The book of Ruth is a short one – nestled between Judges and the first book of Samuel – and it’s often overlooked as a random inclusion in the larger story of Scripture. When we focus solely on the story of Ruth herself, the story does seem a little random…but when we factor in Naomi, it takes its place as one of the greatest redemption stories in the Bible. It’s a short book, so we’ll read it together and see what we can discover about God’s heart for redemption.
Before we read about Ruth and Naomi, though, we need context for their story. They lived in the era of the judges – when murder, immorality, hedonism, and general anarchy prevailed. For a quick synopsis of the period, read Judges 21:25.
Now read Ruth 1:1-5. There are a lot of names, and it might help to draw a little family tree to get a picture in your mind. The important thing to remember? Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law, and Ruth is a Moabite – from a culture despised by Israel.
Read Ruth 1:6-18. What is your initial response to Naomi’s insistence on sending her daughters-in-law away?
From here, in order to fully understand the significance of Naomi’s story, it is important to know about the custom of levirate marriage in Israel’s culture. To learn about this, read Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Use a Bible dictionary to look up “kinsman-redeemer”. Here is some of what mine says:
The word kinsman usually refers to a blood relative, based on Israel’s tribal nature…Certain obligations were laid on the kinsman. In the case of an untimely death of a husband without a son, the law of levirate marriage becomes operative – that is, the husband’s brother was obligated to raise up a male descendant for his deceased brother and thus perpetuate the deceased’s name and inheritance. The kinsman was the deceased brother’s go’el – his redeemer. (credit: Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
It is also important to remember that in that time, an unmarried woman was defenseless and without any rights. Without a husband to provide and care for her, she was doomed to a life of poverty and shame. It is by that custom that Naomi tried to get Orpah and Ruth to return home, and in doing so, they would have hope for a future among their own people. Given the cultural context, Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law had to have been shocking.
Read Ruth 1:19-22, keeping in mind what you already know about the town of Bethlehem.
Using a concordance, see if you can find out what Naomi’s name means. How does that contrast with the name she gave herself?
Naomi clearly saw her situation as dire, and believed the Lord she had always followed had abandoned her. She had left Judah in search of food during a famine, and while the land was prosperous when she returned, she herself was in a spiritual famine.
Read Ruth 2:1-3. According to what we have just learned of Israel’s culture, what would Boaz have been considered to Naomi’s family?
Read the rest of Ruth 2, keeping the culture at the front of your mind as you do so.
In verses 8-12, what strikes you about Boaz’s character? What word would you use to describe his relationship to her at this point? (Other than kinsman-redeemer. We’ll get there in a second!)
Throughout Chapter 2, Boaz goes to great lengths to protect Ruth from what would otherwise be her destiny as an impoverished widow. He instructs his harvesters to be generous and kind to her, never so much as touching her, and thereby ensures that she and Naomi are cared for.
Naomi, meanwhile, has not stopped caring for Ruth. She still sees her as a daughter and wants to secure a future for her. Read Ruth 3:1-4.
Does this seem strange to you? It always has to me, too. Why would Naomi instruct Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet and lie there?
Commentators suggest that the act of uncovering Boaz’s feet was likely a simple way of modestly awakening him as he slept. And lying at his feet? Ruth was showing characteristic humility, recognizing that she was, in fact, at his complete mercy.
Is it hard to envision this scene? Our culture makes it difficult to understand, so it is critically important here to remember custom and culture of ancient Israel.
Read Ruth 3:5-18, noting the role of kinsman-redeemer and the clear emphasis on modest propriety in their interactions.
What do you notice about Naomi’s counsel to Ruth? Because Ruth was a foreigner, she was not familiar with Israelite custom. Naomi graciously accepted her as daughter and walked her through what needed to be done. There is much to be noted here: compassion for her daughter-in-law, strategy in securing their futures, and strength of character in following custom even in a time of desperation.
Read Ruth 4:1-12. In one sentence, summarize what happens here.
In verse 12, the elders refer to the story of Judah, which Marissa covered for us last week. Given what we know about Tamar and Perez, what is the wish of the elders for Boaz and Ruth?
Read Ruth 4:13-22, noting the genealogy at the end. Does that family line end there? What do we know about the house of David?
While Ruth is certainly a more predominant character in the story, Naomi’s role cannot be overlooked. She – an Israelite woman left at the mercy of custom – became a vessel for God’s purposes. Though she was widowed…impoverished…without hope, God was not finished with her story. In fact, her story was just beginning – and was just a chapter in the greatest story of all. She – Naomi, the forgotten widow – became the grandmother of King David…and a matriarch in the line of Jesus Himself. She who was once called bitter was redeemed by the sweetest grace of God.