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A. The Setting

The Book of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges,

The narrative of Ruth unfolds during the era of the Judges, a period of moral and spiritual decline in Israel. It is set in the town of Bethlehem, a small agricultural community in the land of Judah after the conquest of Canaan but prior to approximately 1050 B.C. Interestingly, the book does not attribute authorship to any specific individual, yet it provides a clue to its composition date. This clue arises from the mention of David and his genealogy, found in Ruth 4:17–22. These references indicate that the writing likely occurred after David’s accession to the throne, as documented in 2 Samuel 2, which took place around the year 1010 B.C. This chronological context places the book’s authorship firmly within the early monarchy period of Israel.

B. The Characters

The main characters in the Book of Ruth are Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.

  1. Naomi: Naomi is a central figure in the story. She is an Israelite woman from Bethlehem who experiences significant hardship. First, she loses her husband, Elimelech, while they are living in the foreign land of Moab due to a famine in their homeland. Later, both her sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also die, leaving her a widow and childless. Naomi’s name means “pleasant,” but she adopts the name “Mara,” which means “bitter,” to reflect her sorrow.
  2. Ruth: Ruth is a Moabite woman who becomes Naomi’s daughter-in-law. She is known for her deep loyalty and devotion to Naomi. After the death of her husband, Mahlon, Ruth decides to accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem, even though it means leaving her own people and homeland. Her famous declaration to Naomi, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God,” highlights her commitment to her mother-in-law and her newfound faith in the God of Israel. Ruth’s character exemplifies loyalty and righteousness.
  3. Boaz: Boaz is a prominent figure in the story and a relative of Naomi’s late husband, Elimelech. He is described as a wealthy and honorable landowner. Boaz plays a significant role in the narrative by showing kindness and compassion to Ruth and Naomi. He allows Ruth to glean in his fields to provide for their needs and eventually becomes a redeemer, marrying Ruth to ensure her welfare and continuing the family lineage of Elimelech.

C. The Theological Emphases

The Book of Ruth emphasizes several theological themes, offering readers valuable insights into the faith and providence of God:

1. Divine Faithfulness Amid Adversity: One of the central theological themes in the Book of Ruth is the unwavering faithfulness of God, even in the face of adversity. Throughout the story, we witness how God’s providence sustains Naomi and Ruth during their challenging circumstances. Despite the loss of their husbands and the hardships they endure, God’s hand is evident in their journey. This theme serves as a reminder that God remains faithful to His people, providing for their needs and guiding them through life’s trials.

2. Loyalty and Kindness: Another significant theme is the importance of loyalty and kindness, as exemplified by Ruth’s profound devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth’s heartfelt commitment to Naomi transcends cultural and familial boundaries. Her selfless actions and sacrificial love demonstrate the transformative power of loyalty and kindness. This theme underscores the value of compassionate relationships and the idea that acts of love and kindness can lead to unexpected blessings.

3. God’s Redemptive Plan: The Book of Ruth unveils a redemptive narrative as Boaz, a kinsman-redeemer, plays a pivotal role in the story. Boaz’s willingness to redeem Ruth and Naomi’s dire situation serves as a foreshadowing of God’s larger redemptive plan for humanity. Boaz’s act of redemption mirrors the concept of God’s ultimate redemption through Jesus Christ, who redeems believers from sin and brokenness. This theme highlights the idea that God’s providential actions extend beyond individual lives to encompass His grand plan for salvation.

D. The Relevance to Life of a Woman

The story of Ruth holds great relevance to the lives of women today.

1. Strength and Resilience in Adversity: Ruth’s character embodies strength and resilience in the face of adversity. Her journey from a foreign land to Bethlehem, her determination to care for her mother-in-law, Naomi, and her tireless work as a gleaner in Boaz’s fields despite the challenges all exemplify the fortitude of women. In today’s world, Ruth’s story serves as an inspiring reminder that women can overcome difficult circumstances through determination, resourcefulness, and unwavering faith.

2. Emphasis on Loyalty and Selflessness: Ruth’s unwavering loyalty and selflessness are virtues that resonate with women today. Her commitment to Naomi goes beyond cultural boundaries, illustrating the value of prioritizing relationships and demonstrating compassion towards others. Women can draw inspiration from Ruth’s example to cultivate meaningful, supportive relationships and extend kindness to those in need.

3. Importance of a Godly Partner: Ruth’s marriage to Boaz highlights the significance of finding a godly partner. Boaz is portrayed as an honorable and godly man who provides security, provision, and a sense of belonging to Ruth. This aspect of the story shows the importance of seeking partners who share one’s values and faith. It reminds women today of the potential for fulfilling, loving relationships that can contribute to their well-being and spiritual growth.

4. Inclusion in the Lineage of Jesus Christ: The Book of Ruth concludes by tracing Ruth’s lineage to King David and, ultimately, to Jesus Christ. This connection emphasizes the profound role women play in the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan. It conveys that women, like Ruth, have a part in shaping history and contributing to the lineage of faith.

Essentially, the story of Ruth is an enduring source of inspiration and encouragement for women today. It showcases qualities such as strength, loyalty, selflessness, and the pursuit of godly relationships that continue to hold value and relevance in contemporary society. It also reminds women of their potential to play an important role in both personal and spiritual contexts, contributing to a legacy of faith and resilience.

E. The Key Verse to Ponder

The key verse in the Book of Ruth is found in Ruth 1:16-17: ‘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.’ This verse shows us the unwavering commitment and loyalty of Ruth to Naomi. Its message is a powerful reminder of the importance of steadfast love and faithfulness of a woman.

Be like Ruth.

By Roge Sison

An ordained clergy of The United Methodist Church.

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