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Before We Begin ...
What comes to mind when you think of the book of Ruth? What do you think it's really all about? Why do you think God wanted it in the Bible?
If you had to select a hero and a heroine from the book of Ruth, before working through this study, who would they be? Why?
The book of Ruth begins with an important bit of history, although it's very compressed. Let's see if we can sort it out by answering the following questions, all taken from the first five verses of chapter 1.
Where was Elimelech from? Based on that, what was his nationality—and that of his family?
What was his wife's name? What were the names of their two sons?
Where did Elimelech emigrate with his family—and why (v. 2)?
For extra credit: If the members of Elimelech's family were Ephrathites, what son of Jacob gave their tribe its name?
What were the names of the two Moabite women who married the sons of Elimelech and Naomi?
Naomi Returns with Ruth
The first five verses of chapter 1 tell us that Naomi's husband, Elimelech, and their two sons died in Moab. But then things changed back in the land that the family of Elimelech came from in the first place.
What happened, according to verse 6? How did that development affect Naomi? (Hint: What does the text mean by "giving them bread"?)
Naomi was obviously from the tribe of Judah. By what name have all the people of the twelve tribes of Israel (i.e., the sons of Jacob) been known, down through the centuries, based on the name Judah?
Before her journey was fully under way, what did Naomi suggest to her two daughters-in-law? More importantly, why would she give them that particular word of advice?
What was their response (v. 10)?
As you undoubtedly know (see the sidebar "Why Were Husbands So Important?" on page 9), Naomi was simply trying to make sure that her two daughters-in-law would be well established in their community through remarriage among their own people.
What was the likelihood that they'd be able to remarry if they returned to the land of Judah with Naomi?
Fill in the blanks in the following passage to understand Naomi's state of mind:
But Naomi said, "Turn back, my __________; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your __________? Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear __________, would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you __________ yourselves from having __________? No, my daughters; for it __________ me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!" (Ruth 1:11–13 NKJV)
What was the difference between Ruth's behavior and Orpah's behavior (v. 14)?
Verses 16–17 contain what are undoubtedly the most famous words in the entire book of Ruth—and for some people might be the best-known words in the Bible. They have been used many times, in both exact repetitions and paraphrases, over the centuries. Indeed, they are almost part of our "common history," even though many people who use them, in one form or other, might not know where they came from—or to whom they were spoken.
Here they are:
But Ruth said: "Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me." (Ruth 1:16–17 NKJV)
What was Naomi's response (v. 18)?
To what city did the two women then travel? And what was the response of the people of that city when they arrived? In particular, what did the women say to Naomi?
Fill in the blanks in the following passage to see how Naomi responded:
But she said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me __________, for the Almighty has dealt very __________ with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me __________ again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has __________ against me, and the Almighty has __________ me?" (Ruth 1:20–21 NKJV)
What important agricultural event in the lives of the people of Bethlehem was about to happen?
Pulling It All Together ...
A severe famine in Judah motivated Elimelech to move from Bethlehem to the land of Moab. He went with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.
Elimelech died in Moab. Meanwhile, his two sons grew up and married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.
After about ten years, the two sons died as well, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law alone, with no one to provide a living for them.
Naomi then decided to return to the land of her birth, knowing that her chances of survival, as she aged, would be much better among her own people.
At first, both of her daughters-in-law tried to go with her, but she was able to convince Orpah to stay in her own country. Ruth, however, would not let Naomi go alone, in her well-known "Entreat me not to leave you" speech.
Thus Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Before We Begin ...
What was the meaning of the word "glean" in biblical times? What was the established custom among the ancient Hebrews, and who established it?
Have you ever seen anything similar in modern times in the farmlands of America? In industry? In public service professions?
Almost everything that happened in the rest of the book of Ruth, beginning with the events detailed in 2:2, has to be understood within the context of the "kinsman redeemer" custom of biblical times. If you are not fully familiar with this tradition, please read the sidebar "What Was a Kinsman Redeemer?" in this chapter to gain a fuller understanding before you read further in the book of Ruth.
Ruth Meets Boaz
Ruth's comments in verse 1 tell us that she is already thinking of the best way to secure her future, according to ancient Israelite custom.
What did she say that indicated what was on her mind (v. 2)?
What does Boaz's greeting to his reapers suggest to us about his character and his relationship—good or bad—with the God of Israel? Based on what you know of Ruth's and Naomi's intentions, does this imply good or bad for them?
What was the general attitude of Boaz's workers toward Ruth? Were they protective and respectful, or were they disdainful?
What is the essence of what Boaz tells Ruth in verses 8–9?
What was Ruth's reaction?
Boaz's response in 2:11 reemphasizes something very important about Ruth, which was first made clear in her well-known speech to Naomi ("Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" [Ruth 1:16 NKJV]). The same important truth might also be inferred from her actions. But beyond all that, Boaz told her, "The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge" (2:12 NKJV).
In other words, Boaz is fully aware that Ruth now worships the God of Israel and has effectively been "grafted in" (in modern terminology) to the children of Israel. In effect, though she was once a Moabitess, she is now an Israelite.
Nonetheless, what do you believe Ruth meant when she said, "I am not like one of your maidservants" (v. 13 NKJV)? In what way might Ruth have been different from Boaz's other maidservants?
Fill in the blanks in the passage below to see how Boaz further responds to Ruth:
Now Boaz said to her at __________, "Come here, and eat of the __________, and dip your piece of bread in the __________." So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back. And when she rose up to __________, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not __________ her. Also let grain from the bundles fall __________ for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her." (Ruth 2:14–16 NKJV)
What modern "dipping" custom—especially prevalent in Italian restaurants!—do we observe today that is identical to what Boaz told Ruth to do?
How much barley did Ruth glean after she'd beaten the grains from the stalks (v. 17)?
An ephah of barley was about half a bushel and weighed about thirty pounds. This much grain was actually quite a bit for one gleaner to gather in one day and would be enough food for one person for several days.
What did Ruth then do with what she'd collected?
Verses 19–23 provide additional details that help us understand what was happening. Boaz certainly had a favorable reaction to Ruth! He not only invited her to eat with him, but he also gave her explicit permission to glean "even among the sheaves." This meant she did not need to wait until his own workers had finished in a given field; neither did she need to stay near the outer edges. She was welcome to pick up fallen grain among Boaz's main portion of the harvest even as his workers were gathering it in.
Also, Boaz told her not to worry about drawing her own water if she became thirsty; he gave her explicit permission to drink from the water already drawn for his workers and to be very much at home among his own servant girls. We know that Boaz was about Naomi's age, and thus Ruth was undoubtedly much younger. But she was obviously an attractive woman, and Boaz knew she would be safer if she were nearer the center of action, among his own workers, not on the outskirts where others might take unfair advantage of her.
What did Naomi tell Ruth about Boaz (v. 20)? Was this new information, or was Naomi simply repeating what Ruth already knew?
Fill in the blanks in these verses to learn more about how things went with Ruth over the next several months, during the barley harvest (March–April) and then the wheat harvest (June–July):
And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, "It is __________, my daughter, that you go out with his young __________, and that people do not _________ you in any other field." So she stayed close by the young __________ of Boaz, to glean until the end of __________ harvest and __________ harvest; and she dwelt with her __________. (Ruth 2:22–23 NKJV)
Pulling It All Together ...
Naomi's dead husband had a rich relative named Boaz. When Ruth asked Naomi for permission to glean in Boaz's fields, Naomi was only too happy to give her permission.
As soon as Boaz saw Ruth and realized who she was, he treated her with extreme care and concern. He told her to stay close to his own servants and to drink from the water drawn for his own workers. He also told the young men in the fields not to touch her, and then he invited her to lunch.
When Ruth asked Boaz why he was being so kind to her, he explained that he'd heard of how she'd left her own country to come to Israel with Naomi and care for her.
Ruth gleaned quite a bit of grain on that first day. That night, once she'd told Naomi her story, Naomi realized that a good thing was happening!
Before We Begin ...
If you have read the book of Ruth before, what did you think Ruth meant by uncovering Boaz's feet while he slept?
Can you think of anything in our modern culture that might have derived from this ancient understanding?
This chapter begins with a clear directive from Naomi to Ruth, telling her exactly what to do, in accord with Jewish tradition, to avail herself of the kinsman redeemer law.
What did Naomi tell Ruth she sought for her (v. 1)?
What did Naomi say that Boaz would be doing that very night (v. 2)?
What do you think it means to "winnow barley"? Why would that even be necessary?
What was Naomi's advice to Ruth?
What was the last thing Naomi told Ruth to do? Based on the material in the sidebar "Under the Wings of Your Garment," why did Naomi give Ruth this advice?
What was Ruth's response (v. 5)?
Fill in the blanks below to get all the details:
So she went down to the __________ floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was __________, he went to __________ down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. (Ruth 3:6–7 NKJV)
What happened to Boaz at midnight (v. 8)?
Pay special attention to what Ruth said in response to Boaz's question (v. 9). To take someone "under your wing" is now a common expression, meaning to care for that person. However, based on what you learned from the sidebar "Under the Wings of Your Garment," what was the deeper meaning in Ruth's gesture?
Fill in the blanks in the following passage to see how Boaz responded:
Then he said, "Blessed are you of the Lord, my __________! For you have shown more __________ at the end than at the __________, in that you did not go after __________ men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman." (Ruth 3:10–11 NKJV)
How would you characterize Boaz's response in the above passage? What three things (at the very minimum) can you discern about him from what he said?
What did Boaz mean by "perform the duty" (v. 13)? Again—based on your understanding of what you have already read—to what ancient custom was Boaz referring?
Ruth now went back to sleep, only to rise early in the morning while it was still too dark for anyone to realize that she'd even been there. But did she awaken entirely by herself?
What did Boaz then ask her to do? In a somewhat indirect way, how does his expression "the shawl that is on you" reinforce what we already know about his and Ruth's sense of honor toward each other?
What did Boaz give Ruth to take home to Naomi?
After Naomi heard Ruth's account of what had happened so far, was her reaction positive or negative?
How do you think she could be so sure that Boaz would not rest until he had "concluded the matter this day" (v. 18)?
Pulling It All Together ...
Naomi gave Ruth specific instructions about what to do on the night when Boaz was winnowing barley. Basically, she told Ruth to let Boaz know by her actions that she desired him to be her kinsman redeemer.
After Boaz had lain down to sleep on the threshing floor (to protect his grain while it was still out in the open), Ruth uncovered his feet and lay down herself, symbolically inviting him to redeem her by marrying her and giving her legitimate children to carry on the family name.
Boaz was mightily impressed and blessed Ruth for her integrity—for not going after younger men but instead honoring the long-established customs of his people.
Boaz then promised to marry Ruth if the one man who had legal precedence over him refused the honor.
Before We Begin ...
How does the concept of marrying someone only to produce a male heir strike you? Is there anything comparable in our society today? What about countries that still retain monarchies, such as England or Sweden?
If you had to give a prize to the one person most responsible for the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, to whom would you give it?
We now see a graphic demonstration of the kinsman redeemer law in action.
Read through the opening verses of Ruth 4, included below, then answer the questions that follow:
Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there; and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz had spoken came by. So Boaz said, "Come aside, friend, sit down here." So he came aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, "Sit down here." So they sat down. Then he said to the close relative, "Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, sold the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. And I thought to inform you, saying, 'Buy it back in the presence of the inhabitants and the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am next after you.'"
And he said, "I will redeem it."
Then Boaz said, "On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also buy it from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance."
And the close relative said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it." (Ruth 4:1–6 NKJV)
Why did Boaz go to the gate of the city to conduct his business? What was so special about that particular place?
Once he'd made contact with the man he sought, why did Boaz then ask ten elders of the city to sit with them as well? What was their function in the upcoming scenario?
Boaz then indicated that Naomi needed to sell a piece of land that had once belonged to her husband, Elimelech. We are not told how she acquired it, and we can only presume that she was selling it because she had no other source of income. The relative Boaz was addressing had to be given an opportunity to exercise his right to buy the land and keep it in the family (i.e., his first right of refusal to "redeem" it, which was his because he was even closer by blood to Naomi than Boaz was).
But the situation wasn't quite that simple, for Boaz's mention of Ruth, whom the kinsman redeemer would be required to redeem by buying the land, suggests that the original piece of property had passed from Elimelech to Mahlon, Ruth's deceased husband, before Mahlon died. Thus the kinsman redeemer, by buying the land and "redeeming" it from non-family ownership, would also acquire the responsibility to marry Ruth and give her a male descendant, who would then carry on the Elimelech/Mahlon name as the eventual property owner.
Excerpted from For Such a Time as This by Edward (Les) Middleton Copyright © 2006 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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