In the days when the judges governed [Israel], there was a famine in the land [of Canaan]. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live temporarily in the [a]country of Moab with his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech and his wife’s name was Naomi and his two sons were named Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went to the country of Moab and stayed there. Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left [a widow] with her two sons. They took wives from the Moabite women; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other was Ruth. They lived there about ten years; and then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so the woman [Naomi] was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she set out with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in Moab how the Lord had taken care of His people [of Judah] in giving them food. So she left the place where she was living, her two daughters-in-law with her, and they started on the way back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you return to your mother’s house. May the Lord show kindness to you as you have shown kindness to the dead and to me. May the Lord grant that you find rest, each one in the home of her husband.” Then she kissed them [goodbye], and they wept aloud. And they said to her, “No, we will go with you to your people [in Judah].” But Naomi said, “Go back, my daughters, why should you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that may become your husbands? Go back, my daughters, go, for I am too old to have a husband. If I said I have hope, and if I actually had a husband tonight and even gave birth to sons, would you wait until they were grown? Would you go without marrying? No, my daughters; for it is much more [b]difficult for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone against me.”
Then they wept aloud again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law [goodbye], but Ruth clung to her.
Then Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; turn back and follow your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do the same to me [as He has done to you], and more also, if anything but death separates me from you.” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole city was [c]stirred because of them, and the women asked, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi (sweetness); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has caused me great grief and bitterness. I left full [with a husband and two sons], but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
So Naomi returned from the country of Moab, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law. And they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
- Ruth 1:1 Moab was located on a high plateau on the eastern shore of the Salt (Dead) Sea. The Moabites were related to the Israelites through their common ancestor, Terah. Their primary god was Chemosh, but the Moabites also worshiped many other pagan gods and sometimes engaged in human sacrifice.
- Ruth 1:13 Lit bitter.
- Ruth 1:19 Bethlehem was a small city where everyone probably knew everyone else, and Naomi’s husband may have been a prominent man in the city.
Ruth Gleans in Boaz’ Field
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband, a man of great wealth and influence, from the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and [a]glean among the ears of grain after one [of the reapers] in whose sight I may find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So Ruth went and picked up the leftover grain in a field after the reapers; and she happened to stop at the plot of land belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. It was then that Boaz came back from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!” Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” The servant in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the [b]sheaves.’ So she came and has continued [gathering grain] from early morning until now, except when she sat [resting] for a little while in the [field] house.”
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but stay here close by my maids. Watch which field they reap, and follow behind them. I have commanded the servants not to touch you. And when you are thirsty, go to the [water] jars and drink from what the servants draw.” Then she kneeled face downward, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should notice me, when I am a foreigner?” Boaz answered her, “I have been made fully aware of everything that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for your kindness, and may your reward be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Then she said, “Let me find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not as one of your maidservants.”
At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here and eat some bread and dip your bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate until she was satisfied and she had some left [for Naomi]. When she got up to glean, Boaz ordered his servants, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. Also you shall purposely pull out for her some stalks [of grain] from the sheaves and leave them so that she may collect them, and do not rebuke her.”
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an [c]ephah of barley. She picked it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. Ruth also took out and gave to Naomi what she had saved after she [had eaten and] was satisfied. Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not ceased His kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is one of our closest relatives, one who has the right to [d]redeem us.” Then Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘Stay close to my servants until they have harvested my entire crop.’” Naomi said to Ruth, “It is good, my daughter, for you to go out [to work] with his maids, so that others do not assault you in another field.” So she stayed close to the maids of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
- Ruth 2:2 Gleaning was a right granted to the poor and to strangers by God—a kind of divinely-appointed welfare system. Farmers were instructed not to glean their fields or vineyards, that is, not to collect the excess stalks of grain or grapes left over by reapers, and not to have the extremities of their fields reaped (Lev 19:9, 10).
- Ruth 2:7 I.e. bundles of stalks bound together for transport to the threshing floor where the grain would be separated.
- Ruth 2:17 This was about one bushel, enough food for several days.
- Ruth 2:20 According to OT law (Lev 25:25), if an Israelite became so impoverished that he sold his property, his closest relative was to buy it back, so that the land would remain within the family. Such a person was called a redeemer. Another law stated that if a married man died childless, his brother was obligated to marry his widow and raise a son in the deceased brother’s name, so that the name would be carried on in Israel (Deut 25:5-10; cf Gen 38:8-10). Being aware of these laws and their applications by the scholars of that time, Naomi conceived of a plan (see ch 3:1-4) that might bring Ruth and Boaz together by having Boaz serve as a redeemer both to purchase a field that Naomi owned, and to fulfill the obligation of Deut 25:5 ff by marrying Ruth.