Book of Ruth


Authorship, date, and background Jewish tradition has it that Samuel wrote the books of Samuel, Judges, and Ruth. The statement about David in 4:17, 21 suggests that it was not written earlier than David's time. This means it was written either during his time or later. Thus Samuel could have been the author if the book was written in David's lifetime. The book itself mentions no author. Therefore, no one can be dogmatic as to the authorship.

The events recorded in Ruth occurred during the time of the Judges. The chronology depends on when the Exodus from Egypt is dated. If the early date of the Exodus is taken (ca. 1440 B.C.), then Ruth and Boaz lived during the latter times of the Judges. In any event, they were the great-grandparents of David, who was the third generation after Boaz. Thus the events occurred around 1100 B.C., even though the book may have been put up into written form later.

The period of the Judges was marked by anarchy in which men did what was right in their own eyes. A recurring pattern of apostasy followed by repentance and restoration marked this period. Dislocations were common, intermarriage with non-Israelite peoples took place, and yet everyday life went on amidst the turbulent times. Ruth is a refreshing story, not fiction or fable, of how common people lived through disasters and managed to love, marry, raise children, and worship the true God.

The book of Ruth is one of the five Megilloth or scrolls, shorter Old Testament books which could be read publicly at certain religious festivals. The Song of Songs was read at Passover, Lamentations the ninth of Aba, Ecclesiastes at Tabernacles, Esther at Purim, and Ruth at Pentecost (Feast of Weeks). In the Hebrew Bible, Ruth was in the last section known as the Hagiographa (Holy Writings). The book of Ruth follows the book of Judges in our English Bibles, after the pattern of the Septuagint. It appears after Psalms, Job, and Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible.

Characteristics and content The book of Ruth is one of the loveliest books in the Bible. It deals with the pilgrimage of ordinary families exemplified by the lives of Elimelech and Naomi of Bethlehem, who go with their two sons to Moab because of famine conditions in their own land. Their sons marry and die without leaving any children. One widow, Orpha, does not return to Bethlehem with Naomi after the death of her husband. Faithful Ruth clings to Naomi. String emphasis is placed on levirate marriage (the nearest male must preserve the name of the deceased by producing offspring with the widow). Boaz is a near kinsman. After Naomi has set the stage for Boaz to play the kinsman's role, he first arranges for a nearer kinsman to decline so that he can marry Ruth and continue the line of Elimelech, Ruth's father-in-law, and her first husband, Mahlon. After a period of suspense, the happy ending is marked not only by Gentile, Ruth, becomes part of the kingly line of David. She is a convert to Judaism, and thoroughly identifies herself with the chosen people of God.