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Introduction to Ruth


Summary of the Book of Ruth

This summary of the book of Ruth provides information about the title, author(s), date of writing, chronology, theme, theology, outline, a brief overview, and the chapters of the Book of Ruth.


The book is named after one of its main characters, a young woman of Moab, the great-grandmother of David and an ancestress of Jesus (4:21-22; Mt 1:1,5). The only other Biblical book bearing the name of a woman is Esther.


The story is set in the time of the judges, a time characterized in the book of Judges as a period of religious and moral degeneracy, national disunity and frequent foreign oppression. The book of Ruth reflects a time of peace between Israel and Moab (contrast Jdg 3:12-30). Like 1Sa 1-2, it gives a series of intimate glimpses into the private lives of the members of an Israelite family. It also presents a delightful account of the remnant of true faith and piety in the period of the judges, relieving an otherwise wholly dark picture of that era.

Author and Date of Writing

The author is unknown. Jewish tradition points to Samuel, but it is unlikely that he is the author because the mention of David (4:17,22) implies a later date. Further, the literary style of Hebrew used in Ruth suggests that it was written during the period of the monarchy.

Theme and Theology

The importance of faithful love in human relationships among God's kingdom people is powerfully underscored. The author focuses on Ruth's unswerving and selfless devotion to desolate Naomi (1:16-17; 2:11-12; 3:10; 4:15) and on Boaz's kindness to these two widows (chs. 2 - 4). He presents striking examples of lives that embody in their daily affairs the self-giving love that fulfills God's law (Lev 19:18; cf. Ro 13:10). Such love also reflects God's love, in a marvelous joining of human and divine actions (compare 2:12 with 3:9). In God's benevolence such lives are blessed and are made a blessing.

It may seem surprising that one who reflects God's love so clearly is a Moabitess (see map, p. 486). Yet her complete loyalty to the Israelite family into which she has been received by marriage and her total devotion to her desolate mother-in-law mark her as a true daughter of Israel and a worthy ancestress of David. She strikingly exemplifies the truth that participation in the coming kingdom of God is decided, not by blood and birth, but by the conformity of one's life to the will of God through the "obedience that comes from faith" (Ro 1:5). Her place in the ancestry of David signifies that all nations will be represented in the kingdom of David's greater Son.

As an episode in the ancestry of David, the book of Ruth sheds light on his role in the history of redemption. Redemption is a key concept throughout the account; the Hebrew word in its various forms occurs 23 times. The book is primarily a story of Naomi's transformation from despair to happiness through the selfless, God-blessed acts of Ruth and Boaz. She moves from emptiness to fullness (1:21; 3:17; see notes on 1:1,3,5-6,12,21-22; 3:17; 4:15), from destitution (1:1-5) to security and hope (4:13-17). Similarly, Israel was transformed from national desperation at the death of Eli (1Sa 4:18) to peace and prosperity in the early days of Solomon (1Ki 4:20-34; 5:4) through the selfless devotion of David, a true descendant of Ruth and Boaz. The author thus reminded Israel that the reign of the house of David, as the means of God's benevolent rule in Israel, held the prospect of God's promised peace and rest. But this rest would continue only so long as those who participated in the kingdom -- prince and people alike -- reflected in their daily lives the selfless love exemplified by Ruth and Boaz. In Jesus, the great "son of David" (Mt 1:1), and his redemptive work, the promised blessings of the kingdom of God find their fulfillment.

Literary Features

The book of Ruth is a Hebrew short story, told with consummate skill. Among historical narratives in Scripture it is unexcelled in its compactness, vividness, warmth, beauty and dramatic effectiveness -- an exquisitely wrought jewel of Hebrew narrative art.

Marvelously symmetrical throughout (see Outline), the action moves from a briefly sketched account of distress (1:1-5; 71 words in Hebrew) through four episodes to a concluding account of relief and hope that is drawn with equal brevity (4:13-17; 71 words in Hebrew). The crucial turning point occurs exactly midway (see note on 2:20). The opening line of each of the four episodes signals its main development (1:6, the return; 2:1, the meeting with Boaz; 3:1, finding a home for Ruth; 4:1, the decisive event at the gate), while the closing line of each episode facilitates transition to what follows (see notes on 1:22; 2:23; 3:18; 4:12). Contrast is also used to good effect: pleasant (the meaning of "Naomi") and bitter (1:20), full and empty (1:21), and the living and the dead (2:20). Most striking is the contrast between two of the main characters, Ruth and Boaz: The one is a young, alien, destitute widow, while the other is a middle-aged, well-to-do Israelite securely established in his home community. For each there is a corresponding character whose actions highlight, by contrast, his or her selfless acts: Ruth -- Orpah, Boaz -- the unnamed kinsman.

When movements in space, time and circumstance all correspond in some way, a harmony results that both satisfies the reader's artistic sense and helps open doors to understanding. The author of Ruth keeps his readers from being distracted from the central story -- Naomi's passage from emptiness to fullness through the selfless acts of Ruth and Boaz (see Theme and Theology). That passage, or restoration, first takes place in connection with her return from Moab to the promised land and to Bethlehem ("house of food"; see note on 1:1). It then progresses with the harvest season, when the fullness of the land is gathered in. All aspects of the story keep the reader's attention focused on the central issue. Consideration of these and other literary devices (mentioned throughout the notes) will aid understanding of the book of Ruth.


I.           Introduction: Naomi Emptied (1:1-5)

  1. Naomi Returns from Moab (1:6-22)

A.   Ruth Clings to Naomi (1:6-18)

                   III.        Ruth and Boaz Meet in the Harvest Fields (ch. 2)

                  IV.        Naomi Sends Ruth to Boaz's Threshing Floor (ch. 3)

V.           Boaz Arranges to Fulfill His Pledge (4:1-12)

VI.           Conclusion: Naomi Filled (4:13-17)

  1. Epilogue: Genealogy of David (4:18-22)

──《New International Version


Introduction to Ruth

We find in this book excellent examples of faith, piety, patience, humility, industry, and loving-kindness, in the common events of life. Also we see the special care which God's providence take of our smallest concerns, encouraging us to full trust therein. We may view this book as a beautiful, because natural representation of human life; as a curious detail of important facts; and as a part of the plan of redemption.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Ruth


00 Overview




The Date of the Book

The story is placed “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:7), about a century before the time of David; but on its own showing it was not written till long after the events it describes (Ruth 4:7). How long afterwards is a question on which critics are not agreed; most of them consider it to be exilic (Ewald) or post-exilic (Bertheau, Wellhausen, Kuenen), mainly on the linguistic and genealogical evidence; but Driver (Introduction to O.T., 1891) thinks that the general beauty and purity of the style, which stand on a level with the best parts of Samuel, point rather to a date, which he does not seek to fix more definitely, before the exile. That the book was not received into the canon till a very long time after the captivity is shown by its place in the original Hebrew, where it occurs as one of the Hagiographa or “writings,” standing second among the five Megilloth or Festal Rolls, between Canticles and Lamentations, a position which proves that it did not become canonical till after the series of “former prophets,” extending from Joshua to 2 Kings, had been finally closed. In the LXX, however, which gives it the place it claims in the historical order, it comes between Judges and Samuel, and the same order is observed in the Vulgate and in the English A.V. That Josephus also must have reckoned it as an appendix to Judges is shown by his enumeration of the books of the O.T. as numbering only 22. (Chambers’s Encyclopaedia.)

More than one reason may be found for supposing the book to have been written in Solomon’s time, probably the latter part of his reign, when law and ordinances had multiplied and were being enforced in endless detail by a central authority; when the manners of the nations around--Chaldea, Egypt, Phoenicia--were overbearing the primitive ways of Israel; when luxury was growing, societies dividing into classes, and a proud imperialism giving its colour to habit and religion. If we place the book at this period, we can understand the moral purpose of the writer and the importance of his work. He would teach people to maintain the spirit of Israel’s past, the brotherliness, the fidelity in every relation that were to have been all along a distinction of Hebrew life because inseparably connected with the obedience of Jehovah. The splendid temple on Moriah was now the centre of a great priestly system, and from temple and palace the national, and to a great extent the personal, life of all Israelites was largely influenced, not in every respect for good. The quiet suggestion is here made that the artificiality and the pomp of the kingdom did not compare well with that old time when the affairs of an ancestress of the splendid monarch were settled by a gathering at a village gate. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)

The tone of the book throughout is liberal and tolerant to the Gentiles; and part of its design--unconsciously to its author perhaps, but not the less intentional with God--seems to be to prepare for the time when through the promised Messiah the middle wall of partition between the Jews and other nations should be broken down. Now the reign of David appears to have been the only portion of Jewish history during which such a spirit towards the Gentiles was shown without any breach of loyalty to Jehovah. This fact, taken in connection with the personal relation of David to the heroine of the story, seems to make it probable that the book was written some time during David’s reign; and we know that the royal psalmist had contemporaries who, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, might have produced such a work. Indeed, there is much in the simple pathos of the parable of the ewe lamb to remind us of the idyllic beauty of the Book of Ruth, and both might well enough have come from the prophet Nathan. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

The Place of the Book in the Bible

The walls of the great palace at Versailles are covered with paintings of battles. The Bastille, Jena, Austerlitz, the Pyramid! Agony, passion, and death! Heroism and victory! One grows weary with the endless profusion of art. He sits down at last on the casement of a little window. He looks out. Here, too, is a picture. Peaceful France, with its green grass, its forests and fields, and its church tower beyond the placid lake. The Book of Ruth is such a little window amidst the historical pictures, the battle pieces of Israel. Through this window we see the home life which the pictures have hidden--godliness, unselfishness, love and peace. Is it not well for us to turn from the historic, the heroic, and, through some rift, take a swift, sweet glimpse of the pastoral and domestic scenes of life? We read of Sisera’s murder and Jephthah’s vow and Samson’s revenge, and we think ill of Israel. Ruth gives us another view and a truer view. It is not for books and newspapers to publish what is ordinary and commonplace. They publish the remarkable, the wonderful. The very fact that a matter is publishable is fair evidence that it is exceptional. Let us remember this. Let us remember that little Ruth is the rule, and not the exception. Thus, we will think better of Israel and of all the world. (R. S. Barrett.)

Object and Contents of the Book

These four things seem the object of the Book of Ruth: to present a supplement by way of contrast to the Book of Judges; to show the true spirit of Israel; to exhibit once more the mysterious connection between Israel and the Gentiles, whereby the latter, at the most critical periods of Israel’s history, seem most unexpectedly called in to take a leading part; and to trace the genealogy of David. Specially perhaps the latter two. For, as one has beautifully remarked, if, as regards its contents, the Book of Ruth stands on the threshold of the history of David, yet, as regards its spirit, it stands, like the Psalms, at the threshold of the gospel. Not merely on account of the genealogy of Christ, which leads up to David and Boaz, but on account of the spirit which the teaching of David breathes, do we love to remember that Israel’s great king sprang from the union of Boaz and Ruth, which is symbolical of that between Israel and the Gentile world. (A. Edersheim, D. D.)

It is a supplement to the Book of Judges, and an introduction to that of Samuel. Neither of these give an account of David’s ancestors; this omission our story supplies. Ruth was that glorious king’s great grandmother. Now, unless we had known this, and also that Boaz was of the house of Judah, it would have been impossible to verify the prophecy that Christ the Messiah should descend from the royal tribe. This is one prominent purpose to announce David’s ancestry, and consequently to prove that the Saviour was “a lion of the tribe of Judah.” And what an attractive picture of those ancestors it is! What uprightness and singleness of heart, what piety and modesty and purity of life are found to characterise them! Though it was not accounted a flattering distinction, but quite the reverse, to have heathen progenitors, yet if any character could effectively destroy this deeply-rooted prejudice, then that of the gentle and loving Ruth must do it. (Wm. Braden.)

Does it not tell us that not only on the city and the palace, and on the cathedral and the college, on the assemblies of statesmen, and on the studies of scholars, but upon the meadow and the cornfield, the farm-house and the cottage, is written by the everlasting finger of God, “Holiness unto the Lord”? That all is blessed in His sight? That the lowly dwellers in villages, the simple tillers of the ground, can be as godly and as pious, as virtuous and as high-minded, as those who have nought to do but to serve God in the offices of religion? Is it not an honour and a comfort, to such as us, to find one whole book of the Holy Bible occupied by the simplest story of the fortunes of a yeoman’s family in a lonely village among the hill of Judah? (Canon Kingsley.)

──The Biblical Illustrator