Drought in Israel forces a Bethlehem family to leave for greener pastures of Moab, a nation across the Dead Sea in what is now Jordan. And home of a woman named Ruth.
The Bethlehem husband and wife have two sons. They marry local Moabite women. But within 10 years, all the men are dead. Left alone are widowed Naomi and her two widowed daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah.
Where you go, I’ll go
Naomi decides to go back to Bethlehem. She hopes her relatives there will take care of her. She tells her daughters-in-law to do the same and go back to their parents. The three cry together, and Orpah leaves. Ruth refuses to go. She tells Naomi,
“Where you go, I’ll go.
Where you stay, I’ll stay” (Ruth 1:15).
Savior of the widows
When they get back to Bethlehem, Ruth goes to a barley field being harvested. She picks up grain missed by the harvester crew, as Israelite law allows. A rich farmer, Boaz, admires her devotion to Naomi. He gives Ruth extra grain to share with Naomi.
That’s just the news Naomi needed because she has been wanting to find a new husband to take care of Ruth. Boaz was a close relative of Naomi’s dead husband. That made him a candidate for the “family savior.” That’s a man who, by Israelite law, marries the childless widow of a family member. It’s ancient social security.
His job is to take care of her and provide her with a son. The woman’s first son from this marriage would take the family name of the dead husband. “That way, people in Israel won’t forget him” (Deuteronomy 25:6). And the woman would have a son to take care of her in her old age.
Ruth asks Boaz to marry her. He seems delighted. But there’s another man who’s a closer relative. So, Boaz meets him within a few hours after Ruth proposed. The other gent rejects the marriage. He said he doesn’t need another wife in his life.
Boaz marries Ruth. They have a boy: Obed.
Obed will grow up and have a son: Jesse.
Jesse will grow up and have at least seven sons, including one who will become Israel’s most famous and most admired king: David.
Unknown. Ruth’s story is a beautiful piece of literature. Like Esther, it’s one of the best in the Bible’s library. The prophet Samuel wrote the book according to the Talmud, a collection of ancient Jewish commentaries on the Jewish Bible, which is what Christians call the Old Testament. But some scholars say that’s unlikely because the birth of David is the climax of this story. Yet Samuel died before David became king. Still, it was Samuel who anointed David as God’s pick for the next king, after Saul (1 Samuel 16:13).
Ruth lived perhaps a century before her great-grandson, David, became king of Israel in about 1000 BC.
It’s unclear when someone wrote the story. Some scholars guess a writer recorded the story in David’s day, to support his right to rule. Others guess that someone wrote it about 500 years later, while exiled in what is now Iraq. In 586 BC, Babylonian invaders from Iraq leveled Jewish cities, including Jerusalem, and erased the Jewish nation from the political map. Then they exiled Jewish survivors abroad, to keep the Jewish nation from reforming.
During this time of exile, Jews no longer had access to worship in the Jerusalem temple. So, many scholars say, they focused on preserving their heritage by writing many of the stories and teachings that later became their Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament or the First Testament.
Most of the story takes place in Bethlehem, about six miles (9 km) south of Jerusalem. A man named Elimelech and his wife Naomi take their sons Mahlon and Chilion to Moab. That was a country about a 75-mile (120 km) weeklong walk around to the opposite side of the Dead Sea, in what is now Jordan.
Perhaps the climactic ending of the book is the best place to look for a clue about why someone wrote the story 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.
“Jesse had a son, David.” (Ruth 4:21).
This is David’s story—his family tree in captivating narrative. It’s the story of where Israel’s favorite king came from—born in Bethlehem to a father from the tribe of Judah and a mother from Moab.