Ruth, a young foreign widow without family or prospects who became great- grandmother of King David and ancestor of Jesus.
Naomi, her shrewd mother-in-law who told her how to get a second husband…
Boaz, the wealthy Israelite who married Ruth and became father of Obed.
Orpah, the second daughter-in-law of Naomi. Her name means ‘back of the head/neck’: she turned her back on Naomi and left her to fend for herself
The women of Bethlehem were important in the story of Ruth and Naomi.
Ruth’s story in brief
Moab, to the east of Jerusalem across the Jordan River
Ruth is one of the most famous women of the Bible – which is strange when you realize she was not an Israelite at all, but a Moabite woman, a foreigner, an outsider.
Left alone when her husband died, she had one great asset: a shrewd old Jewish mother-in-law who loved her, and whom she loved.
They stuck together through thick and thin – mostly thin at first, but things got better when Ruth met Boaz, a rich man who seemed to have fallen in love with her at first sight. Boy meets girl, boy loves girl.
The question was, how to get him to propose…
The story of Ruth and Naomi
Ruth was a Moabite woman, from a country that was one of Israel’s traditional enemies. She was an outsider. But she married an Israelite and joined his family while they were living in Moab.
Her husband died – how we don’t know, as did her brother-in-law, also a Moabite, and her father-in-law.
When this happened, her mother-in-law Naomi decided she had no alternative but to return to her homeland, and to the village her family came from – Bethlehem.
Fond as she was of her two daughters-in-law, Naomi prepared to say good-bye to both of them.
But one of them, Ruth, showed unexpected loyalty and insisted on staying with her. ‘Where you go, I will go. 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 I will be buried.’
Ruth and Naomi by painter Sandy Freckleton Gagon. Gagon says, “My desire is to serve the Lord through my paintings.”
The two women returned to Bethlehem together. Naomi knew the people there, what they were like, who might help them.
People of Nazareth describes life in a small town like Bethlehem.
Ruth went to the field of Boaz, a rich relative of Naomi’s. Boaz was, as it happens, an ideal match for any young woman. He was single, childless, well respected and rich. He was also a relative of Naomi’s through her husband’s family, so he had a legal obligation to help Naomi.
It was not long before Boaz came to the field to see how the harvest was going, and met Ruth.
It was love at first sight. He fell over himself to help her, going to elaborate lengths to get extra grain for Ruth, to protect her from young men who might hassle her, and to see that she was well fed.
Rembrandt: Boaz pouring six measure of grain into Ruth’s veil
No doubt the workers noticed, and some of them reported back to Naomi.
Naomi devised a plan to prod Boaz into marrying Ruth. She knew men, and she gave Ruth specific instructions on everything she must do.
Ruth had the good sense to listen. She perfumed herself, dressed in her most becoming clothes, and waited at the threshing floor until Boaz had eaten a good meal – she knew that a man with a full stomach was easier to handle.
Ruth & Boaz on the threshing floor
When Boaz finally lay down to sleep, Ruth approached him where he lay on the threshing floor – someone always slept there at night until the grain was removed, to guard against thieves.
An ancient threshing floor
Lying beside Boaz, Ruth suggested that because he was a relative of her dead husband, he should ‘cover her with his blanket’, a euphemism for marriage. This was a custom of the time, called the Levirate Law.
Boaz happily agreed, but pointed out to her that there was another man who had that right, a closer relative even than himself.
Ruth stayed beside Boaz until morning, stealing away before first light to return to Naomi, who pounced on her and demanded to know how things had gone. Was Ruth to be married or single?
The two women waited impatiently to see how events would unfold.