Introduction to Ruth
The book of Ruth is one of the two books in the Bible featuring a particular woman, the other being the book of Esther. Oddly enough, Ruth was a Moabitess, whose people were almost perpetual enemies of Israel, the chosen people. Still more surprisingly, Ruth actually appears in the genealogical ancestry of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), having married Boaz, who was (assuming no gaps in the recorded genealogies) the great grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:21,22).
The book was written by some unknown author, and its final edited form must date from the time of David (note Ruth 4:7, as well as 4:18-22). It is possible–perhaps even probable–that the prophet Samuel, or David himself, was this final, inspired editor.
The historical setting of the book is in the times of the judges (Ruth 1:1), but whether early or late in that period is uncertain. The Jewish historian Josephus says that Ruth lived in the time of Eli, when Samuel was young, and this would correlate with the implication of Ruth 4:21,22, that she was David’s great grandmother. On the other hand, if Salmon was both the husband of Rahab and the father of Boaz (Matthew 1:5, Ruth 4:21), that would make Rahab a mother-in-law of Ruth, and this would seem to place Ruth rather early in the period of the judges. Since that period surely lasted 300 years or possibly 450 years (Acts 13:20) or even longer, it seems there must be a significant gap somewhere in this genealogy. If Josephus was right (and he was much closer to the time than we are) that gap most likely is between Salmon and Boaz. Thus Salmon begat Boaz in the ancestral sense, rather than the immediate sense.
The story of Ruth is beautiful and inspiring. Even in the turbulent time of the judges, God was providentially looking after His people, and yet was also still concerned about those individuals in other nations (even Moab) whose hearts were open to Him. It also provides a striking type of Christ in the person of Boaz, who became the “kinsman-redeemer” for Ruth (4:1-12). He brought her into the family of God’s people by paying the price for her redemption, just as the Lord Jesus purchased us with the price of His shed blood (Ephesians 1:7) in order that we might become part of the eternal family of God.
1:1 when the judges ruled. These introductory verses, as well as the closing genealogy (Ruth 4:17-22), make it clear that the book of Ruth was written after “the days when the judges ruled,” during the days of the monarchy. Possibly Samuel, or even David (who was said to be Ruth’s great grandson and thus may have heard the story from his parents) may have written it. Ruth’s husband, Boaz, was said to be the son of Rahab (Matthew 1:5), the converted harlot who had joined with the Israelites at the fall of Jericho. The story of Ruth, therefore, possibly took place during the early part of the judges’ rule. However, see discussion in the Introduction.
1:1 Bethlehem-Judah. Bethlehem means “house of bread.” The home of Elimelech and later of Ruth was also destined to be the birthplace of King David (I Samuel 16:1) and, eventually of the Messiah (Micah 5:2). It was first noted in Scripture as the place of Rachel’s death (Genesis 35:19; note also the reference to Rachel and her children in Matthew 2:16-18).
1:2 Ephrathites. Ephrata (meaning “fruitful”) was the same town as Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19; Micah 5:2). In a spiritual analogy, one could note that the Messiah’s home was both the house of bread and the field of the fruit of the vine, as the Messiah would become both “the bread of life” in His broken body and “the true vine” in his redeeming blood (John 6:48; 15:1). Bethlehem-Ephrata was thus an appropriate “place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. Lo, we heard of it at Ephrata; we found it in the fields of the wood” (Psalm 132:5,6).
1:2 Moab. The country of Moab was the place of the Moabites, who were descendants of Lot, and such enemies of Israel that they had been banned from the “congregation of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 23:3). Yet, as a measure of God’s grace, upon repentance and faith in the true God, Ruth the Moabitess not only found a place in the congregation of the Lord, but a place in His genealogy (Matthew 1:5).
1:4 of the other Ruth. The name “Ruth” probably means “friendly.”
1:8 deal kindly. The word translated “kindly” here in regard to Ruth’s love for Naomi is rendered as “kindness” in Ruth 2:20, speaking of the Lord’s love toward Ruth (even though she was a Moabitess) and of Ruth again (Ruth 3:10) in the case of her choosing Boaz over a younger man in order to provide Naomi with a legal heir for one of her deceased sons. It is most often translated “lovingkindness” or “mercy.”
1:16 thy God my God. Naomi was such a faithful witness and godly mother-in-law that both Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, loved her dearly even after their husbands were dead. However, when Orpah had to choose, she returned to her pagan nature-gods (centered in Chemosh, “the subduer”). Ruth, evidenced true conversion to the God of creation, not only by taking God as her own Savior but by going with the people of God and entering the family of God’s people.