Ruth: A Bible Study Guide for Women

The purpose of this study is to give women who desire to learn more about God's Word helpful information that will aid in a better understanding of the book of Ruth. This is not an in-depth study but rather a look at God's Word as it applies to our lives as women who are striving to follow Him. One purpose is to provide an outline of applicable Bible truths for women to use in their ladies' Bible classes. Another purpose of this material is to provide critical-thinking questions that will hopefully be a springboard for further discussion. (All quotations are from the New King James Version)

This study over Ruth contains 5 lessons. Please use and copy as you see fit. I have also provided some brotherhood websites below that should further aid your study. These are created by brethren and have a plethora of material covering any topic you would like to study further. With online resources today we as Christians have no excuse for being taken off guard by others who criticize or question our belief in the Word. Please use these along with your own Bible study. May the information that follows be used as a stepping-stone to a deeper study of the Word of God, and may you grow more in love with the Word and with our Almighty Creator.

God bless you as you study and obey His Word,

Emily H. Fisher

 

Lesson 1 - Introduction to the book of Ruth

I. Authorship

a. Although we cannot be certain of the author of Ruth, many scholars claim Samuel is the writer (Arthur E. Cundall and Leon Morris, Judges and Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary, 224).

b. Since Samuel died before David's coronation as king and since Solomon is not listed in Ruth's genealogy, most likely it was written by someone during David's reign as king (Ruth 4:17-22; 1 Samuel 25:1; 2 Samuel 2:4; 5:3).

II. Background

a. The book of Ruth takes place during the time period of the judges (Ruth 1:1).

b. The judges served as local rulers and military leaders in times of crisis. It is a period of chaos and lawlessness in which "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

c. During this time, God's Sovereign power is shown through idolatrous people.

d. Israel had been called of God to be a separate people: commanded not to enter into league with other people, not to intermarry with pagan nations, and to abhor their gods. They often failed.

In the midst of this dark time of Israel, the book of Ruth is a story of devotion, piety, and purity; it is in direct contrast to the book of Judges.

Judges                       Ruth

war                            peace

cruelty                      kindness

idolatry                   worship of true God

villainy                      virtue

lust                            love

 

III. Purpose/Message

a. This book has been called the most beautiful short story ever written.

b. The book of Ruth records the ancestry of David, Israel's greatest king, through whom Jesus came (Matthew 1:5-17).

c. It is the only book devoted wholly to the history of a woman.

d. It deals with a single family's problems and concerns, but this should not blind us to the theological values, especially the providence of God.

e. It is a book about God: His rule over all and His blessings on those who trust Him.

 

IV. Keywords

a. Kinsman (redeemer), "one who redeems" - appears 13 times. "Redeem" means "to buy back, or satisfy."

b. Rest

V. Key passages: Ruth 1:16-17; 2:12

VI. Notes to consider:

a. The question must be asked: Is it a problem that Ruth, being a Moabitess, marries an Israelite when the Israelite law forbade marrying foreigners?

b. Deuteronomy 7:1-4 prohibits Israel from marrying the people who dwelt in Canaan. There is no prohibition of marriage with a Moabite. The Moabites were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 19:36-38; 11:27).

c. We will see in lesson 2 that Ruth was not just a foreigner. She was loyal to her Israelite mother-in-law and was clearly a convert to the Jewish religion.

d. Furthermore, Ruth is one of four women mentioned in the genealogy of Christ who were Gentiles (Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba being the other three - Matthew 1:3-6). This points to the fact that God would have "all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Judges: 2:11-12; 2:16-19; 21:25. Discuss the environment in Israel during the time the story of Ruth took place.
  2. Discuss how the book of Ruth is different from the book of Judges.
  3. Look up the meaning of "kinsman". What application does this word have in the book of Ruth? What does it point to universally?
  4. Name the Gentile women found in the line of Christ. How did these women come to be ancestors of Christ?
  5. Read and discuss the key passages of the book of Ruth.
  6. Discuss the Israelite law of marrying foreigners. Is this a problem in the book of Ruth?

Lesson 2 – From Moab to Judah: 1:1-22

I. Read the text

II. Chapter 1

a. Famines were common in Palestine with the area's uncertain rainfall.

b. The use of the word, "sojourn" shows that Elimelech planned to return to Israel.

i. Moab is east of the Dead Sea and is known for its fertility.

c. This family was from Bethlehem in Judah.

i. Bethlehem means "house of bread" and is very close to Jerusalem.

ii. This area was earlier known as Ephrath (Genesis 35:19; 48:7).

d. We are not told how long they stay in Moab or their doings there until the head of the family dies leaving his wife and two sons.

e. Due to the circumstances, it was probably necessary that the sons of Naomi marry Moabitesses.

f. "They dwelt there about ten years" (Ruth 1:4) possibly is a reference to the total time they dwelt there. Otherwise, it seems likely that children would be mentioned from the unions.

g. It seems unusual that the three males of the family would all die.

i. The reason of their death is not stated (Deuteronomy 29:29).

h. Naomi, now without husband and sons, is left alone.

i. She has no reason to stay in Moab.

ii. It seems Naomi takes the initiative to set out for home and her daughters-in-law simply follow her at first.

i. Naomi implores the two young widows to return to their homes.

i. Note that she refers to their "mother's house" (Ruth 1:8).

ii. Naomi prays that Jehovah may "deal kindly" with them.

  • Naomi's use of "Yahweh" (translated "LORD", which is the personal name of the God of Israel) in the presence of her two Moabite daughters-in-law is evidence of her strong faith in the Lord.
  • It would be unlikely that they remarry in Israel, so instead of sharing in Naomi's poverty, it only makes sense for them to stay in their own land to find husbands.
  • In the culture of the ancient, near-Eastern world, the word "rest" refers to the security that marriage gave a woman - not freedom from work.

iii.Naomi kisses them goodbye and the three weep loudly together.

  • This was the Eastern expression of grief.

j. Orpah and Ruth both refuse the suggestion, but Naomi does not want them to be a part of her uncertain life.

i. She points out that she will not have any more children.

ii. Even if she could, the two widows could not wait for the sons to grow.

iii. "It grieves me very much for your sakes" (Ruth 1:13) shows Naomi's feelings towards her daughters in the fact that they would have security and happiness in their own country.

iv. "The hand of the Lord" is an anthropomorphism (a figure of speech using human terms in reference to God) and is used commonly in the Old Testament; this shows God's activity.

v. Naomi's words bring another flood of tears.

k. Two actions of Orpah and Ruth follow. (Ruth 1:14)

i. Orpah "kissed her mother-in-law". This is a farewell kiss.

  • Instead of thinking less of Orpah, we should look at her obedience to Naomi

ii. Ruth "clung to her". She had given her loyalty to Naomi and would not leave her.

  • It is apparent that both of the young women loved their mother-in-law.
  • It seems one wished to remain a daughter, while the other desired to become a wife again (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

l. Chapter 1:16-17 shows Ruth's trust in God was real; her response is a classic expression of faithfulness.

i. In saying, "wherever you lodge, I will lodge", Ruth realizes she will be cut off from her own people of Moab.

ii. She will stay with Naomi until death.

iii. Ruth does not mention Chemosh, the god of the Moabites; instead she appeals to Yahweh.

iv. One thinks about what our Lord said, "So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." (Luke 14:33)

m. Naomi is convinced by Ruth's unshakable firmness.

n. Ruth 1:19-21 does not record their journey back to Bethlehem but only their reception by the women of the town.

i. The women were out and about spreading the news of Naomi's return (the men would have been at work on the harvest).

ii. Their question, "Is this Naomi?" makes one wonder if the harsh years had altered Naomi's appearance.

iii. Naomi (pleasant) rejects her name making the plea for them to call her Mara (bitter).

  • There is a word-play in the original Hebrew text and can be illustrated thusly: "Call me Mara, for the Almighty has marred me.

iv. She compares leaving Bethlehem to her return now to the town.

v. Naomi sees that she is helpless in the face of the Almighty God.

o. The narrative ends with stating that they returned at the beginning of the barley harvest, which is near the beginning of May.

i. This is why the book was read, and still is, by Jews during the Feast of Pentecost (at the time of barley harvest).

ii. It might be interesting to note that the word for "return" occurs twelve times in this chapter, emphasizing their return to the land of God's people.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Does knowing the meaning of the name "Bethlehem" bring any significance to the fact that Christ was born in this town? Discuss.
  2. What earlier events in Israel's history occurred around Bethlehem?
  3. How is the beginning of this story an example of the Bible's brevity? How would this observation point to the Bible's inspiration?
  4. For what purpose did God work in the lives of these people? Discuss God's providence today?
  5. What does Orpah and Ruth's willingness to leave their homeland and go with Naomi say about their character?
  6. Did the three women have a close relationship?
  7. Discuss the reactions of the two young widows.
  8. What does the fact that the women of the city come out to greet Naomi imply about her character?
  9. Discuss Naomi's response to the townswomen. Is she blaming God for her hardships?
  10. Look up "barley harvest" in a Bible dictionary to get a better idea of the time to which they returned.

Lesson 3 – The Kinsman: 2:1 - 23

I. Read the text

II. Chapter 2

a. We are introduced to Boaz, a kinsman of Elimelech.

i. He was only connected to Naomi through her husband; this is what made it possible for him to be the kinsman-redeemer.

ii. He is described as "a mighty man of wealth". This is sometimes associated with strength in battle (Judges 6:12; 2 Kings 5:1); and certainly Boaz could have been a warrior, but most likely this description points to his influence in the community as a powerful landowner of moral integrity.

iii. The meaning of the name "Boaz" uncertain.

B. Ruth, being the more physically able of the two, offers to go to work in the field.

i. She states that hopefully she will find favor in some good man's sight who would allow her to continue in his field (Ruth 2:2).

  • Ruth may not have been aware of the law concerning widows and the harvest (Deuteronomy 24:19).
  • The Great Provider made it possible for the less fortunate of Israel to be fed by giving the law in Leviticus 19:9.
  • It was Ruth's right, as a widow, to glean in the corner of the field.

ii. It seems there was one field in which many planted and worked their own part of it.

  • We should not picture, as we are accustomed to, several fields in which individual landowners planted.

C. After the reapers, Ruth gleans and coincidently/providentially comes to a part of the field that belongs to Boaz.

i. We should not overlook the providence of God here.

ii. The author again points to Boaz being from Elimelech's family.

iii. The hand of God is working for His purpose and we must not miss that point.

D. Ruth 2:4 shows us that Boaz was one of those who believed their religious faith should enter every other aspect of life.

i. He greets his workers with the conventional greeting, "The Lord be with you" or "Peace be with you", and they respond, "The Lord bless you."

E. Immediately, Boaz sees Ruth and inquires about the newcomer.

i. His servant recounts all to him about the Moabite.

  • She is a hard worker and has taken only one short break.

ii. Boaz may have heard earlier about Naomi and Ruth's return, but now he can put a face to the foreigner.

F. Boaz speaks directly to Ruth and ensures her share in his part of the field. (Ruth 2:8-9)

i. He urges her to stay close to the reapers and glean because he has instructed them to leave her alone.

  • The usual practice called for the gleaners to work far behind the reapers to avoid any problems between themselves and the owners.
  • By doing this, Boaz made it possible for Ruth to gather much grain since she would be working in front of the other gleaners.

G. Ruth realized that Boaz was doing more than was required under the circumstances and shows her gratitude by bowing in humility.

i. From Ruth's question we ascertain that she must have been curious about Boaz's kindness (Ruth 2:10).

H. Boaz answers that he is impressed with her sacrifice to follow Naomi to a foreign land.

i. Similar to Abraham, Ruth went out not knowing where she went.

ii. Boaz prays that God will show kindness to Ruth as she has to Naomi. (As we will see, this prayer was answered through the man who spoke it.)

iii. Ruth's acceptance into the Israelite community, despite Deuteronomy 23:3, brings up some concern. However, we must remember that this account takes place during the judges. It was a time in which "everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6; 21:25) and throughout the Bible God works through man's disobedience.

I. Ruth's reply in verse thirteen shows Boaz's speech meant a great deal to her.

i. Such kindness would not be expected since she was not even one of his maidservants.

J. Ruth 2:14-16: Boaz goes out of his way to be kind to Ruth.

i. At mealtime, he makes sure she is full.

ii. During working hours, he instructs his men again concerning her and she gleans without anyone bothering her.

K. In the evening, she beats out the grain that she gleaned and it is equal to about four gallons of barley.

i. This is a large amount of grain and probably points to Ruth's hard work and Boaz's men obeying him (Ruth 2:16).

L. Ruth 2:18-23 records Naomi's response to Ruth coming under the good favor of their kinsman, Boaz.

i. Naomi realizes that the amount of grain is more than would be expected from a day's labor.

ii. Of learning of the good graces of Boaz, Naomi praises God for His loving-kindness.

iii. Naomi instructed her to continue to work near Boaz's workers.

iv. Ruth did as she was told, and even though she was working with Boaz's servants, she remained with Naomi as promised.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Kinsman-redeemer is an interesting Bible subject. Look up more information about this topic. How is Boaz a type of Christ?
  2. Discuss the character of Ruth from what we have learned so far in the book. What aspects can we apply to our lives?
  3. Study Deuteronomy 23:3. Are there other possibilities that may explain Israel accepting a Moabitess into their community?
  4. Discuss the character of Boaz. Which characteristics are needed by men today as they lead the home and the church?
  5. How often do we hear greetings like Boaz's in our workplaces? Why is this?
  6. Why do you think Boaz showed such generosity to the Moabitess?
  7. Under such circumstances as Naomi (and Ruth) have endured, there are usually two reactions from people: blame God and fall away or lean on God and grow stronger in Him. Discuss which reaction is Naomi's.
  8. What part of Ruth's promise (Ruth 1:16, 17) has she kept so far?

Lesson 4 – Ruth and Boaz: 3:1 - 18

I. Read the text

II. Chapter 3

a. The first five verses explain a custom we know little about. Naomi's plan is for Ruth to let Boaz know she is interested in marriage.

i. An unprotected woman during this time in history suffered many hardships.

  • Marriage would drastically change Ruth's, as well as Naomi's, circumstances.

ii. The plan could be carried out that night since Boaz would be at the threshing floor.

  • Threshing floors were usually located on top of high places to catch the wind.
  • Animals would be used to tread the sheaves to separate the grain from the husk, and then it was thrown into the air so that the wind blew the chaff away and the heavier grain would fall to the ground.
  • Usually, grain was threshed during the day, but maybe there was a suitable breeze at that time. Another reason could be that the grain needed to be guarded and Boaz was on duty this particular night.

iii. Ruth's instructions involve finding Boaz at the threshing floor and laying at his uncovered feet. The rest would be up to Boaz.

  • Perhaps, the uncovering of the feet was to simply wake up Boaz, but it also signified Ruth's lowliness as a petitioner.
  • She was asking if he would perform the duty of the nearest kinsman.
  • We have no way of knowing how common this practice was, but it seems Ruth knew nothing about it since Naomi had to explain to her what to do.

B. Ruth 3:6-13: Ruth obeys Naomi's words.

i. Harvest time was a time of feasting and enjoyment, so Boaz was full and happy when he retired for the night.

ii. We are given the impression that Boaz slept for some time before awakening to find a woman at his feet.

iii. Ruth, humbly refers to herself as his maidservant and makes her plea.

  • If Boaz threw his cloak over Ruth, he would be claiming her as his wife. See Ezekiel 16:8.

iv. Boaz speaks a blessing on Ruth.

  • He thinks she has shown more kindness now than when she first came, that is, in not forsaking Naomi and working.
  • She has not sought a young man her age to marry, as would be expected, but has acted responsibly towards her family duty.
  • He assures her that what she has done is all right, and all know that she is a virtuous woman, "of noble character". (Boaz is also described thus in 2:1) Same word is used in Proverbs 31:10, 12:4.

V. The "plot thickens" as Boaz makes known that there is a nearer kinsman than himself.

  • It was a customary practice of Israel for the living nearest kin to produce offspring for the deceased man.
  • Deuteronomy 25:5-10 mentions a brother only, but common sense tells us from this passage that in due order a near kinsman could raise up children for his brother-less relative.
  • Boaz's, "as the Lord lives", shows his determination in the matter.

C. The Bible is not squeamish about describing sexual encounters, but the writer of Ruth does not indicate anything improper that occurs between Ruth and Boaz.

i. In fact, if read carefully, and without a 21st century idea of sexual permissiveness, it becomes clear that the writer is implying that both of them acted virtuously in a situation that could have turned out otherwise.

ii. Thus, Boaz sends her home before daybreak so that anyone she might meet would not recognize her and speak false rumors.

iii. However, he does not send his prospective bride away empty handed.

D. Naomi's question when Ruth returns seems strange unless we think about the hour of the morning (before daylight). Today, we might say, "Is it you?"

i. Ruth's answer is not recorded in detail, but the writer mentions the barley from Boaz.

  • "Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law" is not recorded in Ruth 3:15.
  • The same word for "empty" is used in Ruth 1:21 possibly pointing to the fact that Naomi's "empty" days are over.

ii. Naomi's response shows that she trusts in Boaz as a man that would see the matter through until finished.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How has "courting" and marriage proposals changed since this time? Can we learn some godly principles from their customs?
  2. Why was marriage such a desired state for a woman especially for this time and culture?
  3. Discuss the ways that both Ruth and Boaz act morally upright.
  4. Read Proverbs 31. Discuss the characteristics of this lady. How can we apply those characteristics in our lives?
  5. Is there some indication that Boaz had encounters with the widows outside of what is recorded here?
  6. What are some things we need to teach our young women (and men) about the book of Ruth? (Read Titus 2:3-5)

Lesson 5 – Redemption: 4:1 - 22

I. Read the text

II. Chapter 4

A. This is one of the few passages in God's Word and documents of man that give us insight into this legal process in the ancient world.

B. The city gate was a significant place in Palestinian cities.

i. It was where people met to discuss business transactions.

ii. It was a kind of outdoor court where judicial matters were resolved by the elders of the city and other respectable people.

iii. In a place as small as Bethlehem, the best place to find someone is to wait for them to pass by the city gate.

C. Boaz gives a friendly greeting and the fact that the man's name is not mentioned may be because he did not fulfill his role as kinsman-redeemer.

i. Boaz gathers some of the elders of the city together as witnesses and explains the situation to them.

ii. It was extremely important in Israel to keep land within the family. See Jeremiah 32:6-12.

iii. The kinsman is ready to redeem the land, however, he declines the opportunity when he finds out that he would need to marry Ruth the Moabitess, and their firstborn would legally be Mahlon's son.

  • Apparently, from his excuse (Ruth 4:6) his own family would not possess the land if he had a child with Ruth.

iv. The removing of his sandal and handing it to Boaz was a custom symbolizing the transfer of land ownership.

  • During this time, few written records were kept and a verbal declaration in front of witnesses was legally binding.

v. Since the gate was the center of social life, Boaz's speech (Ruth 4:9, 10) was a way of saying that the name of the deceased would live on in the community.

D. The witnesses respond to all that has happened and pronounce a blessing upon Ruth, Boaz, and their descendants.

i. For Ruth, a prayer of fruitfulness was given to be like Rachel and Leah, from whom came the twelve tribes

ii. For Boaz, an expression of hope was pronounced to be well-known in Bethlehem.

iii. For the descendants, a reference to Genesis 38:6-29 is given and may have significance since Tamar's situation was similar to Ruth's and Bethlehem (the setting of the book of Ruth) is the territory where the tribe of Judah dwelt.

E. The two are wed and God blesses them with a child.

i. Notice the writer of Ruth (as well as the people in Ruth 4:12) regard children as a blessing from God.

F. The women who had witnessed Naomi's bitter lament (Ruth 1:20, 21) now gather around her to share her happiness (Ruth 4:14, 15).

i. They praised the Lord, giving Him credit for providing a kinsman-redeemer.

ii. They praised Boaz, for he was the kinsman-redeemer.

iii. They praised the child, as a restorer or sustainer of Naomi's old age.

iv. They praised Ruth as better than seven sons (the number 7 represents completion or a perfect family – see 1 Samuel 2:5).

G. It is expected that Naomi would delight in this child after such hardships she experienced.

i. She "laid him on her bosom and became a nurse to him" (Ruth 4:16).

  • Whether this means she was a wet nurse to the child or is just describing a grandmother delighting in her first grandbaby, we do not know.

ii. His name is Obed, which means "servant".

H. The book ends with a short genealogy.

i. Two people brought together by a highly unlikely series of circumstances became ancestors of the great king of Israel, David, who in turn provides an essential link in the genealogy of our Lord (Matthew 1:4-16).

I. Points to consider about the book of Ruth:

i. Boaz is a type of Christ:

  • As redeemer (Ruth 2:20)
  • As the lord of harvest (Ruth 2:3)
  • As a dispenser of bread (Ruth 3:15)
  • As a giver of rest (Ruth 3:1)
  • As a man of valor (Ruth 2:1)

ii. If a human can love an outcast, redeem her, and have fellowship with her, then God certainly can do the same for all the outcasts of the world! (Romans 5:8)

iii. Circumstances neither make nor destroy believers; neither Naomi and Ruth's poverty nor Boaz's wealth turned them from God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Find other passages in the Bible that show events occurring at the city gate.
  2. Discuss the character of Boaz as seen in this chapter.
  3. Read Matthew 1:5. Boaz is said to be the son of Salmon and Rahab. Do you think Boaz's connection with Rahab contributed to his acceptance of the outcast, Ruth?
  4. Read Genesis 38. Why might the people in Ruth point back to that incident in pronouncing their blessing upon Ruth and Boaz?
  5. Describe how Naomi's attitude has changed since the beginning of the book.
  6. Discuss the ways that this book points to (or is a shadow of) better things to come through Jesus Christ.
  7. Discuss the lessons we can apply in our lives from this account.

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