The Word Is Alive

The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth relates the story of a Moabite woman who left her homeland and came to the land of Israel as a convert to Judaism, the faith of her late husband. There she lived in abject poverty, searching for food for herself and her widowed, elderly mother in law. Subsequently she became the wife of Boaz, which according to Talmudic tradition, was another name for Ibzan, one of the Judges of Israel.

Ruth and Boaz were an unlikely match. She was a Moabite princess who had fallen from honour and wealth to contempt and poverty. He was a judge, a leader of the Jewish nation, venerable, a wealthy landowner and revered. Much more than a hostile border separated Ruth from Boaz. He was two generations her senior. In background they were even further apart. Yet the two came together under the most implausible circumstances, to become the forebears of the royal family of Israel. The Talmud calls Ruth the mother of royalty because her progeny includes David, Solomon and the human line of Jesus, the Christ.

There are various reasons why the Book of Ruth is read on the Jewish festival of Shavuot or Weeks (Pentecost): The events take place during the summer harvest when ‘The Festival of Weeks’ is celebrated; Ruth was the ancestress of David who, according to tradition, died on Shavuot; Ruth’s acceptance of Judaism corresponds nicely with the ‘Giving of the Torah’ in the desert to all of humanity; and Ruth’s loyalty symbolises the fidelity to the Torah that is expected of all Jews. The story is instructive and inspiring in everyday life. No one had more right to feel that she was a failure than Ruth, for although she had proved faithful to her mother in law Naomi, she had to scrounge in the fields for their next meal. Boaz could not have attached much significance to his attempts to make her life easier. But God viewed them differently; he attached such importance to their deeds that he incorporated them into the sacred Scriptures. She epitomises ‘the Prodigal Daughter.’

As the Midrash puts it: ‘Had Boaz only known that the Holy One, Blessed is He, would consider his generosity to Ruth important enough to inscribe in Scripture, he would have given her a sumptuous banquet meal of stuffed calves’.

Introduction Chapter One Chapter Two
Chapter Three Chapter Four Summary

There is some supplementary material and a mind map of the structure of the Book of Ruth that may prove useful for study.