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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

- Ruth

by Various Authors



This short book occurs in the third section of the Hebrew Old Testament, the section entitled "the Writings." It was transferred to its present position in the Greek Version and is actually where it belongs, for it reflects in content the period of the judges. It is a story which describes faithfully many of the conditions and customs of those early days, even though the writing in its present form was probably quite late, possibly after the Exile, and even perhaps after Nehemiah and Ezra, in the fourth century B.C. The lateness of the writing is indicated by the fact that the writer was evidently familiar with the Book of Judges in its final form (Ruth 1:1). Furthermore, the author can describe a custom in 4:7 as no longer practiced. Finally, some of the style and language may belong to a much later period than that of the story. Yet the writer has been careful to preserve the customs and atmosphere of those far-off days and was familiar with traditions that had been faithfully preserved from antiquity.

The story is interesting for the light it throws on levirate marriage, according to which a brother-in-law should marry his brother’s widow and raise up children to his dead brother. The story moves beyond the brother relationship, for Boaz was not a brother but only a kinsman of the deceased sons of Naomi. The late time of recording the story may be reflected in the refusal of one kinsman to accept the responsibility because it would impair his own inheritance.

The implication is that monogamy was the accepted practice, but this was not true in the time of the judges. The Deuteronomic form of the law makes it clear that a man may marry his brother’s widow even though he is already married. This marriage with the brother’s widow would not impair the inheritance of any children that he had by the wife to whom he was already wed. It is the latter children who carry on his own family and extend his name (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

Some suggest that the story may be an apologetic in favor of foreign marriages at a time when these were being attacked. We immediately call to mind the days of Nehemiah and Ezra when there was some attempt to keep Judaism pure by banning any marriage alliances with aliens. Actually, however, Ruth had accepted her mother-in-law’s faith and customs before she approached Boaz, and thus could rank as a proselyte. Proselytes were never excluded from marriage alliances with natural-born Jews, therefore the idea that the book is a polemic falls to the ground. Moreover, it does not breathe a polemic atmosphere. We may assume that it was written to preserve a tradition that David’s royal line had Moabite blood in its veins, and to emphasize the true universalism of Israel’s faith, in which even a Moabitess could share and share significantly. It remained for great David’s "greater Son" to open the Kingdom to all believers and show that all men, no matter what their race or color, could share in the blessings of the People of God.


Three Widows in Moab. (Ruth 1:1-18)

The Arrival in Bethlehem. (Ruth 1:19-22)

Ruth the Gleaner. (Ruth 2:1-23)

Ruth Finds a Redeemer. (Ruth 3:1-18)

Boaz Redeems Ruth. (Ruth 4:1-12)

The Marriage and Its Consequences. (Ruth 4:13-22)

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