Author & Date
The author, date and purpose of the book are all unclear, yet it is fascinating and has been valued for millennia. Matthew 1:5 places the events a few years before the birth of King David, that is, towards the end of the age of the Judges. Thus its place in the Canon is appropriate chronologically.
Some claim that Ruth was written in opposition to Nehemiah and Ezra (it shows that the Jews were already racially impure long before they ordered that foreign wives be sent away, and the racial impurity is identified with heroes such as King David); however, if that had been the aim, the author would have played down Ruth becoming a proselyte to Judaism and her acceptance in Bethlehem despite Deuteronomy 23:3–4; and if foreign-ness was the main theme, the kinsman-redeemer would have cited it as his reason for not marrying Ruth. The book may well pre-date the return from exile.
This book is a brilliant short story set in the time of the Judges, but was written down later. In those days the only security a person had was the support of their tribe. The powerful had a duty to look after any poor and disadvantaged relatives. According to Nehemiah 8:17, the full Law was not followed throughout the period covered by this book (because it hadn't yet been written?). The author of Judges seems to think anarchy inevitable without a king, but Ruth shows otherwise.
The book has the honour of being read in synagogues at the Festival of Weeks, celebrating the first fruits of the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22). There is evidence that King David's position was questioned on account of the mixed descent shown by Ruth so the monarchy had no motive for inventing the story. The book rehabilitates Moabite women, who were blamed for leading the Hebrews into sin in Numbers 25:1–2 , and affirms women in general.
Structure (after Laffey)
Chapter 1: famine
Chapter 2: encounter with Boaz
Chapter 3: another encounter
Chapter 4: resolution
"The Book of Ruth comes between the Book of Judges and the Books of Samuel and Kings, all of which are concerned with great public events in the story of the people of Israel. Ruth reminds us that alongside public life there is a key place for the small scale, the individual, and the facing of personal and domestic issues". There is no parallel record of much of the detail in this book, so many details are puzzling. The speeches in the book appear to preserve an ancient regional dialect.
The participants believe God is involved in human affairs, and frequently pray his blessing on each other, but that prayer is always answered through human actions. Both blessing and disaster are attributed to God's action, but are not seen as signs of his approval or punishment. Ruth needs a son; she clings to Naomi and transfers her allegiance to Naomi's tribe and God. Naomi flounders in despair, like everyone in Judges 17–21 , until she sees Ruth's positive outlook bearing fruit.
Through Ruth, Lot's blood was introduced into David's line.
Ruth and Boaz show fidelity, courage and generosity to an extent that Naomi does not, though with flirtatious ambiguity. Boldness and faith are rewarded, e.g. Ruth 2:12 . A proselyte becomes an ancestor of kings and eventually of the Messiah. The "hollow religiosity" of Judges 17–21 pales beside Boaz's "solid integrity"; the anarchic era of the judges, which saw kindness as a tit-for-tat deal (e.g. Judges 21:22), is replaced by order under the monarchy, and realization that God's people should be able to show his undeserved kindness. Ruth skilfully leads the reader from the depressing tone of the end of Judges to hope and joy; it is "a very bright light in a very dark world".
© David Billin 2002–2021