A Study By Reverend Christopher Cooke


Katharine Doob Sakenfeld takes a look at the community as depicted in the Book of Ruth. This she calls “The Peaceable Community”.

Theological Themes
1. The Peaceable Community – “The portrait of the community may be regarded as a microcosm of the peaceable kingdom envisioned by the prophetic tradition”. The story is not so idyllic that it is without problems. But we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. The Bible is a very masculine set of documents but here women find a way forward.
2. Examples of Loyal Living (more of this next week).
3. The Place of God in the Story – “A key feature of the book is its effort to relate human care and concern to divine care and concern in the working out of human difficulties and pain along the road to a peaceable community.” God is mentioned repeatedly by the various characters in the story. The action of God does not take the form of direct intervention but happens through the actions of the human characters. Thus within the broad parameters of the gifts of daily bread and of human life itself, the book of Ruth presents God’s working as hidden and mysterious. This is like yeast in bread making.

Why the Peaceable Community?
1. No one is left destitute. The community is responsible for feeding the hungry.
2. Loneliness and despair must not be ignored. They are part of the broken human condition and call for acts of healing.
3. Children are valued and so are old people. They are to be cared for.
4. The marginalized outsider may appropriately be “pushy” towards being included and those in the centre are called to move towards the margins and the marginalized.

By their actions, Ruth and Boaz give us a glimpse not just of how we should live, but also of what the loyal kindness of God may me like. “For Christians that glimpse expands to fullness in Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, son of David, descendent of Ruth, Messiah, who fed the hungry, succoured the grieving, entered into unlikely friendships, and confounded traditional categories of centre and margin.”



Naomi and Ruth

What do you think of Naomi’s advice about dating Boaz?
Why didn’t Naomi go herself to talk to Boaz?
Why did Ruth agree to go along with it?

Ruth and Boaz

Initiating Contact (3:6-9a)

How does Boaz winnow?
What do you think of Ruth’s risky venture?
• Was it a true romance?
• Was Ruth sacrificing herself to an older unattractive man?
• Was this an entrapment of Boaz?

[Katharine Sakenfeld says all these have come up in discussions]
Ruth puts her reputation on the line. Is this what God wants?

Ruth’s Words (3:9b)

What do you make of Ruth’s words?

Boaz’s Reply (3:10-13)

What do you make of Boaz’s reply?
How does that impact on Naomi’s advice to stick with the female reapers?
Ruth shows hesed towards Naomi, but is she showing hesed here?
Is this a personal story or is God there behind the scenes?
What about the complication in the plot?

Departure (3:14-15)

Why was Boaz so generous with the barley?

Naomi and Ruth

What about Naomi’s advice now?

Patricia Tull = “Needless to say, Naomi’s instructions to Ruth have not been passed down through the ages as a model of dating protocol for young women of faith”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “The determination of Naomi, the daring of Ruth, and the uprightness of Boaz that have already been exhibited are further illustrated in the behaviour of the key characters in these scenes”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “If God’s providential guidance lies behind the scene in chapter 2, perhaps it is equally appropriate to think of God’s redemptive activity behind this scene in chapter 3”.

Comments from Reverend Christopher


Katharine Sakenfeld notes that the structural outline of Chapter 3 is rather like Chapter 2: Naomi and Ruth; Ruth and Boaz; Naomi and Ruth. Patricia Tull points out whereas Chapter 2’s action takes place in public during the day, the action of Chapter 3 takes place in secret in the course of the night.
Whereas Ruth 2’s action comes about through Ruth’s initiative whilst Naomi is inactive, Chapter 3’s action follows Naomi’s initiative and plan.

Traditional farmers today have techniques for sealing the early harvest against weather etc. So the winnowing of the barley may have waited until the wheat harvest was in. However, there may have been some overlap with the wheat harvest as the events take place in the evening. The evening may have been appropriate because it was cooler and there may have been the necessary breeze. Anyway, some weeks have passed since the events recounted in Chapter 2 because the barley harvest is now in.

Naomi and Ruth

Whereas Ruth is often described as “daughter-in-law”, this is the only time that Naomi is described as “mother-in-law”.
Naomi has already made one attempt to provide for Ruth’s security by urging her to return to Moab. Now she has a daring plan. This would also bring an end to the stopgap survival represented by gleaning.
Boaz will be winnowing but he will probably be doing this with his workers. Naomi urges Ruth to take extra care with her dress, her bathing and put on expensive scent. Frederic Bush suggests that Ruth may be putting off her widowhood and he widow clothes.
Ruth is to approach Boaz at night after he has finished eating and drinking. She is to lie down beside him! It will be vitally important that Ruth is not detected lying with a man in a public area during the night! Katharine Sakenfeld: “Never is there any indication of the consummation of sexual relations” but it is a highly charged environment with sexual overtones. Why didn’t Ruth object? Ruth responds to this new and quite bizarre proposal with a simple sentence of agreement to the plan!
Why didn’t Naomi go and speak with Boaz or why didn’t she send Ruth in less compromising circumstances? Sakenfeld suggests:
1. This is good narrative art.
2. The elements of attractiveness that we have seen in chapter 2 have not resulted in any further action by Boaz in the successive weeks.
3. Naomi could have been expected to be rebuffed if she approached Boaz herself.

Ruth and Boaz
Initiating Contact (3:6-9a)

The narrator notes that Boaz was in a contented mood. Ruth acts according to Naomi’s instructions.
What a shock for this upright man to stir in the night and find a young woman lying beside him! Up to now, Boaz has given orders but now he asks a rather startled question. He is off his guard. It is also a departure from Naomi’s expected scenario.
Ruth’s Words (3:9b)
“Spread your cloak over your servant” = Ruth’s language is symbolic and veiled.
1. The Hebrew listener/reader would understand that Ruth is referring to marriage.
2. The word translated “cloak” is literally “wing” and refers back to Boaz’s words of 2:12 that Ruth has sought refuge under God’s wings.
Ruth challenges Boaz to provide, to embody, the divine refuge he had wished upon her earlier. Human action is the vehicle for divine blessing.
Why should Boaz marry her? Not because she has entrapped him because no-one knows as yet. Ruth suggests it is because he is next of kin. But this does not usually extend to marriage! Frederic Bush suggests that Ruth is using the term only in general terms. Boaz is one of the group of kinsmen who has a responsibility for the well-being of Naomi. Bush: “Redeemers are to take responsibility for the unfortunate and stand as their supporters and advocates. They are to embody the basic principle of caring responsibility for those who may not have justice done for them by the unscrupulous or even by the person who lives by the letter of the law”. It is the redemptive act of God which should be our model. As Patricia Tull points out, the social law as outlined in the Pentateuch is suggestive rather than comprehensive.

Boaz’s Reply (3:10-13)
Remarkably, Boaz is appreciative of what Ruth has done! He addresses her as “my daughter” once again. He asks for her blessing again.
1. The first instance of hesed/loyalty is surely Ruth accompanying Naomi from Moab.
2. But how can her proposal of marriage be an even better act of loyalty? Boaz makes reference to the young men she could have attracted and some of them may have been wealthy. Is this why Boaz has been reticent? He acknowledges that there was no legal reason why Ruth should marry within the family. The only beneficiary of such an action is Naomi.
Then Boaz speaks words of comfort. Boaz could have taken advantage of her or he could have exposed her. Ruth has taken the initiative and Boaz pledges to do as she asks. Phyllis Trible describes the encounter as “salvation by courage alone”.
Boaz describes Ruth as a “worthy” woman even though she has no wealth or children (the signs of being wealthy). Literally, this is “a woman of strength”. This seems to reflect Proverbs chapter 31. It is a counterpart to way the narrator describes Boaz. The use of this term “collapses the social distance between them” (Sakenfeld).
Boaz is however concerned about the rank ordering of kinsmen. As in many things, Boaz is scrupulous. His next order again steers well clear of sexual activity. He may well enjoy her presence but who knows what the nearer next-of-kin will decide tomorrow! This brings in another intriguing twist to the narrative. Kirsten Nielsen also notes that “God acts in spite of the hardships that arise, be they hunger, childlessness or local custom”.

Departure (3:14-15)
Ruth’s departure occurs at dawn when once she is a little way from the scene of action, other people would be beginning to stir but not be fully identified in the half-light.
Boaz loads Ruth’s cloak with barley. There is a division here amongst Hebrew manuscripts. Most say “he” went into the city but some say “she”.

Naomi and Ruth

Naomi’s reply indicates a full understanding of the situation. Ruth’s words suggest Boaz still has great concern for Naomi. Naomi expresses her trust in the prompt and appropriate action that Boaz will undertake. Things are better than they were but they are far from settled.
From now on, we do not hear the voices of Ruth and Naomi again. Their future lies in the hands of Boaz (and his oath verse 13).

Patricia Tull = “Needless to say, Naomi’s instructions to Ruth have not been passed down through the ages as a model of dating protocol for young women of faith”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “The determination of Naomi, the daring of Ruth, and the uprightness of Boaz that have already been exhibited are further illustrated in the behaviour of the key characters in these scenes”.
Katharine Sakenfeld = “If God’s providential guidance lies behind the scene in chapter 2, perhaps it is equally appropriate to think of God’s redemptive activity behind this scene in chapter 3”.
Patricia Tull = “God works throughout the Biblical account, and throughout our own histories, to redeem the ones broken, disgraced, ignored or harmed”.


A Study By Reverend Christopher Cooke

Boaz and Ruth-William Hole (1846 – 1917)

Week 2


J.M. Sasson = a folktale which is not burdened by its historical background.
R.L. Hubbard = a short story with much historical accuracy.
E.F. Campbell = historical fiction about those on the historical margins and how they are provided for: gleaning, responsibility of the family.
Frederic Bush = “an edifying short story”.
Gerald West = marginalised communities have found much consolation in Ruth.

Frederic Bush = the writer of Ruth very effectively employs contrasts between the principal protagonists and the minor characters or agents i.e.

  • Ruth and Orpah
  • Boaz and the “nearer redeemer” (who is not named)
  • Naomi and the women of Bethlehem

These devices are used by the writer to portray Ruth, Boaz and Naomi as the virtual enfleshment of hesed – kindness, graciousness and loyalty that goes beyond the call of duty (and is typical of God).

E.F. Campbell: “The Ruth story does not represent the style of life which exercises caring responsibility as a forgone conclusion for God’s people. It is portrayed as attainable but elusive”.


Frederic Bush = The Book of Ruth is very different from the stress in much of the rest of OT literature on the overt, and at times supernatural, nature of the divine guidance. “Thus, the book of Ruth affirms that God often effects his purposes in the world through the ordinary motivations and events of his people – ordinary people like Ruth and Boaz, or like you and me, the ripple of whose lives stir little beyond the pool of their own community – and in particular through their acts of gracious and loving kindness that go beyond the call of duty”.
Although God is not a character in the story, God is nonetheless present in the story. This is evidenced by the way the name of Yahweh so frequently rushes to the lips of the participants. “Clearly, at every level of the story the author affirms the uniform OT conviction that the world is fully and uniformly under the control of an all-powerful and all-knowing God.”
Patricia Tull = the books of Esther & Ruth reflect a subtlety of divine presence that resembles much more closely life in our own world than the pyrotechnics of Mount Sinai.


Boaz is introduced


How is Boaz introduced?

What is he like?

Ruth and Naomi


Why did Naomi stay at home and let Ruth go to the fields on her own?

Boaz and Ruth


Boaz enquires about Ruth (2:4-7)

Was it chance that Ruth happened on Boaz’s part of the village field?

What right did Ruth have to be there?

Why didn’t Boaz reveal his relationship to Naomi when he first met Ruth?

Boaz’s Conversation with Ruth (2:8-17)

What do you make of Boaz’s extremely generous treatment of Ruth?

Was it because Naomi was kin?

Was it because he wanted to act as a “redeemer”?

Was he interested in Ruth? Was he attracted to her?

Ruth and Naomi


Why did Naomi caution Ruth to stick with the women and not the men in verse 22?

What is Naomi’s judgement of God now?

How does that compare with that in the first chapter? [verses 13, 20 &21]

Has there been a time in your life when your anger with God has given way to great joy?

Naomi has returned home because she has heard “that the Lord had considered his people and given them food” [1:6]. But the presence of food in general does not necessarily supply sustenance for any particular family. The second chapter of Ruth narrates a single day filled with events and speeches.

Comments from Reverend Christopher

Ruth in Boas field Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1828


Boaz is introduced


Of prime importance is the fact that Boaz is related to Naomi on her husband’s side. He is of the same clan as Elimelech. He is not described as “next-of-kin” here (that Hebrew term will appear later).

The narrator describes Boaz literally as a “mighty man of power, a worthy man”. It is a term more associated with warriors than landlords. This indicates his high standing in the Bethlehem community. Boaz is at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum of that community to Naomi and Ruth.

Ruth and Naomi


Ruth is introduced again as a Moabite as she is often to be so in the book of Ruth. She is the foreign outsider. Ruth, by contrast to Naomi, dares to take the initiative to support the two of them.

Gleaning is a primary means of support for the destitute prescribed in Israelite law [Leviticus and Deuteronomy]. The edges of the fields are not to be harvested and the gleanings (i.e. what is not picked up in the first pass-through) also shall be left behind for the alien, the poor, the orphan and the widow. As a poor non-Israelite widow, Ruth seeks out the means of survival for her designated by Israelite law. Ruth does not know about Boaz and is relying upon the kindness of strangers.

We should imagine a communal village field with certain parts designated as belonging to individuals.

God is working behind the scenes. What might be seen as chance is really divine providence.

Boaz and Ruth


Boaz enquires about Ruth (2:4-7)

The third principal character, Boaz appears on stage giving and receiving divine blessing. Boaz assumes that Ruth belongs to some man. There was no such thing as an independent woman. The head reaper replies that she is a Moabite who came from Moab with Naomi. She is described twice in one sentence as “the foreigner”. The head reaper has more to say but this is the corrupt verse in Hebrew. Whether Ruth is gleaning, resting from gleaning, or still awaiting permission to glean at the moment Boaz first sees her, the initiative is now his, and he approaches Ruth.

Boaz’s Conversation with Ruth (2:8-17)

Boaz urges Ruth to stick to his part of the field. In fact, Boaz gives five instructions. The man is used to giving orders! A foreigner from a disliked ethnic group could be easily victimized. It is quite probable that the offer of water was an extra perk. However, he had already instructed the young men not to bother Ruth. Boaz would be seen as Ruth’s male protector. Boaz may have been attracted to her as well.

Ruth’s reply recognizes the special privileges that she has been offered. This is much more than she could have hoped for. Is Ruth’s question rhetorical? Is she confused?

Boaz’s reply suggests he views Ruth’s behaviour towards Naomi as exceptional. Although Boaz does not use the term hesed here, it is implied. This is confirmed by Boaz’s prayer over Ruth. Boaz draws parallels between Ruth’s conduct and that of Abraham. Naomi has previously blessed Ruth. But Naomi’s God who Naomi claimed had deserted her, is now called upon to bless Ruth! Ruth has sought refuge under Yahweh’s wings and Boaz prays that this will be fulfilled. This is a beautiful prayer – another side to the man who gives orders.

Ruth’s prostration shows the humble deferential demeanour of a woman who has a technical legal right to glean but who also needs the goodwill of the overseer or owner to carry this out. Ruth does not yet know that Boaz is related to Naomi.

Boaz approaches Ruth again at the midday meal. This is not a private tryst but a gesture of inclusion in the larger community. Not only is Ruth fed but her status is much improved. As the meal concludes, Boaz instructs his workers to offer Ruth further privileges beyond those usually offered to gleaners. Through this Ruth gleans enough to feed two people for two people for about five or seven days. This reminds us that gleaning was only the flimsiest of safety nets and it was only a short-term solution. Gleaning would only last as long as the barley harvest followed by the wheat harvest i.e. about seven weeks.

Boaz fails to mention he is related to Naomi and yet showers Ruth with attention and help. Like Naomi, he addresses Ruth as “my daughter” (verse 8) – a title which will be found on their lips frequently as the story progresses. Boaz’s concern for her welfare and his concern that she may be molested by the men, suggest his interest may not be wholly paternal.

Ruth and Naomi


At home with Naomi, Ruth shows her mother-in-law first the harvested grain and then the parched grain left over from her meal with Boaz. Naomi is impressed and asks where Ruth has worked. The storyteller withholds Boaz’s name until the last moment. When Boaz’s name is mentioned, we have reached the turning point theologically and rhetorically in the book. Naomi links all the dots!

Naomi invokes a blessing upon Boaz – the hesed she mentions could be referring to Boaz or, more conventionally, to Yahweh – there is an ambiguity (purposely?) in the Hebrew. God has surely shown kindness: Ruth through providence has come into Boaz’s field. God’s kindness has been shown to the living (Naomi and Ruth) and to the dead (Elimelech and their sons). What a change around in Naomi’s view of God! And if God has not deserted her, she is a new relationship with him. Naomi has begun a healing journey. Like many people Naomi has experienced calamity but now she knows that God has not abandoned her.

What Ruth understood as a favour, Naomi understands as loyalty. Naomi uses the technical term for “nearest male relative” who has the right to be a redeemer.

With regard to land, we see this in the book of Jeremiah when Jeremiah redeems land that Hanamel needs to sell even though the Babylonians are about to overrun the land.

We know that Boaz has instructed his male servants not to bother Ruth so Ruth uses the male version for servants. Naomi however instructs her to stick close to the women and this is what Ruth did.

If chapter 1 describes a series of disasters which embittered Naomi and disagreements about which course the women should take, chapter 2 is increasingly overfilled with good-will, good-fortune and well-being.


A Study By Reverend Christopher Cooke (Edited 7th June 14.18 by RichardE)

Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795

Patricia Tull points out that of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, 38 have names of men. Only two have the names of women: Esther and Ruth.

Esther and Ruth are not only distinguished by the names of the books but also by being free-standing narratives springing from Judean history.

The characters, Esther and Ruth, are “women in alien lands”.

Authorship and Date.

When we read a book, we usually want to know who wrote it and when it was written. This is difficult for books of the Bible.

W. Lambert: “Biblical narrative exhibits such a rage for impersonality as must lead to the conclusion that its writers actively sought anonymity…Its culture’s and its own remarkable powers of memory encompass everything but the names that produced it”. The writer never refers to himself or herself.

At one time, there were two schools of thought about the dating of the book of Ruth.

  • Some felt that the interest in David and levirate marriage pointed to it being written at an early date during the monarchy well before the Exile. Edward Campbell still favours this.
  • The other extreme was to argue that the book’s positive attitude to foreigners and foreign marriage was a counterblast to the views of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah which forbade foreign marriages in the Fourth Century BC.

Language does change and develop over time. Frederic Bush has an excellent summary of this. The book of Ruth exhibits 10 features of Standard Biblical Hebrew and 8 features of Late Biblical Hebrew.

This suggests that the writer must have lived no earlier than the transitional period between SBT and LBT i.e. from just before the Exile in Babylon to the beginning of the return from Exile. Therefore Ruth’s writing is contemporaneous with the writing of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

The Second Isaiah (from the Exile) and the book of Jonah also show positive attitudes to foreigners.

Katharine Doob Sakenfeld agrees with Frederic Bush. She suggests that the book of Ruth emphasizes instruction concerning the community’s view of outsiders. David is foregrounded as a means of legitimizing an inclusive attitude towards foreigners and foreign women.

It could have been written

  • Just before the Exile when the Deuteronomic History (Judges-Kings) was being written to counter its emphasis against relationships with Canaanites, or
  • Just after the Exile when it addresses tensions between Jewish returnees from Babylon and those who remained in the land after the fall of Jerusalem.

Text and Unity.

The Book of Ruth has always been included in the Hebrew Scriptures but there is some debate about its positioning.

The text has been very well preserved – only the last eight words of 2:7 present a conundrum.

All who have worked on Ruth think it is a unity. At one time, there was a consensus that the genealogy was a later addition. However, now most commentators believe that the genealogy, with which the book ends, is an integral part of the Book of Ruth.




Patricia Tull points out that of the 66 books of the Protestant Bible, 38 have names of men.

How many bear the names of women?


What is the Book of Judges like?

What do we know about Moab and the Moabites?

Departure for Bethlehem


Can you think of any other passages where women discuss amongst themselves in the Bible?

First Speech and Response Cycle (1:6-10)

Why might Orpah and Ruth choose not to return to Moab?

Second Speech and Response Cycle (1:11-14)

What do you think about the reactions of Orpah and Ruth?

Third Speech and Response Cycle (1:15-18)

What do you think about Ruth’s commitment?

Does it compare with that of Abraham’s?

Do you know of anyone who has made a comparable life-changing choice?

Why does Naomi stay silent?

Arrival in Bethlehem


Does Naomi’s lament remind you of other such reactions in the Bible?

Who is the most important character in this chapter?

Are there any signs for Naomi to hope in this chapter? (verses 6 & 22).

Comments from Reverend Christopher





The book of Judges presents this era as one of repeated bloody battles between Israel and its Canaanite, Philistine and other enemies. There was also warfare among the various Israelite tribes.

The entire story of Ruth serves as a counterpoint to this picture of the era of the Judges. We move from the level of the tribe to the level of the family.

Famine in the land. Famine and migration because of famine are recorded elsewhere in the Bible but the destination is Egypt (Abraham; Joseph story).

Irony as Bethlehem means “house of bread” or “house of food”.

Moab was among the oppressors of Israel in the era of the Judges.

Moab = “would have been freighted with meaning”. Close but difficult, often hostile, relations. [England & Ireland]. The Moabites are presented in the Bible as descendants of Lot’s incestuous relationship with one of his daughters. They are hostile to Israelites in Numbers. In Deuteronomy Moabites and Ammonites were not admitted to the worshipping assembly.

The choice of Moab by Elimelech is strange and the consequences quite unsurprising.

“A reader or hearer is even more quickly drawn in when the story’s character makes an improbable decision or takes improbable action in the very first line”.

The long-standing negative view of Moab influences everything that happens in the story and explains the negative attitude of the field workers to Ruth as well as the refusal of the nearer redeemer to get involved. It magnifies Ruth’s decision and Boaz’s behaviour.

Ephrathite can mean someone from the northern area of Ephraim, but here it refers to the geographical or sub-tribe unit that Elimelech’s family falls into. 1 Samuel 17:12 describes this as David’s heritage as does Micah 5:2.

This Bethlehemite family is on the verge of extinction: three women from different homes and two different countries are now a household of widows.

Departure for Bethlehem


Part of the appeal of the Book of Ruth is the woman-to-woman relationship. Conversations between women are extremely rare in the Bible. The book of Ruth devotes more verses to speech between women than the rest of the Bible combined. The first words are Naomi’s to Ruth and Orpah. The last are those of the townswomen to Naomi. [The other extended conversation is in the NT = Mary and Elizabeth. There is also Mary and Martha].

First Speech and Response Cycle (1:6-10)

Naomi is both displaced and bereft. She seems to have second thoughts on the journey.

Naomi instructs Ruth and Orpah to return to Moab and blesses them. The blessing incorporates the first of many references to hesed = kindness, lovingkindness, faithfulness, loyalty. It is the most important theme of the book. It may have been a general wish but it is probably a benedictory invocation of divine faithfulness.

Naomi alludes to their kindness to her and to the dead men of the family.

Verse 9 is a prayer. Although the story of Ruth is one of women making decisions and taking action on their own, their action takes place in the context of this traditional assumption about women’s place in socio-economic structure.

It ends with Naomi’s farewell kiss, weeping and Ruth and Orpah’s rejection of Naomi’s proposal.

Interestingly Ruth and Orpah talk about “returning” with her to her people even though, of course, they have never been to Judah.

Second Speech and Response Cycle (1:11-14)

Naomi reiterates her exhortation and elaborates upon her arguments. She picks up on “return” and uses it in its more expected way i.e. return to Moab.

Scholars have long discussed Naomi’s rhetoric and its relevance to levirate marriage. They probably do not relate to the latter. They are just a heightened rhetorical expression of pain and frustration about her inability to care for her daughters-in-law.

Verse 13 = Naomi speaks of her bitterness because God’s hand is against her. She seems to argue that she is worse off than her daughters in law because if they return to Moab, they could marry again.

Finally, Naomi’s outcry blames God for what has happened in her life. Unlike Job, she is not portrayed as being interested why calamity has struck. Unlike the laments in the psalms, she is not portrayed as asking God for a change in her condition. Her spirit has been crushed beyond the point of prayer.

The second cycle concludes with another time of weeping, followed by Orpah’s departure. Although the narrator contrasts Orpah’s separation kiss with Ruth’s clinging to Naomi, there is no negative judgement on Orpah’s action. Indeed, she is, after all, doing Naomi’s bidding. She is the obedient one and Ruth the disobedient one. Ruth’s power of feeling to leave behind her birth family and nation for a new loyalty is extraordinary.

Third Speech and Response Cycle (1:15-18)

A third time Naomi speaks to Ruth. This time, she argues that Ruth should stick to the Moabites and the Moabite religion. Naomi seems convinced that Ruth should save herself by leaving this God-forsaken household.

Then we have Ruth’s truly remarkable commitment. If she could easily have married in Moab, Ruth has chosen an old woman over a young man. Even if the prospects were not good in Moab in Ruth’s view, it is still a striking decision.

Ruth promises that Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God will be hers as well. Ruth must have been aware that the people of Judah would not readily accept her. Ruth’s decision offers encouragement to present day migrants. Ruth’s formal commitment to a different religion would involve a difficult process. Jews see Ruth as the great example of conversion to Judaism and her statement is the basis for those who wish to convert to Judaism today. For life-long Jews and Christians, Ruth’s decision may be hard to understand. On the other hand, for those who regard all religions as “basically alike” will also find her decision difficult. Finally, Ruth says she will live, die and be buried with Naomi. That is a life-long commitment and burial away from home is a momentous decision in the Middle East. Ruth’s promise concludes with an oath before the Lord = Naomi’s God. There was no belief in an afterlife at the time of writing, so Ruth commits herself permanently and with strength – to even beyond Naomi’s death. Rabbis therefore set Ruth alongside Abraham. Phyllis Trible argues that Ruth’s commitment is even greater because there has been no specific promise or revelation from God.

However, we do not know what the attitude of Ruth’s family to her was like. In the Middle East, the relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law is very strong. Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi is a model of loyalty in other relationships.

Once Naomi realized that Ruth would not be moved, “she said no more to her”. Ruth has not followed her advice and Naomi makes no mention of Ruth in the next scene. “Ruth’s presence is as much a reminder of tragedy as it is of potential comfort”.

Arrival in Bethlehem


At their arrival, the whole town is excited. Travellers would not have been common perhaps – and two women arriving alone was a strange sight. Naomi is recognized but Naomi responds with irony. Her name means pleasantness but Naomi says she should be called bitterness. Like Job, Naomi can see no reason and no way forward. Like Jeremiah, in his laments, she lays her plight as God’s doing: God has caused the calamity. Unlike Job and Jeremiah, Naomi does not ask why and she does not ask for redress. Naomi talks of leaving Bethlehem “full” and coming back “empty”. The presence of Ruth goes totally unremarked.

Those who have grieved deeply, or accompanied those who have grieved, can argue that this book is about Naomi as much as Ruth.

[Frederic Bush believes Naomi is the main character of the book]. Kathleen Robertson Farmer argues that Naomi is the character who “ most closely mirrors the attitudes and experiences of the people of God, including both Israel and the church”. She is a character who is redeemed by the actions of other people. The Parable of the Good Samaritan. No-one ever chides Naomi for her honesty = psalms.

However, the final words of the narrator hold some hope: “They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest”.