The Book of Ruth is a literary masterpiece. Just as well it is, for if Ruth is placed immediately after the Book of Judges — as is done in the Septuagint and in most Bibles today — then it makes for a refreshing and comforting alternative to the dire ending of Judges. In the Hebrew Bible, however, Ruth is not part of the Law or the Prophets, but forms part of the Writings (Ketuvim), specifically the Megilloth (scrolls) that are read on five holy occasions during the year. The historical events described in Ruth took place in the days when the Judges ruled (Ruth 1:1), but when exactly it happened one cannot say for certain. Whenever Ruth is encountered, however, the heroine of the story does her name proud, for it means ‘refreshment’, ‘comfort’ or ‘friendship’.
Table 1: The Megilloth and Correlating Holy Days
|Book||Holy Day when read in the Synagogue|
|Song of Songs||Feast of Passover|
|Ruth||Feast of Weeks (Shavuot, or Pentecost)|
|Lamentations||Ninth of Av (mourning for the fall of Jerusalem)|
|Ecclesiastes||Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot)|
|Esther||Feasts of Lots (Purim)|
The Purpose of Ruth
The most important reason why Ruth was written was probably to defend David’s claim to the throne against the claims of the house of Saul — despite David having non-Jewish blood in his veins by virtue of having a Moabitess great-grandmother (Luter & Davis 1995:16). This may also explain why Ruth may have been written either before or shortly after David became king of Judah, in about 1011 to 1000 BC. A second reason is to present a positive case study within the genealogy of David of the extent of faith’s operation and application, extending to persons of faith outside of Jewish stock (Wechsler 2014:391). Thus God’s grace includes the Gentiles. Third, Ruth was written to show that in times of apostasy during the days of the Judges, God still preserved a remnant in Israel who acted faithful and obeyed the LORD (Fruchtenbaum 2007:279). Fourth, according to the NET Bible (cited by Constable 2016:3), Ruth may be as much about redemption as it is about God’s hand of providence behind the scenes: ‘God cares for needy people like Naomi and Ruth; he is their ally in this chaotic world. He richly rewards people like Ruth and Boaz who demonstrate sacrificial love and in so doing become his instruments in helping the needy. God’s rewards for those who sacrificially love others sometimes exceed their wildest imagination and transcend their lifetime.’ Two more reasons why Ruth was written have to do with the concepts of the Kinsman Redeemer and levirate marriage, as discussed below.
Kinsman-Redeemer and Levirate Marriage
Under the Mosaic Law, the kinsman-redeemer had three obligations. First, if a man had to sell himself into slavery or had to sell his inheritance (land) in order to pay his debts, then his brother (or another close family member) was obligated to pay the debt to redeem the man and/or his land. Leviticus 25 describes the law of redemption. Second, the kinsman-redeemer was to serve as the avenger of family blood (Fruchtenbaum 2007:276). Third, according to Deuteronomy 25:5-10, if a married man died without a son, the kinsman-redeemer was to enter into a levirate marriage with the brother’s widow to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her, to raise a son to perpetuate the name and inheritance of the deceased. The Book of Ruth portrays these concepts and laws in action. When Boaz buys the land of Naomi, he marries Ruth to raise seed for the deceased. But Boaz actually did more, for he became a type of the perfect antitype. In his humanity the Lord Jesus Christ, the Kinsman-Redeemer, not only redeemed this earth from whatever claims Satan may have gained at the Fall, but Jesus also paid for our sins, thereby gaining a bride. Table 2 shows the requirements for a kinsman-redeemer and compares it to what Christ did.
Table 2: The Requirements of the Kinsman-Redeemer and Messiah’s Qualifications
|Requirement||Reference in Ruth||How Jesus Qualified||Reference in Bible|
|Must be a near kinsman and a blood relative.||2:1; 3:20||Jesus, by His incarnation, became a near kinsman to humanity in general and by his birth through Miriam (Mary), became a near kinsman to the Jewish people in particular.||Jn 1:14; Phil 2:1-11; Heb 2:12-18|
|Must be willing to pay the price.||2:8; 3:11||Jesus was willing.||Matt 20:28; Jn 3:16; 10:11, 17-28|
|Must be able to do it.||2:1||Jesus was able.||Heb 7:25|
|Must be free himself.||Jesus was free Himself.||2 Cor 5:21|
|Must have the price of redemption.||2:1||Jesus possessed the price of redemption: innocent human blood.||Is 53:5; Jn 1:29; 1 Pet 1:18-19, 24|
Source: Fruchtenbaum (2007:279).
Comparisons of Ruth with Proverbs 31 and Esther
Without discussing it in detail, we highlight in Tables 3 and 4 some interesting comparisons between Ruth and the woman of valour in Proverbs 31 as well as between Ruth and Esther.
Table 3: A Comparison of the Woman of Valor and Ruth
|The Woman of Valour in Proverbs 31||Ruth|
|Rises early 31:15.||Rises early to commence her work 2:7.|
|Works with dogged industriousness 31:27.||Works hard and industriously 2:7, 17.|
|Woman of valor is not dissuaded from difficult tasks, but rather girds herself with strength 31:17.||Ruth does this too 2:17-18.|
|Takes thought to supply her family’s needs 31:15.||Ruth supplies for Naomi 2:14, 18.|
|Teaches (exemplary doing) lovingkindness 31:26.||Ruth teaches lovingkindness 1:8; 3:10.|
|Woman of valor is blessed by her husband 31:28.||Ruth is blessed by her husband-to-be 3:10.|
|Praised in the gates of the city 31:31.||Praised in the gates of the city 3:11.|
|Proverbs 31 describes the woman of valor.||Ruth is a woman of valor 3:11.|
Source: Wechsler (2014:392).
Table 4: A Comparison of Ruth and Esther
|A Gentile woman||A Jewish woman|
|Living among Jews||Living among Gentiles|
|Married a Jew (Boaz) in the royal line||Married a Gentile (Ahasuerus, or Xerxes) who ruled an empire|
|Both stories characterised by faith and blessing|
|Emphasizes the sovereignty of God; God’s Name is mentioned.||Emphasizes the providence of God; God’s Name is not mentioned.|
Source: Fruchtenbaum (2007:270).
The Structure of Ruth
The Book of Ruth contains various units set off by shifts in scene, time, characters, speed of action and topic. Different possible structures of the Book of Ruth have been identified (cf. Luter & Davis 1995:21; Dorsey 1999:121-128), but the most convincing proposal seems to be that of Luter and Rigsby (1996:15-28):
A Emptied: Family/home/provision (lost husband and two sons) 1:1-5
B Hopeless widows go back to Bethlehem 1:6-22
C Setting: Harvest field. Issue: immediate provision 2:1-23
Central focus: 2:18-23 and 3:1-5 Interaction
C’ Setting: Harvest field. Issue: long term provision 3:1-18
B’ Hopeful widows taken care of in the gates of Bethlehem 4:1-12
A’ Filled: Family/home/provision (Ruth, better than 7 sons, and Obed) 4:13-17
Epilogue: Family tree of the clan of Perez 4:18-22
What seems to be unusual about Ruth’s structure is that each of the above elements of the structure (A, B, C, C’, B’ and A’) may be itself structured as a chiasm. For example, Luter and Davis (1995:30) identify the following chiasmus for “A” in the structure:
A Famine in Bethlehem: Discomfort 1:1a
B Short stay in Moab planned by Naomi’s family 1:1b
C Names of Naomi’s family entering Moab 1:2
D Naomi widowed (with two sons) 1:3
C’ Names of Naomi’s Moabite daughters-in-law 1:4a
B’ Long stay in Moab and death of Naomi’s sons 1:4b-5a
A Bereavement in Moab: Devastation 1:5b
The following chart of Luter and Rigsby (1996:21) shows how beautifully the Book of Ruth has been structured:
Table 5: The interface of Ruth 2 and 3
|Ruth 2:1-23||Comparisons/Contrasts||Ruth 3:1-18|
|Naomi, Ruth and Boaz||MAIN CHARACTERS||Naomi, Ruth and Boaz|
|Start of harvest||TIME/SEASON||End of harvest|
|Boaz’s field/harvesting grain||PRIMARY SETTING/ACTIVITY||Threshing floor/protecting grain|
|God guides Ruth’s ‘luck’||FRONT-END PERSPECTIVE||Naomi plans Ruth’s strategy|
|Ruth present, Boaz arrives||INITIAL INTERPLAY||Boaz present, Ruth arrives|
|Asking to glean (Deut 24:19)||RUTH’S QUESTIONS||Asking to marry (Deut 25:5-10)|
|He agrees||BOAZ’S ANSWER||He agrees|
|Fully reported to him||BOAZ’S KNOWLEDGE OF RUTH||From all his people in the town|
|No apparent kinsman or provider||LOOMING QUESTION||Closer kinsman/redeemer|
|Her physical need||BOAZ’S PROTECTION TOWARD RUTH||Her good reputation|
|Working all day||SCENE DURATION||Waiting all night|
|Boaz: man of excellence (2:1)||DESCRIPTION OF CHARACTER||Ruth: woman of excellence (3:11)|
|An ephah of barley||WHAT RUTH TAKES HOME TO NAOMI||Six measures of barley|
|Naomi’s question||HINGE TO FINAL MINI-SCENE||Naomi’s question|
|Naomi’s wisdom||PARTING THOUGHT||Naomi’s wisdom|
Source: Luter and Rigsby (1996:21).
The Book of Ruth is one of the most beautiful and important short stories ever written. The German poet Goethe called it ‘the loveliest complete work on a small scale’ ever written; the literary critic Alexander Schroder wrote that ‘no poet in the world has written a more beautiful short story’; and the eminent archaeologist W. F. Albright wrote that ‘the delicacy of the story of Ruth remains unsurpassed anywhere: Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law, the scene between her and Boaz in chapter 3, and the final episode with Naomi (4:14-17) are gems of world-literature’ (all cited by Constable 2016:4-5). But this lovely short story of Ruth also clearly points forward to the Kinsman-Redeemer who on the cross not only bought or redeemed the world, but the Son of David, the Son of Abraham also bought personal redemption with his blood on the cross. There is no greater or more important love story than this.
Constable, T.L., 2016, Notes on Ruth, 2016 edition.
Dorsey, D.A., 1999, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis-Malachi, Baker Academic, Grand Rapids.
Fruchtenbaum, A.G., 2007, The Books of Judges and Ruth, Ariel Ministries, San Antonio.
Luter, A.B. & Davis, B.C, 1995, Ruth & Esther: God Behind the Seen, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids.
Luter, A.B. & Rigsby, R.O., 1996, ‘An adjusted symmetrical structuring of Ruth’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39(1), 15-28.
Wechsler, M.G., 2014, ‘Ruth’, in M. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (eds.), The Moody Bible Commentary, pp. 391-398, Moody Publishers, Chicago.
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