The Book of Ruth - Session One
Introductory Notes - including a summary of Ruth 1:1-7
I. Ruth and Naomi
A story of compassion and kindness, a tale of conversion and a coming over to God and these traditions
II. During the 350-year period of Judges, after the death of Joshua and before Saul. Chaotic period. Time of famine. Poor leadership? Poor followership? Disobedience to God, leading to famine? A spiritual famine, or a physical one, or both?
Why did Elimelech flee? Since he was a significant person, this was seen as a tragedy, a loss. Yet, salvation often comes from tragedy. “The seeds of salvation are often planted in the greenhouse of tragedy.”
Did he leave to try to protect his riches? Or was he fleeing corruption he didn’t have the power to contest? Was he fleeing punishment for a wrong he did?
The Talmud suggests they left and thus committed a wrong for which they deserved punishment. Perhaps they should have stayed to help, or perhaps seek mercy for, his generation.
Then his sons married out, without conversion. Or did they convert? Were these marriages real or not? Problems either way. Complex. But the story works out better if they did. Then Naomi tested Ruth in her encounter.
III. Ruth and Boaz -
Ruth - future mother of Jewish majesty. Great love for Naomi (whose story must also be cherished) and the Divine ideal that she embodied. Boaz then became the magnet.
Boaz - in him there is power - powerful faith
A book dedicated to the faith and courage of these two, people of righteous deeds and people who imbue the world with spiritual dimension.
Their allegiance to Torah gives life to the world. The element of the Levirate-like marriage is important to the drama.
The odd and mysterious history going back to Lot into Moab and through Ruth and on to David - is it that the soul of David was freed from Moab through Ruth? The spark of Lot and the brilliance of Judah united as Ruth and Boaz were married.
The issues as well of a Moabite marrying in - this seems a contradiction of a mitzvah in the Torah. This prohibition is interpreted through oral law to apply only to Moabite men.
IV. By tradition, Samuel wrote this book to show line of David. The issue was whether it was appropriate for Boaz to marry a Moabitess. The ruling in the book is based on the proposition that the prohibition was only against males.
The secondary lesson is the reward for bestowing kindness on others. Also, a further lesson is the merit of living and staying in Israel, for which Elimelech suffered.
V. Messiah comes from this line. That also means that it comes from Lot, too, whose son via the daughters was Moab, and ancestor of Ruth, and from Judah, whose relationship with Tamar gave birth to Perez, who was an ancestor of David.
The real point here is that Judah rose above, in defeating the evil inclination through repentance and return. And Ruth comes from outside to turn to, and live by, the way. This prepares the way for the Messiah.
David saw himself from start to finish as a pauper (daleds at start and finish of name). The messiah, according to Zechariah would be a poor man riding a donkey. Yet, there’s all we find of beauty and loyalty and love of the people and true majesty and God-ward orientation in the David story…
VI. This is a special Hebrew short story, but one with historical significance and fine literary quality.
This could be a very old story - 700-950 BCE - though there are debates it could be more recent.
VII. Why on Shavuot?
A. Newly liberated nation accepts the yoke and Judaism; so does Ruth.
B. One acquires Torah through struggle and hardship; so does Ruth. No one became great in Torah without effort. She persevered through loneliness, odyssey, hunger, poverty, identity.
C. David dies on Shavuot; we honor his great-grandmother.
VIII. Theology: people act in correspondence with the way God might act. They live under God’s sovereignty. God is present.
The prospect of chesed-living. The impact of living out a righteous and compassionate life is a matter of determination and is not by any means guaranteed. God rewards this life, but it is not assured; nor is it by some easy or mechanical reward/punishment system achieved.
We honor and love God by loving others. The covenant circle extends in the story to the whole town.
Perhaps this direction of the story is why we think the Messiah derives from the marriage that is the culmination of its innerworkings.
A. Read 1:8, 14-18.
8 Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord show loving kindness to you, just as you have done with the dead and with me.
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
1. Verse 8 is hugely important for setting the stage as to the meaning and purpose of this Book. Can you identify why it’s important and the message it’s highlighting?
(It introduces the virtues of compassion and chesed, loving-kindness, and sets out the standard by which Naomi suggests we should judge each other. This becomes a key in how we see Ruth being taught about Judaism:
We treat others and pray that God will treat them with the same love that others show for us. This is above and beyond the expected.)
2. What do you make of the fact that the text says that Ruth and Orpah had dealt kindly with the dead, not specifically Naomi’s sons?
(There likely was some care and concern in respecting them in death – perhaps in how they were buried and/or how they were remembered or honored.
This shows respect to family and tradition, and at a time when nothing can be given or done for them materially. This is sort of a posthumous kindness.
It could also suggest a willingness to delay re-marriage and to help take care of Naomi.)
3. In verses 14-18, we see the remarkable commitment of Ruth to stay with and accompany Naomi until the end. Are there words in her statement that strike you as especially powerful and beautiful?
((a) Ruth’s name means she “saw.” (raahtah) She saw Naomi’s plight and was moved to act. Compassion and kindness begin with seeing.
(b) Ruth clung to Naomi. She did more than weep. She acted. She made it clear she was going to take care of Naomi. We cleave to God; so did Ruth to Naomi. She cleaves to God when she cleaves to one in need. This is evident of a spirit of holiness. Alshich.
(c) Ruth’s appeal begins with “do not urge me to leave you.” This is powerful in that it suggests it would be wrong to do so, as if it would cut off her showing love.
(d) Then Ruth moves to a “where you do x, I’ll do x.” Isn’t this purely a reformulation of “love your neighbor as yourself?” What is good for you is good for me.
Ruth is practicing Judaism and accepts it, with “your people is my people; your God is my God.”
Covenant life “comes down from the clouds” to the here and now. This display of chesed imitates Divine love in that it goes beyond the expected or “deserved.”)
B. Read 1:19-2:9.
19 So both of them went along until they arrived at Bethlehem. When they arrived at Bethlehem, the whole town was excited on account of them, and the women of the town asked, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 She replied to them, “Don’t call me Naomi, but call me Mara, for the Almighty has made me very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has returned me empty. Why would you call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has deemed me guilty?”
22 Thus Naomi returned. And Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, returned with her from the territory of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Gleaning in Bethlehem
2 Now Naomi had a respected relative, a man of worth, through her husband from the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz. 2 Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field so that I may glean among the ears of grain behind someone in whose eyes I might find favor.”
Naomi replied to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she went; she arrived and she gleaned in the field behind the harvesters. By chance, it happened to be the portion of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from the family of Elimelech.
4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He said to the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you.”
And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”
5 Boaz said to his young man, the one who was overseeing the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?”
6 The young man who was overseeing the harvesters answered, “She’s a young Moabite woman, the one who returned with Naomi from the territory of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean so that I might gather up grain from among the bundles behind the harvesters.’ She arrived and has been on her feet from the morning until now, and has sat down for only a moment.”
8 Boaz said to Ruth, “Haven’t you understood, my daughter? Don’t go glean in another field; don’t go anywhere else. Instead, stay here with my young women. 9 Keep your eyes on the field that they are harvesting and go along after them. I’ve ordered the young men not to touch you. Whenever you are thirsty, go to the jugs and drink from what the young men have filled.”
We see a great deal in these few verses about the character of the three main actors in this drama. What have you noted most prominently?
(*Naomi is bitter, thinking perhaps the God has punished her. She’s humble and chooses not to beg help from her in-law, Boaz. She seems distressed that, though a righteous person, she appears otherwise and is hurt about it. Perhaps there’s regret she and her family abandoned the community.
*Ruth doesn’t hesitate to go glean/work to support Naomi and herself, taking responsibility for Naomi and herself, in humility. This protects Naomi, too, from glances of those who knew her in her former fine condition.
The overseer describes Ruth in a way that suggests to Boaz modesty and refinement, becoming and pleasant, perhaps through the example of Naomi. Midrash.
*Boaz comes back and, though prominent and successful, immediately shows a bond of mutuality in God with his workers.
We learn in 2:1 he’s a man of valor (a trait he passes on to David). He’s diligent, as is evident in his performing mitzvot with alacrity (also a trait of David).
He then takes note of Ruth’s work and the character it reveals, and he shows interest. He learns she came with Naomi.
Finally, Boaz seeks to protect her as well as bring her into his ambit, the ambit of God. He seeks to “attach” her to his female workers as she “attached” (dbq) to Naomi, with support and protection. He and she abide precisely by the mitzvot concerning gleaning – neither too much nor not enough. Ruth is to meet her thirst with the vessels he provides (suggesting physical and spiritual support). This is community with bonds.
As we learn in verses that follow, he sees what she has done for Naomi. He now does for her, a seeming foreigner. She appreciates his care for her and the words he speaks to her.
Note, too, that this begins at the beginning of the barley festival, perhaps during the omer, a journey like theirs and that of the people toward Sinai.)
C. Read 2:18-20.
18 She picked it up and went into town. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She brought out what she had left over after eating her fill and gave it to her. 19 Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? May the one who noticed you be blessed.”
She told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.”
20 Naomi replied to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, who hasn’t abandoned his loving-kindness with the living or with the dead.” Naomi said to her, “The man is one of our close relatives; he’s one of our redeemers.”
There are other interesting word uses that lead up to this verse:
Ruth hopes to go to work and receive chen (favor or grace) when they arrive in Bethlehem. She feels she has received chen from Boaz. 2:10.
Boaz wishes that God reward Ruth with a full (shlema) reward for what she’s done. The root word, of course, is shalem, which means complete, safe, or at peace. He hopes refuge for her, too.
Now we come to 2:20.
Naomi had been bitter. Now she blesses God for His never-failing loving kindness (chesed) to both the living and the dead.
1. Explain this transformation in Naomi. What has caused it? And what does it mean that kindness has been shown to the dead, too?
(Perhaps it’s as simple as this: a wise and sensitive person (Naomi) has picked up in these encounters all that we’ve noticed and have been discussing.
There’s a sense in the commentary that Ruth brought back a nice and bountiful gleaning, perhaps assisted in by Boaz.
It could also be that she knows of Boaz and senses that a match is to be, which could envelop them all in shalom.
There is loving kindness all around, and that is a sign of God’s extension of loving kindness.)
2. Does it have a lot to do with the idea that Boaz is “a redeeming kinsman?” What does that mean?
(Is this a sense on her part that there is a sort of levirate marriage duty on Boaz’s part? If so, that could be why God is showing kindness to the dead, to Ruth’s first husband, Naomi’s son. It also honors her whole family and their tradition.
This would benefit the living as well as those who are dead who had been concerned for the welfare of their survivors.
It may more simply be that loving kindness redeems, and she senses his redemptive actions. Or it might mean he’s a keeper, protector, and transmitter of the covenant. He is an ancestor of David and the Messiah.)
D. Read 3:1-5.
1 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I seek security for you, so that things might go well for you? 2 Now isn’t Boaz, whose young women you were with, our relative? Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. 3 You should wash, anoint yourself, and put on your best garment, and then go down to the threshing floor. Don’t make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, notice the place where he is lying. Then go, uncover his feet, and lie down. And he will tell you what to do.”
5 Ruth replied to her, “I’ll do everything you are telling me.”
1. What is Naomi doing here? What is her instruction to Ruth intended to achieve?
2. Explain each feature of the drama – the bathing, the fine clothing, the going to the threshing floor, and the directions of how to be with Boaz?
(This brings things out of possible stalemate.
Is this to create a home for her through marriage with a righteous man? If so, it’s a wonderful response to what’s been done for her in chesed for the two of them, and one that honors the dead and the tradition, and going forward?
Is the bathing an immersion in the ritual waters? A cleansing of the past? A cleansing for the future?
Some commentators see the finery as Shabbat clothes to keep her in the spirit of faith duty and righteousness.
The threshing floor has all kinds of connotations – the place where the best of the grain is prepared for offering. Is she to be offered? Are they?
The command to follow Boaz is interesting. Is it a test for him? Will it uncover his righteousness and love? It puts her in his hands – for sure.
This is, some commentators say, all for the sake of heaven, though it has all dimensions of love intertwined.
Recall that the prohibition of a man being with an unmarried woman like this was not yet proclaimed.)
III. Conclusion – what are our takeaway lessons today?
(God favors people on His own initiative, then requires that they live in sync with their duties as His people. God’s people do acts of chesed not in order to deserve God’s grace, but in order to respond to His grace.
Chesed on the human scene is evidence of God’s chesed.
Boaz invokes God’s blessing on Ruth and becomes himself that agency for its fulfilment.
People act as God to one another. Ruth falls on her face as if in gratitude, sort of worship language, calling Boaz “my lord.” And Naomi responds in chesed at the beginning of chapter 3, establishing the foundation for decisions made in righteousness.)
Anchor, Edward Campbell)