth 4) - the happy ending. Boaz proved as good as his word, and he and Ruth were married. She had a son called Obed, and Naomi cared for the child, who would grow up to be the grandfather of King David.
Naomi and Ruth go to Bethlehem
(Book of Ruth, Chapter 1)
Naomi was an Israelite woman who, during a famine, had gone with her family to live in the country of Moab. When her husband and two sons died, she decided to return to her home town, Bethlehem. She had two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. All three women were widows.
In modern society a widow is free to remarry after her husband dies, but in ancient Israel this was not necessarily so. After her husband’s death the widow was still considered to be a part of her dead husband’s family, because marriage joined families as well as individuals.
Ruth was from Moab, east of the Jordan; Naomi was from Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem
Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, were Moabite women not Israelites. The Moabite people were traditional enemies of the Israelites. There was frequent warfare between the two groups. According to the Israelite belief, Moabites originated from the act of incest between Lot and his older daughter (Genesis 19:30-38), and so the whole nation was intrinsically tainted and inferior. Naomi assumed that Ruth and Orpah would not want to return to Bethlehem with her, even though the women respected and loved each other.
Orpah decided to return to her people and the Moabite way of life, but Ruth could not be persuaded. She had shared loneliness, anxiety and grief with Naomi, and now that the older woman was completely alone, Ruth would stand by her and return to Bethlehem.
This part of the story contains Ruth’s famous speech of loyalty to her mother-in-law.
Ruth 1:16 And Ruth said, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you: for wherever 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, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part you and me."
So the two women returned to Bethlehem in time for the autumn harvest of barley.
1:1-18. ELIMELECH'S FAMILY. THE DEPRESSION.
1-3. Departure from Beth-lehem.
4,5. Daughter-in-law. Bereavement.
6,7. Departure from Beth-lehem.
8-18. Daughters-in-law. Colloquy.
About 1336 B.C.
Ruth 1:1 Now it came to pass in the days (Occurs 5 times. Always denotes impending trouble, followed by happy deliverance. Cp. Gen. 14:1. Est. 1:1. Isa. 7:1. Jer. 1:3.) when the judges ruled (doubtless, in the early days, before the sin of Judg. 1 developed the later internal disorders, and outward oppressions), that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in the fields of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.
2 And the name of the man was Elimelech (= My God is king), and the name of his wife Naomi (= My pleasant one), and the name of his two sons Mahlon (= sick) and Chilion (= pining), Ephrathites (Ephrath was the ancient name of Bethlehem, where Rachael was buried [Gen. 35:19; 48:7]) of Bethlehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.
3 And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.
4 And they took them wives of the women of Moab (Canaanitish wives forbidden [Deut. 7:3], but not Moabitish wives; though a Moabite man might not enter the congregation of Yahaveh. See Deut. 23:3]); the name of the one was Orpah (= fawn), and the name of the other Ruth (= beauty. Wife of Mahon the elder): and they dwelled there about ten years.
5 And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left survivor of her two sons and her husband.
6 Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab (this was in 1326 B.C., the year before the second jubilee 1325-1324): for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.
7 Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.
8-18. DAUGHTERS-IN-LAW. COLLOQUY.
8,9-. Advice to leave her.
-9,10. Reception. Refusal of both.
11-13. Advice to leave her.
14. Reception. Refusal of Ruth.
15. Advice to leave her.
16-18. Reception. Resolve of Ruth.
8 And Naomi said to her two daughters in law, "Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, according as you have dealt with the dead, and with me.
9 The LORD grant you that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband." Then she kissed them;
and they lifted up their voice, and wept.
10 And they said to her, "Surely we will return with you to your people." (This liberty was allowed by the laws of Khammurabi, see Gen. 16:3)
11 And Naomi said, "Turn again, my daughters: why will you go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?
12 Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should have said, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons;
13 Would you tarry for them till they were grown? would you stay for them from having husbands? no, my daughters; for it grieves me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me."
14 And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clove to her.
15 And she said, "Behold, your sister in law is gone back to her people, and to her gods: return you after you sister in law."
16 And Ruth said, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you: for wherever 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, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part you and me."
18 When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking to her. 19-22. SYMPATHY WITH NAOMI. IN GRIEF.
19-. Bethlehem. Arrival. -19. Sympathy given. 20,21. Sympathy rejected. 22. Bethlehem.
19 So those two went until they came to Bethlehem. (= house of bread)
And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, "Is this Naomi?"
20 And she said to them (she was addressing the women), "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty (Shaddai) has dealt very bitterly with me.
21 I went out full and the LORD has brought me home again empty: why then call do you me Naomi, seeing the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?"
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest. (Therefore at the Passover)
Here's something to do: Tell the story from the point of view of each character, one at a time. You'll see how rich, how complex the story is.
Ruth meets Boaz
Now although Naomi was destitute, she has good family connections. Furthermore, both she and Ruth were women of initiative. They did not believe in sitting down and letting events simply happen. Women took an active part in all stages of food production, and Ruth decided she would help to glean the barley in the fields, to feed herself and Naomi and to get a store of grain for winter. Gleaning was a common practice in ancient Israel. It was a form of charity for the disadvantaged in society (see Leviticus 23:22 and Deuteronomy 24:19). Recognized groups of the poor, such as widows, orphans and foreigners, could walk behind the harvesters, picking up what was left. This is what Ruth did.
‘Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor”. She said to her “Go, my daughter”. So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem.’
2:1-23. BOAZ AND RUTH.
1. Boaz. His kindred.
2. Ruth. Purpose.
4-16. Colloquy. Boaz and Ruth.
17. Ruth. Performance.
19-22. Colloquy. Naomi and Ruth.
Boaz. His maidens.
Ruth 2:1 And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz.
2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace." And she said to her, "Go, my daughter."
3 And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap (from Anglo-saxon, good luck = happy) was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech.
4 And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, "The LORD be with you." And they answered him, "The LORD bless you." (This tells of a time of peace, prosperity, and quiet.)
5 Then said Boaz to his servant that was set over the reapers, "Whose damsel is this?"
6 And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, "It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab:
7 And she said, 'I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves:' so she came, and has continued even all the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house."
Ruth 2:3 says that "as it happened" Ruth went to the field of Naomi’s rich relative, Boaz. This phrase is often used in the Bible to suggest that God is setting the scene for something significant.
Naomi knew that Ruth was beautiful and respected, and she knew that a rich husband for Ruth would solve all their problems. Boaz was the ideal choice. He was available, childless, well respected and rich. He was also a relative of Naomi’s through her husband’s family, so he had a legal obligation to help Naomi. Boaz was second in line to the position of go’el in Naomi’s, and therefore Ruth’s, family.
In English, the word go’el is often translated as "nearest kin", but in ancient Judah it meant more than that. A go’el was a close male relative with the duty of looking after a family when the male head of the family was absent. In earlier times, the go’el of the family was expected to marry the widow of an Israelite man if she wished it (Deuteronomy 25). Ruth, who may not have understood the niceties of Israelite law, called Boaz go'el.
Ruth 2:8 Then said Boaz to Ruth, "Hear you not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from here, but abide here steadfast by my maidens:
9 Let your eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go ou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch you? and when you are athirst, go to the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn."
10 Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found grace in your eyes, that you should take knowledge of me (fig. put for "caring for"), seeing I am a foreigner?"
11 And Boaz answered and said to her, "It has fully been showed me, all that you have done to your mother in law since the death of your husband: and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your nativity, and are come to a people which you knew not heretofore.
12 The LORD recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to flee for refuge." (Note the order of these words for a spiritual application. Wings attributed to Yahaveh; denoting His tender care.)
13 Then she said, "Let me find favor in your sight, my lord; for that you have comforted me, and for that you have spoken to the heart to your handmaid, though I be not like to one of your handmaidens.
14 And Boaz said to her, "At mealtime come you here, and eat of the bread, and dip your morsel in the vinegar." And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left thereof remaining.
15 And when she was risen up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not:"
16 And let fall also some of the handfuls on purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley. (About 3 pecks.)
18 And she took it up, and went into the city: and her mother in law saw what she had gleaned: and she brought forth, and gave to her that she had reserved after she was sufficed.
19 And her mother in law said to her, "Where have you gleaned to day? and what did you work for? blessed be he that did take knowledge of you." And she showed her mother in law with whom she had worked for, and said, "The man's name with whom I wrought to day is Boaz."
20 And Naomi said to her daughter in law, "Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not left off His loving-kindness to the living and to the dead." And Naomi said to her, "The man is near of kin to us, he is our next kinsmen."
21 And Ruth the Moabitess said, "He said to me also, "You shall keep fast by my young men, until they have ended all my harvest."
22 And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter in law, "It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maidens, that they not meet you in any other field."
23 So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean to the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest (therefore near the Feast of Pentecost. This is why this book is read at that feast); and dwelt with her mother in law.
Love was in the air...
By great good luck, Boaz seems to have been smitten from the outset. He went to great lengths to get extra grain for Ruth, to protect her from young men who might harass her, and to see that she was properly fed.
'At mealtime Boaz said to her “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine”. So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.'
Of course, the point of the story is that it was not just love or luck, but God who nudged them into their destiny.
Ruth proposes marriage to Boaz
This part of the story took place at the threshing floor, at a golden time of the year when the harvest had been brought in and the weather was still warm. Love was in the air, with the fertility of Nature reflected in the lives of the characters.
Naomi was a shrewd older woman who had seen a lot of life, and she now devised a plan to prod Boaz into proposing to Ruth. She knew men, and she gave Ruth specific instructions on everything she must do.
Fortunately, Ruth had the good sense to heed the older woman.
She perfumed herself, dressed in her most becoming clothes, and waited until Boaz had eaten a good meal - both women knew a man with a full stomach was easier to handle. When Boaz finally lay down to sleep, Ruth approached him where he lay on the threshing floor - someone always slept there at night until the grain was removed, to guard against thieves.
3:1-4:13. RUTH AND BOAZ
3:1-12. Claim of kinsman.
3:13. Promise made.
3:14-18. Promise waited for.
4:1-13. Claim of kinsman. Fulfilled.
Ruth 3:1 Then Naomi her mother in law said to her, "My daughter, shall I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?
2 And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens you were? Behold, he winnows barley to night in the threshing-floor. (This was, and is today, the master's work. His servants plowed, sowed, and reaped.)
3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint you, and put your raiment upon you, and you get down to the floor: but make not yourself known to the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.
4 And it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall mark the place where he shall lie, and you shall go in, and uncover his feet, and you lie down; and he will tell you what you shall do."
5 And she said to her, "All that you say to me I will do."
6 And she went down to the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.
7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.
8 And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
9 And he said, Who are you? And she answered, I am Ruth your handmaid: spread therefore your wing over your handmaid (fig. put for protection); for you are a near kinsman.
10 And he said, "Blessed be you of the LORD, my daughter: for you have showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as you followed not young men, whether poor or rich.
11 And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to you all that you shall say: for all the city of my people does know that you art a virtuous woman.
12 And now it is true that I am your near kinsman: however there is a kinsman nearer than I.
13 Tarry this night, and it shall be in the morning, that if he will perform to you the part of a kinsman, well; let him do the kinsman's part: but if he will not do the part of a kinsman to you, then will I do the part of a kinsman to you, as the LORD lives: lie down until the morning."
14 And she lay at his feet until the morning: and she rose up before a man could know another. And he said," Let it not be known that a woman came into the floor."
15 Also he said, "Bring the veil that you have upon you (mantle or cloak, worn by all peasants; only the town-women veiling the face), and hold it." And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and he went into the city.
16 And when she came to her mother in law, she said, "Who are you, my daughter?" And she told her all that the man had done to her.
17 And she said, "These six measures of barley he gave me; for he said to me, "Do not go empty to your mother in law."
18 Then said she, "Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he has finished the thing this day.
"When Boaz had eaten and drank, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down."
An ancient threshing floor
Threshing floors at harvest time were often the scene of sexual shenanigans, what the old Irish priests used to rail against as 'fockin' in the fields', a time for license forbidden at other times.
Lying beside Boaz, Ruth suggested that he, as the go-el of Naomi’s family, should "cover her with his blanket', a euphemism for marriage. She had the right to demand marriage of the go-el of her family, so that she could have the children that Israelite women longed for. Boaz happily agreed, but pointed out to her that there was another man who had that right, a closer relative even than himself. Boaz had to square matters with him before he could marry Ruth. He seems to have been at pains to do everything correctly, so that there could be no question about the legality of the marriage.
Ruth stayed beside Boaz until morning, stealing away before first light to return to Naomi, who pounced on her and demanded to know how things had gone, and whether the plan had worked. Was Ruth to be married or single? The two women waited impatiently to see how events would unfold.
The marriage of Ruth and Boaz
Of course, the villagers were well aware of what was happening, as people in small towns usually are. When Boaz went next morning to the meeting place at the gate of the town, he was met almost immediately by the official go-el of Naomi’s family - and probably by a good many interested onlookers as well.
Some complicated negotiation went on regarding a small parcel of land that Naomi either owned outright or had put up for sale at some previous time, but this was just a formality. The outcome of this story was never in doubt. So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.
When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next of kin. May his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourishment for your old age. For your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him”.
Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.
4:1-13. CLAIM OF KINSMAN. FULFILLED
E h 1-11-. In detail.
i -11,12. Prayer.
h 13. In sum.
Ruth 4:1 Then went Boaz up to the gate, and he sat down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spoke came by (the next of kin, who has the right of redemption. See Ex. 6:6, and 13:13); to whom he said, "Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here." And he turned aside, and sat down.
2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, "Sit you down here." And they sat down.
3 And he said to the kinsman, "Naomi, that is come again out of the fields of Moab, sells the parcel of the field, which was our brother Elimelech's:
4 And I thought to advertise to you, saying, 'Buy it in the presence of such as seated here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it: but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know: for there is none to redeem it beside you; and I am after you.'" And he said, "I will redeem it."
5 Then said Boaz, "What day that you buy the field of the hand of Naomi, you must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance."
6 And the kinsman said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar my own inheritance: you redeem my right to yourself; for I cannot redeem it."
7 Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel. (a custom that grew up outside the law)
8 Therefore the kinsman said to Boaz, "Buy it for yourself". So he plucked off his shoe.
9 And Boaz said to the elders, and to all the people, "You are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi.
10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the people of this city of his place ("gate" is a figure of speech for the people assembling there): you are witnesses this day.
11 And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, "We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into your house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do you worthily in Ephratah, and proclaim a name in Bethlehem:
12 And let your house be like the house of Pharez (cp. Gen. 38:29. 1 Chron. 2:4. Matt. 1:3), whom Tamar bare to Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give you of this young woman.
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son. (In the second jubilee year [1325-1324] B.C.)
14-17-. SYMPATHY WITH NAOMI. IN JOY.
B k 14,15. Blessing by women.
l 16. Naomi's joy.
k 17-. Naming by women.
14 And the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the LORD, which has not left you this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.
15 And he shall be to you a restorer of your soul, and a nourisher of your old age: for your daughter in law, which loves you, which is better to you than seven sons, has born him."
16 And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse to it.
17 And the women, her neighbors gave it a name, saying, "There is a son born to Naomi;"
-17-22. ELIMELECH'S FAMILY. THE UPLIFTING.
A m -17. Obed, Jesse, and David.
n 19-21. The generations of Pharez.
m 22. Obed, Jesse, and David.
and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
18 Now these are the generations of Pharez (the son of Judah): Pharez begat Hezron,
19 And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab,
20 And Amminadab begat Nahshon (Prince of Israel in the wilderness [1 Chron. 2:10), and Nahshon begat Salmon,
21 And Salmon (married Rahab [Matt. 1:5]. Nephew of Aaron) begat Boaz (married Ruth), and Boaz begat Obed,
22 And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.
Judah=Thamar l Parez l Hezron l Aram l Amminadab l ------------------------------ l l Elisheba Nahashon l Salmon (nephew of Aaaron, m. Rahab) l Boaz (married Ruth) l Obed l Jesse l David
Ruth and Boaz were married, and she had a son, Obed. Eventually, Ruth would be the great-grandmother of King David.
The marriage of Ruth and Boaz created a family with a good chance of success, because
- Naomi was shrewd, courageous and persevering
- Ruth was intelligent, strong, loyal and level-headed
- Boaz was a good manager of people, and not afraid to get his hands dirty.
The story of Ruth celebrates the family and the way it continues through many generations. Ruth, a childless widow at the beginning of the story, became the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, David.
The story of her family, and the way it endured despite misfortune, is the story of the Israelite people, who continued despite all that happened to them. Even an unlikely person like Ruth, a foreigner from the despised Moabite nation, could be used to move God's plan a step further towards completion.
But it is also the story of two simple women who clung to each other through thick and thin. Ruth was loyal when she need not have been, and Naomi was clever and far-sighted. We could all try to have a little of their virtue.
*Story notes Courtesy of Elizabeth Fletcher