Main themes of the story
Ruth has special significance for Christians:
The story has
2 Ruth meets Boaz
2) - the love story
3 Ruth proposes marriage to Boaz (Ruth
3) - ribald peasant humour
4 Ruth and Boaz marry (Ruth
4) - the happy ending
Naomi and Ruth go to Bethlehem
Book of Ruth, Chapter
would be interesting to know why all three died; it's unusual for all
the men in a family to die at more or less the same time. But it's not
really important to the story, so the Bible leaves it out. What is
important is that their death leaves Naomi, Ruth and Orpah at the mercy of
a predatory society. Unlike women in modern society, they could not seek a
widow's pension. They had to find a refuge, or starve. With a husband,
Ruth's life was more or less in balance; with the death of the three men,
this balance was upset.
To complicate things, 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 came from the act of incest between Lot
and his older daughter (Genesis 19:30-38), and so the whole nation was 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.
‘But Ruth said,
Read Ruth 1:1-22
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
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 much 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.
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.
proposes marriage to Boaz
Book of Ruth
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.
This action would seem strange unless you knew that in ancient times 'foot' was a euphemism for the male genital organ, as 'sandal' was for the female organ.
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
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”.
Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.’
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
The full Bible text of the Book of Ruth is available here.
For a short version of the story of Ruth, go to Bible Men and Women: Ruth
Try Bible Study Activities for interesting ways of delving into this story.
Or read about more fascinating women of the Bible
Study Resource for Women in the Bible: Women of the Old
Ruth, Naomi and Boaz: a story of loyalty and love
|Copyright 2006 Elizabeth Fletcher|