Who was Ruth in the Bible?

Ruth was a Moabite woman who lived during the era of Israel's judges. Although the Moabites were enemies of the Israelites, she was married to a Jewish man named Mahlon who had moved to Moab from Bethlehem with his family during a famine. After some time, her father-in-law, brother-in-law, and husband all died, leaving the women of the family to fend for themselves. Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law, decided she would return to her community in Israel and encouraged her daughter-in-laws, Ruth and Orpah, to remarry in Moab. While Orpah reluctantly agreed, Ruth was adamant about returning to Bethlehem with Naomi. "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).

As widows, Naomi and Ruth had to take care of themselves. Naomi understood the Jewish customs established to help widows and instructed Ruth in order that she may provide a better life for them. The first custom was for farmers to leave behind food that falls on the ground for the poor to collect in order to feed their families (Leviticus 23:22). Naomi told Ruth to collect food for them this way. While collecting food she caught the attention of a landowner named Boaz. He heard about her loyalty to her mother-in-law and ensured she could safely collect from his fields and gave her a gift. When Naomi discovered it was Boaz's fields, she told Ruth that he was a relative of her husband's.

The second custom was of a kinsman redeemer (Genesis 38:8). A kinsman redeemer was a male relative who could act on behalf of a relative in danger or in need. In the case of a widow with no sons, the deceased husband's brother or next closest relative was the kinsman redeemer. This man had the right and even the responsibility to purchase the property of the deceased husband and care for the widow. The son of the new union would receive the land as an inheritance and thus the family name would carry on. Naomi prepared Ruth to approach Boaz to be her kinsman redeemer. Ruth laid at Boaz's feet as he slept at the threshing floor during the harvest. When he woke up and asked who she was, Ruth replied: "I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemr" (Ruth 3:9). "Spread your wings", as translated in the ESV, can also mean to cover with the corners of a garment. The setting and the symbol of covering acted as a marriage proposal; Ruth was asking Boaz to be her kinsman redeemer. Boaz approved, but knew there was a closer relative whom he needed to ask for permission first. Once the closer relative relinquished his right to marry Ruth, Boaz took Ruth as his wife. Soon after they had their first son, Obed. Obed's descendants included both King David and Jesus (Matthew 1:5–6). The women of Israel praised Naomi for the way God blessed her with her daughter-in-law after her husband's and sons' deaths.

Ruth has many admirable character traits. She illustrates her loyalty in her commitment to care for her mother-in-law and continue in her faith in God after her husband's death. In addition, she is respectful of her elders. She follows Naomi's wise advice and honors Boaz in the way she approaches him.

Ruth gives us great insight into how God works through faith. Throughout the Old Testament God forbids His people from marrying foreigners because of their pagan influence. However, Ruth demonstrates that God's concern in not so much with people's nationality, but rather their hearts. When Ruth married Mahlon she converted to Judaism and committed herself to God. She chose to leave behind her society and join Naomi. In fact, she even had the honor of being part of Jesus' lineage. She exemplifies the invitation Jesus gives all of us to leave behind the ways of this world and join Him.

Related Truth:

Who was Naomi in the Bible?

Who was Esther in the Bible?

Who was Rahab in the Bible?

Why do women seem to have a small role in the Bible?

Why is knowing about the various characters in the Bible important?

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Truth about People in the Bible

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