Author and Title
The book is named for its main character, Ruth, a Moabite widow who married the Bethlehemite Boaz. She became an ancestor of King David (4:17, 22) and thus an ancestor of the Messiah (Matt. 1:1, 5–6). The author of Ruth is never named in the Bible. According to rabbinic tradition (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 14a–15b), Samuel is the author. This is unlikely, however, since Samuel died before David actually became king, and Ruth 4:17–22 implies that David’s kingship was an established fact at the time of writing. Date
The mention of David (4:17) and his genealogy (4:18–22) places the writing after David’s accession to the throne (2 Samuel 2) in c. 1010 B.C. The narrator’s explanation of a custom once current “in former times in Israel” (Ruth 4:7) distances him from the story’s events, which occurred “in the days when the judges ruled” (1:1). Therefore, the book could have been written any time after 1010 B.C. by an author using accurate oral or written material as historical sources. Theme
This book highlights how God’s people experience his sovereignty, wisdom, and covenant kindness. These often come disguised in hard circumstances and are mediated through the kindness of others. Purpose, Occasion, and Background
Given the book of Ruth’s interest in all Israel (4:7, 11), it may have been written in hopes that the 12 tribes, which divided into two nations c. 930 B.C. (see 1 Kings 12:1–20), would reunite. The story itself takes place in the time of the judges (after the conquest and before c. 1050 B.C.), before a king was in place to reign over a united kingdom. This book explains the providential ancestry of David, who would become such a king. Content
In the period of the judges, Elimelech, Naomi, and their sons leave Bethlehem because of a famine to sojourn in Moab (see map). Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies there. Mahlon and Chilion, the sons, marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Ten years later the sons die too, leaving no children. Naomi is bereft of family (1:1–5). Learning that the famine in Israel is over, she decides to return to Bethlehem; Orpah stays behind, but Ruth accompanies Naomi (1:6–22). At harvest time, Ruth goes to glean in a field that happens to belong to Elimelech’s relative, Boaz (2:1–23). Naomi knows he is an eligible kinsman-redeemer. Following Naomi’s daring plan, in a midnight encounter at the threshing floor Ruth boldly asks him, as a redeemer, to marry her (3:1–18). After a closer kinsman refuses to take Ruth, Boaz redeems all the property of the deceased and marries Ruth (4:1–12). They have a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David (4:13–22). Ruth’s words in the book (as compared with Naomi’s or Boaz’s) are surprisingly few; the story, however, hangs on them. Ruth expresses her lifelong commitment to Naomi, “May the LORD do so to me … if anything but death parts me from you” (1:17), which takes her from Moab to Judah. She resolves to provide for Naomi (“Let me go … and glean,” 2:2), which brings her from Bethlehem to Boaz’s field. She invites Boaz to “spread your wings over your servant” (3:9), which leads her from childless widowhood to marriage and motherhood (4:13). Family of Ruth
1. Kindness. Ruth shows Naomi kindness (Hb. hesed, see note on 3:10), particularly in leaving her country and family to care for her mother-in-law (1:16–17; 2:11, 18, 23), because she loves her (4:15). Then Boaz shows kindness (see note on 2:20) in his welcome to Ruth, acting as a kinsman-redeemer (4:9–10) and marrying Ruth (4:13). Human kindness reflects the kindness (or “steadfast love”) that the Lord shows to his people (cf. Ex. 15:13; Deut. 7:8–9; Ps. 103:4; 106:7, 10; 136:10–15). 2. Redemption. Redemption is bound to kindness and is at the heart of the story (2:20). “Redeem” (Hb. ga’al), “redeemer” (Hb.go’el), and “redemption” (Hb. ge’ullah) appear 23 times. The book of Ruth describes two legal institutions combined in one practice (which the Law of...
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