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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Ruth

- Ruth

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE

This book received its title in honor of the heroine of the story. One writer argued that Naomi is the main character in the plot, Boaz is the main character in the dialogue, and Obed is the main character in the purpose of the book. [Note: Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth, p. 588.] The name Ruth may mean "friendship," "comfort," or "refreshment." It appears to have been Moabite and not Hebrew originally, though its etymological derivation is uncertain. [Note: Ibid., p. 587.] Another writer suggested that it may derive from the Hebrew rwh meaning "to soak, irrigate, refresh." [Note: Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth, p. 94.] After Ruth entered Israel, and especially after the Book of Ruth circulated, the name became popular among the Jews, and later, among Christians. The same title appears over the book in its Hebrew (Masoretic), Greek (Septuagint), Latin (Vulgate), and modern language versions.

DATE AND WRITER

It is safe to assume that the Book of Ruth was put in its final form after David became king in Hebron, in 1011 B.C., since he is recognized as a very important figure in the genealogy (Rth_4:17; Rth_4:22). How much later is hard to determine. The Babylonian Talmud attributed authorship of the book to Samuel. [Note: Baba Bathra, 14b.] This statement reflects ancient Jewish tradition. Modern critical scholars tend to prefer a much later date on the basis of their theories concerning the date of the writing of Deuteronomy, which many of them say was written during or after the Babylonian exile, and Joshua through 2 Kings, which they believe could not have been written before Deuteronomy. Most conservatives reject these theories as having no solid basis in the text or in history.

The writer is unknown to us, but he may have been Samuel or one of Samuel’s contemporaries. Daniel Block believed that a resident of the formerly Northern Kingdom, whose family had survived the Assyrian conquest and deportation a century earlier, could have written it. [Note: Block, p. 597.] The Book of Ruth was attached to the end of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Bible. Later, the Jews placed Ruth in the third major division of their canon, the Kethubim (Writings).

"In most Hebrew Bibles, Ruth occurs immediately after Proverbs and before Song of Songs in the Writings, the third section of the Tanak. This placement associates Ruth with Proverbs 31, the poem of the virtuous woman, and the Song of Songs, in which the woman takes the lead in the relationship." [Note: Trember Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 144.]

The Jews used Ruth in the liturgy of the feast of Weeks (Pentecost). [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, "Ruth," in The Old Testament Explorer, p. 197.] This implies a common authorship or compilation of the two books of Judges and Ruth. The Babylonian Talmud supported this connection. Minor additions and changes may have taken place under the superintending ministry of the Holy Spirit after its original composition. However, the structure and unity of Ruth argue for it being the product of one writer, rather than a composite put together by many hands over a long time. A few writers have suggested that the writer was a woman since the story concerns two rather assertive women. [Note: Norman Gottwald, The Hebrew Bible-A Socio-Literary Introduction, p. 555.] However, this suggestion is only speculation since there is no solid data to support it.

SCOPE

The writer said that the era in which the events recorded took place was during the period when the judges governed Israel (Rth_1:1). Many students of the book have concluded that the genealogy in Rth_4:18-22 helps to identify when during this period Ruth lived. If the genealogy is complete, Boaz lived during the seventh generation after Perez, the son of Judah, and Boaz was King David’s great-grandfather. Life spans during the patriarchal period were sometimes very long, so it may be safer to calculate back from David. Conservative dates for David’s lifetime are about 1041-971 B.C. [Note: Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 244; and Leon Wood, Distressing Days of the Judges, p. 254.] David was the seventh son born to his father (1Ch_2:15), who may have been born 35 years or more earlier. Boaz might have been born about 1150 B.C. and his son, Obed, by Ruth, about 1100 B.C. Since most of the events recorded in Ruth took place shortly before Obed’s birth, we might conclude that these events happened around 1100 B.C. This would place Ruth in Israel during the judgeship of Samson (ca. 1105-1085 B.C.) and the ministry of Samuel (ca. 1115-1021 B.C.).

Some scholars date Ruth contemporary with Gideon (ca. 1180-1140 B.C.). [Note: E.g., C. F. Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, p. 466; John W. Reed, "Ruth," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 416; and Wood, p. 254.] Some do this because of Jdg_6:3-4, which refers to a lack of food during Gideon’s judgeship. However, that was not due to a famine but to the yearly invasions of the Midianites. Moreover it seems likely that there would have been several famines in Israel during the approximately 300-year period of the judges. Merrill believed she lived about 1200 B.C. [Note: Merrill, "Ruth," p. 199.] This would place her within the judgeship of Deborah (ca. 1230-1190 B.C.).

The problem with these calculations is that four biblical genealogies also list Boaz as the son of Salmon, the husband of Rahab the harlot (Rth_4:21; 1Ch_2:11; Mat_1:5; Luk_3:32). Rahab was an adult when the conquest of the Promised Land began (ca. 1406 B.C.). Boaz then may have been born shortly after that. Merrill dated Joshua’s death about 1366 B.C, and Wood placed it near 1390 B.C. [Note: Idem, Kingdom of . . ., p. 225; Wood, p. 11.] This would mean that the three generations of Boaz, his son Obed, and his grandson Jesse covered about 360 years (ca. 1400-1040 B.C.). This seems quite impossible.

Probably these genealogies are incomplete and record only the names of outstanding individuals in David’s family tree. It seems equally clear, however, that some genealogies in Scripture are complete in view of how the writer worded them (e.g., Genesis 5, 11). Consequently exactly when within the period of the judges the events of Ruth occurred remains a mystery.

PURPOSE

Whereas the book illustrates the theological concept of redemption beautifully, its primary purpose appears to have been to reveal how God often providentially works behind the scenes to bring His will to pass. [Note: See David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books, pp. 128-29, 133-34; Ronald Hals, The Theology of the Book of Ruth, pp. 3-19; Leon Morris, "Ruth," in Judges and Ruth, p. 242; Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, pp. 563-64; and Hubbard, pp. 39-42.] Twenty-three of its 89 verses mention God. Of these, only Rth_1:6 and Rth_4:13, which bracket the book, are the narrator’s comments. All the rest appear in the characters’ speeches. Contrast the Book of Esther, which also teaches the providence of God but does not mention God once.

"The theological message of the Book of Ruth may be summarized as follows: God cares for needy people like Naomi and Ruth; he is their ally in this chaotic world. He richly rewards people like Ruth and Baoz who demonstrate sacrificial love and in so doing become his instruments in helping the needy. God’s rewards for those who sacrificially love others sometimes exceed their wildest imagination and transcend their lifetime." [Note: The NET Bible note on 4:22.]

"The Ruth narrative provided a gratifying reminder that even in the darkest times God was at work in the hearts of His faithful remnant." [Note: Reed, p. 416.]

Another important purpose was to validate David as the true king of Israel. [Note: Merrill, "Ruth," p. 198; and Keil and Delitzsch, p. 466.] References to David’s genealogy open and close the book.

OUTLINE

I.    Naomi’s predicament ch. 1

A.    The deaths of Naomi’s husband and sons Rth_1:1-5

B.    Naomi’s inability to provide husbands for Ruth and Orpah Rth_1:6-14

C.    Ruth’s profession of faith in Yahweh Rth_1:15-18

D.    Naomi’s weak faith Rth_1:19-21

E.    Hope for the future Rth_1:22

II.    Naomi and Ruth’s plans chs. 2-3

A.    The plan to obtain food ch. 2

1.    God’s providential guidance of Rth_2:1-7

2.    The maidservant of Boaz Rth_2:8-13

3.    Ruth’s privileges and responsibility Rth_2:14-16

4.    Ruth’s blessing of Naomi physically Rth_2:17-23

B.    The plan to obtain rest ch. 3

1.    Naomi’s plan to secure rest for Rth_3:1-5

2.    Ruth’s encouragement and Boaz’s response Rth_3:6-13

3.    Ruth’s return to Naomi Rth_3:14-18

III.    God’s provision ch. 4

A.    The nearer kinsman’s decision Rth_4:1-6

B.    Boaz’s securing of the right to marry Rth_4:7-12

C.    God’s provision of a Son_4:13-16

D.    The genealogical appendix Rth_4:18-22

Conclusion

The Book of Ruth is an important, though brief, segment of scriptural revelation for several reasons.

First, the book shows the faithfulness of God in providing a ruler over His people in David, as He had promised Judah (Gen_49:10). As later history would reveal, neither David nor his sons, the kings of the Davidic dynasty, would fulfill all that God had in mind when He promised a ruler. The greatest son of David, Messiah, will do that.

Second, the book, set in the amphictyony, links the patriarchal and monarchical eras of Israel’s history. The patriarch Perez was the ancestor of King David, not King Saul. This connection shows the legitimacy of the Davidic dynasty in the monarchical period and the illegitimacy of Saul’s dynasty. Likewise the writer did not tie David in with the Mosaic era or covenant but with the patriarchal era and the Abrahamic Covenant. This helps the reader appreciate the fact that the Davidic dynasty did not have its roots in the conditional Mosaic Covenant but in God’s unconditional promises to the patriarchs. [Note: For further development of this purpose see Merrill, "The Book . . .," pp. 135-37.] The Book of Ruth is thus a revelation of the providence of God.

". . . God uses the faithfulness of ordinary people to do great things." [Note: Hubbard, p. 279.]

Third, the book reveals that God will use apparently unpromising material to bring blessing to others if such a person will only trust and obey Him. Though Ruth was a Moabitess, a childless widow, and poor, she became a true Israelite, namely, a believer in Israel, a wife and mother, and both physically and spiritually rich. The key was her faith in, and commitment to, Yahweh (Rth_1:16). Not only did Ruth enjoy God’s blessing personally, but she became a channel of blessing to all around her and for generations to come. As such she became a kind of paradigm of what God intended for the whole nation of Israel: blessed and a blessing to the world. The story of Ruth, therefore, also reveals the great grace of God.

By way of application, as we compare later revelation with the Book of Ruth, we can see that there are many parallels here. There are parallels with the spiritual redemption that God has provided for us through the Son of David, Jesus Christ. What Boaz did for Ruth was very similar to what Christ has done for the object of His love, the church.

This little book is like a small diamond. Each of the many motifs resembles a facet that shines with its own particular beauty. Perhaps the most outstanding of these is how God works out His own purpose through human instrumentality. [Note: See Hals; Prinsloo, pp. 330-41; and Merrill, "The Book . . .," p. 137, n. 8.] Other important themes include famine, harvest, rest, blessing, redemption, and seed. Yet the book is much more than a collection of various themes. It possesses a unity that carries the reader along smoothly and excitedly to the end.

"Choices we make at the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit have ramifications for good beyond our wildest dreams." [Note: Idem, "Ruth," p. 201.]

Bibliography

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