Ruth: The Foreign Widow

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The Foreign Widow

In Moab, Ruth's character, Kinsman redeemer

Background: Events took place during the time of the Judges
Theme: The particular mercies of God through the Kinsman Redeemer
Outline: Departure and return, Ruth's work, the kinsman's redemption

Key Verse: "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.'" (Ruth 1:16, NIV)

Chapter Index to Ruth


The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Vol I, Old Testament) is an excellent resource which I recommend.

I. Introduction (1:1-5)

1:1 The reader should make a conscious effort to place this in the time of the Judges, when the Israelites went through cycles of faithlessness. By contrast, Ruth was a faithful gentile.

1:1 Elimelech did not intend to move permanently. He was not relinquishing the family property or heritage in the land of Israel.

1:4 Marriage to Moabites was not forbidden in the law. They were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham.

1:5 A widow with no male family member would be in a desperate circumstance in the ancient middle-east.

II. Seeking a Home (1:6-22)

1:8 Naomi releases the daughters-in-law from the family obligations. This is more specific in verse 12 as she states that fulfillment of the levirate obligation is improbable. If only one son had died, the other son would have a son by the widow. But both of her sons are dead.

1:9 Rest is not rest from work, but rest from danger under the protection of a husband and his clan.

1:13 Naomi, like Job, recognizes the LORD's hand in all that happens. Yet, she does not understand or explain why this is happening to her.

1:15 Orpah returns to her 'elohim'. This word can mean god, gods, or God, depending on the context. Unlike LORD (Yahweh) the word is not used exclusively for the true God.

1:17 Ruth takes an oath in the name of the LORD to be bound to Naomi, Naomi's people, and Naomi's God. Ruth must have seen something in the words, actions, and character of Naomi which made her desire to be with the LORD's people. Not every widow would want to live with their mother-in-law.

1:19 The LORD protected these women while traveling alone on this journey.

1:21 Naomi attributes her misfortunes to the Almighty. She does not express any hope for sons from Ruth (who apparently was barren during her earlier marriage), but is 'empty'.

III. Seeking Provisions (2)

2:2 The law gave the right to glean to the poor and foreigners, but field owners might not cooperate. Also, gleaning is hard work, often giving little grain if the harvesters are especially careful. The reminder that she is a Moabitess perhaps reflects on prejudice that might occur in a field.

2:3 This indicates that Ruth did not pick this field because of family ties. However, the LORD was providential and works all things for his own purposes.

2:5 Notice that Boaz does not ask her name, but who her family and clan is.

2:7 Although she had the right to glean, she asked for permission. She looked for a field where she would find favor, and not grudging toleration. The field supervisor, a judge of laborers, admired her work ethic.

2:8 Boaz show care for Ruth, apparently because of what he has heard in Bethlehem and from his foreman. He goes beyond obligation by providing water, and his interest grows as he invites her to lunch.

2:17 About 40 pounds of grain, a considerable harvest for a gleaner. She probably could not glean that much except for the kindness of Boaz, his workers deliberately leaving some extra sheaves on the ground.

2:23 The harvests combined took about seven weeks.

IV. Seeking Redeeming Love (3)

3:1 Naomi is looking out for Ruth, who would be left with no family or land. She is not (I think) so concerned about herself.

3:3 'Best' clothes is an interpolation by the NIV, the Hebrew simply states 'garment'. Ruth was poor and did not have an extensive wardrobe, although she might have a clean garment.

3:10 The earlier kindness Boaz refers to was Ruth's loyalty to Naomi. Boaz is so pleased that he considers that Ruth is being kind to him. He obviously interprets her actions as a marriage (levirate) proposal.

3:12 The nearest kinsman (goel) is well defined. Surely Naomi knew who he was, and he must also have known of Naomi and Ruth, but has not been forthcoming in the seven weeks since their return to the land. Boaz would care for Ruth, preferably by marriage but at least by making sure the nearer kinsman fulfilled his duty.

3:13 There was no sexual encounter here, and we should not read our modern morals into this. Boaz had Ruth's best interest in mind, and did not know if he could marry her or not. Scripture is very open about the moral lapses of Biblical heroes, and in the silence here we should not assume anything other than a proposal.

V. Receiving Redemption (4:1-13)

4:1 It is typical for a protected city to be on high ground, easily defended. The 'went up' was literal, and did not refer to direction (north) as it sometimes does today, but to elevation.

4:3 It is unclear how the land could be 'sold' since Naomi did not inherit it. Perhaps Boaz raises the unclear point to push for a resolution.

4:5 Boaz makes sure Ruth is given the right to bear a son who would then inherit the land. The land would not belong to Ruth's husband, but to the son.

4:6 Perhaps the relationship was not close enough to insist on the levirate obligation, although the marriage would go with the land. The nearer kinsman would take the land only if there were no strings attached. He was not motivated by mercy towards the family of Elimelech.

4:12 The blessing for a large family recognizes that the first son would be counted as Mahlon's. Perez was an ancestor of Boaz.

4:13 Perhaps Ruth had been barren for ten years during her first marriage. The LORD enables her to have a son now.

VI. Conclusion (4:14-21)

4:14 The 'goel' or kinsman redeemer is now the son who was born. Obed was to be a comfort to Naomi in her old age.

4:15 This is a striking praise of the foreigner Ruth, in an age that stressed the importance of sons.

4:21 Salmon married Rahab of Jericho (Matt 1:4-5). The natural line of Obed is given, although his inheritance was of the line of Elimelech and Mahlon.

Application note: In contrast to the hero-judge and crisis management of the book of Judges, the events of Ruth show a number of people walking with the Lord as they should. There was still a crisis, and the Lord was clearly the deliverer (he visited his people with rain); but Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, the field workers, and the city elders all acted faithfully. Even though Naomi was depressed, she acted wisely. Although not emphasized, it was good that the field workers did not bother Ruth, a foreign woman without protection in their fields. This would be a great pattern for our families.

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Updated March 2012

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