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Ruth may have other meanings. For these, see Ruth (disambiguation).



Ruth was a woman who lived in ancient Bethlehem. The book of Ruth in the Old Testament tells her story. She showed her faithfulness to her mother-in-law and followed her back to a foreign land. She was rewarded by God and met a man named Boaz, whom she married and later had a son with, Obed, who was the grand-father of King David.


Scholars agree that Ruth is a narrative story, and they often use terms like 'novella' or historical fiction to describe it.[6] [7] The plot of a novella is more central than historical data; however, that is not to say this style of writing ignores historical facts or for that matter theological precepts. This style of writing reflects the craftsmanship of the writer.

The mood of the story is fashioned from the start through the meanings hidden in the names of the participants. Elimelech, which means "my God is King,"[8] foreshadows the continuance of his line to King David, who is God’s anointed on earth. Naomi, which means "my gracious one" or "my delight,"[9] later asks to be called Mara, "the bitter one."[10] Naomi’s name change elicits the emotions that she is experiencing and the direction of the story. Even the names of the two sons, Mahlon ("sick")[11] and Chilion ("weakening" or "pining")[12] alerts the reader to their physical conditions. Orpah (meaning "mane" or "gazelle", from the root for "nape" or "back of the neck")[13] turns her back on Naomi and returns to her people; Ruth (meaning "friend")[14] pledges her loyalty to Naomi. Boaz ("fleetness"[15] or "strength is (in) him" or "he comes in strength") becomes the kinsman redeemer and Obed’s name appropriately means "servant."[16] Obed is the ancestor of King David, and Israel’s kings are servants of Yahweh. The use of names in the Book of Ruth deepens the story’s narrative strength and assists the reader in appreciating the text’s meaning.

The marriage of Boaz and Ruth was of a type known as a Levirate marriage. Since there is no heir to inherit Elimelech's land, the Levirate Law is triggered by the redemption[17][18] in this unusual situation. The levirate custom required a close relative (usually a brother-in-law) to marry the widow of the deceased in order to continue his family line Deuteronomy (25:5–10). Interestingly, Ruth is not Elimelech’s widow and Boaz is not his brother. Therefore, some scholars refer to Boaz’ duty as “Levirate-like” or as a "kinsman-marriage."[19]

Moreover, the Israelites understanding of redemption included both that of people and of land. In Israel land had to stay in the family. The family could mortgage the land to ward off poverty; and the law of Leviticus 25:25ff required a kinsman to purchase it back into the family. The kinsman, who Boaz meets at the city gate, first says he will purchase the land, but upon hearing he must also take Ruth as his wife he withdraws his offer. His decision was primarily a financial decision since a child born to Ruth through the union would inherit Elimelech’s land, and he would not be reimbursed for the money he paid Naomi. Boaz becomes Ruth and Naomi’s "kinsman-redeemer." [20]

The Israelites' understanding of redemption is woven into their understanding of Yahweh. God stands by the oppressed and needy. He extends his love and mercy offering a new freedom and hope. God has a deep concern for the welfare of his people, materially, emotionally and spiritually. The redemption theme extends beyond this biblical book through the genealogy. First, in Ruth 4:13 God made her conceive. Second, through the genealogy it is shown that the son born to Naomi is more than just a gift from God to continue her lineage. The history of God’s rule through the David line connects the book’s theme in to the Bible’s main theme of redemptive history.

Hesed, sometimes translated as "loving kindness," also implies loyalty. The theme of hesed is woven throughout Ruth, beginning at 1:8 with Naomi blessing her two daughters-in-law as she urges them to return to their Moabite families. She says, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” Both Ruth and Boaz demonstrate hesed to their family members throughout the story. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure. Rather, they are acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that a person can be required to go beyond the minimum expectations of the law and choose the unexpected. However, the importance of the law is evident within the Book of Ruth, and the story reflects a need to stay within legal boundaries. Boaz, in going beyond measure in acquiring the property (demonstrating hesed), redeems not only the land but both Naomi and Ruth as well. The two widows now have a secure and protected future.


  • Ruth at Mechon Momre – (Jewish Publication Society of America Version)
  • Jewish Virtual Library
  • Jewish Encyclopedia
  • Ruth – English translation [with Rashi commentary]
  • Christian translations and study guides
  • The Kinsman Redeemer
  • Online Bible –
  • Biblegateway
  • Bible Study on Cross-Cultural Love – InterVarsity website
  • Other links
  • Catholic Encyclopedia

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