Introduction to The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth is the only book of the Bible named after a non-Israelite. It is named after Ruth, a woman from Moab who, after the death of her husband, traveled to Israel with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth is referred to as a Moabite at least a half-dozen times in Ruth, and the fact that Ruth was a non-Israelite but in the genealogy of David (and thus also the Messiah) reveals that God works with people who love and respect him regardless of background or nationality.

We do not know who penned the Book of Ruth or when it was written. Many different times have been postulated as to when Ruth was written: the time of David, of Solomon, of Josiah, of Ezra-Nehemiah, and more. Since the book mentions “the days when the judges judged” (Ruth 1:1), it must have been written after the time of the judges. Also, since “David” is mentioned in Ruth, it must have been written during or after his kingship. Also, the fact that customs such as the custom of giving a sandal in transacting a land transfer had apparently been forgotten (Ruth 4:6-8) indicates that quite a long time had passed between when the events described in Ruth happened and when Ruth was written down.

Ruth takes place during the time of the Book of Judges; in fact, it is likely that the events in Ruth took place when Deborah was judging (see commentary on Judges 4:18). Judges focuses on the cycles of Israel’s unfaithfulness and how they moved from disobedience to God, to oppression, to deliverance, then to time of peace during which they disobeyed again. Against that backdrop, Ruth portrays the struggles and successes of a family in Israel, and shows everyday things of life such as birth, death, love, duty, marriage, and growing and harvesting crops.

The Book of Ruth has several themes and many lessons that make Ruth well worth reading and understanding. Something that is not specifically pointed out in Ruth but becomes especially clear when one reads Judges and Ruth together is the rare devotion to Yahweh that Ruth has. Ruth, a Moabite woman, leaves the gods of her family and nation and clings to Yahweh. In contrast, during her lifetime many of the people of Israel “forsook Yahweh the God of their fathers” and served Baal and other gods (Judg. 2:13-14). The Book of Ruth thus vividly shows that faithfulness to God is a personal decision and comes from the heart, not from one’s parents or the way a person was raised.

One lesson in Ruth that is a common theme in the Bible is that often righteous people suffer when they do not personally deserve it. Elimelech and Naomi had a godly family, yet they suffered in the famine that was the result of the Israelites of the Judges period turning away from God (see commentary on Ruth 1:1).

A major theme in Ruth is redemption, and various forms of the Hebrew word appear over 20 times in Ruth (cp. “redeem,” “redemption,” “redeemer,” and “kinsman-redeemer”). That being said, it is often taught that Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer and type of Christ just as Jesus was a kinsman-redeemer to those who are saved. Although Boaz and Jesus were both kinsman-redeemers, we must be cautious in stating that Boaz was a type of Christ because any relative with the means and opportunity to be a kinsman-redeemer could be one, whereas only Jesus Christ was qualified to be our Redeemer. Naomi knew she had relatives besides Boaz who qualified to be kinsmen-redeemers, and so she said to Ruth that Boaz was “one of our kinsmen-redeemers” (Ruth 2:20). Boaz and another relative (who is not named) are pointed out as potential kinsmen-redeemers (Ruth 3:12).

The reason Boaz foreshadowed Jesus Christ was not that he was qualified to be a kinsman-redeemer but rather that he acted as one. It was Boaz in the role of kinsman-redeemer that foreshadowed the role that Jesus played as our kinsman-redeemer. But the fact that many of Elimelech’s relatives could have stepped in and been a kinsman-redeemer shifts the focus to another point in the story: the unnamed man who was the closest in relation and culture should have stepped in as the kinsman-redeemer to help Ruth and Naomi, but he selfishly avoided his responsibility, whereas Boaz stepped up to help Ruth and Naomi. Thus Ruth highlights the fact that people are often in a position to help others, and some help while others avoid the responsibility. Life is such that people often need a “kinsman-redeemer,” someone who will step in and help them in an hour of need, and good and godly people help when and where they can and it is wise to do so.

Ruth has many features that make it a wonderful book to read, and chief among them is the fact that for most people it parallels the theme of a difficult life now followed by blessings later. For people who are saved, life has a happy ending—being in paradise with Christ. It’s an old saying that “everyone loves a happy ending,” and Ruth has one. The story in Ruth begins with hardship and ends with great blessing. Ruth also has a wonderful and detailed portrayal of women, good and godly people helping each other, and the presence of the hand of an invisible God who helps in times of need.

Also, the reader should not lose sight of the most likely reason that the Book of Ruth is in the Bible at all, that Ruth and Boaz were in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the many centuries that Israel existed as a nation there would have certainly been more righteous men to marry foreigners than just Boaz. After all, Salmon married Rahab the Canaanite prostitute, and there would have been many more like Boaz and Salmon. So in the union between Boaz and Ruth, and the way it happened, we see the agenda of the Author, God, in not only displaying His goodness and grace in the Book of Ruth, but showing us His invisible hand at work in bringing forth King David and ultimately the Greater David, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Additional resources:

Video expand/contractAn Introduction to Ruth (1:00:39) (views: 5)

Ruth is a wonderful book with many themes and valuable lessons. In this Part One of a multi-part exposition of the Book of Ruth, the section 1:1-18 is covered verse by verse. This teaching is invaluable for anyone looking for a deeper understanding of this powerful and important record.

Verses: Ruth 1:1-18

Teacher: John Schoenheit

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Video expand/contractRuth Chapter 2: Ruth and Boaz (55:36) (views: 1)

This teaching continues a multi-part exposition of the Book of Ruth. There are some wonderful practical sessions in this section of Ruth as it reveals the bitterness of Naomi, the largess of Boaz, the diligence and sterling character of Ruth, and the invisible hand of God in blessing His people.

Verses: Ruth 1:19-21; 2:1-20

Teacher: John Schoenheit

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