Introduction from the NIV Study Bible | Go to Ruth
The book is named after one of its main characters, a young woman of Moab, the great-grandmother of David and an ancestress of Jesus (4:21–22; Mt 1:1,5). The only other Biblical book bearing the name of a woman is Esther.
The story is set in the time of the judges, a time characterized in the book of Judges as a period of religious and moral degeneracy, national disunity and frequent foreign oppression. The book of Ruth reflects a time of peace between Israel and Moab (contrast Jdg 3:12–30). Like 1Sa 1–2, it gives a series of intimate glimpses into the private lives of the members of an Israelite family. It also presents a delightful account of the remnant of true faith and piety in the period of the judges, relieving an otherwise wholly dark picture of that era.
Author and Date of Writing
The author is unknown. Jewish tradition points to Samuel, but it is unlikely that he is the author because the mention of David (4:17,22) implies a later date. Further, the literary style of Hebrew used in Ruth suggests that it was written during the period of the monarchy.
Theme and Theology
The importance of faithful love in human relationships among God’s kingdom people is powerfully underscored. The author focuses on Ruth’s unswerving and selfless devotion to desolate Naomi (1:16–17; 2:11–12; 3:10; 4:15) and on Boaz’s kindness to these two widows (chs. 2–4). He presents striking examples of lives that embody in their daily affairs the self-giving love that fulfills God’s law (Lev 19:18; cf. Ro 13:10). Such love also reflects God’s love, in a marvelous joining of human and divine actions (compare2:12 with 3:9). In God’s benevolence such lives are blessed and are made a blessing.
It may seem surprising that one who reflects God’s love so clearly is a Moabitess (see map, p. 486). Yet her complete loyalty to the Israelite family into which she has been received by marriage and her total devotion to her desolate mother-in-law mark her as a true daughter of Israel and a worthy ancestress of David. She strikingly exemplifies the truth that participation in the coming kingdom of God is decided, not by blood and birth, but by the conformity of one’s life to the will of God through the “obedience that comes from faith” (Ro 1:5). Her place in the ancestry of David signifies that all nations will be represented in the kingdom of David’s greater Son.
As an episode in the ancestry of David, the book of Ruth sheds light on his role in the history of redemption. Redemption is a key concept throughout the account; the Hebrew word in its various forms occurs 23 times. The book is primarily a story of Naomi’s transformation from despair to happiness through the selfless, God-blessed acts of Ruth and Boaz. She moves from emptiness to fullness (1:21; 3:17; see notes on 1:1,3,5–6,12,21–22; 3:17; 4:15), from destitution (1:1–5) to security and hope (4:13–17). Similarly, Israel was transformed from national desperation at the death of Eli (1Sa 4:18) to peace and prosperity in the early days of Solomon (1Ki 4:20–34; 5:4) through the selfless devotion of David, a true descendant of Ruth and Boaz. The author thus reminded Israel that the reign of the house of David, as the means of God’s benevolent rule in Israel, held the prospect of God’s promised peace and rest. But this rest would continue only so long as those who participated in the kingdom—prince and people alike—reflected in their daily lives the selfless love exemplified by Ruth and Boaz. In Jesus, the great “son of David” (Mt 1:1), and his redemptive work, the promised blessings of the kingdom of God find their fulfillment.
The book of Ruth is a Hebrew short story, told with consummate skill. Among historical narratives in Scripture it is unexcelled in its compactness, vividness, warmth, beauty and dramatic effectiveness—an exquisitely wrought jewel of Hebrew narrative art.
Marvelously symmetrical throughout (see Outline), the action moves from a briefly sketched account of distress (1:1–5; 71 words in Hebrew) through four episodes to a concluding account of relief and hope that is drawn with equal brevity (4:13–17; 71 words in Hebrew). The crucial turning point occurs exactly midway (see note on 2:20). The opening line of each of the four episodes signals its main development (1:6, the return; 2:1, the meeting with Boaz; 3:1, finding a home for Ruth; 4:1, the decisive event at the gate), while the closing line of each episode facilitates transition to what follows (see notes on 1:22; 2:23; 3:18; 4:12). Contrast is also used to good effect: pleasant (the meaning of “Naomi”) and bitter (1:20), full and empty (1:21), and the living and the dead (2:20). Most striking is the contrast between two of the main characters, Ruth and Boaz: The one is a young, alien, destitute widow, while the other is a middle-aged, well-to-do Israelite securely established in his home community. For each there is a corresponding character whose actions highlight, by contrast, his or her selfless acts: Ruth—Orpah, Boaz—the unnamed kinsman.
When movements in space, time and circumstance all correspond in some way, a harmony results that both satisfies the reader’s artistic sense and helps open doors to understanding. The author of Ruth keeps his readers from being distracted from the central story—Naomi’s passage from emptiness to fullness through the selfless acts of Ruth and Boaz (see Theme and Theology). That passage, or restoration, first takes place in connection with her return from Moab to the promised land and to Bethlehem (“house of food”; see note on 1:1). It then progresses with the harvest season, when the fullness of the land is gathered in. All aspects of the story keep the reader’s attention focused on the central issue. Consideration of these and other literary devices (mentioned throughout the notes) will aid understanding of the book of Ruth.
- Introduction: Naomi Emptied (1:1–5)
- Naomi Returns from Moab (1:6–22)
- Ruth and Boaz Meet in the Harvest Fields (ch. 2)
- Naomi Sends Ruth to Boaz’s Threshing Floor (ch. 3)
- Boaz Arranges to Fulfill His Pledge (4:1–12)
- Conclusion: Naomi Filled (4:13–17)
- Epilogue: Genealogy of David (4:18–22)
© Zondervan. From the Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Used with Permission.