The book of Ruth in the Bible is a fun read. I’ve read and heard it so many times though, that sometimes I forget how big of a deal those things are. Sometimes I miss details or just don’t think of them. There are a few things I had questions about, like the uncovering of Boaz’s feet. So after looking at it all again and looking online for customs of the day, here’s a summary.
We start with a man named Elimelech and his wife and two sons. They were from Bethlehemjudah. There was a famine in the land, so they moved away to live where there was food, choosing Moab. Moab and Israel were cousin peoples through Abraham and Lot, and like family they didn’t always get along. Sometimes Moab was Israel’s enemy. At this point in Ruth it seems they were on friendly terms with each other. While Elimelech’s family was there, his sons married women from Moab. This was a questionable choice considering Moab’s religious practices and the way God warned His people about marrying foreigners in Deuteronomy 7:3-4, but God worked it out anyway.
After 10 years, all the men in the family died, leaving three widows. Elimelech’s wife, Naomi, had heard that by now the famine was gone in her homeland and she planned to go back. Her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, started travelling with her. Naomi told them to go back home to their own families, hoping God would bless them and give them new husbands. They cried, and at first the daughters-in-law said they’d go with Naomi, but she didn’t see the use in it and made her case, adding she was sure the hand of God was against her. They cried again and Orpah decided to go home, but Ruth was adamant that she stay with Naomi. Naomi pointed out that Orpah had gone back home to her people and her gods, so why shouldn’t Ruth? This was bad advice, since Naomi knew the true God and shouldn’t have been so casual about her daughters-in-law worshiping false ones. That makes me wonder if the two women worshiped those gods while married into a family that did not. I wonder if the Israelite family had accepted the Moabite religious practices. I wonder if Naomi was that sad and bitter after her husband’s and sons’ deaths that she wouldn’t care.
Regardless, Ruth made it a point to stay with Naomi, making a promise. She had absolutely no intention of leaving her mother-in-law. This is a part that I sometimes gloss over as if it isn’t a huge deal: Ruth left her home, her people, her religion, her complete way of life, to go live where she was a complete stranger and worship the true God!
Upon their arrival, the whole city recognized Naomi. That makes me wonder how renowned her family was before they left, and for what. Naomi told them not to call her by her name since it means “pleasant.” She was so grieved at the deaths in her family that she wanted to be called Mara, which means “bitter.” I don’t know if she meant it literally or not, since the writer of Ruth continues referring to her as Naomi, and we don’t see anyone else referring to her one way or the other. Maybe it’s because things became pleasant again later, but I don’t know.
Naomi and Ruth needed to eat, so Ruth went out to work towards that end, beginning work as a gleaner picking up leftovers in harvested grain fields. At this point Naomi has said the hand of God is against her, but we soon find out that Ruth has “happened” upon the fields of a kinsman redeemer, someone related to Elimelech who had the right to redeem the land of the deceased and marry Ruth, thus making things much better for her and Naomi. This kinsman’s name was Boaz. He noticed Ruth and asked one of his head servants about her. Here we find that Ruth was probably as renowned as Naomi at this point, as the servant told Boaz who she was and what she was doing. Boaz told Ruth that she should stay and glean in his fields, and take water breaks whenever she needed. Ruth humbly bowed on her face, wondering why Boaz would take note of her. He responded that he’d heard about all she’d done for Naomi, leaving her family and home to stay with her in a strange place. He continued that the God she’d come to trust would repay her for all she’d done. Ruth felt comforted by Boaz’s words, glad that he was being so kind even though she wasn’t like the others.
We read later on that Boaz showed more favor to Ruth, inviting her to a meal and telling harvesters to drop extra grain for her to glean. Whether he was in love with her or just being kind is unclear. Either way this kindness was helpful to both Ruth and Naomi. When Ruth got home with the grain she’d made into flour, she and Naomi talked about where she’d been and with who. If I read it right, it also seems Ruth had brought home some leftovers from the meal with Boaz (2:18). Naomi was very happy to hear whose field in which Ruth had worked, letting her know Boaz was a kinsman redeemer. She told Ruth to keep working in his fields, and later on told Ruth what to do regarding his kinsman status at the end of barley harvest.
The end of barley harvest was a time of celebration. Naomi told Ruth to wash and gussy up, but don’t let anyone see her. She was to go wait until Boaz was full and happy, then watch and see where he laid down to guard the harvested grain. Once he was lying down, within the customs of the culture and time Ruth was to go symbolically propose marriage, letting Boaz know he was a kinsman redeemer. Ruth told Naomi she would, and went to do so. When Boaz laid down to sleep, Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet and laid down there waiting for him to wake up, presumably because of his cold feet. He woke at midnight, surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! He asked her who she was and she told him, adding he was a kinsman. She asked him to spread the edge of his garment over her, a symbolic gesture of protection and covenant, sort of like having someone take you under their wing. Boaz blessed Ruth for coming to him and not going after someone else. I wonder if he had been in love with her the whole time or if he was expressing admiration for the way she was going about things. At any rate, he tells Ruth he will do all that is required, but notes there is a nearer kinsman. He says he’ll talk to him, and if that kinsman wants to redeem then he can, but if not Boaz will happily do so.
Ruth stayed with Boaz for the rest of the night until just before dawn, probably to keep her safe so she didn’t go home alone in the middle of the night. Before it was light she was ready to leave, since it seems it might not have been appropriate for a woman to be there (3:14). Boaz gave her some grain to take back to Naomi. When Ruth told Naomi what had happened, Naomi told Ruth to just wait, since Boaz would take care of it right that day!
As soon as possible, Boaz went to the city gate to meet with the kinsman in front of ten city elders. After talking it over, the kinsman decided he couldn’t redeem the land and marry Ruth. Perhaps he was already married. Whatever the reason, they symbolically agreed that the right of redemption was changing hands by the kinsman handing over one of his shoes. Boaz accepted it in front of the witnesses, and the witnesses hoped Boaz would have a big family with Ruth.
Boaz married Ruth and they had a son named Obed. The women blessed God who had been with Naomi and hadn’t left her without a kinsman redeemer! They also praised Ruth, who loved Naomi, as being better to her than seven sons. We find later on that Boaz and Ruth are part of the lineage of David, and later on the lineage of Jesus!
I encourage you to take a deeper delve into Ruth, and any other Bible story. When you go study even just cultural practices, you’ll find a lot of interesting details!