Background to the Book of Ruth
Assignment: Read the entire Book of Ruth as a story.
Understanding What You Read:
- List out the people mentioned in Ruth and what you know about them.
- What do you think is the purpose of this book? Why did God see fit to include this story in the Bible?
The book of Ruth takes place during the later years covered by the book of Judges (Ruth 1:1). It serves as a contrast to the overall gloomy description of the decay of Israel (Judges 21:25). Here we find a story of love and high moral standards. Like the characters mentioned in Judges, the main characters in this story are unexpected heroes: a devastated widow and a widowed Moabite woman.
The book is named after the woman from Moab and she isn’t even an Israelite. It explains how Ruth became the ancestress of Israel’s famous King David, and ultimately the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).
Another character in the story is Boaz. He is the son of another famous woman, Rahab the Harlot (Matthew 1:5). He was a wealthy kin of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech (Ruth 2:1). We do know there is another man who was closer in kinship than Boaz (Ruth 4:3) and Boaz refers to Elimelech as “our brother,” so it is possible that Boaz was a younger brother of Elimelech.
But the story is also about Naomi, a woman who loses everything: husband and sons, but in the end, she gains a devoted daughter in Ruth and a family through Boaz and Ruth. Her life is restored (Ruth 4:15). In a way, Naomi’s life is an echo of the life Job.
But the core of the story tells us how God rewards those who make wise spiritual choices and show steadfastness in their lives.
Dating and Authorship
We don’t know who wrote the Book of Ruth. Implied in the first statement of the book: “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed” is that the author lived in an era when the judges no longer ruled over Israel. Looking at the genealogy at the end of the book, the author clearly lived during the time of David and before Solomon became king since David is mentioned (Ruth 4:17) and Solomon was not. It would also be after the significance of David was known; thus, most people place the writing early in David’s kingship.
In regards to when the events of Ruth took place, the book starts out telling us that there was a famine in the land which lead to Elimelech moving to Moab. The only mention of a food shortage in Judges was during the days of Gideon (Judges 6:3-6), though this shortage was caused by Amalekite raiders. It could just as easily been during another period where a famine was not recorded.