Ruth is a family story.  The family is struck by tragedy when the father (Elimelech) and his two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) die, leaving behind three widows (Naomi, Ruth and Orpah).  In the Ancient Near East, women were economically dependent on the men in their families.  Thus Ruth and Orpah can return to their parents' homes for security, but Naomi is abandoned.  Orpah decides to go to her parents, but Ruth decides to go with Naomi despite her desperate situation.  The pair leaves Ruth's native Moab to go to Bethlehem where Naomi is originally from.


Ruth's decision is all the more remarkable because she is a Gentile while Naomi is an Israelite.  Ruth not only forsakes her homeland and her family, but her religion as well (1:16).  Her whole-hearted devotion is subsequently rewarded in the story.  Upon their return to Bethlehem, Naomi asks that her name be changed from Naomi, which means "pleasant," to Mara, which means "bitter," because of the suffering she has endured (1:20).


As soon as they get settled in Bethlehem, Ruth seeks work to provide for their needs.  She goes to glean in the fields and happens to work in the field of Boaz (2:3).  Gleaning is the process of picking up leftover grain by hand after the initial harvest is completed using scythes.  Once Boaz finds out who Ruth is, he is impressed by her faithfulness to Naomi and so invites her to keep coming to his field to glean (2:8).  This invitation is an act of great generosity because Boaz's grain is his own income.  Boaz even allows Ruth to eat the food provided for the harvesters at mid-day.  She stays gleaning in Boaz's field for the whole harvest season (2:23).


After the harvest is over, Naomi tells Ruth to go to Boaz at night where he will be threshing grain.  Threshing is the process of separating kernels of grain from their outer husks.  Naomi wants Ruth to find a husband so that both of them will be kept from poverty.  In ancient Israel, there was a practice called levirate marriage.  According to this Mosaic practice, if a married man died without children, his closest male relative was required to marry his widow and raise up heirs.  Since Elimelech and his sons all died without heirs, Ruth's new husband would gain their property.  Yet Ruth's children would legally be the heirs of Mahlon not of her new husband.


Ruth asks Boaz to marry her and provide for her and Naomi (3:9).  Boaz wants to marry her, but there is another relative who is closer and has the legal right to marry Ruth (3:12).  This other relative is not named in the book.  Boaz offers Elimelech's property to him, which he accepts (4:4).  Then Boaz informs the relative that in order to get the property he must marry Ruth, which the relative does not want to do.  He gives up his right to Boaz (4:6).  Boaz then marries Ruth and the two become the great-grandparents of David, the king of Israel. The book ends with David's genealogy, which is an essential part of the story (4:18-22).  The genealogy connects the faithful Ruth with the faithful king.  It relates the story to the present time of the original readers.


The book illustrates the Lord's faithfulness to those who love him like Naomi and Ruth.  It also shows that God had mercy on the Gentiles, like Ruth, even during Old Testament times.  It foreshadows the gift of salvation to all the Gentiles which Jesus brings.  When people are faithful to the Lord, he is faithful in return. 


By Mark Giszczak