Understanding the Old Testament

Ruth and Boaz

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. (Ruth 1:22) This was well-timed, because it kept them from starving to death.

Israel in the eleventh century B.C. had no social security to take care of widows like Naomi and Ruth. As a general rule, women depended upon their fathers, their husbands, or their children to take care of them. Ruth and Naomi had no one.

Fortunately, Leviticus 19:9-10 mandated that any grain or fruit which the reapers missed during the harvest be left for the poor. So Ruth followed the reapers and picked up the gleanings from the harvest. The field she chose happened to belong to Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband, Elimelech. Boaz was impressed with Ruth’s kindness and devotion to Naomi. So he treated her generously, giving her food and water, and arranging for her to find abundant gleanings in his fields throughout the harvest season. (Ruth 2:8-23)

After the harvest, and at Naomi’s suggestion, Ruth approached Boaz as he slept on the floor where he had been threshing wheat. (Ruth 3:1-8) There she “came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down.” (Ruth 3:7) Some have hinted that this language implies consenual sexual relations, but this seems unlikely in view of Ruth 3:8, which says Boaz was "startled" to find her there when he suddenly awoke, and Ruth 3:11, where Boaz says that Ruth is well known as "a woman of excellence."

Even if all she did was uncover his feet, her conduct was very risqué for that time and culture. She was clearly flirting and making known her willingness to become his wife. Boaz was flattered, because Ruth was significantly younger than he was (see Ruth 3:10). But one obstacle remained.

Under the Law, if a man died childless, his brother had a duty to marry the man’s widow and have a child with her. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6) That child would then take the name of the deceased “so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 25:6) When the child grew up, he would inherit the land which had belonged to his deceased “father.” If the dead man had no brother to perform this duty, the Book of Ruth implies that the right and responsibility fell to the man’s closest living relative. (See Ruth 3:12-13.)

Ruth's deceased husband, Mahlon, had a closer relation than Boaz. That relative was willing to purchase the land which had belonged to Mahlon, thus ensuring that it remained within the tribe of Judah. However, he was not willing to marry Ruth and give Mahlon an heir—for then the land which he had agreed to purchase would have been inherited by Ruth’s child rather than his own children. So the relative surrendered his redemption rights to Boaz, who eagerly married Ruth. (Ruth 4:4-10)

Ruth and Boaz soon had a son named Obed, who would become the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David, Israel's greatest king. (Ruth 4:13, 17)

Questions to ponder or discuss: What do you think would have happened if Ruth had remained in Moab? How has God caused events in your life to lead you to where, what, and who you are today?

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Stories of the Faithful (with some church history)


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Understanding the Old Testament


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