There is a narrative quality to the Bible. We have to appreciate truth in the story, because stories express truth. We tend to dismiss things as just a story. Even with modern technology, the Internet. YouTube, and Facebook are full of stories. Scientific facts are not poetry and thus they have different rules. The story world helps us understand our real world. We would not have a real world without language and story. Non-literate societies emphasized oral story as very important. Even today, whether it is television or movies, we love a good story. In the 1997 movie “Titanic” the story was simple, the ship sunk. However, the love story of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet drew us in and made us feel the whole story. Historical novels are very popular as a means of understanding the past historical times.
What a wonderful love story! This lady named Ruth from Moab turns out to be the grandmother of King David. Thus, she is part of the lineage that leads to Jesus of Nazareth. The setting is the time of the judges when there is no king in Israel. Apparently there were hard times in Bethlehem. This book had been made into a film, The Story of Ruth, a couple of times. Other biblical stories like Noah and the Ten Commandments have become movies also.
Why is this book here in the Bible? In the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Ruth is found among the writings (Ketuvim) in particular among the five scrolls or Five Megillot with the Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther. In the Christian Bibles it is found among the so-called histories, after the Book of Judges. This, of course, follows the place that it had in the Greek Septuagint and Jerome’s Latin Vulgate. So for many Christians, this is a semi-historical book. There had been some thought that it was written by the prophet Samuel, whose two books with his name come next in the Christian Bible. However, it is probably a post-exilic composition from the 6th to 4th century BCE.
Naomi with her husband and two sons moved to Moab. This is strange since it was not clear that Moab and Israel were on good terms. Her two sons married Moabite women, which would have been forbidden in Israel. However, the two of them along with Naomi’s husband died. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. So Ruth, the Moabite wife of one of the sons, went with her. There is a beautiful little chant of Ruth about going wherever Naomi went as they came back to Israel.
Now we have two widows living in Bethlehem who are not rich. One was this foreigner Ruth. She went out to glean the fields, picking up the scraps of grain that fall to the ground at harvest time. She was allowed to take them for herself. Everyone noticed Ruth. There she met Boaz, the man who owned the land. He was a man of God, very upright. He also was a relative of Naomi’s late husband. It is never clear what kind of cousin he was. Apparently there was another unnamed person, who was a closer relative.
Naomi decided to try and lure Boaz at the harvesting time. She sent Ruth, all dressed up with her finest garments to go the threshing floor when Boaz was asleep. They had a discussion of what was to happen. Boaz decided to solve the problem by going to the town elders and asking if the closest relative would exercise the law of levirate to take care of Ruth and Naomi. He said no, so that Boaz agreed that he would marry Ruth and take care of Naomi. The story ended happily when Boaz and Ruth were married. They had a child who would be the father of Perez, the father of David.
Thus this outside Moab woman would have a role in the royal lineage of Israel. In fact, Moses had married a non-Israelite. This moving story of a foreign woman taking on an important role in Israel was a continual reminder of the freedom of Yahweh to choose whomever he wants to be a leader.