The Old Testament book of Ruth is a favorite of many. It includes verses that are often used in weddings—“your people shall be my people”—and tells the story of a relationship between Naomi and Ruth, a widow and her daughter-in-law, that many see as a story of love and loyalty.
There are other ways to read the book, though. After outlining the basic story in the book of Ruth, this post sets out seven questions about it.
The Story of the Book of Ruth
Naomi moves with her husband and their two sons from Bethlehem to a foreign country, Moab, to escape famine. Her husband dies, leaving Naomi as a foreigner in a foreign land.
Her sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. After about 10 years, her sons die, too (apparently leaving no children).
Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah set out for Naomi’s home, Bethlehem. Naomi tells Ruth and Orpah to return to their mothers’ house. Orpah, after initially refusing, relents and returns home, but Ruth insists on staying with Naomi, saying “where you go, I will go; … your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Naomi “said no more to her” and they travel together to Bethlehem.
It is harvest season in Bethlehem, and Ruth walks in a field behind the reapers, gathering the left-overs.
The owner of the field, Boaz, notices Ruth and is kind to her, treating her well and giving her extra food. It turns out, Naomi is related to Boaz.
Naomi tells Ruth that the men will be working at the threshing floor that night and instructs Ruth to get dressed up, wait until Boaz has finished eating and drinking, and “[w]hen he lies down … go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.”
Ruth does as Naomi instructed. At midnight, Boaz turns over and asks “Who are you?” Ruth identifies herself and asks Boaz to “spread his cloak” over her and tells him he is her next-of-kin.
Boaz notes her loyalty and that she has not “gone after young men” (Boaz is much older). He says he will act as her next-of-kin if another man who is more closely related will not. Then, he says “[l]ie down until the morning,” which she does, but he has her leave before sun-up so no one will know a woman had been there.
Boaz talks with the closer kinsmen, who declines, and Ruth becomes Boaz’s wife. They have a son, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David and the ancestor of Jesus Christ.
Seven Questions About the Story of Ruth
1. Was Naomi happy that Ruth would be coming along to Bethlehem? Or was she mad?
Many see this story as one of Naomi showing love to Ruth, but when after Ruth refused Naomi’s instructions not to continue on to Bethlehem with her, Naomi “said no more to her.” Naomi was an old, childless widow, concerned about her survival. Was she happy to have her foreign daughter-in-law to worry about?
2. Why doesn’t Naomi mention Ruth when they arrive in Bethlehem? And if she is happy that Ruth joined her, why does she describe her situation in such stark terms?
When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, “the whole town was stirred.” Naomi talks with the women in town about herself and her situation and does not mention Ruth. Instead, she says God “has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” She tells them to call her bitter (Mara). The Lord bringing Naomi back with Ruth is bringing her back bitter and “empty”?
3. Why didn’t Naomi just have Ruth talk with Boaz during the day?
Naomi sends Ruth to Boaz late at night, after he had been drinking, to lay beside him.
4. What do you think “uncover his feet” after he has been drinking and lays down means?
Naomi tells Ruth to go to Boaz when he has laid down after drinking and to “uncover his feet.” Did Naomi think this was the best chance at having someone else be responsible for Ruth?
5. Did the people of Bethlehem say that Ruth is like a tricky, fake prostitute?
The townspeople said to Boaz, in celebration of his pending marriage to Ruth, “may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Tamar had dressed up like a prostitute to trick Judah into sex with her. By bringing up Tamar, were they accusing Ruth of something?
6. Why is the end of the book of Ruth about Naomi? What happened to Ruth?
At the end of the book of Ruth, Naomi takes Ruth’s son and becomes his wet nurse. The neighborhood women declare “A son has been born to Naomi.” To Naomi? Ruth is not mentioned at the end of the book.
7. Why would God put people such as Judah and Tamar into the line of Christ?
Jesus Christ’s ancestors include Judah and Tamar—Tamar was the widow of Judah’s son who pretended she was a prostitute so that Judah would impregnate her when he thought he was having sex with a prostitute. They also include Boaz and Ruth—Boaz married Ruth, a foreigner, under questionable circumstances. (I am glad God did.)
Far from depicting the prominent people of the Bible as constantly righteous and always loving and loyal, the Bible introduces us to people with the full swath of human frailties, needs, and failings. They face the pain of loss, poverty, and anxiety. They face practical moral dilemmas. They face others saying harsh things about them and their actions.
Many of them are simply trying to survive and live in difficult situations about which others do not have all the facts and that others do not fully understand.
Most Christians today view the prominent people of the Bible through a charitable and gentle lens.
If we all viewed everyone living today through that same lens, would that change us, our words, and our deeds? How can we apply that view to others today?
(The picture is one I took in January in Bethlehem of an image maybe 30 feet from the traditional location of the manger in which Jesus was placed after his birth. I just noticed the skull at the bottom of the cross today. I should look into its significance.) (November 4, 2017 insert: The skull symbolizes the location of (Golgatha) and other aspects of the crucifixation, per this article: http://catholicexchange.com/images-surrounding-crucifix.)
Notes & Sources
All scripture quoted is from the NRSV.
The story … : Book of Ruth.
1: Ruth 1:18.
2: Ruth 1:19-22.
3: Ruth 3:1-5.
4: Ruth 3:4.
5: Ruth 4:12
6: Ruth 4:16-18
7: Ruth 4:18; Genesis 38:13-19; Matthew 1:1-16.