The Book of Ruth (Hebrew: מגילת רות; Sephardic, Israeli Hebrew: [məɡiˈlat rut]; Ashkenazi Hebrew: [məˈɡɪləs rus]; Biblical Hebrew: Megilath Ruth "the Scroll of Ruth") is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible, Tanakh, or Old Testament. In the Jewish canon the Book of Ruth is included in the third division, or the Writings (Ketuvim). In the Christian canon the Book of Ruth is placed between Judges and 1 Samuel. It is a rather short book, in both Jewish and Christian scripture, consisting of only four chapters.
The full title in Hebrew is named after a young woman of Moab, the great-grandmother of David and, according to the Christian tradition, an ancestress of Jesus:מגילת רות, Megillat Ruth, or "the scroll of Ruth", which places the book as one of the Five Megillot. Goswell argues that while Naomi is the central character of the book, Ruth is the main character, and so the book "can be considered aptly named." The only other Biblical book bearing the name of a woman is the Book of Esther. The Book of Judith is not a part of the Jewish or most Protestant Bibles, who exclude the Book of Judith as apocryphal), though it is a part of the Catholic Bible.
During the time of the Judges when there was a famine, an Israelite family from Bethlehem—Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion—emigrate to the nearby country of Moab. Elimelech dies, and the sons marry two Moabite women: Mahlon marries Ruth and Chilion marries Orpah.
The two sons of Naomi then die themselves. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers, and remarry. Orpah reluctantly leaves; however, Ruth says, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me." (Ruth 1:16–17 NKJV)
The two women return to Bethlehem. It is the time of the barley harvest, and in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to glean. The field she goes to belongs to a man named Boaz, who is kind to her because he has heard of her loyalty to her mother-in-law. Ruth tells her mother-in-law of Boaz's kindness, and she gleans in his field through the remainder of the harvest season.
Boaz is a close relative of Naomi's husband's family. He is therefore obliged by the Levirate law to marry Mahlon's widow, Ruth, in order to carry on his family line. Naomi sends Ruth to the threshing floor at night and tells her to "uncover the feet" of the sleeping Boaz. Ruth does so; Boaz awakes and asks,"Who are you?" Ruth identifies herself, then asks Boaz to spread his cloak over her. The phrase "spread your cloak" was a woman's way of asking for marriage. For a man to spread his cloak over a woman showed acquisition of that woman. Boaz states he is willing to "redeem" Ruth via marriage, but informs Ruth that there is another male relative who has the first right of redemption.
The next morning, Boaz discusses the issue with the other male relative, Ploni Almoni ("so-and-so") before the town elders. The other male relative is unwilling to jeopardize the inheritance of his own estate by marrying Ruth, and so relinquishes his right of redemption, thus allowing Boaz to marry Ruth. They transfer the property and redeem it by the nearer kinsman taking off his sandal and handing it over to Boaz. (Ruth 4:7–18)
Boaz and Ruth get married and have a son named Obed (who by Levirate customs is also considered a son or heir to Elimelech, and thus Naomi). In the genealogy which concludes the story, it is pointed out that Obed is the father of Jesse, and thus the grandfather of David. This also places Ruth among David's ancestors.
Authorship and date
The mood of the story is fashioned from the start through names of the participants: Naomi, which means "my gracious one" or "my delight," later asks to be called Mara, "the bitter one"; her two sons are Mahlon, "sick", and Chilion, "weakening" or "pining" and Orpah, meaning "mane" or "gazelle", is from the root for "nape" or "back of the neck", appropriate for the daughter-in-law who turns her back on Naomi and returns to her people. Ruth, meaning "friend", pledges loyalty to Naomi, and Boaz, "fleetness" or "strength is (in) him" or "he comes in strength" becomes the kinsman redeemer, while Obed's name appropriately means "servant."
The marriage of Boaz and Ruth was of a type known as a Levirate marriage. Since there is no heir to inherit Elimelech's land, levirate custom required a close relative (usually a brother-in-law) to marry the widow of the deceased in order to continue his family line (Deuteronomy 25:5–10). The case in the book of Ruth is not the simplest type of Levirate marriage (Ruth is not Elimelech's widow and Boaz is not his brother); therefore, some scholars refer to Boaz’s duty as "Levirate-like" or as a "kinsman-marriage."
Moreover, it seems that an understanding of this kind of redemption among the Israelites included both that of people and of land. In Israel land had to stay in the family. The family could mortgage the land to ward off poverty; and the law of Leviticus 25:25ff required a kinsman to purchase it back into the family. The kinsman, who Boaz meets at the city gate, first says he will purchase the land, but, upon hearing he must also take Ruth as his wife, withdraws his offer. His decision was primarily a financial decision since a child born to Ruth through the union would inherit Elimelech's land, and he would not be reimbursed for the money he paid Naomi. Boaz becomes Ruth and Naomi's "kinsman-redeemer."
The Israelites' understanding of redemption is woven into their understanding of and appreciation of the nature of the "Almighty One". God stands by the oppressed and needy. Through his servants, he extends his love and mercy, liberating through hope. God has a deep concern for the welfare of his people, materially, emotionally and spiritually. The redemption theme extends beyond this biblical book through the genealogy. First, in Ruth 4:13 God made her conceive. Second, through the genealogy it is shown that the son born to Ruth is more than just a gift from God to continue her lineage. The history of God's rule through the David line connects the book's theme in to the Bible's main theme of redemptive history.
Hesed, sometimes translated as "loving kindness", also implies loyalty. The theme of hesed is woven throughout Ruth, beginning at 1:8 with Naomi blessing her two daughters-in-law as she urges them to return to their Moabite families. She says, "May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me." Both Ruth and Boaz demonstrate hesed to their family members throughout the story. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure. Rather, they are acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that a person can go beyond the minimum expectations of the law and choose the unexpected. However, the importance of the law is evident within the Book of Ruth, and the story reflects a need to stay within legal boundaries. Boaz, in going beyond measure in acquiring the property (demonstratinghesed), redeems not only the land but both Naomi and Ruth as well. The two widows now have a secure and protected future.
Act 1: Prologue and Problem: Death and Emptiness (1:1–22) Scene 1: Setting and Problem (1:1–6) Scene 2: Emptiness Compounded (1:7-19a) Scene 3: Emptiness Expressed (1:19b-22)
Act 2: Ruth Meets Boaz, Naomi's Relative, on the Harvest Field (2:1–23) Scene 1: Ruth Goes to Glean (2:1–3) Scene 2: Boaz is Exceedingly Generous (2:4-17a) Scene 3: Boaz Is One of their Redeemers (2:17b-23)
Act 3: Naomi Sends Ruth to Boaz on the Threshing Floor (3:1–18) Scene 1: Naomi Reveals Her Plan Scene 2: Ruth Carries out Naomi's Plan
Act 4: Resolution and Epilogue: Life and Fullness (4:1–22) Scene 1: Boaz Acquires the Right to Redeem Ruth and Naomi (4:1–12) Scene 2: Naomi Is Restored to Life and Fullness (4:13–17) Scene 3: Epilogue: A Judean Family Restored (4:18–22)
Jewish and Christian perspectives
The figure of Ruth is celebrated as a convert to Judaism who understood Jewish principles and took them to heart. This book is also held in esteem by Jews who fall under the category of Jews-by-choice, as is evidenced by the considerable presence of Boaz in rabbinic literature. As well, the "Book of Ruth" functions liturgically, as it is read during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks"), or Pentecost. This is most likely due to the fact that the story takes place during the barley harvest, and that Shavuot is the celebration of the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat harvest.
Ruth figures as one of four females named in the genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. Many Christians interpret Boaz and Ruth as typical of Jesus and the Church. Ruth is also commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on July 16, and is one of the Five Heroines of the Order of the Eastern Star.
1. Inclusivity: Ruth, a Moabite, voluntarily embraces Naomi's people, land, culture, and God. The book of Ruth portrays a perfect example of a true belief in the Creator God in that it propagates inclusion of all, even in the ancient world of the Israelites where separation is made obvious between Israelites and non-Israelites. This inclusivity transcends cultural or racial boundaries, with the objective of uniting the human race, as reflected in the present Jewish liturgies of the Day of Atonement. Yet Ruth is not any foreigner; she has embraced Israel's religion and way of life. Hence, the aim is unity under God.
2. Loving-kindness living: Boaz and Ruth are models of an altruism for which the word "loving-kindness" has been coined (approximately translating Hebrew hesed). They act in ways enjoined in both Jewish and Christian precepts, that promote the well-being of others. It is also at the same time believably spontaneous and human that Ruth should want to stay with the mother-in-law for whom she had built up an affection, and offer to undertake the back-breaking and humble work of gleaning (Leviticus 23:22) to support them. Boaz is also spontaneously kind in a way that is both humane and righteous. He enables Ruth to obtain more from her gleaning without offering the embarrassment of direct donation. Though no doubt also motivated by an affection towards Ruth, in marrying her he has to pay a cost in money and uncertainty. The nearer kinsman does not rise to these qualities.
3. God's providential care. Though Naomi was a destitute widow at the time she re-entered Bethlehem, yet by the end of the narrative, we see her embracing her grandson as her foster-child. From empty in chapter 1, she is filled again by God at the end of chapter 4. There is a parallel with the entry of Mary and Joseph, homeless, into the same town, Bethlehem, before the birth of Jesus. God's providential care also extends to Ruth. This is especially seen in chapter 2. Even though the author of the book states that Ruth "just happens" to find Boaz's field (Ruth 2:3), the reader may be led to accede to the notion that in Bible terms there is no mere chance, but that chance and God's providence amount to the same thing. By both chance and providence, Ruth, a destitute, widowed and childless outsider, becomes an ancestress of King David (Ruth 4:13).
4. Integrity: The book highlights the virtue of maintaining integrity in one's life. The example of Boaz, who is of high stature not only based on his wealth, but also based on his benevolence. His standing is underlined by his authoritativeness during the legal proceedings at the town gate (4:1–10). His integrity is also demonstrated on the threshing floor, when Ruth "visits" Boaz at night. Many scholars debate over what happened on the threshing floor; yet it seems unlikely Boaz and Ruth had sexual relations based on the narrative's portrayal of their character (esp. 2:1; 3:11). Establishing their good character then tarnishing it does not seem likely.
Family tree of those mentioned