This short guide was sent to the Sunday afternoon congregation ahead of a new talk series.
The book of Ruth presents for us the wonder of Psalm 36:7: “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”
As in studying any Bible book, familiarity with its contents is vital. Ruth is a short book! Thus, reading the book many times through is the best preparation.
Much can be gained simply from reading Ruth itself. However, we soon realise there are many references to what has already taken place in the Scriptures. If we get the sense that having a better grasp of the backstory will deepen our appreciation of Ruth’s message, we’d be right! So…
The opening verse of Ruth tells us that this took place “in the days when the Judges ruled.” The immediately preceding book in our Bibles will set the scene more fully for us.
Still in the first verse, we’re told there was a famine in the land, which echoes the story of Abraham in Genesis 12. Genesis 12 is of course a crucial chapter in the Bible’s storyline, which we are to keep in mind as we read Ruth.
On account of this famine, there is a move to the country of Moab. We meet Ruth, who is then repeatedly described in the book as “Ruth the Moabite,” even though we’re well aware of her nationality from the fourth verse! Here are some key passages for understanding the significance of Moab/Moabites in the Bible’s story: Genesis 19:30–38; Numbers 22–25; Deuteronomy 23:3–6; Judges 3:12–30.
Chapter 1 raises the issue of husbands for Orpah and Ruth. Important for what Naomi says here (and to the plot of the book) is the concept of ‘Levirate marriage’, in view in Genesis 38 and outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5–10.
In chapter 2, Ruth goes gleaning, for which the background is given by Leviticus 19:9–10; 23:22; and Deuteronomy 24:19. Also, a developing theme in the book is the concept of a ‘nearest redeemer’, as described by Leviticus 25:25–28.
Chapter 4 speaks of “Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Genesis 38, already referred to above in the context of Levirate marriage, is the account of how that birth came about, and those events also serve as a foil for the encounter described in Ruth 3.
The closing verses of the book tell us that Ruth was an ancestor of King David. Looking ahead, the Scriptures will have much to say about David and his significance, for example in 2 Samuel 7:11–16. Our gospel writer Matthew also draws attention to this connection between Ruth and David in his opening verses.