Introduction to the Book of Ruth

Ruth and Boaz
Boaz and Ruth in the Book of Ruth. Boaz allows Ruth to glean from his fields during the harvesting because he has heard of her kindness to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Illustration by William Hole (1846 - 1917). Culture Club / Contributor / Getty Images

The book of Ruth is one of the most moving accounts in the Bible, a story of love and loyalty that is a stark contrast to today's cynical, throwaway society. This short book, only four chapters, shows how God uses unexpected people in amazing ways.

Book of Ruth

  • Author: The author of Ruth is not named. Although some sources credit Samuel the prophet, Samuel died before David's kingship, which is alluded to at the end of the book.
  • Date Written: The book was written sometime after BC 1010 since that was when David took the throne of Israel. It also refers to a "former time" in Israel, indicating it was written years after the actual events occurred.
  • Written To: The book was written to the people of ancient Israel but eventually for all future readers of the Bible.
  • Landscape: The story opens in Moab, a pagan country east of Judah and the Dead Sea. Naomi and her husband Elimelek fled there during a famine. After Elimelek and Naomi's two sons died, she decided to return to Israel. The rest of the book takes place in Bethlehem, the future birthplace of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
  • Key Characters: Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.

Book Summary

The book of Ruth is set during the time when Israel was ruled by judges. The story centers on the life of Ruth, a Moabite woman who married an Israelite living in a foreign country—Moab. After the death of Ruth’s husband (as well as his brother and father), her mother-in-law, Naomi, decides to return to her hometown in Bethlehem. Out of love and faithfulness, Ruth chooses to abandon her lifelong home to stay at Naomi’s side, accompanying her back to her homeland.

To keep them from starving to death, Ruth gleans grain in the field of Naomi’s relative, Boaz. Following Naomi’s guidance, Ruth visits Boaz at night and lies at his feet. Boaz promises to act as kinsman-redeemer for her if the one closer male relative will surrender his right to the position. Boaz negotiates with the other man and obtains the right to redeem Ruth and Naomi. The book of Ruth ends with a genealogy of the descendants of Ruth and Boaz, leading to King David.

People from Moab were often hated by the Jews, but God selected Ruth to be a direct ancestor of Jesus Christ. The book of Ruth is a beautiful illustration of God’s impartiality and faithfulness to those who are true to him.

Historical Context

Ruth and Naomi were rare female heroines at a time when women were often consigned to a secondary role and status. To survive as outsiders, they had to remain true to themselves and their God. Ruth, a foreigner to Israelite society, even becomes an ancestor of the royal line of Israel’s Messiah. 

Themes in the Book of Ruth

Faithfulness is one of the key themes of this book. We see Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, Boaz's faithfulness to Ruth, and everyone's faithfulness to God. God, in return, rewards them with great blessings.

These characters' faithfulness led to kindness toward each other. Kindness is an outpouring of love. Everyone in this book showed the type of selfless love toward others that God expects from his followers.

A high sense of honor also dominates this book. Ruth was a hardworking, morally chaste woman. Boaz treated her with respect while fulfilling his lawful responsibility. We see strong examples of obeying God's laws.

A sense of safekeeping is emphasized in the book of Ruth. Ruth took care of Naomi, Naomi took care of Ruth, then Boaz took care of both women. Finally, God took care of all of them, blessing Ruth and Boaz with a child they named Obed, who became the grandfather of David. From David's line came Jesus of Nazareth, Savior of the world.

Finally, redemption is an underlying theme in the book of Ruth. As Boaz, the "kinsman-redeemer," saves Ruth and Naomi from a hopeless situation, he illustrates how Jesus Christ redeems our lives.

Key Bible Verses

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." (NIV)

Book of Ruth 2:11-12
Boaz replied, "I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband--how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." (NIV)

Book of Ruth 4:9-10
Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, "Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon's widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!" (NIV)

Book of Ruth 4:16-17
Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, "Naomi has a son!" And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Ruth

  • Ruth returns to Judah from Moab with her mother-in-law, Naomi - Ruth 1:1-22.
  • Ruth gleans grain in the field of Boaz. The law required property owners to leave some grain for the poor and widows, like Ruth - Ruth 2:1-23.
  • Following Jewish customs, Ruth lets Boaz know he is a kinsman-redeemer and that she is eligible to marry him - Ruth 3:1-18.
  • Boaz marries Ruth; together they care for Naomi. Ruth and Boaz have a son who becomes an ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah - Ruth 4:1-28.
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Your Citation
Zavada, Jack. "Introduction to the Book of Ruth." Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, Zavada, Jack. (2021, February 8). Introduction to the Book of Ruth. Retrieved from Zavada, Jack. "Introduction to the Book of Ruth." Learn Religions. (accessed March 28, 2023).

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