Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

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Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17

Background to the Book of Ruth


A painting was a piece of work done for an assessment in an OT topic. The painter was Mark Thomas and it now hangs in the Blackwood Uniting Church.

The blues cloak outlines the coast, which forms the east end of the Mediterranean and symbolises Israel and Egypt at the bottom end. The Cloak of Ruth protects Naomi since it is through the efforts of Ruth they find security and new life. The barley is the reminder of famine and their reason for going into Moab. Ruth gleans in the fields of Boaz and they are full with food, again after the night on the threshing floor Ruth's cloak is full and finally her womb is full with a son.

It is very powerful painting with a lot more symbolism, which depicts the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz in visual form.

The book is one complete story and all four chapters need to be read for it to be fully appreciated. Although, is literary form is narrative it does have poetic feel to it, but very doubtful it was poetry originally. It is a very cleverly crafted story and there are many literary forms, which are used to emphasise the message. We will explore these under the section on insights. Unlike many Hebrew texts, this one is in reasonable condition and thus, a straightforward process for translation.

In the Christian canon Ruth comes after Judges because it is set in this period, however, it is extremely unlikely it was written in this period. In the Hebrew canon, it comes in the writings section at the end of the bible as one of the five scrolls between Proverbs and Ezra.

A number of historical periods are suggested for the time of its creation:

  1. Early in period of monarchy.
    The opening suggests it could not be any earlier than, "In the days when the judges rules (judged)", so this time was in the past.
    More precisely, it could be at a time when the Davidic dynasty under threat e.g., at the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam and there is a need to defend Davidic dynasty against Jeroboam (4:11-12, 18-22). The genealogy and references to Rachel, Leah, and Tamar, who had Perez by Judah, link David's ancestry to honoured people of the time of the Patriarchs.
  2. Later in the period of monarchy.
    Either in the time of Hezekiah or Josiah who in their reforms tried to incorporate the northern tribes: it is seen as evidence of favour to foreigners.
  3. Post-exilic period in the time of Ezra/Nehemiah.
    It was written to combat the exclusive policies of these two people based on evidence that the story has within it, "language gauged as late".

I think it could easily have an early oral form, which later has been crafted into a literary story with its important theological message. Like many books in the Old Testament, we cannot be certain about their origin and at what time they became a written form.

Purpose for the Book

Appears to have been used for two major purposes:

  1. to support the claim of David to the throne with the addition of the genealogy of David (vv18-22). Ruth is accepted because she is worthy and her loyalty is acclaimed.
  2. to show the inclusive nature of Israel's God, Yahweh - it rests on God's grace and simple faith of people.

Both these things are important at a number of places in Israel's history. 4:18-22 only major addition, which is supported by number of scholars.

Laws/ Social/ Traditions

Although the Book of Ruth fails to give us precise historical dates and doesn't name any leader of the period, it does give us some clues about social conditions. In spite of the prohibition against the people of Moab (Deuteronomy 23:3-6), there was obviously free movement between the countries otherwise Elimelech could not’t have taken his wife and sons to live there.

The law about the right to glean (Deuteronomy 24:19-22) is seen to be in operation (Ruth 2:2). There is a suggestion that permission of the landowner had to be sought "behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour". Knowledge of Leverite marriage by which a brother had to fulfil the marriage obligations of his dead brother if the widow was left without children (Ruth 4:5). Except in the case of Ruth, Boaz is not obliged to marry her at all.

We become aware that the laws related to the redemption of property by which next of has the first refusal is practised in Israel (Ruth 4). Furthermore, legal business is conducted at the city gates (Ruth 4). We have in Ruth some aspects of ordinary people going about life

We cannot say for certain whether Ruth was an 'historical figure'?
The story would appear to establish Ruth as a person in Israel's history. Would the story have been sustained if Ruth were not the mother of Obed (Matthew 1:5)? Whatever the answer, Ruth is an important person in the history of Israel and her part in the lineage of David.

Context of Ruth 3 & 4 (What's Happening in the Literature around Ruth 3 & 4)

The story is a successive building up of life experiences: the famine in Bethlehem (House of Bread) drives Naomi and Elimelech out to Moab, Naomi's subsequent loss of husband and two sons (husbands of Orpah and Ruth), the news that there was food now in Judah (Bethlehem), the return of Naomi and Ruth, the need to find food and so Ruth goes out into the fields to get the gleanings, introduction of the wealthy relative, protection and favour from Boaz with the quite intimate scene of Boaz's invitation to dip her bread in wine, he then instructed his young men to pull out bundles of corn for her to glean, she beat out the corn and returned to Naomi with it. Naomi blessed Boaz for his kindness and said that he was one of ours: Ruth is included in the relationship. Ruth continued with this job until the end of the harvest.

And after Chapter 3 we have Boaz challenging the next of kin at the gate (place of justice) to take up redemption of Naomi's field. Initially, the kinsman says yes and then backs off when he was told it had to include Ruth in the bargain. Boaz did not give him all the details at the one time, and basically set the guy up, especially with the elders called in as witnesses. Boaz indicates the need to restore the name of the dead, but neither the nearer kinsman or Boaz are obliged to do this under the Torah, only brothers of the dead men. The seal of the transaction is completed by the nearer kinsman drawing off his sandal and offering it to Boaz as a seal of the sale of the land and of Ruth. She is bought. The people and elders at the gate offer a blessing on Ruth and on Boaz recalling earlier ancestors, Rachel & Leah, Perez son of Tamar and Judah.

Insights/Message of Ruth 3 & 4

The end of Chapter 2 has Ruth returning from the fields with wheat for her and her mother-in-law, Naomi. The beginning of Chapter 3 has Ruth sent by Naomi to the threshing floor. The theme of bread/wheat/ famine/plenty continues with these references to gleaning and then the threshing floor. Naomi begins the speech by asking 2 questions which are not really seeking an answer, but set the scene and her motive for giving the following instructions, just in case Ruth might not agree. While the overt reason is the need for Ruth to have a home it will automatically give Naomi the status and security she is denied at the moment. An older widow has little status in a community - no husband, no sons and too old to bear children means she is a liability to those around her.

I will look at 3:1-5, 4:13-17 and the story in between. It is beyond my belief that the Lectionary thinks it can split the story this way without dealing with the whole. The Book is superbly crafted and to look at pieces is like dealing with 1 arm and 1 leg and not knowing what the rest of the person looks like. I'll refrain from further comment on this problem.

Naomi takes initiative and prepares Ruth for role. She implies that Boaz is closest kinsman, but we know from later in the chapter that there is one closer. When Naomi speaks (v.2) the commands are quite abrupt, "wash, anoint, put on, go down, do not make, observe, then go & uncover? We are not told what Naomi intends. The fact that it is the threshing floor which often symbolises a place of fertility - seed - , and in older societies was a time of rejoicing and sexual play when the harvest was finally in. Couple this with thrice repeated command to lie down gives us possible clues that perhaps she hopes Ruth will becomes his concubine/mistress. A further symbolic action is the command to uncover his feet, which in Hebrew is an euphemism for genitalia. A modern example is when we say we are going "to the ladies" when in fact we mean the toilet.

Ruth is very compliant in 3:1-5 and did as her mother-in-law had told her until she is lying beside Boaz and then she takes command of the situation. I shall give a summary of the verses and some of the literary devices which enhance the message in vv.6-18.

The actions in chapter 2 took place in daytime and in chapter 3 the actions take place at night. Boaz is startled when he turns and find someone beside him whom he doesn't recognise. In answer to his question Ruth names herself and uses a word that indicates she is available for marriage (different term for maidservant in 2:13), invites him to spread his skirt/cloak which links with a term used to indicate protection. The third element of her very forward speech suggests he is next of kin and therefore has duties to her and Naomi, which is not the case as she finds out a few seconds later. One wonders how she felt about Naomi who must have known this crucial piece of information which had been kept from Ruth. Boaz is very righteous and is clearly attracted to her. He will do the right thing by speaking with the nearer kinsman the following morning. She leaves early in the morning which protects her probably more than him and brings a large amount of grain to Naomi. There is a play on the Hebrew word for "redeemer" with some similar words used to"uncover". The uncovering which occurred can lead to recovering/redemption.

Ruth 4:1-12 follows through with the interchange between the nearer kinsman and Boaz and Ruth is bought. Again in 4:10 she is named as the Moabitess reminding us she comes from this hated group of people who are condemned in the Torah and yet is deemed worthy to marry a wealthy Bethlemhite man.

Ruth 4:13 is typical Hebrew story description of the wedding, conception and consequent son. The fact that the Lord blessed them with a son indicates that the actions of Naomi and Ruth to gain security and status are upheld. There is no condemnation otherwise a blessing would have been withheld. It is the women who address Naomi with a blessing and who then takes the child as her own (v.16). It is a fact, in some societies that an older woman can lactate. Naomi is named as the mother and Ruth is left out. She appears again in Matthew's genealogy as one of four women named as the ancestors of Jesus. The story has come full circle and Naomi is "full" with descendants and security. The genealogy in vv.18-22 reinforce the brief reference to David in v.17.

This story can apply in two specific situations in the life of Judah. When there was controversy over the division of the Kingdom (circa 820 BCE ), those in opposition could use the fact of a Moabite ancestor against David's successors. The story upholds the worthiness and loyalty of Ruth which justifies her as the great grandmother of David.

The second time is when Ezra and Nehemiah (circa 400 BCE) are telling the Israelites they must for the sake of purity separate from their foreign wives and children. There was conflict at this time between a group which included foreigners and those who saw them as the reason for leading the people astray. The foreigners must have been part of Israelite society for a long time because some of them served in the temple (Ezekiel 44). The story of Ruth would be used by those who believed that loyal and true worshippers of Yahweh whether of foreign descent were acceptable within the community.

What is redeemed for our time is the role that women who take initiative can find security albeit in a patriarchal society and dependent on a man. One hopes that the structures have changed that women do not have to behave in this way to gain life and security. The actions of Boaz are righteous in that he goes beyond the Torah Law. He did not have to marry Ruth, he could easily have had her as a concubine. Righteousness is different to Law in that the actions are not necessarily decreed, but in light of God's love are right for the situation. Some people might refer to this as situational ethics, but the last clause is the controlling factor.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mark 12:38-44, has no particular allusions or quotes. In Hebrews 9:24-28, v.28 has an allusion to Isa 53:12 in which the servant bore the sins of many. Now however, Christ has has made the sacrifice once and for all with his own blood and is superior to any sacrifice made previously.

Resources/Worship for Ruth 3 & 4 (Worship and Ways to present Ruth 3 & 4)

It would be great to have chapters 3 & 4 done as drama.

The set Psalm for the day (127) is used as people enter Jerusalem to celebrate one of the Festivals at the Temple. This Psalm of entry into Jerusalem may be associated with the Scroll of Ruth which is read in the Jewish Liturgical calendar in Feast of Weeks. Ruth seems to be associated with this festival because of the connections to barley harvest.



Brenner, Athalya. ed., A Feminist Companion to Ruth. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993.
---. Ruth and Esther. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999
Bush, F. Ruth/Esther. WBC. Dallas: Word Books, 1996
Campbell, Edward. F. Ruth. AB. New York: Doubleday, 1975.
Fewell, Danna.N., and David M. Gunn, Compromising Redemption: Relating Characters in the Book of Ruth. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.
Gow, Murray. D. The Book of Ruth: Its Structure, Theme and Purpose. Leicester: Apollos, 1992.
Gray, John. Joshua, Judges and Ruth. NCB. London: Nelson, 1967.
Hubbard, Robert.L. The Book of Ruth. NICOT. Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1998
Larkin, Katrina.J.A. Ruth and Esther. OTG. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996.
Linafeldt, Tod. Ruth. Berith Olam. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1999.
Nielsen, Kristen. Ruth. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1997.
Robertson Farmer,Kathleen A. "The Book of Ruth: Introductions, Commentary and Reflections." In The New Interpreter's Bible. 2:889-946. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. Ruth. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1999.
Tribble, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. OBT. Philadelphia: Fortress Press8
Wolde, Ellen van. Ruth and Naomi. London: SCM Press, 1997.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: