THE BOOK OF RUTH
Perhaps you are familiar with the book of Ruth. If not, I would encourage you to read it in the
translation of your choice. It is a warm and wonderful story, a gem in the Old Testament. It tells how a man named Elimelech took his wife Naomi and two sons from Bethlehem in
Judah to live in the land of Moab, on account of a famine that was plaguing Judah. While they were in Moab, Elimelech died, and the two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and
Ruth. Then the two sons died, leaving Naomi alone and bitter. Finally, Naomi returned to Judah because the famine had ended. Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law, returned with
her, and the two of them set about trying to get reestablished in Bethlehem, which was very difficult for two widows living alone. Ruth went to glean, as the very poor would do,
behind other harvesters. The owner of the field happened to be a man named Boaz, who was very kind to Ruth by helping her to gather more grain, welcoming her among the workers,
and giving her food and water. When Ruth reported what had happened to her mother-in-law, Naomi urged her to ask Boaz to marry her, because he was a close relative, a "family
redeemer." Ruth did so, and Boaz promised to take care of her, but wait! Another man was a closer family redeemer and had the right of first refusal. So Boaz took the matter to
the town gate, where he met the other relative and offered him the opportunity to purchase Naomi's land, which included the obligation to marry Ruth and provide Elimelech an
heir who could inherit the land. The other man wanted the land, but when Boaz mentioned the obligation to marry Ruth, the man declined, saying that he could not afford to do so.
So, Boaz married Ruth, who had a son named Obed, and Naomi once again knew the Lord's blessing. Finally, it turns out that Obed was the grandfather of David, one of Israel's
most important and faith-filled kings.
In all, the book of Ruth is a wonderful story, and it speaks volumes about God's love for his people and his faithfulness to them. Not only that, but it speaks of Jesus, the
Messiah, a descendant of Boaz and Ruth, and our "family redeemer." If you have not done so, I would encourage you to go read Ruth this week.
Nevertheless, there are some puzzling things in Ruth, some unavoidable questions that make this ancient book perplexing for contemporary readers.
Here are some of the questions that arise while reading Ruth (questions that are answered in follow-up articles are linked):
- When was the "time of the judges"? When did Naomi and Ruth live?
- Where were Judah and Moab?
- Why was Ruth working behind the other harvesters in the field?
- In Ruth 2:20, Why was it significant to Naomi that Boaz was "one of our family redeemers"? What
was a family redeemer, anyway?
- What was going on with Ruth uncovering Boaz's feet and lying down (3:4, 7-14)?
- What exactly was Ruth asking Boaz to do (3:9)? Again, why did she mention that he was her
- Why did Boaz have to take the offer of marriage to the
other relative (3:12-13)?
- Why did Boaz go to the town gate (4:1) to settle this business? Why did he call for "ten leaders from the town ... to sit as witnesses"
- Why did Boaz bring into the equation Naomi's property that was for sale
(4:3-4), and why did he mention it first?
- Why did the purchase of Naomi's
land include an obligation to marry Ruth (4:5)?
- Why, after hearing of the
obligation to marry Ruth, did the other man change his mind about purchasing Naomi's land (4:6)? Why would marrying Ruth endanger his own estate?
- What was the sandal
transfer custom (4:7-8) all about?
- Why was the birth of Obed, Boaz's and Ruth's son, a source of blessing and redemption for Naomi?
- Why did Naomi nurse the baby
as her own?
- Why does Ruth end with a genealogy? Kind of a strange way to end the story, isn't it?
- Yes, it's a beautiful story, but what meaning does it have for
Many of these questions deal with issues that are keys to understanding the plot of Ruth. If we don't understand these issues, key points in the plot just don't
make sense to us, and we are able to perceive less of the glory of this lovely account.
In the next few days we'll be looking at the study materials for the book of Ruth in the NLT Study Bible
and seeing how it deals with these questions. Please note that I
haven't doctored the list (and I'm inviting you to contribute your own questions) — this is a real list that a group of readers came up with on their own. So it should be an
As you read the book of Ruth, are there other questions that perplex you?