The small book of Ruth is located in our English Bibles between Judges and 1 Samuel. This short book is an amazing story of loyalty, commitment to God, and God’s ordinary providence. We will be looking at the book in five parts over the coming weeks. Before we get into the actual text, I want to discuss some areas of the book that are fascinating and looking at the story within history, the Canon, and the book’s overall beauty. When preaching through a book, it is hard to expand on some of these important elements. I seek to make these connections, but without spending a whole sermon on this can be like Alice going down the rabbit hole. So in the way of introduction to the book, we will look at some of these key issues.
Story within History
The book of Ruth is written within the period of the Judges (Othniel-Samuel; Judg 3:7-1 Sam 8:1). The book of Judges shows the cycle of sin:
- Israel’s unfaithfulness to God
- God’s judgment on Israel (through other nations plundering them)
- Israel’s repentance and calling out to God
- God’s faithfulness to Israel (Through raising a judge to deliver them)
This cycle would continue for Judges’ period; however, this cycle continues to grow in scope and sin. Eventually, at the end of Judges, Israel is worse than other nations and commits horrendous sins of rape and murder of their people. Israel had become just like Sodom and Gomorrah. The book of Judges does not end with a judge to come and free Israel. They are left in number one of the list above. The End of Judges ends with, “There was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their eyes.” At the end of Judges no nation had come in to plunder them (yet), and Israel did not repent. The cycle is finished in 1 Samuel chapter 7. Within this horrific time in Israel’s history comes this story of God’s faithful remnant. Even though sin is prevalent across the land, some truly worship God (See Elkanah and Hannah (1 Sam 1-2). The book of Ruth is a flickering light in the dark times of the period of Judges.
Story in the Bible
Our English bible places Ruth after Judges and before 1 Samuel in the historical section of our bibles. Our English Bibles are based on a chronological order. Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Samuel, etc. This shows the progression of history. Even our Prophets and minor prophets are organized in this way (depending on how you date them). We place it following Judges because of Ruth 1:1, “In the days when the judges ruled…” This also follows the Greek translation (LXX) of the Bible, which places the book of Ruth in the order. Also possible for authorship reasons (we will look at that next). However, the Hebrew Bible (MT) places Ruth after the book of Proverbs. Proverbs 31:10 begins the last section of Proverbs asking the question, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (Prv 31:10). Then you turn to the book of Ruth about Boaz finding a precious wife. The placement of the book of Ruth in the LXX (English) and MT gives us two perspectives to look at when we read the book, one of historical significance and looking at the book of Ruth from the perspective of an excellent wife who can you find? An excellent wife is one who fears the Lord (Prv 31:30) but also let he works praise her in the gates (Prv 31:31), one which happens to Ruth (Ruth 4:11, 2:11). Our hermeneutics of the Bible should not elevate one or either of the Bible’s placement but should help us as we read through the book.
Author of Ruth
The book is anonymously written, and therefore there have been many names given by scholarship for the true author of the book. The basis for various options can be found in the language, or cultural practice (Giving of the shoe Ruth 4:7), the Davidic reference at the end of Ruth. Depending on what you see as critical parts of the text gives many different time periods or authors, for example, during David’s, Josiah’s or Hezekiah’s reign. Authors could include David, Solomon, Elishia, Nathan, Gad or Samuel. I tend to lean towards Samuel as the author. The Talmud mentions that Samuel wrote Judges and Ruth (Bat Baba Batra 14b–15a). I see similarities between 1 Samuel and Judges, but even between Judges and Ruth. The end of Judges focuses on the tribe of Benjamin, but Ruth focuses on the tribe of Judah. Many people who dispute Samuel’s authorship base their argument that Samuel died (1 Sam 25) before David became King. Why then would you have a genealogy that ends with David, who would be somewhat unknown? However, the genealogy does not reference David as King but only shows his connections from Perez to David. The second part is that Samuel had anointed David as King over Israel (1 Sam 16:13), Samuel had no reason to believe he had acted falsely, or the Lord would not fulfill the Prophet’s words.
The story of Ruth had to be said to the author in some way. Some people can just believe it is a made-up fairy tale. However, I believe the Bible references Ruth as a real person (Matt 1:5) and is the real historical account of what happened. Samuel could be one of the connections that heard this story and recorded it, knowing one day David would be King. Especially if Samuel authored Judges, the contrast of Judges and Ruth’s last chapters is pretty amazing. The placement of Ruth in between Judges and Samuel could be similar to Jeremiah and Lamentations’ location, even though the Book of Ruth centers around two women (Ruth and Naomi). Similar to the opening on 1 Samuel, which centers around Hannah. You could imagine, and this is speculation, that Samuel heard Ruth and Boaz’s story as he went to meet with Jesse before anointing David as King. As he waited for David to come, he heard the story of how Jesse’s grandparents met. Authorship is important because someone had to write the book. However, we are not given the divinely inspired author of every book. We can speculate, but in reality, it is speculation. We then should not consider this a hill to die on, but we can say that Ruth is an actual person who lived in the period of the Judges.
The Beauty of the Story
The book of Ruth is often one of the first books or chapters that students will translate when learning Biblical Hebrew. The book is majority about speech (over 50% of the book occurs on the lips of the characters). However, of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, Ruth speaks the least. Maybe a better title would be “The book of Boaz,” because he speaks the most. Or maybe “The book of Naomi” because it begins with Naomi empty, bitter, and childless, and in the end, she is full, happy, and has a grandchild on her lap. However, the name of the book is secondary. This is a beautiful story, no matter which person you focus on in the book.
The Westminster Confession of Faith explains that many aspects of Scripture are present but only through the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts can we know that it is the Word of God. One of these aspects of Scripture is “the majesty of the style” (WCF 1.5). The book of Ruth is masterfully written and is amazing to read, seeing the overall outline of the book. We will point out some of these while we go through the book. This can be hard to do verbally as preaching.
Empty, Bitter and Childless
Ruth 1:1-5- Naomi’s loss; food and family
Your God my God- Ruth 1:6-22
- Ruth 1:6-18 Ruth’s Loyalty to Naomi
- Ruth 1:19-22 Naomi and Ruth Return
Under the Refuge of the LORD- Ruth 2:1-23
- Ruth 2:1-3 Conversation Naomi and Ruth
- Ruth 2:4-17 Conversation Boaz and Ruth
- Ruth 2:18-23 Conversation Naomi and Ruth
Under the Refuge of the Redeemer- Ruth 3:1-18
- Ruth 3:1-5 Conversation Naomi and Ruth
- Ruth 3:6-15 Conversation Boaz and Ruth
- Ruth 3:16-18 Conversation Naomi and Ruth
A gate, a shoe and a baby- Ruth 4:1-17
- Ruth 4:1-2
- Ruth 4:3-8 Boaz to kinsman Redeemer
- Ruth 4:9-10 Boaz to Elders
- Ruth 4:11-12 Elders speak of Ruth
- Ruth 4:13 Marriage and Child of Boaz and Ruth
- Ruth 4:14-17 Naomi’s blessed
Genealogy- Perez to David- Ruth 4:18-21
The story of Ruth has such a beautiful structure. The two chapters in the middle have a similar structure with Ruth and Naomi having a conversation, then Ruth leaving Naomi, and speaking with Boaz, then Ruth returning and sharing her news with Naomi. But even the middle of both of these chapters is the reference of ‘wings’ (Ruth 2:12, 3:9). Even the contrast of Naomi’s loss in the opening chapters, she went away full but came back empty (Ruth 1:21). She went away with a family but came back with no husband and no children. She came back bitter. However, the end of chapter four shows that she is no longer empty but full, no longer childless but has a grandchild. She also is no longer bitter but blessed. John Currid explains the book of Ruth as “an ancient ‘biblical Cinderella story’ in which Ruth finds her true prince by the close of the tale. It is thus viewed almost as a rags-to-riches fairy tale.” (Note: Currid does not mean to say that Ruth is fictional) It is far more than a nice fairy tale of finding love. It shows loss and loyalty, childish boys and God-fearing women and men, and God’s provision and providence.
One of the most amazing things about the book of Ruth is that God’s hand is clearly woven throughout the whole narrative. However, we do not see great dreams or visions. We do not see the Angel of the Lord come down. There are axes that float or bushes that burn without being burnt. The Lord provides for Ruth and Naomi through ordinary providences; Ruth goes to a field to glean. God often works through providence in ordinary ways. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery and years later would stand before the pharaoh and made second in command. Saul went out to find lost donkey’s and providentially ended up standing before Samuel the Prophet. David was sent by his father to deliver bread, and providentially heard the words of Goliath. The everyday, mundane actions are often the way God performs the work of providences in our lives. The story of Ruth shows how God works in mysterious ways.
The book of Ruth is centered around a Mosaic law, which is called the Kinsmen Redeemer. In a world where we can file for bankruptcy, this is quite a foreign cultural concept. If someone misses a payment on a house, it is turned over to the bank, and the bank will sell it to claim back it’s losses, then maybe try and recovered any more losses. However, in a previous time, the land belonged to a family and was worked by the family. You would sell and trade goods to feed your family and survive off the land. However, if you had a bad couple of years, you don’t have money to trade. You might sell your land to someone until you can buy it back. You might sell yourself into slavery to have a master who would feed you and your family. Under Mosaic law everything would be returned in the year of Jubilee. But you didn’t have to wait seven years. In the Mosaic law, you could redeem yourself, or a family member could redeem you (Cf. Lev 25, 27). They would pay back your debt, and you would be free. This is what happened with Elimelech, there was a famine, and he sold his land and went to Moab. However, when all the men in the family died, the land is useless unless you have a redeemer to buy back the land. Women could hold title to the property in the Old Testament (uncommon in this time). However, Elimelech left Naomi with nothing (Ruth 1:21). We will look at this throughout the study of the Book of Ruth. We will see the connections of the Redeemer and Christ. We are in debt and cannot pay our way out. We need Christ to redeem us.