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Overview of Ruth

Why the ancient Book of Ruth Matters.

Setting: Time of the Judges (remember last Wednesday?)

Plot: the trials of Naomi and the providence of God

Significance of this OT book to the Gospel: part of the human lineage of Jesus, it foreshadows the ministry and mission of Jesus as well.

Points to ponder: This is a love story, but not a Hallmark version.

We are again in the Era of the Judges, between the Conquest of the Promised Land, and the time of the Kings.

Possible author—Samuel the great prophet and the Last Judge of Israel

Themes: overcoming bitterness (which really means, looking for God’s plan in difficulties rather than assuming God’s not taking care of you properly); fidelity, commitment, redemption, compassion, God’s plan

Points to ponder: This is a love story, but not a Hallmark version.

The Book of Judges showed us how wild and unrighteous the people had become. Ruth gives us some balance in its significant contrast.

Your Hebrew lesson of the week: hesed. It does not have a simple English equivalent. It is fundamentally an action, performed for the befit of someone in real and desperate need. It flows from power to powerless, a voluntary act of extraordinary mercy or generosity. We will see hesed demonstrated often in the Book of Ruth.

Prologue: Ruth 1;1-6. The phrase “there was a famine in the land” occurs only in Genesis 12:10 and 26:1, and in Ruth 1:1, this phrase clearly alludes to the famines of the patriarchs. In both of these instances, Yahweh’s sovereign plan brought blessings on His people. This is about to happen again.

Were the famine or the deaths of Elimelech and his sons a divine punishment? Why is there a famine in Israel but not next door in Moab?

Ironically the man from Bethlehem (which means “House of Bread”) left his home to find bread in Moab, a pagan land and a traditional enemy of the Israelites. “Elimelech” means “My God is King”, and “Naomi” means “pleasant, beautiful, good”. She begins to doubt the truth of her name.

Her husband dies, but at least she still has her sons, who marry Moabite women. Ten years later, they have died, childless, and Naomi is alone, empty, miserable, bitter. She has lost her clan and tribal solidarity. Might as well go home. She faces old age with no one to care for her: no husband, no sons, no grandchildren.

Scene 2 of Act I—Naomi’s return to Bethlehem

1:6-14 Naomi and her daughters-in-law on the road to Judah. Naomi urges them to return home, remarry and have good lives. She blesses them both. Orpah decides to leave, after many tears.

1:15-19 Ruth, however, wants to stay with Naomi. She now believes in the True God of Israel, and vows to stay with her widowed mother-in-law

Act II. Scene 1--2:1-17a

A blood relative of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz, went to his fields to glean. There he noticed Ruth, and he has heard about her faithfulness to her widowed mother-in-law. Impressed by her, Boaz takes compassion on her and gives her the permission to glean next to his female servants. This provides her with more safety, and more food, and offers her access to water as she works. Boaz makes it known that the men are not to bother Ruth. He also invites her to dine with him. This is a providential occurrence, because Boaz is shown as a man of God who blesses his workers and treats people generously. Ruth works diligently

Act II. Scene 2—2:17b-23. Naomi evaluates the meeting between Boaz and Ruth. She has threshed enough to feed the two women for more than a week. She has six more weeks to thresh, Boaz has saved her from starvation.

ACT III. 3:1-18. Naomi tells Ruth to dress in such a manner that shows her period of mourning her late husband is ended, and that she is available and serious about the possibility of marriage. Ruth will put herself in a very vulnerable situation on the threshing floor. If she has misread Boaz, he could easily take advantage of her. But Boaz is genuine, a true godly man, and agrees to be Ruth’s redeemer-kinsman. It is a provocative scene, but the narrator consistently depicts Ruth and Boaz as people of unmatched integrity. Loyalty and love are at the heart of their actions.

ACT IV.4:1-17. Boaz goes to the town gate, where legal actions take place. He offers the opportunity to the other kinsman to redeem Ruth. He’s not interested, and offers the chance to Boaz, who buys the land from Naomi and Ruth, and gains Ruth as a wife. Ruth is fully integrated into Bethlehem and Judah, no longer a foreigner. She is loved and bears a son.

CODA. 4:18-22. And we learn that their son is Obed, whose son will be Jesse, whose son will be King David!

Theological contributions and applications

1. God cares for us all, even the weak and seemingly powerless.

2. His mercy extends to all who request it, but it is not limited by human emotion.

3. God never abandons those who rely on Him.

Discussion questions

How can we exhibit hesed ?

How can we exhibit hesed to those who are desperately in need of assistance while avoiding becoming arrogant, and while upholding their dignity?

Since the nation of Israel was falling further away from the LORD, does the story of Ruth and Boaz remind us of how God always maintains a remnant of the faithful?

How is Boaz a “type” of Jesus? Is Ruth a “type” of Mary?

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