The days during the period of the judges were bleak. Idolatry and sinfulness were rampant; people did what was right in their own eyes. But not all was lost; some sought refuge in YHWH, the God of Israel, and put their trust in Him, even among foreigners. We meet such a foreigner in the book of Ruth.
In most English translations of the Bible, Ruth is the eighth book of the Bible, placed between Judges and 1 Samuel, since the story it tells likely took place around that time. In the Hebrew Bible Ruth is considered part of the Ketuvim, or “Writings,” and it was placed immediately after Proverbs, perhaps to consider Ruth as an example of a “Proverbs 31 woman.” The events within the book of Ruth take place during the period of the Judges (Ruth 1:1), perhaps two generations before the beginning of the monarchy (Ruth 4:21-22), so around 1150-1100 BCE. The author of Ruth is not known, but likely writes during the days of David or Solomon (1000-930 BCE). The book narrates the story of Ruth the Moabitess, explaining how she becomes a follower of the God of Israel and how David, king of Israel, could have a Moabitess for a great-grandmother.
Ruth begins by introducing us to a man of Judah, Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion (Ruth 1:1-2). They sojourn in Moab because of famine in Judah, and while there, the sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah (Ruth 1:2-4). While in Moab all three men die; Naomi pleads for her widowed daughters-in-law to leave and find other husbands (Ruth 1:3-8). Orpah eventually departs, but Ruth clings to Naomi, declaring her allegiance to Naomi’s God and people, and they return to Bethlehem (Ruth 1:6-22).
In order to find enough food for them to survive, Ruth sets out to glean in the fields of neighbors, and finds herself in the field of Boaz of Judah, a relative of Elimelech (Ruth 2:1-3). Boaz has heard of Ruth and her allegiance to Naomi, Israel, and God, and therefore provides food and protection for her (Ruth 2:4-23).
Since Boaz is a near relative of Elimelech, he can be a redeemer, one who obtains the wife and property of a relative in order to perpetuate the family line and keep the property within the family. Naomi therefore encourages Ruth to present herself as a supplicant before Boaz so as to be redeemed by him, and so she does (Ruth 3:1-9). Boaz appreciates the gesture but informs her that there is a relative even nearer to Elimelech than he; nevertheless, Boaz will make sure that Ruth is redeemed (Ruth 3:10-18). The next day, Boaz goes to the city gate, and summoned the nearer relative and ten elders of the city (Ruth 4:1-2). The nearer relative was interested in Elimelech’s land but not in taking Ruth to raise up children for Elimelech; therefore, he gave the right of redemption over to Boaz, and Boaz thus redeemed the land of Elimelech as well as Ruth the widow of Mahlon (Ruth 4:3-12). Ruth will bear a son, named Obed, whose son was Jesse, whose son would be David, made king over Israel (Ruth 4:13-22).
Much encouragement can be gained from the book of Ruth. Ruth’s faith and character are exemplary: despite all the evil in Israel, she put her trust in YHWH as the One True God, and in so doing found a home and a people. In Ruth we find another example of God’s care and concern for all people who would seek after Him. And in Boaz, the redeemer, we find a type of Christ the ultimate Redeemer: as Boaz took upon the responsibility of rescuing Ruth and Naomi in their distress, so Jesus took upon Himself the consequences of our sin and rescues us in our distress (cf. Romans 5:6-11). Let us trust in God, as Ruth did, and be redeemed!
Ethan R. Longhenry