The Book of Ruth is a beautiful story of love, loyalty, and redemption. One of only two books in the Bible named after a woman, this narrative masterpiece tells the story of the salvation of Ruth, the Moabitess. Through her relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth learned about the living God and became His devoted follower. Abandoning her family and homeland, she demonstrated both her love for her widowed mother-in-law and her faith in Israel’s God. Her faith was well placed, for God not only provided for her; He also placed her in the messianic family line.
Author • Traditionally, Samuel has been identified as the author of Ruth. However, some Jewish rabbis have ascribed the writing to Naomi. If the references to David in Ruth 4:17, 22 are an integral part of the original book and not a later appendix, then the book was not written by either since both died before David’s birth.
Some evidence in Ruth points to the conclusion that the book was written during David or Solomon’s reign. First, the genealogy of David in 4:18–22 indicates this. Second, the first verse of Ruth implies that the book was written after the time of the judges. Third, the fact that the narrator had to explain ancient customs to the intended readers in 4:7 indicates that the book was not written at the time of the events. All this evidence may point to the authorship of Ruth during Solomon’s reign—a time regarded as the golden age of Hebrew writing.
Historical Setting • The story of Ruth takes place during the time of the judges—a period characterized by extreme spiritual and moral decay in Israel (c. 1380–1050 B.C.). The beautiful love story of Ruth contrasts strongly with the pervasive depravity of the period, giving a rare glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak era.
The story itself reflects ordinary small town and rural life in Israel—specifically around Bethlehem. Details of cultural elements, such as the description of the barley harvest (1:22), the mention of the threshing floor (3:6), and the events at the city gate (4:1), add plausibility to the story. It is possible that the story was first circulated in Bethlehem by Naomi and her circle of women friends. Later, the author of Ruth retained some of the lovely feminine touches that grace this story.
Themes • The Book of Ruth underscores an overarching theme of the Bible: God desires all to believe in Him, even non-Israelites. This was God’s plan from the beginning. He had covenanted with Abraham and his descendants in order to bless other nations through the Israelites and draw all nations to Himself (Gen. 12:1–3).
While demonstrating this one significant theme, the Book of Ruth makes some distinctive contributions of its own. First of all, the important idea of loyal love is evident in the book. The Hebrew word translated as kindly in 1:8 means “loyal love” or “covenantal love.” This was a genuine love that keeps promises. When the word is used of God, it refers to God’s loving faithfulness to His promises. Even though Ruth was a foreigner and was not familiar with God’s law, she displayed this type of love and loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi. She left her homeland in order to be with Naomi in a time of need. Boaz also showed the same noble quality by protecting and providing for Ruth, a widow of one of his relatives. Yet the story of Ruth ultimately illustrates how God Himself demonstrated such love. He rewarded Ruth for her loyalty to Him by giving her an honored place in the community of faith. He blessed her with a child who would become the ancestor of King David and later of the promised Messiah.
The second concept that the Book of Ruth emphasizes is redemption. God’s providential hand in redeeming Ruth and Naomi from poverty is evident. He controlled circumstances so that Ruth and Boaz would meet, and He prompted Boaz to fulfill the responsibilities of the “close relative” or the kinsman-redeemer (3:9). The kinsman-redeemer was “the defender of family rights.” This individual was a close relative who had the financial resources to rescue a poverty-stricken family member, stepping in to save that relative from slavery or from having to sell the family’s ancestral land. In the story of Ruth, Boaz redeemed the land that Naomi was about to sell. He also took on another of the kinsman-redeemer’s responsibilities—the obligation of providing an heir for Ruth’s deceased husband, Mahlon. Dying without an heir was considered a tragedy in the ancient Middle East. To rectify this situation, the brother of a deceased man was expected to marry the widow in order to produce a child, who would be considered the heir of the deceased. This was called a levirate marriage. Boaz willingly took on this duty, even though he was not the nearest relative (3:12, 13). He bought the land from Naomi, married Ruth, and carried on the family name through the birth of their son. Through all these actions, Boaz exemplified the compassion and love of a redeemer. His life is an illustration for us of the compassion of Jesus, who is our Redeemer (Gal. 3:13).
The NKJV Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), Ru.