June 27, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: The delightful story of Ruth

John F. Fink(Twenty-fifth in a series of columns)

The Book of Ruth is a delightful short story (only four chapters) that has long been a favorite among both Jews and Christians. It’s placed in the Old Testament after the Book of Judges because the events happened during the time of the Israelite judges.

It’s of particular interest to Christians because Ruth is included in the genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:5). She was the great-grandmother of King David. I encourage you to read the book, but here’s a synopsis.

The story begins in Bethlehem, where a man named Elimelech lived with his wife Naomi and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion. A famine caused them to move to Moab, located to the east of the Dead Sea (in modern Jordan.) The sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. But Elimelech and both sons died.

Learning that the famine in Bethlehem had ended, Naomi decided to return there. Realizing how difficult life would be for a widow without sons, she told her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab and find other husbands, and Orpah did.

But Ruth refused, telling Naomi, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ru 1:16).So Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem.

In Bethlehem a man named Boaz, prominent in the community and a member of Elimelech’s clan, owned barley and wheat fields. According to Jewish laws (see Lv 19:9 and Dt 24:19-23), when grains were harvested, the poor, widows, aliens and orphans were permitted to glean what was not collected. Ruth, therefore, began to glean a field owned by Boaz.

Boaz noticed Ruth and learned about her faithfulness to Naomi. He told her, “May the Lord reward what you have done!” (Ru 2:12), provided her with food and water, and made sure that her gleaning was successful.

Ruth reported this to Naomi, who immediately realized that Boaz was a relative. She also knew the Jewish law that required a near relative of the same clan to marry the widow of a relative who had died without male offspring (Dt 25:5-10). So Naomi had a plan.

She learned that Boaz was going to be sleeping that night on the threshing floor. She instructed Ruth to wait until Boaz was asleep and then to lie down by his feet. She did so. In the middle of the night, Boaz awakened to find a woman at his feet.

When he asked who she was, Ruth identified herself and asked him to “spread the corner of your cloak over me, for you are my next of kin” (Ru 3:9), thus asking him to do his duty and marry her. Boaz told her that she had another relative closer to her.

Boaz then met with that closer relative and told him that Naomi was going to sell a piece of land that belonged to Elimelech. If the relative wanted to claim it, he would also have to take Ruth as his wife. The relative relinquished his claim to Boaz, who married Ruth. †

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