Shavuot: The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth is the eighth book of the Old Testament of the Bible. A short story, it tells how Ruth, the Moabite widow of a Bethlehemite, with her mother – in – law Naomi’s assistance, married an older kinsman Boaz, thereby preserving her deceased husband’s posterity and becoming an ancestor of King David. The plot is artfully constructed and exhibits a pronounced belief in the comprehensive but hidden providence of God that works quietly in ordinary events. The legal customs concerning levirate marriage, redemption of property, and gleaning in the fields are relatively ancient, and the vocabulary and style are consistent with a date between 950 and 750 BC. The Davidic genealogy is a secondary appendix, written between 500 and 350 BC, which served to increase the importance of the book for postexilic Jews.

Ruth, a friend, a Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, whose father, Elimelech, had settled in the land of Moab. On the death of Elimelech and Mahlon, Naomi came with Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who refused to leave her, to Bethlehem, the old home from which Elimelech had migrated. There she had a rich relative, Boaz, to whom Ruth was eventually married. She became the mother of Obed, the grandfather of David. Thus Ruth, a Gentile, is among the maternal progenitors of our Lord (Matt. 1:5). The story of “the gleaner Ruth illustrates the friendly relations between the good Boaz and his reapers, the Jewish land system, the method of transferring property from one person to another, the working of the Mosaic law for the relief of distressed and ruined families; but, above all, handing down the unselfishness, the brave love, the unshaken trustfulness of her who, though not of the chosen race, was, like the Canaanitess Tamar (Gen. 38: 29; Matt. 1:3) and the Canaanitess Rahab (Matt. 1:5), privileged to become the ancestress of David, and so of ‘great David’s greater Son'” (Ruth 4:18-22).

The Book of Ruth was originally a part of the Book of Judges, but it now forms one of the twenty-four separate books of the Hebrew Bible. The history it contains refers to a period perhaps about one hundred and twenty-six years before the birth of David. It gives (1) an account of Naomi’s going to Moab with her husband, Elimelech, and of her subsequent return to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law; (2) the marriage of Boaz and Ruth; and (3) the birth of Obed, of whom David sprang. The author of this book was probably Samuel, according to Jewish tradition. “Brief as this book is, and simple as is its story, it is remarkably rich in examples of faith, patience, industry, and kindness, nor less so in indications of the care which God takes of those who put their trust in him.”

The Book of Ruth is traditionally read on Shavuot.
This is a brief summary of it.

Chapter 1

In the days before the kings of Israel, during a famine, a man from Bethlehem in Judah, took his wife and his sons to Moab. The man, Elimelech, died, and the woman, Naomi, was left with her two sons. Both sons married Moabite women. One was named Orpah, and the other was named Ruth. In time, both of the sons died, and Naomi was left with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi heard that the famine was over in Bethlehem, so she started to return to Judah. She told her daughters-in-law to go back to their own families. They had done enough for her. Orpah and Naomi both said, “No, we will return with you.”
Then Naomi said:
Naomi: Turn back, my daughters! Why should you go with me? Do I have any more sons in my body who might be husbands for you?
In those days, the law was that if a woman’s husband died and she was childless, the husband’s brother married the woman so that the dead husband would have an heir and the woman would have security.
Naomi: Even if I were to get married tonight and bore sons, would you wait for them to grow up? Should you keep yourself from marriage? Oh no! My lot is far more bitter than yours, for the hand of the Lord has struck out against me.
So they cried, and they hugged, and Orpah went back to her family, but Ruth stayed with Naomi.
Naomi: See, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and her gods. Go follow your sister-in-law.
Ruth: Do not urge me to leave you, or to turn back and not follow 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. Where you die, I will die and be buried.
So Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Chapter 2

It turned out that Naomi had a relative on her late husband’s side. He was a wealthy man named Boaz.

One day, Ruth told Naomi that she wanted to go glean in fields behind the people harvesting the barley crop. The Torah tells us that when we reap, we are not to pick up the stalks that fall, that we must leave them for the poor. So that’s what Ruth was doing gleaning in the fields. It turned out that the field she chose to glean in was one that belonged to Boaz.

Soon enough, Boaz comes around to see what’s going on, and he asks about the woman gleaning in his fields. His workers tell him that she’s the Moabite girl who came back with Naomi. Boaz goes to Ruth and says:

Boaz: Listen to me. Don’t go glean in another field. Stay here close to my girls. Keep your eyes on where they’re reaping, and follow them. I have ordered the men not to bother you. And when you’re thirsty, go drink from the jars of water that the men have drawn.
Ruth: Why are you so kind to single me out when I am a foreigner?
Boaz: I have been told all that you did for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and came to a people you had not known before. May the Lord reward your deeds. May you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have sought refuge.
Boaz makes sure she gets enough to eat, and tells his workers to make sure that they leave some extra stalks for her to glean.

When Ruth gets home, Naomi notices that she gleaned quite a bit of barley. Ruth tells her about Boaz, and Naomi says:

Naomi: Blessed be he of the Lord who has not failed in His kindness to the living or to the dead! For this man is related to us. He is one of our redeeming kinsmen.
That meant that Boaz could serve to provide an heir for Ruth’s late husband and, of course, provide security for Ruth.

Chapter 3

Naomi has an idea.
Naomi: Daughter, I must find a home for you where you will be happy. And there is our cousin Boaz, whose girls you were close to. He will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor tonight. So bathe, anoint yourself, dress up, and go down to the threshing floor. When he lies down, go over and uncover his feet, and lie down.
So Ruth agrees, maybe a bit reluctantly, but maybe Naomi knows what she’s doing. So after Boaz has eaten and lies down on the threshing floor, she goes over and uncovers his feet.
Boaz: Who are you?
Ruth: I am your handmaid Ruth. Spread your robe over your handmaid, for you are a redeeming kinsman.
My commentaries say that this robe-spreading is an “act of espousal.”
Boaz: Be blessed of the Lord! Your latest deed of loyalty is greater than the first, in that you have not turned to younger men whether poor or rich. Have no fear. I will do whatever you ask, for all the elders of my town know what a fine woman you are. But while it’s true that I am a redeeming kinsman, there is another who is closer than I. Stay the night. In the morning, if he will act as redeemer, good! let him. But if he does not, I will be a redeemer for you.
Ruth got up early in the morning, so no one would see her, because even though nothing happened, neither she nor Boaz wanted to damage her reputation. Ruth went back to Naomi’s house and told her how things went.

Chapter 4

Boaz went to the gate of the city and found the man who was the closer relative to Ruth’s late husband. And he got the elders to stand as witnesses. Boaz explains to this relative (whose name is given as Ploni Almoni, which means, roughly, Joe Schmo) about the land that belongs to the late son of Naomi’s late husband, and that Ploni Almoni has right of first refusal in purchasing the land.
Boaz: So, if you are willing to redeem the land, redeem it. But if you are not, then tell me. For there is no one to redeem it but you, and I come next in line after you.
Ploni: I am willing to redeem the land.
Boaz: When you acquire the property from Naomi, you also must marry Ruth, the widow, so that her late husband’s name will be perpetuated.
Ploni: Then I cannot redeem it for myself. You take over my right of redemption, for I am unable to exercise it.
So Boaz acquired the land that belonged to Naomi’s late husband, and agrees to marry Ruth.
Elders: May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the House of Israel.
And Ruth and Boaz had a son whose name was Obed, who was the father Jesse, who was the father of David, who became king over all of Israel.

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