The story of Ruth takes place “in the days when the judges ruled.” The exact dates are not known, so I must conclude this isn’t central to the theme; rather, just understanding this was during the time of the judges provides all the context needed. Having just read Judges, I would say these were difficult times for the Israelites. Ruth provides an example of tragedy and triumph on a personal level.
Famine drives Elimelek and Naomi and their two sons to Moab to find food. While there, all the men die and Naomi is left with her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi hears that the Lord was providing for Israelites, so she made plans to return to Judah and tells her in-laws to go back to their people. Orpah concedes, but Ruth hangs on.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. 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 deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17
Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem as the harvest was beginning. Naomi is bitter, but no doubt happy to be home. Ruth makes plans to glean from the harvest to support them. This turns out to be a wonderful blessing as she gleans in Boaz’s field, a man from Elimelek’s clan. Boaz notices Ruth and instructs his people to treat her well. There’s no indication of lustful desire or love at first sight. It may be that Boaz was really a man of integrity, one who knew the backstory of Naomi and had compassion, even sympathy for Ruth. Boaz approaches Ruth and tells her to glean with the other women, have water when she’s thirsty, etc. Ruth knows this is special treatment and asks, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10).
Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. Ruth 2:11
Boaz treats Ruth with great kindness, an example for us all to consider. He has nothing to gain by taking in Ruth. No particular honor, no prize or reward. He is however earning eternal rewards by inviting this foreigner into the fold.
Ruth goes home with a bundle from the harvest and Naomi is overjoyed (my term). It turns out that Boaz is a guardian-redeemer, a position in the family for those “responsible for protecting the interests of needy members of the extended family” (NIV Study Bible notes). Naomi has hope.
In Chapter 3 Naomi develops a plan for Ruth, a plan to secure Ruth’s future as a reward for her dedication. She gives Ruth specific instructions about lying down next to Boaz, what to do and when.
And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Ruth 3:11
Boaz is really impressed with Ruth and is making plans to invoke his guardian-redeemer wildcard, but there’s a catch: he’s not the closest relative [dramatic music plays, Ruth’s expression is one of confusion] (what a great drama!). Ruth returns after the night with more barley and tells Naomi about the evening.
Chapter 4: Cunning Boaz.
Boaz gathers ten elders and the next-in-line guardian-redeemer for a meeting. He begins by explaining Naomi is selling some land and the next-in-line guardian-redeemer has the first right to make the purchase. He jumps on the offer, but Boaz adds some more information.
Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property. Ruth 4:5
Whoa Boaz…deal’s off…you buy the land and the foreigner with it! Part of me thinks this is all a formality, the other redeemer knew about Ruth, that she was gleaning in Boaz’s fields, etc. Not that this dilutes the story, perhaps even strengthens it by showing men of honor during difficult times.
We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. Ruth 4:11
Boaz has a wife and they have a son, a name that is familiar in a lineage that bears the name Jesus.
The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth 4:17
The book of Ruth is such a wonderful relief from the dreadful stories in Judges. Here we see men and women of honor acting and behaving in a manner worthy of study. Jesus challenges us all to be kind to those in need (e.g., Matthew 25). Lord help me learn from the men of Ruth. Thank you for providing this story in between Judges and Kings!