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Old Testament Exegetical Commentary Of Ruth

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Historical Background

The book of Ruth captures the timeless message of love, loyalty, and sacrifice. For centuries the beloved story of Ruth has been an inspiration and continues to leave a remarkable impression on Christians and Biblical scholars alike. Taking the name after one of its main characters, Ruth is a love story and over more, displays the sovereignty of God to His people. Similar to the other hsitorical books, the book of Ruth “reveals the important truths about God and His sovereignty, Grace and faithfulness”. The author of Ruth, like many books in the Bible, is not certain. Frederic Bush, in the World Biblical Commentary Ruth-Esther Volume 9 states “not only is the book anonymous but it gives not the slightest hint, directly or indirectly, of the identity of the writer as a historical person”. Edward Campbell suggests that “one could try to provide historical context by analyzing the vocabulary for evidence of Ruth’s date of composition on the basis of historical linguistics or intertextual references to other extant texts”. The story takes place in “the days when the judges ruled” which according to Bible History was “between 1273 BC and 1193 BC”. As introduced in 1:1, the story takes place in the “days when the judges ruled” which according to Judges 17:6 was a very dark era for Israel. People, instead of abiding by the voice of God, were living according to their own desires. In those days, the Israelites went through cycles of rebellion, confession, and forgiveness. Out of the rebellion, famine, despair, God’s divine plan for Israel appeared through a Moabitess, Ruth.

Main Characters

There are three main Characters in the book Ruth: Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. Elimelech, the husband of Naomie and her two sons Mahlon and Kilion are also mentioned alongside Orpah.

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Exegetical Outline

From Despair to Greatness (1:1-22)

The story of Ruth is one that is rich with historical content yet, is an embedded love story of God’s Grace and supremacy. The story not only celebrates the loyalty of the Moabite woman, Ruth but also provides great significance in Christianity today as Ruth became an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

Naomi and family retreats from Bethlehem to Moab (1:1-2)

The story begins with a certain man of Bethlehem who sojourned in the country of Moab alongside his wife and two sons. The author of Ruth wanted to be sure that the audience knew the setting and timing of Ruth was during the days when the judges ruled. The author did this intentionally to highlight moreover, the loyalty of this family to God in such a desperate and dark time. In order to fully grasp the concept to the opening statement “in the days the judges ruled” it is important to know what the “time of judges” actually entailed. Susan Niditch writes “Judges is primarily a collection of war stories”. During the time of judges there were no kings and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. Not having a central authority and accountability meant that the people were largely involved in idolatry, immorality and by pagan activities. This is imperative because this is the time of Ruth, Boaz, Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons. The family was from Bethlehem of Judah. “The name Bethlehem, meaning “(Store) house of Bread, ” ironically identifies a town lacking food”. During the time of famine in the land, Elimelech and his family left the city of Bethlehem to find refuge in the land of Moab.

Naomi loses her husband and sons in Moab (1:3-5)

According to Acts 13:17-20, the judges ruled for about 450 years[footnoteRef:11]. Although Bethlehem was known as the “house of bread”, a famine came, causing Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion to sojourn to the land of Moab. The reader can assume that the famine was taking place due to the Israelite’s disobedience to God as stated in Deuteronomy 11:13-17. God warned the Israelites “if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give you the rain of your land in his due season”. While in Moab, Naomi lost her husband. As both of her sons grew older, they took wives; Ruth and Orpah. Marital bliss lasted less than a decade as tragedy struck, leaving Naomi childless and Ruth and Orpah also widowed. This is a major theme throughout the book of Ruth as there seemingly is no one to carry on the name of the family since all three men have died.

Ruth shows loyalty and returns with Naomi to Bethlehem (1:6-22)

The family of Naomi left Bethlehem with the intent to return back to their homeland in Judah. After Naomi thought she had lost it all, she heard that “God had visited the land, giving the people bread”. Naomi knew that although she had lost everything, her home was in Bethlehem. As she heard there was now food in the land, she encouraged her daughter in laws to return back home. Naomi even referenced that she was too old and could not have any more sons for the two to remarry. This is a “veiled allusion to the institution of levirate marriage”. Reluctant to leave, Orpah left, while Ruth stayed, saying to Naomi “don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”.

5. Ruth Meets Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman in the field (2:1-16)

As Naomi and Ruth returned to the land of Bethlehem, Ruth became socially charged to care for her mother in law Naomi. In the opening of the second chapter, Boaz is introduced as the “kinsman of Naomi’s husband”. Being feeble and old, Naomi gave Ruth permission to “go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain”. Boaz had great wealth and held status in the land.

Ruth gleans in the field (2:3-4)

Chapter two shows the stages of redemption and replenishment. Ruth went from being a widow to being favored in the eyes of Boaz. She displayed great obedience and loyalty to Naomi in that she not only sought her approval, but also her advice regarding Boaz. By asking Naomi for instruction, Ruth displayed humility and loyalty. Moreover “the beginning of the harvest provided Ruth with the opportunity to go and glean in someone else’s field…which illustrates the law of Leviticus in operation regarding the legality of allowing the poor and the alien to glean in the fields at harvest time”. She was hard-working and did take her responsibilities lightly. “Verse 3 makes the interesting point that Ruth just “happened” to glean in a part of a field belonging to Boaz”.

Ruth Meets Boaz who treats her with kindness (2:4-16)

Boaz first interacts with his workers in chapter 4. Seemingly, he is well respected as he greets his workers; they too greet him with respect. This not only shows the character of Boaz but also his heart towards others. Boaz first noticed Ruth in chapter five, where he asks of his servants “who does that young woman belong to?” It is interesting here that Ruth was seen as a “possession” as women were most likely seen during this time period. This chapter shows the contrasts between “ownership versus personal identity”. Boaz request of Ruth to stay close and to “not glean in another field” shows that he in fact is concerned about the wellbeing of Ruth. By calling Ruth “his daughter”, one can infer that there was an age difference between Boaz and Ruth. By offering not just his bread, but a meal to Ruth showed that He also cared about her physical wellbeing. Boaz even prays for Ruth upon their first encounter by praying “may the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge. ” This is a side of God Ruth perhaps has never seen before. Boaz, in his prayer, invited Ruth to “take refuge” under the wings or kanaph of the God of Israel. Ruth humbled herself by responding with humility that “she may find favor in his eyes”.

Naomi assures Ruth that Boaz has not stopped showing kindness (2:20-21)

“Boaz had already began to treat Ruth as a member of his family because if her relationship and commitment to Naomi from the moment that he learned who she was”. Coming back from a full day’s worth of work, Ruth returns home to Naomi, telling her of her day’s work. It is at this time that Naomi first speaks to Ruth about Boaz stating “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead” and that “he is one of our guardian-redeemers”. Furthermore, because Naomi calls Boaz one of “our nearest kin” rather than “one of my nearest kin”, Hamilton inserts that this raises hope for both herself and for Ruth.

A plan for redemption (3:1-18)

There is a shift that occurs in chapter three for both Naomi and Ruth. Naomi who had formally changed her name to “bitter” and who was seemingly very depressed sees the faithfulness of God through restoration. She not only saw hope for her state of living but also for Ruth by preparing “Ruth to seek the love of her willing kinsman-redeemer, Boaz”. Through the obedience of Ruth and the discerning heart of Boaz, the redemptive plan of God is fulfilled in the lives of them all. [

Ruth Proposes to Boaz (3:4-18)

Naomi displays here the very characteristics of the Proverbs 31 woman in that she “speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue”. Naomi councils Ruth to go down to the threshing floor of Boaz. The threshing floor according to Matthews Victor “is defined by the community based on first, its practical function, second, its social attributes, and third, its metaphorical meaning based on one and two. ” He writes that “the threshing floor was usually out in an open area to make maximum use of the breeze”. One can infer that in this particular area, they may have been other people around Boaz, as Naomi instructed Ruth, “to not let him know she is there until he has finished eating and drinking”. Naomi also instructed Ruth to prepare herself for what one can tell was a celebration. Ruth being asked to put on perfume and the best of her clothes is similar to the scenario of Esther in the book of Esther 2:12.

Boaz displays patience and honor (3:14-18)

Although the advice given by Naomi seemed forward, Ruth, beyond a shadow of doubt trusted Naomi’s judgement and obeyed. By going down to the threshing floor, Ruth not only showed respect towards Naomi but also proved submission to Boaz as in the customary laws of the land. In this humble position, Boaz responded to the proposal with respect and by showing honor in reminding Ruth if the fellow kinsman. Boaz wanted to protect Ruth as “she layed at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized”. Upon getting home, Ruth explained to Naomi what had taken place, and Naomi confirmed Boaz was the kinsman redeemed as “he would not rest until the matter was settled”.

Boaz honors his word and meets with kinsman (4:1-6)

Chapter four is an all-male debate regarding Elimelech’s property. Boaz called an immediate meeting to discuss the matters of Elimelech’s affairs. The ten elders who gathered as witness most likely served as the judicial branch of the town, making decisions regarding important family and social matters. Because of the wealth and social status of Boaz, it is probable that he was also a city council alongside those he called for the immediate meeting. Boaz kept his word by proposing to the kinsman Elimelech’s property as he was next in line for the inheritance since Naomi had no sons to inherit the land. In “informing] that on the day when he redeems Elimelech’s property from Naomi he also acquires Ruth (v. 5), the closer redeemer backs off and says, “I cannot redeem it” (v. 6)”.

Boaz announces Ruth as his wife and receives blessings from elders (4:9-10)

In front of all the elders and the other people witnessing the final decision regarding this matter, Boaz gained the legal right to marry Ruth. “So Boaz took Ruth, ” using one of the standard verbs for marriage becoming for the first time a husband and a father, and not just redeemer. The elders spoke blessings upon the two that they the Lord would “make the woman who is coming into [their] home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah”. The ending chapter is sort of a contrast to the opening first two chapters where Naomi seemingly lost everything. Through Boaz and Ruth, her joy has now been restored through her grandson Obed.

The ending of the book of Ruth shows the genealogy of Boaz and that of David which also shows that of Jesus Christ Himself, whom by Him, both Naomi and Ruth have gained redemption and have been restored.


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