Content Essay: Ruth
Updated: Jul 5
Ruth begins when there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. The Bible reveals in Ruth, “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1). Bethlehem–Judah was a small town near Jerusalem on the West Bank of the Jordan River. Elimelech, a native of Bethlehem–Judah, who eventually became Ruth’s father-in-law, distrusted God and moved from the famine in Israel to the country of Moab with his wife Naomi and their two sons. His distrust of God to provide for them through the famine led to poverty, death, and widowhood. Elimelech dies, his sons marry Moabite women, both the sons die, and three widows, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are left to fend for themselves. Moabite Ruth joins Jewish Naomi in her return to the land of Judah, a land where Israelites viewed Moabites with progressive displeasure. Elimelech forsakes God but God does not forsake the family of Elimelech. The Israelites forsake God and the enemies of Israel—the Midianites, the Philistines, the Moabites, and others, but God does not forsake Israel, specifically, Naomi. God’s sovereignty reigns in this cycle of reversion, reprisal, regret, and rescue that continues to this day. The purpose of this essay is to elaborate on specific content from the book of Ruth. The content of Ruth goes beyond a narrative story.
The significance of Ruth being a Moabite helps one to realize the cost of disobedience and God’s sovereignty. When Ruth entered the land of Judah, more evidence points to God’s sovereignty than does the significance of Ruth, the daughter-in-law, being a Moabite. For example, Peter Sabo writes that “Moabite women are double trouble in the Hebrew Bible: they are both foreigner and female.” However, Ruth declares to her mother-in-law Naomi, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16b.), which says much about the impact of Naomi’s character and faith on Ruth. If then we conclude that Ruth is a God-fearing woman, Peter Lau writes “marriage to a Yahweh-fearing foreigner is permitted. The crucial aspect of Israelite identity is a right (and exclusive ) relationship with Yahweh expressed in acts of hesed, not one’s ethnicity.” Lot is an ancestor of Ruth. Moabites are descendants of Lot, and although “the seduction of Lot by his daughters (Gen. 19:30–38) and of Judah by his daughter-in-law Tamar (Gen. 38), and the near-seduction of Boaz by Ruth the Moabite (Ruth 3), constitute the problematic background of the Davidic dynasty,” God’s sovereignty and providence reign supreme in the midst of incest, exogamy, and endogamy, according to Rachel Adelman. Therefore, the theology of the book of Ruth is one of redemption and the folding of Gentiles into God’s kingdom far and above that of the work of harvest and far beyond that of a simple narrative story.
The narrative conclusion and the genealogy in Ruth 4:13-22 reveal the continuation of the Davidic, or more specifically, messianic lineage to the ultimate redeemer, Jesus Christ. With Boaz, Ruth begat Obed, father of Jesse, the father of David. David is the great-grandson of Ruth. Beyond Ruth 4:22, there was David, Solomon, and Jacob, father of “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ” (Matthew 1:16). This relates to the redemptive message of the book and its relationship to the rest of the Old Testament in that the entire Old Testament points to a future King, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Another message of the book of Ruth, less global, and one in only Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy of the Old Testament is the significance of what Jeremy Schipper writes about Ruth’s encounter with Boaz on the threshing floor. “This has striking similarities in context and vocabulary with the story of Moab’s birth in Genesis 19:30-38. Both Ruth and Genesis 19 depict intimate encounters at night between a woman whose husband had died (Gen. 19:14-16; Ruth 1:4-5) and an intoxicated man (Gen. 19:33-35; Ruth 3:7-8).” Incongruences notwithstanding, Lot, the intoxicated man in Genesis 19, the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38, the Levite marriage customs in Deuteronomy 25, and the property laws of Leviticus 25 and Numbers 27, 36, all contribute to this book’s message of God’s sovereignty and providence in the midst of incest, exogamy, and endogamy along with the book’s specific relationship to these Old Testament books.
The typological significance to Boaz’s role as a kinsman-redeemer is one in which God’s providential plan is not interrupted by the legal incongruences. For example, the traditions of Leviticus 25 for kinsman-redeemer and Deuteronomy 25 for levirate marriage are loosely followed in the book of Ruth. Victor Hamilton writes “Boaz is to marry Ruth because he is her goʾel, her redeemer. Now in no Old Testament passage, that deals with the responsibilities of a goʾel (Lev. 25:28–55) is marriage spelled out as one of those responsibilities.” Brad Embry writes “It is Naomi, and not Ruth, who benefits primarily from the birth of Obed. The entire procedure is convoluted and procedurally corrupted as well.” Ruth should have witnessed the exchange between Boaz and the unnamed, nearer redeemer (Deut. 25:7). Although the kinsman-redeemer custom in Leviticus 25 is no more precise, the typological significance is one of redemption provided by God through Boaz, through Ruth, and onto helping Naomi who was once an empty Israelite, devoid of husband, sons, food, and home. God does not forsake. Even more significant is the worldwide redemption made possible from the loins of Boaz, the loins of David, and the womb of Mary.
In one respect, the story of Ruth is of two women struggling for survival during a famine in a patriarchal world. According to Dunn, if the resolved issues of intermarriage in Ezra 9:1; Nehemiah 13:1; and Zephaniahs 2:9 contribute to Ruth’s acceptance in Israel as a Moabite, Ruth may be seen either as a form of a political parable, addressing national questions and postexilic politics, or as a more localized tale of the strategies marginalized communities used in order to survive socio-economically. Nevertheless, and climatic to the conclusion, Ruth was a Moabite, a stranger to the covenant of Israel. Moabites were adversaries to the Jews, but Ruth’s son, Obed, became a grandfather to King David. From Ruth’s lineage would come the One King who would not only die for Jews but for Gentiles as well.
Adelman, Rachel. "Seduction and Recognition in the Story of Judah and Tamar and the Book of Ruth." Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues (Indiana University Press) 23, no. 87 (2012): 87-109.
Dunn, James D.G., and John W. Rogerson. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.
Embry, Brad. "Legalities In The Book Of Ruth: A Renewed Look." Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament (Regent University) 41.1 (2016): 31-44.
Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2019.
Lau, Peter. Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Sabo, Peter J. "Moabite Women, Transjordanian Women, And Incest And Exogamy: The Gendered Dimensions Of Boundaries In The Hebrew Bible." Journal For The Study Of The Old Testament (University of Alberta) 45, no. 1 (August 2020): 93-110.
Schipper, Jeremy. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2016.
 Unless otherwise noted, all citations come from the New King James Version (Sanford, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2016).  Peter J. Sabo, “Moabite Women, Transjordanian Women, and Incest and Exogamy: The Gendered Dimensions of Boundaries in the Hebrew Bible,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 45, no. 1 (2020): 93.  Peter Lau, Unceasing Kindness: A Biblical Theology of Ruth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 8. Rachel Adelman, "Seduction and Recognition in the Story of Judah and Tamar and the Book of Ruth." Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues, no. 23 (2012): 87-109. Jeremy Schipper, Ruth: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 41.  Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 197.  Brad Embry, “Legalities In The Book Of Ruth: A Renewed Look” Journal For The Study Of The New Testament, no. 41.1 (2016): 35.