The Book of Ruth is named after the Moabite woman who was joined to the Israelite people by her marriage with the influential Boaz of Bethlehem.
The book contains a beautiful example of filial piety, pleasing to the Hebrews especially because of its connection with King David, and useful both to Hebrews and to Gentiles. Its aim is to demonstrate the divine reward for such piety even when practiced by a stranger. Ruth’s piety (⇒ Ruth 2:11), her spirit of self-sacrifice, and her moral integrity were favored by God with the gift of faith and an illustrious marriage whereby she became the ancestress of David and of Christ. In this, the universality of the messianic salvation is foreshadowed.
In the Greek and Latin canons the Book of Ruth is placed just after Judges, to which it is closely related because of the time of its action, and just before Samuel, for which it is an excellent introduction, since it traces the ancestry of the Davidic dynasty. One might characterize the literary form of this book as dramatic, since about two-thirds of it is in dialogue. Yet there is every indication that, as tradition has always held, it contains true history.
1 Once in the time of the judges there was a famine in the land; so a man from Bethlehem of Judah departed with his wife and two sons to reside on the plateau of Moab.
The man was named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his sons Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem of Judah. Some time after their arrival on the Moabite plateau,
Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons,
who married Moabite women, one named Orpah, the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years,
both Mahlon and Chilion died also, and the woman was left with neither her two sons nor her husband.
She then made ready to go back from the plateau of Moab because word reached her there that the LORD had visited his people and given them food.
She and her two daughters-in-law left the place where they had been living. Then as they were on the road back to the land of Judah,
2 Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s house! May the LORD be kind to you as you were to the departed and to me!
May the LORD grant each of you a husband and a home in which you will find rest.” She kissed them good-bye, but they wept with loud sobs,
and told her they would return with her to her people.
3 “Go back, my daughters!” said Naomi. “Why should you come with me? Have I other sons in my womb who may become your husbands?
Go back, my daughters! Go, for I am too old to marry again. And even if I could offer any hopes, or if tonight I had a husband or had borne sons,
would you then wait and deprive yourselves of husbands until those sons grew up? No, my daughters! my lot is too bitter for you, because the LORD has extended his hand against me.”
Again they sobbed aloud and wept; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth stayed with her.
“See now!” she said, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her god. Go back after your sister-in-law!”
4 But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! for wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried. May the LORD do so and so to me, and more besides, if aught but death separates me from you!”
Naomi then ceased to urge her, for she saw she was determined to go with her.
So they went on together till they reached Bethlehem. On their arrival there, the whole city was astir over them, and the women asked, “Can this be Naomi?”
5 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi. Call me Mara, for the Almighty has made it very bitter for me.
I went away with an abundance, but the LORD has brought me back destitute. Why should you call me Naomi, since the LORD has pronounced against me and the Almighty has brought evil upon me?”
6 Thus it was that Naomi returned with the Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, who accompanied her back from the plateau of Moab. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
1 [1,2 ] In the time of the judges: three generations before the end of the period of judges; cf ⇒ Ruth 4:21-22. Bethlehem of Judah: to distinguish it from the town of the same name in the tribe of Zebulun (⇒ Joshua 19:15). Ephrathites from Bethlehem: belonging to a Judean clan which settled in Bethlehem; cf ⇒ 1 Sam 17:12; ⇒ 1 Chron 2:50-51; ⇒ 4:4.
3  Have I other sons . . . husbands? Naomi insisted that her daughters-in-law remain in their own country only for the sake of posterity. If she had had other sons, the levirate law would have obliged them to marry the widows of her deceased sons to perpetuate the names of the deceased; cf ⇒ Genesis 38:8; ⇒ Deut 25:5, 6.
4 [16-17] An example of heroic fidelity and piety. Ruth’s decision, confirmed with an oath, to adhere to her mother-in-law impelled her to abandon her country and its pagan worship.
5 [20-21] Naomi: “amiable” or “pleasant,” suggesting God’s favor toward her. The Almighty has brought evil upon me: the ancients regarded adversity as a punishment from God for personal sin, as if good and evil were always repaid in a temporal and material manner.
6  Barley harvest: early April. This circumstance favored the events of the narrative that follow.