Introduction to Ruth – Ruth 1:1–22

Read the Passage: Ruth 1:1-22

Authorship and Date: The book of Ruth is named after the main human character in the book, Ruth the Moabitess. Only two Old Testament books are named after women—that is, Ruth and Esther. Ruth is only mentioned one other time in the Bible, at Matt. 1:5, which is the lineage of Jesus. The book of Ruth is technically anonymous, although Jewish tradition attributes the book to Samuel. David is cited by name in this book (cf. Ruth 4:17–22), but none of the other Kings of Israel are mentioned, thus it is reasonable to conclude that this book was written during the early years of David’s reign (1011–971 BC). The style and contents of this book also support this conclusion. Note, however, that this book narrates events that occurred several generations before the time of David. As Ruth 1:1 indicates, the context of the book of Ruth is during the time of the Judges (1375–1050 BC), hence its place in the English canon of Scripture after the book of Judges. Interestingly, at Judg. 3:12–4:1 we learn that the Moabites had oppressed Israel for 18 years before the reign of Judge Ehud.

Purpose and Theme: The book of Ruth was traditionally read during the Festival of Weeks, also known as Pentecost. There are at least five main purposes for this book. (1) The book of Ruth presents a story of hope in the midst of social chaos. In this book God providentially works to accomplish His plan of redemption through common people, even in the midst of their trials. Note that God’s name occurs 23 times in the 85 verses of this book. (2) The book of Ruth shows the uniting power of the gospel between two individuals who have little else in common. (3) The book of Ruth demonstrates the inclusion of the Gentiles into God’s plan of redemption. (4) The book of Ruth provides information on the lineage of David. Note the fact that David had a Moabite in his lineage helps to explain his friendly contact with the Moabite king at 1 Sam. 22:3–4. (5) The book of Ruth foreshadows the advent and work of Jesus, who is our Kinsman-Redeemer. Note, too, that Ruth parallels the parable of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:11–32).

Structure and Outline: Since it is a narrative, the book of Ruth is difficult to outline. This book covers about 11–12 years of time. A possible thematic outline of the book of Ruth is as follows:

  • Ruth’s Decision (1:1–22)
  • Ruth’s Service (2:1–23)
  • Ruth’s Redemption (3:1–18)
  • Ruth’s Reward (4:1–22)

Elimelech’s Flight (1:1–5)

The book of Ruth opens by referring to a famine in the land of Israel. In Scripture famines seem quite frequent in Palestine, as they are mentioned during the times of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Given that the context is during the time of the judges, the famine mentioned in Ruth 1:1 may have been the result of Israel’s idolatry (cf. Lev. 29:19–20), although no famine is cited in the book of Judges (cf. Judg. 6:3–4). The mention of Bethlehem, which was later the place of Jesus’ birth, is ironic, for the term means “house of bread.” There was also a Bethlehem in Zebulon (Josh. 19:15). In Ruth 1:5 we meet Elimelech, husband of Naomi and father of Mahlon and Chilion. Elimelech moved his family to Moab, to escape the famine. While in Moab his boys married local women. Over the course of ten years, Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion all passed away.

Naomi’s Return (1:6–13)

The death of Naomi’s family and the end of the famine in Israel set the stage for her to return to the Promised Land. Back in Bethlehem Naomi had friends (cf. Ruth 1:19) and family (cf. Ruth 2:1) who could ministry to her during her grief. It was only logical for Naomi to encourage her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, for her sons had passed away and there were no moral or legal ties between them. Although Ruth and Orpah expressed a desire to return with Naomi, she reasoned against them, noting that she was unable to bear her daughters-in-law future husbands. Perhaps Naomi had the law of levirate marriage in mind (cf. Deut. 25:5–10). In her grief, Naomi concluded her reasoning with her daughters-in law by exclaiming, “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13).

Ruth’s Devotion (1:14–22)

Naomi’s daughter-in-law Orpah heeded Naomi’s advice and remained in Moab. Ruth, however, clung to her mother-in-law. In Naomi’s final plea to Ruth, we get an idea that Ruth had become a worshiper of the LORD, for Naomi says that Orpah has returned “to her gods” (Ruth 1:15). Then, in Ruth’s response to Naomi, there is clear evidence that Ruth had forsaken worship of the Moabite god Chemosh and had become a Jewish proselyte and worshiper of God. Ruth declared to Naomi, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. . . . The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16–17). After making the 60–75 mile journey to Bethlehem, which would have taken over a week, Naomi is greeted by former friends, who question her identity. Clearly, Naomi’s life struggles had taken a toll on her body.

Application Questions:

  1. Was it sinful for Elimelech to move his family to Moab?
  2. Was it sinful for Mahlon and Chilion to marry Moabite women?
  3. Why did Ruth and Orpah express a desire to return to Israel with Naomi?
  4. Is Naomi’s statement that God was against her a reasonable conclusion?
  5. Like Naomi, have you ever overlooked God’s blessings upon your life?
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