Ruth (biblical figure)
Ruth was a Moabitess, who married into the Hebrew family of Elimelech and Naomi, whom she met when they left Bethlehem and relocated to Moab due to a famine. Elimelech and his two sons died leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law as widows. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, Ruth decided to go with her despite the fact that Orpah, Naomi's other daughter-in-law went back home. Ruth famously vowed to follow Naomi in the following passage:
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.(Ruth 1:16-17, ESV)
Ruth went to glean in the fields, where she met Boaz. At the instigation of Naomi she forced Boaz to declare his intentions regarding Ruth by slipping into the threshing floor at night, uncovering his feet, and lying at his feet (Ruth 3:8) in the Mosaic tradition of having the nearest relative be the kinsman redeemer (Leviticus 25:25-55). Boaz indicated his desire to marry her, and called Ruth a "woman of noble character". After overcoming the obstacle of having a relative with a stronger claim (per the Mosaic requirements in Deuteronomy 25:7-9), Boaz married Ruth, and they had a son, named Obed. The genealogy in the final chapter of the book explains how Ruth became the great-grandmother of David: Boaz begot Obed, Obed begot Jesse and Jesse begot David (Ruth 4:17). She is also thus the ancestor of Joseph (husband of Mary and would-be father of Jesus), and is one of the five women mentioned in the genealogy of Matthew 1 (along with Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Mary).
Katherine D. Sakenfeld argues that Ruth is a model of loving-kindness (hesed): she acts in ways that promote the well-being of others. In Ruth 1:8-18, she demonstrated hesed by not going back to Moab but accompanying her mother-in-law to a foreign land. She chose to glean, despite the danger she faced in the field (Ruth 2:15) and the lower social status of the job. Finally, Ruth agrees with Naomi’s plan to marry Boaz, even though she was free of family obligations, once again demonstrating her loyalty and obedience (Ruth 3:10).
Barry Webb argues that in the book, Ruth plays a key role in Naomi's rehabilitation. Yitzhak Berger suggests that Naomi's plan was that Ruth seduce Boaz, just as Tamar and the daughters of Lot all seduced "an older family member in order to become the mother of his offspring." At the crucial moment, however, "Ruth abandons the attempt at seduction and instead requests a permanent, legal union with Boaz."
The figure of Ruth is celebrated as a convert to Judaism who understood Jewish principles and took them to heart.
The connection between Ruth and David is very important because Jesus was born of Mary, betrothed to Joseph of the lineage of David. Thus in Christian lineage, Ruth is a foremother of Jesus.
In popular culture
Ruth is one of the Five Heroines of the Order of the Eastern Star.
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- Gregory Goswell, "What's in a Name? Book Titles in the Latter Prophets and Writings," Pacifica 21 (2008), 8.
- Katherine D. Sakenfeld, Ruth (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1999), 11-12.
- Barry G. Webb, Five Festal Garments (Leicester: Apollos, 2000), 43.
- Berger, Yitzhak (2009). "Ruth and Inner-Biblical Allusion: The Case of 1 Samuel 25". JBL 128 (2): 268. Emphasis original.