In the book of Ruth, the name Ruth itself means mercy. In the context of the book this mercy is to show that God’s grace and mercy is for all the people in Israel.
Ruth was a poor woman and on top of all she was as well a foreigner which made her life more difficult. However, during her difficult time she was helped by another woman and helped her overcome her difficulties. This woman was older and through her experience in life was able to listen and give advice to Ruth. In return Ruth offered to her extreme loyalty.
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Ruth’ story is a historical novel which is based on real people and it signifies and points out a story of courage in difficult situations. It is set in the period of the Judges before the birth of King David however there is evidence that it was in reality written much later so much so about the time when the two tribes of Judah were set free and were allowed to go to Jerusalem.
The story is divided in four episodes each exploring Ruth’s life. The first episode was about Ruth and Naomi that go to Bethlehem. This first act which can be regarded as a prologue discusses how Naomi and her family went to Moab. Naomi was Israelite and lived with her family, however an unfortunate event occurred. A storm destroyed their grain and there was famine among most of the people including Naomi’s family. This famine led such a family to go to leave their home, Naomi with her family had to go and live in another country, specifically that of Moab. Naomi with her husband had two sons and later they got married. Due to circumstances Naomi’s husband and sons die. Heavy hearted she sees fit that she returns to Bethlehem. Naomi had two daughters in law who were Ruth and Orpah. The three women ended up being widows and in ancient Israel there were not allowed to remarry because their dead husbands were still considered to be families. However one must keep in mind that the daughters in law were not Israelites, unlike Naomi they were Moabites which were considered bitter enemies. So much so, there a few battles between them. This is so because the Israelites regarded the Moabites as inferior because according to hem they originated from an act of incest between Lot and his oldest daughter. This led to the believe, that the Moab nation was tainted. Naomi, regarding all this hatred among the two groups believed that her daughters in law Ruth and Orpah would not go to Bethlehem with her. However Naomi’s hope was not completely lost. Orpah decided to be in Moab among her people, but Ruth saw things in a different light. Ruth shared the same grief and loneliness that Naomi was facing and this led her to accompany Naomi and return with her to Bethlehem.
The second episode of the book of Ruth takes a different shape. Naomi was a widow but still she had family connections. On top of that both Naomi and Ruth were women of initiative; they did not believe that things were going to happen by themselves. Case in point, at that times women mostly took action in food management and production and Ruth took part in gleaning the barley so that she and Naomi survive. Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, who he was rich and went by the name of Boaz. As Ruth usually did, she had to do gleaning in order to survive and she ended up gleaning in a field belonging to Boaz.
‘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.’ (Ruth Episode 2:1-7)
One must notice that in such an event, Ruth uses the phrase ‘as it happened’; this signifies the meaning that God indented this scene to happen. This phrase is often used in the bible to bestow the greatness of God to establish such scenes. Also, Naomi and the people of Bethlehem saw that Boaz was a good match for Ruth and encouraged her to him.
Naomi believed that Ruth was good enough for Boaz as she was a good woman and respected, all her problems would cease if she just could have a rich husband. She saw through Boaz that he was perfect for Ruth, for he had a good nature, respected as well, rich and obligated to help them as he was a relative of Naomi. Boaz was a ‘go-el’ who had a duty to aid the respective family if the husband died.
Like Naomi believed, Boaz helped Ruth so much so, he went through many ordeals to gain extra grain for her, protected her and saw that she was properly fed. Through his help and care, God was opening a branch for destiny to occur.
The third episode takes place at the threshing floor which is a perfect time of the year as the harvest would have been brought in and weather would still be warm. Naomi thought that this was the last chance that Ruth had to marry Boaz so it was here that she devised a plan for Boaz to propose to Ruth. Ruth thought that the idea of her marrying Boaz was mere fantasy because she was a poor Moab woman while he had high status and rich however she still listened to Naomi and she heeded her words.
‘When Boaz had eaten and drunk, 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.’
Ruth dressed well, perfumed herself and waited until Boaz had eaten a good meal. Afterwards, Boaz went to sleep and Naomi went near his place and lied down next to him.
‘cover her with his blanket’
This phrase suggests that since Boaz is the ‘go-el’, a kinsman, Ruth has the right to demand marriage so this phrase suggests marriage. Boaz agreed however he had some dire news that his cousin was a much closer kinsman than he is. Boaz had to deal with his cousin before he could marry her and he had to do everything in order so there would be no questioning about the legality of the marriage. Ruth slept and stayed next to Boaz till the morning and returned to Naomi. Naomi was eager to know whether she would marry him, but she was not alone as so was Ruth eager to know whether they will marry or not.
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This leads to the fourth and final episode of Ruth’s book. As what happens in every place, the villages come to know what is happening as Boaz, the next morning, was already met by the nearest kinsman of Naomi’s family. However due to some negotiations concerning land finally Ruth and Boaz got married and they had their son Obed being the father of Jesse who was the father of David, who he united Israel to its greatness.
“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.’ (Ruth Episode 4:1-22)
As one can see, the book of Ruth deals with how family continues throughout generations amplifying their greatness as the former Ruth was a woman who had no children but events folded in such a way that she became the great grandmother of David. It also puts forth a message about dealing with problems. In the beginning Ruth had nothing left, only Naomi however she embraced the little she had and did not lose hope. Even a poor Moab woman as Ruth through God’s aid was able to fulfil her destiny.
The religious aspects of the Book of Ruth deal also with practicality. All the themes conveyed such as love, generosity and most importantly to trust in each other brings out the meaning that no matters how badly events occur, goodness exists and it is achieved through effort and hard work. Given this fact, one can understand why the book of Ruth was written. God’s purpose may be fulfilled in many ways, some of them even unexpected. God’s love is for everyone and not only to the people of Israel.
The story reveals God’s character in His faithfulness in regards to chosen people. Ruth is God’s instrument to bless the nations. Old Testament narratives reveal the character of God and he is revealed as the provider of the helpless. In the book of Ruth, God provides Boaz, the nearest kinsmen to ultimately meet Ruth. Boaz becomes Ruth’s husband and also reclaims the rightful home for Naomi. Boaz is one who redeems; he redeemed Ruth as she was a victim of poverty, she was unprotected and no one provided for her.
The story provides a lesson on love and kindness. As we see from the very beginning, in the first episode, Ruth gave everything she had for Naomi her mother-in-law. This shows Ruth’s sacrificial character, so much so, Boaz noticed Ruth’ ability to give more than to receive back. Case in point, in the book of Ruth; it is stated that;
“Against the dark moral and ethical backdrop of the Judges period, the foreigner Ruth emerges as a paradigm of loyal love and of the kind of person the Lord is looking for to populate his covenant community”.
The tragedy of the beginning sets the story in motion as then there is the will to search for a special something that will restore balance. Naomi and Ruth are stricken by tragedy and this leads them to no hope of provision as they were childless. Naomi considers herself cursed by God, she sees no hope of security but then everything changes by God’s will through Ruth. A hero is someone who sacrifices his own needs to help others; Ruth is a heroine and saves Naomi. She sacrifices her security and the likelihood of marriage to remain loyal to Naomi however Naomi’s rule changes and adapts throughout the story. In the beginning she tries her best to dissuade Ruth to come with her to Bethlehem. However later on, when she accepts the fact that Ruth will accompany her, she wants her to marry Boaz. She even provides a plan on how to do so; this makes Naomi a complicated character throughout the story. When this change of attitude occurs, Naomi regards herself as vessel to bring about God’s voice. She actively prepares Ruth and Boaz for marriage and does her best in doing so. Even though the book is entitles Ruth, the story revolves around Naomi and her perspective. However, one cannot pass unnoticed the fact that is about God and His loving kindness to act as a provider for Ruth and Naomi.
- Hubbard RL., JR., The Book of Ruth, Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data