The setting for The Book of Ruth is the disorganized era of the Judges, before there was any king over the Israelites and all the tribes were going their own ways. This very brief book is written in a form that resembles an ancient short story. It tells readers of a family from the southern town of Bethlehem whose only resort when their crops fail is to migrate southward to the country of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, so they could find food and work. While living in Moab the family's two sons each marry Moabite women. But after only a decade there the father and both sons die, making the mother, Naomi, and both her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, widows. Hearing that harvests have improved back in Bethlehem, Naomi decides to return to her homeland, and Ruth loyally insists on going with her to help her, even though she will be a foreigner there. Before long, and with Naomi's help, Ruth meets Boaz, a wealthy landowner from the tribe of Judah. Being a relative of the deceased Elimelech, Boaz is eligible to fulfill for Ruth the Levirite marriage role of the kinsman, and even though Ruth is a Gentile, Boaz happily marries her.
The reader learns in Ruth 4.17-22 the ultimate import of this nice story—that Ruth will ever after be known as the great-grandmother of the great King David. Thus, between the lines in this gentle and heartwarming story there is an important cautionary message against doctrines of racial purity, and against hatred or demonizing of “foreign” people. After all, the great-grandmother of ancient Israel's greatest king was a Moabite. In the Hebrew Bible Ruth is part of a group of five books called Megilloth, meaning “scrolls,” which are each to be read on one of the major Jewish festivals. Ruth is read for the Feast of Weeks, the early harvest festival coinciding with the customs around harvesting and gleaning that are so central to this book.
Ruth Decides to Leave Her Home in Moab (1.1-22)
Ruth Settles with Naomi in Bethlehem (2.1—4.22)
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