Ruth was a young foreign widow without family or prospects who married a wealthy Israelite. She bore a son Obed, who was the grandfather of King David and an ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth.
Worth noting about Ruth:
she is compassionate, unwilling to leave her elderly mother-in-law when the older woman is in trouble – it is unlikely Naomi would have survived the long journey back to Bethlehem if she were on her own
she is beautiful to look at – Boaz, who is a rich landowner and could presumably have his pick of local women, is immediately attracted to her
she is loyal – in the words of the modern marriage ceremony, she has forsaken all others and considers her first husband’s family to be her main focus
she is shrewd enough to listen to the advice of an older woman, and put that advice into action
Naomi, Ruth’s shrewd mother-in-law who advised her how to get a second husband and was rewarded by the birth of a grandson…
Worth noting about Naomi:
she is shrewd, viewing life with pragmatism and common sense
she is a good judge of character, sizing up Boaz immediately and advising Ruth how to nudge the lovesick man into proposing
she inspires loyalty in Ruth, who trusts her completely
she is liked by the other women in the village, who help her
she gives good advice – Ruth is clever enough to recognise this, and follows her advice
Boaz, the wealthy Israelite who married Ruth and became the father of Obed.
Worth noting about Boaz:
he is besotted with Ruth at first sight; the young woman sparks a passion that seems to surprise and delight all the villagers
he is both shrewd (he recognises that Ruth may be harassed by the young men) and compassionate (though he is rich himself, he appreciates the plight of the two women, and does something about it)
he is religiously devout: he observes the Leverite Law even though it may disadvantage him, and he continues the Jewish custom of giving practical help to the poor
Orpah, the second daughter-in-law of Naomi
Worth noting about Orpah:
though only a minor character in the story, her contrasting qualities throw Ruth’s compassion and loyalty into the spotlight
she abandons Naomi when the older woman needs her most; her name means ‘back of the neck’, signalling the way she turns her back on Naomi
she returns to her original Moabite family; Ruth on the other hand wholeheartedly adopts her husband’s Jewish family
The women of Bethlehem: don’t overlook these people. They played an important part in the story of Ruth and Naomi.
Jennie Ebeling, in her book Women’s Lives in Biblical Times, says:
‘Names in ancient Israel were more than just identification; they signified a person’s essence and were thus extremely important.
In the story of Ruth, the women of the neighborhood uniquely gave the newborn Obed his name (Ruth 4:17).
This group of women came together in solidarity around the new mother, which would have been extremely important in a situation where a woman has only recently moved, alone, to her husband’s village.’ (p.103)