Old Testament Interpretive Commentary of Ruth

Old Testament Orientation I

Introduction

The book of Ruth is known by even people with the bible’s basic knowledge. Examples of initial impressions evident in this book include Naomi and Ruth’s travel. The book also notes the significant relationship the two had, which led to the redemption of the poor Moabite widow. Upon a depth analysis, the reader (audience) takes notes of various themes, including the provision of God and his will towards people. As evident in the common English Bible, the story takes place when the judges ruled and is physically located after the book of “judges.” The book’s overarching theme is that of redemption. Twenty occurrences of the verb “to redeem” acts as a reminder that God was and is still faithful. Interestingly, God uses the poor and unknown and widowed woman to marry into the messianic lineage. Boaz took the Gentile woman (Ruth) into the Davidic ancestry and the messianic lineage. Redemption, in this case, refers to hope for all when Jesus Christ enters the world. So the story begins where Ruth, a widowed gentile woman, gives hope to the Jewish family.

Exegetical Outline

The book of Ruth can effectively be divided into four sections in conjunction with the chapters. It reads as a four-act-play. Longman and Garland add that the climax of the book occurs when Boaz proposes to Ruth. Heclaims to redeem the Gentile bride into Israel’s family.[1] This Old Testament book will be divided as follows:

Follows:

  1. Introduction (1:1-5)
    1. A trip of tragedy (1:1-2)
    1. The loss of loved ones (1:3-5)
  2. A Faithful Following (1:6-22)
    1. The choice (1:16-18)
    1. The return (1:19-22)
  3. Provisions of Faith (2:1-23)
    1. God’s sovereign hand (2:1-3)
    1. The kindness of Boaz (2:4-17)
    1. The presence of joy (2:18-23)
  4. Redeeming Love (3:1-18)
    1. Redemptions plan (3:1-5)
    1. Redemptions claim (3:6-9)
    1. Redemptions promise (3:10-15)
    1. Redemptions hope (3:16-18)
  5. Receiving the Reward (4:1-13)
    1. The finished redemption (4:9-12)
    1. The reward of redemption (4:13)
  6. Conclusion (4:14-22)
    1. A joyous fulfillment (4:14-17)
    1. A kingly future (4:18-22)

Interpretive Commentary

Introduction

After analyzing the story, it seems to start quickly and transitions through the initial events rapidly. The story’s settings also seem to be stark and questionable. The audience might question why Elimelech brought his family to Moab, while others might wonder why the Israelites family stays for long. While some questions are quickly answered, God’s providence and redemption seem to be the real story to behold.[2]

A Trip of Tragedy (Ruth 1:1-2)

The events are introduced when the book’s author reveals how the story occurs. According to the author, “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled…” (Ruth 1:1 KJV). In this case, the author addresses the timeframe which the audience is already familiar with. The timeframe is, however, mentioned with scant details. The famine worsened the time of rule by the judges. Elimelech’s family, including his sons and wife, traveled to Moab and dwelled there. In the scripture, it is not clear as to why they choose to settle in Moab. However, it would be possible that the famine never attacked Moab. Later, his decision to settle in Moab proved unwise. On the contrary, he could have chosen Bethlehem, where God had planned to bless him.[3]

In Genesis 19:30-38, it is noted how the Moabites descended from Lot and his daughters when they lay with him. This group continued despising Israel, and according to Numbers 22-25, they never wanted to allow them into the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 23:3-6 indicates how they were banned from entering the congregation of the Lord forever because of their stance against Israel. Throughout biblical history, the Moabites seem to have had a volatile relationship while battling with Israelites on many occasions[4]. It is shocking how Israelites easily choose to go to the region instead of seeking God’s providence and plan.

Losing Loved Ones (Ruth 1:3-5)

As earlier predicted, tragedy strikes, and Elimelech dies. His sons, named Mahlon and Chilion, decided to marry Moabites girls, Ruth and Naomi. Interestingly, the book never specifies which son married either of the Moabite until the narrative in Ruth 4:10. However, the book records that the two never had children even after ten years of marriage.[5] An important thing to note is that the marriage brought Ruth under Naomi’s influence. Tragedy restrikes, and Elimelech’s sons die. The story of providence reappears, where God had to provide for the two widows. In v.1b, Elimelech’s brief visit turned into an extended stay v.2b and later a permanent one v.4b. The family dwelt there for ten years. Hubbard, in his work, mentions that the Jewish rituals viewed Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion’s death as a God’s punishment for leaving their home town (Bethlehem). However, the book does not include such thoughts.[6]

A Faithful Following (1:6-22)

The Choice (Ruth 1:6-18)

With the men dead, the widows were stranded. Firstly, Naomi overhears of the way God provided for his people with bread (Ruth 1:6). After a few challenges, she pleaded with them to return to their families, Ruth 1:8-9. However, they wanted to remain with her. With Naomi’s second plea to the women to return to their mothers, Oprah chooses to return. However, Ruth stayed behind even without God’s instructions (Ruth 1:14). Also, she never received a promise like Abraham in Gen 12:1-3. An additional truth to note in this case is that choosing a godly company has magnificent benefits. Oprah may or may not have a good life upon returning to Bethlehem and remarrying. However, such details are not explored either.[7]

The Return (Ruth 1:19-22)

After she renamed herself as Mara, Naomi’s bleak outlook becomes evident. Even though her name meant “in whom the Lord delighted,” she renamed herself as Mara, which means bitter. The name Mara was picked because of the trouble she went through. Naomi accused the Lord of being mean with her and forgot the glorious things that he had done to her. She later returned to seek God’s sustenance not only for her but also for Ruth. From Naomi’s story, it is evident that a painful past can lead one to make a more accurate understanding of the hand of God in a matter.

Provisions of Faith (Ruth 2:1-23)

Through giving direction to a willing and faithful Gentile, God’s story of redemption is evident. The book translates from the foreign experience with God to a journey of forgiveness and repentance where Ruth and Naomi went back to Bethlehem. As Longman argues in his work, “return” is a critical word in the book of Ruth. In the first chapter, Hebrew forms of this word are used severally.[8]

God’s Sovereign Hand (Ruth 2:1-3)

On return to Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth started working upon Boaz’s fields. Boaz seems to be a good and wealthy man. According to Ruth 2:1, Boaz comes from the family of Elimelech. Naomi, on the other hand, had a Kinsman of her husband. In this case, she was working for someone she was familiar with. Because of his wealth and being famous, Boaz seemed to be a strong influencer among his peers. God’s providence leads the Moabite widow to work for Boaz, and without such providence, the story would have been different.[9]

Boaz Kindness (Ruth 2:4-17)

According to Leviticus 19:9-10, gleaning in the fields is left for the poor and strangers. In the book of Ruth, it is evident that Boaz believed this since he was a wealthy man. After he noticed Ruth, Boaz told his reapers who she was. In Ruth 2:6, Boaz indicates that Ruth is a Moabites damsel who came back from Moab. Boaz was gracious to her and even allowed her to continue gleaning and stay close to his maidens. He continues blessing Ruth to the extent of requesting her to dine with him. He also commanded the reapers to leave a handful of purposes for her without rebuking her as they were used to.[10]

The Presence of Joy (Ruth 2:18-23)

God’s providence not only provided for Ruth but also to her mother in law, Naomi. According to Ruth 2:18, Naomi saw what Ruth had gleaned and gave it to her. It was interesting how she gathered as much that sustained for her and the mother in law. Ruth returning to Naomi ended her emptiness and filled her with anticipation, hope, and thanksgiving. Afterward, Naomi wanted to know who was providing for Ruth, and when she came to know, she revealed to her the relationship they had with Boaz. Ruth 2:20 states that “The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen”. The wording of this verse is interesting. Instead of saying my kinsmen, she says our kinsmen. Such pronouncement also raised hope for Ruth. In accordance with this section of the book, Naomi seems to accept that Boaz is being used by God to provide for them and encourages Ruth to continue gleaning.[11]

Redeeming Love (Ruth 3:1-18)

In Ruth 1:20, Naomi’s temporal happiness turns back to Mara. In no longer trying to survive, Naomi arranges to secure a future for her beloved Ruth, which is the pivotal turning point of the story.

Redemption Plan (Ruth 3:1-5)

In Ruth 3:1-5, Naomi has a renewed hope for the future. After discovering the kinsman, she advises Ruth to approach Boaz to secure her future husband. Naomi’s plan was for Ruth to observe Boaz and approach him at night when he went to retire. She gave her instructions on what to do. Ruth acted in unquestionable obedience of her mother in law.[12]

Redemption Claim (Ruth 3:6-9)

In Ruth 3:7, Naomi told Ruth, “to lie down at the end of the heap of corn” (3:7). As Nielson’s work argues, it is as if Boaz was lying near the field to protect his harvest.[13] Hubbard argues that probably he needed somewhere he would get up fast and early for the next day’s work.[14] Immediately he laid down, Ruth came and uncovered his feet, which were an act of ceremonial proposal. When Boaz asked who uncovered his feet, Ruth replied that it was the handmaid. It is worth noting that Ruth no longer identified herself as a Moabite. Following Naomi’s instructions, Ruth proposed to Boaz, telling him to spread his skirt to thy handmaid. In Ezekiel 16:8, God uses a similar quote, “I spread my skirt over there, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I swear unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine.”

Redemption Promise (Ruth 3:10-15)

After the proposal, Boaz never gave a direct answer. On the contrary, he went ahead to give his blessings. Boaz also complimented her and thanked her for her kindness (Ruth 3:11). Despite acknowledging that he had to accomplish the nearest kinsman’s role, he allowed the nearer kinsman to respond to the opportunity on their part (Ruth 3:13). Later, Boaz seeks out the nearer kinsman and gives Ruth six measures of barley to take to Naomi.

Redemption Hope (Ruth 3:16-18)

After Ruth gets back home with the barley, she narrates to Naomi how the events turned out. The barley gift is an excellent sign to Naomi that everything is good and that the issue will be taken off quickly. According to Ruth 3:18, the scene closes when Naomi assures Ruth that Boaz will effectively take care of the situation. She also advises her to wait for a conclusion patiently.[15]

Receiving the Reward (Ruth 4:1-13)

In this section, Boaz has finally taken full control of the situation and diligently works the matter. The setting has also moved from the threshing floor to the gate of Bethlehem, where much business takes place.

The Finished Redemption (Ruth 4:9-12)

After concluding the legal transaction, Boaz vows to sacrificially redeem all Elimelech’s, including Chilion’s and Mahlon’s (Ruth 4:9). He then claims Ruth as his future wife. According to Leviticus 25, the kinsman-redeemer has a responsibility linked to the Year of Jubilee.[16] This function establishes the restoration of sold belongings to the original possessor. Later after the transaction, the witnesses blessed both Ruth and Boaz and prayed for her fertility.

The Reward of Redemption (Ruth 4:13)

In these verses, redemption has already taken place, and new hope has been rejuvenated. Boaz and Ruth’s finally bore a son named Obed. According to Ruth 1:9, the rest that Naomi had wished for Ruth has already come to pass. From the time Ruth and Naomi lost their husbands to their provision through Boaz, God showed his sovereignty and blessing. Naomi went from a life of lack and bitterness to the life of sweetness and fullness. In this case, the Lord directly intervenes.

Conclusion (Ruth 4:14-22)

The story ends with Naomi praising God for her blessing and provision he gave them. The conclusion of it all is a lineage up to David.

A Joyous Fulfillment (Ruth 4:14-17)

In this chapter, the women are praising God for the blessing in Naomi’s life. The women of Bethlehem had earlier witnessed the emptiness in Naomi’s life and praised God since she had received a kinsman-redeemer. In this situation, God’s sovereignty in the life of this poor widow is evident. The bitter one was now blessed, and his provision becomes clear. The child later became the grandfather of King David.

A Kingly Future (Ruth 4:18-22)

The book’s concluding genealogy starts from Pharez up to David. It is a fantastic story from rags to riches, which leads David the King and the Messianic line preservation. God’s providence was at work. David sounded God’s providence triumph over the vicissitudes suffered by the names that were listed.[17]

In summary, Ruth’s story establishes a timeless, biblical, and clear principle applicable to all Christians in different eras. The prevailing of Gods’ will is higher than the personal circumstances. Elimelech decided to leave his town with his family in search of food. Unfortunately, he failed to seek God’s guidance in his decision-making process. In this circumstance, leaving Bethlehem was not the right call. When Elimelech dies and his sons, the women are left to struggle to even feed themselves. When Christians fail to seek God’s guidance in making decisions, they may end up making fateful decisions. In Proverbs 3:5-6, Solomon states that people should “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Pro 3:5-6). The principle of community was also evident where Ruth refused to leave Naomi. She even went ahead to make Naomi’s God her God. Such events encourage Christians to keep godly relationships. In Romans 12:11, the word of God states that Christians should show affection one to another with brotherly love. Trusting God and his ways bring eternal blessings as well as provisions. Finally, the book majorly focuses on the redemption theme. The kinsman-redeemer went ahead to accept Ruth and brought her out of poverty. Likewise, Jesus died on the cross to save humankind from not only the sin but spiritual poverty. Such redemption results in new hope and blessings. Boaz brought Ruth to the kingly lineage, and when one gets born again, Christ accepts them and brings them to the kingly lineage. As Galatians 4:4-5 argues, God sent his Son to redeem people from the law. Once they are redeemed, they receive the adoption of sons.

Bibliography

Embry, Brad. “Legalities in the Book of Ruth: A Renewed Look.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 41.1 (2016): 31–44. Accessed August 26, 2019. www. sagepub. co.uk/joumalsPermissions.nav/10.1177/0309089216628519.

Hubbard, Robert L. The Book of Ruth. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988.

Longman, Tremper, III, and David E. Garland. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006–2012.

MacArthur, John. Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, John MacArthur Study Guides. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016.

Nielsen, Kirsten. The Old Testament Library-Ruth. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.

Robert Houston Smith et al. Old Testament History: A Commentary on Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983.

Schipper, Jeremy, and John J. Collins. Ruth: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016.


[1] Tremper, Longman III, and Garland, David. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 2012.

[2] Houston, Robert, S et al. Old Testament History: A Commentary on Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I & II Samuel, I & II Kings, I & II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther. (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 83.

[3] John, MacArthur Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, John MacArthur Study Guides. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2016) 16.

[4] Longman and Garland, 2006.

[5] MacArthur, 22.

[6] Robert, Hubbard L. The Book of Ruth. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 67.

[7] Tremper Longman, and Garland David, 45.

[8] Ibid., 52

[9] Robert, 133.

[10] Jeremy Schpper and Collins John. Ruth: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016), 67.

[11] Ibid., 69.

[12] Robert, 207.

[13] Kirsten, Nielson. The Old Testament Library-Ruth. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 46.

[14] Robert, 209.

[15] Jeremy Schipper, and Collins John, 20.

[16] Embry, Brad “’Redemption-acquisition’: the marriage of Ruth as a theological commentary on Yahweh and Yahweh’s people,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 7, no. 2 (Fall 2013): 260. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials PLUS, EBSCOhost

[17] Robert, 285

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