RUTH – LESSON ONE
INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY
RUTH – THE STORY OF THE FOUNDING OF THE MESSIANIC FAMILY
True faith is a beautiful thing. God can spot it in the darkest of places, and He can use it in spectacular ways to accomplish His good purposes. Tucked into the Old Testament in a time of great darkness in Israel’s history is a heart-warming story in the book of Ruth.
- We see true faith in Naomi, a disgruntled and displaced widow.
- We see true faith in Ruth, a former idol-worshipping Moabite bride.
- We see true faith in Boaz, a wealthy Israeli landowner with a part pagan heritage.
- We see true faith in a small society of local men in the little town of Bethlehem.
As all of these people are brought together, they form a faithful family to move God’s redemption plan to the next level. Out of this nurturing, isolated small-town scene will come the famous King David – the man after God’s own heart and the ancestor of Jesus Christ.
This beautiful story is still read annually at the Jewish feast of Pentecost as a reminder of their golden heritage. Christians read it for inspiration as we learn about God’s faithful provision for His chosen people when they act in obedience to His good laws.
Stories of great faith always inspire us. We love the stories of the “Heroes Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11. If these heroes (like Noah, Abraham, and Moses) seem overwhelmingly larger than life, we will enjoy relating to the ordinary “home-town folks” in the book of Ruth. We have much to learn from them.
DAY ONE: AUTHOR, DATE OF WRITING, & PURPOSE DISCUSSED.
A. AUTHOR OF RUTH IS UNKNOWN.
Much discussion has occurred about the authorship of Ruth. We always want to know who wrote the various books of the Bible. Knowing the author usually helps us understand the “times” of the writing and the purpose of the book. But authorship in this case has never been nailed down for certain. Jewish tradition attributed the authorship to Samuel, the prophet. He lived and ministered during the changeover from the period of judges to the period of kings. He even anointed the first 2 kings – Saul and David. But most scholars today believe it was written at a later period. It is believed that the story was passed down orally in Bethlehem until the reign of David became prominent in their history. So the author is really unknown.
B. DATE OF WRITING IS UNCERTAIN.
Since the authorship remains a mystery, the date has never been determined. Since David’s name is mentioned in the story (Ruth 4:17, 22), it most likely was written sometime during David’s reign after he became highly successful. The time of the actual events of the story itself can be firmly identified in the opening verse as taking place during the time of the judges (Ruth 1:1). Also, since Boaz is identified as the great grandfather of David, this would place the events of the story around 1100 B.C. David reigned as king around 1000 B.C.
C. PURPOSE OF THE BOOK IS COMPLEX.
Since the purpose of the book is not stated, we must try to discover its goal through internal evidence. Several purposes have been suggested:
- It identifies a faithful remnant during a very dark period of Israel’s history. We get to witness a “slice of life” about faithful people in the nation that is very different from the stories we read in the book of Judges about unfaithful people.
- It shows how God always blessed the faithful remnant.
- It is also a beautiful love story played out by following the laws set up by God in the Pentateuch. We learn about the laws of gleaning, levirate marriage, and kinsman redeemer.
- But perhaps the most significant purpose of the book is to reveal the beginning of the messianic family within the messianic nation into which Jesus will be born over 1000 years later. God is planning ahead to provide a righteous family to nurture the godly king line.
D. QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Scan the four chapters of Ruth. Identify your favorite character.
- What impressed you at first reading?
- What questions do you have regarding the customs or events of the book?
- What do you believe is the purpose of the book?
- What example do you see in any of the characters that you would wish to emulate?
DAY TWO: HISTORICAL SETTING IS DESCRIBED.
A. LIFE IN ISRAEL WAS TUMULTOUS.
Joshua was commissioned by God to lead the people after Moses died. After the Promised Land was largely conquered and the twelve tribes settled, the history of Israel turned ugly very soon.
Judges 2:6-10 — “After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance. The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.
Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord died at the age of a hundred and ten. And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, at Timnath Heres in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. .
This began the cycles of history recorded in the book of Judges, wherein Israel sinned with idolatry and evil; God’s anger was kindled, and he gave them over to their enemies; God raised up judges who saved them and brought them back to God; when the judges died, the people soon returned to idolatry. Twelve judges or rulers were raised up by God over a period of about 300 years
Their behavior is summarized in the last verse of Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.”
B. LIFE IN MOAB WAS PAGAN.
The Moabites were relatives of the Jews. If God had been looking for a way to impress people with an outstanding beginning of David’s family, He would not have picked a Moabite! After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19), Lot and his two daughters ran into the nearest cave and hid. The girls thought Lot was the last man alive in the area so they got him drunk and slept with him so their family line could live on. One daughter gave birth to Moab and the other daughter gave birth to Ammon. The Moabites and Ammonites were given land to the east of Israel in modern day Jordan. They both became idol worshipers and bitter enemies of Israel. The Moabite god was Chemosh, who was worshipped by child sacrifice. The Moabites became “poster-child” representatives of God’s enemies.
C. QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Read the story of Moab’s beginnings in Genesis 19:30-38.
- Read the story of Israel’s life in Ruth’s day in Judges 2:11-19.
- Read what God said about Moab’s descendants in Deuteronomy 23:3-6 and Numbers 24:17.
- How would you compare life in your culture today with the situation in Israel or Moab in Ruth’s day?
- Describe a time when you have had to stand against your culture.
DAY THREE: ISRAEL’S COVENANTS WERE REMEMBERED.
A. ISRAEL WAS PROMISED BLESSINGS OR CURSINGS.
In Moses’ farewell address before his death he reviewed the covenant God made with Israel:
Deuteronomy 10:12 – “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
Deuteronomy 11:13-17 – “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. Then the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land the Lord is giving you.”
Moses reminded them of times of discipline or cursing that had come upon them as well as times of blessing. They were also reminded of God’s dealing with their enemies. God faithfully kept His covenants. Now, in the time of the judges (as the book of Ruth opens), famine was in the land. They are experiencing God’s discipline once again.
B. GOD MADE PROVISION FOR WIDOWS & OTHER NEEDY PEOPLE.
There was almost nothing worse than being a widow in the ancient world. If a woman had no husband or sons to care for her, she was destitute. So God had made provisions in the Law of Moses to help care for widows and other needy people. There were three laws that we will encounter in the book of Ruth – the levirate marriage law, the redeemer kinsman law, and the law of gleaning.
The levirate marriage law stated that if a man died and he had no male heirs, his brother had to marry the widow to protect her and perpetuate the family name. The first son born to the former widow had the same inheritance rights as though he was born from the woman’s dead husband. All children after that were legal heirs of the second husband. (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)
The kinsman redeemer law stated that a kinsman or near relative from the extended family could redeem a person’s property that was sold outside the family. He was not required to do so, but was expected to do so if he had the means. (Leviticus 25:23-25)
The law of gleaning required landowners to leave the grain at the edges of their fields and leave any ears that the harvesters dropped. The poor, aliens, widows and fatherless were supposed to be allowed to glean those leftovers for their own needs. (Deuteronomy 24:19)
These laws will play a large role in Ruth’s and Naomi’s stories.
C. QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Read the law regarding levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Why do you think this law was important in Israel among the twelve tribes?
- What did God desire for His people? (Deuteronomy 15:4)
- What impresses you about the “welfare system” in Deuteronomy 15:7-11?
- Read Mark 12:18-27. How did the Sadducees try to use the levirate marriage law to trick Jesus?
- What are some ways we can help the poor today?
- Who do you personally know who is in need of financial help?
- How can you provide “gleaning” work to help provide for poor people?
DAY FOUR: OUTLINE AND POSITION OF THE BOOK OF RUTH.
A. RUTH IS A DRAMA AND A LOVE STORY
Ruth’s story reads like a four-part drama with scenes in different places:
- Chapter 1 — Scene One is in Moab where tragedy has struck in Naomi’s family. The three widows must make new life choices.
- Chapter 2 — Scene Two is in a field in Bethlehem where a hard new life has begun for Naomi and Ruth.
- Chapter 3 — Scene Three is on a threshing floor where a new plan and new promise of a kinsman redeemer and levirate marriage holds new hope for a better future.
- Chapter 4 — Scene Four is in Bethlehem where a bright future is secured in the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. Their descendant gives Naomi a future.
B. RUTH’S POSITIONING IN HEBREW SCRIPTURE IS DIFFERENT.
In our Bibles today Ruth is placed between Judges and 1 Samuel. The story takes place in the period of the judges, so this positioning seems logical to many scholars. However, in the Hebrew Scriptures it is placed after the book of Proverbs. The character of Ruth is portrayed as a historical example of the “virtuous woman” of Proverbs 31:10-31. The poem in Proverbs is a Hebrew acrostic, each line beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first line begins with the question “A wife of noble character who can find?” The last line is “let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
The only other book that uses the term “virtuous woman” or “wife of noble character” is the book of Ruth (3:11), where Boaz says of Ruth, “All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.” Boaz says of Ruth, the ancestress of David, precisely what the poem in Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman.
C. RUTH CARRIES A STRONG MESSAGE OF GOD’S PROVIDENCE.
The message of this lovely book may be a simple revelation of King David’s ancestry that gave him the right to the throne of Israel. But the story reveals much more. We see God’s faithfulness in providentially caring for His people when they are following in obedience. God is always at work in the lives of His faithful children.
D. QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- Define providence from a dictionary.
- How can we know when a happening is an accident or when God has caused it?
- Read Proverbs 31:10-31. In your opinion, what attributes would make a woman virtuous?
- When have you experienced what you believe is God’s providence in your life?
- Which attribute in question three is typical of you?
DAY FIVE: INTERPRETATIONS OF RUTH ARE VARIED.
A. REASONS FOR ACCEPTANCE OF THE BOOK
Why was this story included in the Old Testament? Many have wondered. Since there is no author given, no date of writing included, and no stated purpose revealed, some scholars have wondered about its inclusion in Scripture. What is unique about this book?
- It is one of only two Bible books named for a woman. Ruth and Esther are written basically from a woman’s perspective of life.
- It is basically the story of only one family in the Bethlehem area of Judea. Most other events in the Old Testament narratives involve larger parts of the nation.
- It shows the real-life application of some of God’s laws for domestic life in Israel. We can see the wisdom of these laws as they are played out in the lives of destitute widows.
- The main character is a Gentile from an enemy nation. This departs from the norm wherein almost all of the Old Testament is about the Israelites.
- It has a famous line often quoted at weddings. This quotation is an incredible statement of total commitment.
- It is unique in its presentation of a mother-in-law greatly loved by her daughter-in-law!
- It helps us understand the kinsman redeemer role that is played out by Jesus Christ on behalf of believers. It helps us to understand Revelation 5.
- It has an unusual listing of ancestry in its final verses. This listing makes us appreciate God’s providence in overseeing the lineage of Christ.
- We see kindness and loyalty mentioned and played out in several places. These virtues are uniquely valuable in all relationships, but especially valuable in families.
Even though we can’t know the author or the reason it was written and included in the Old Testament Scriptures, we do know that it has always been a much-loved story. It is worth the effort to work through it and discover anew what we can personally glean from its remarkable characters.
B. QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY OR DISCUSSION
- What unique feature impressed you as you scanned the book?
- Which character is the most impressive – Ruth, Boaz, or Naomi?
- Read the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. Which character in the book exhibits these virtues faithfully?
- When have you seen a person with the kind of commitment Ruth had to Naomi?
- Who in your circle of friends, relatives, or acquaintances deserves kindness and loyalty from you?
At first reading, perhaps the character in the book of Ruth that is most overlooked is God. We see His faithful hand guiding the people who are seeking to do His will. We see His great wisdom in His gracious laws that provide for the poor. We see His grace in meeting immediate survival needs as well as His long-term redemption plan. We should always come away inspired each time we study this strange story! We may also always have new questions about some of the strange customs.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK
Kindness and loyalty can earn big rewards as they are practiced in a family.
Pray for an opportunity this week to show exceptional kindness to someone in your extended family who seems to be in a low place.
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