The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
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Bible Study

    General conception has it that the book of Ruth is no more than a simple narrative of pastoral or rural life, having a goodly share of pathos at the beginning, but later blossoming into a beautiful love story. It is not a mere idyll. Jehovah's purpose in making the Bible record is not to entertain, but to instruct, and particularly to instruct in these "last days". The dramatic events of the book of Ruth are filled with prophetic significance. "Ruth" means "friend, friendship; appearance, beauty".

    The writership and date of writing of the book are uncertain. Consensus of opinion attributes it to Samuel, though many contend it was written after his time. The opening phrase, "in the days when the judges ruled," indicates that the time of kings in Israel had begun when the book was written. Since Samuel is the probable author, and since he died before David's ascension to the throne, the composition was likely finished during the reign of Saul. Even more definitely locating the time of writing, the giving of David's lineage in the closing verses suggests that he was already of some prominence, having previously been anointed by Samuel. Also the introductory words, "in the days when the judges ruled," set the events of the drama in the time of the judges. While the record does not say so, circumstantial evidence suggests that they occurred during the reign of Moab's king Eglon, and thereafter. The account in Ruth covers a time period of at least eleven years.—1: 2-4; 4:13.

    The account brings into sharp focus the law of levirate marriage, giving a rare and striking illustration of its application. (Deut. 25:5-10) Moreover, its significance in this instance is multiplied by the fact that it was a means of preserving unbroken the royal line of Judah leading up to David, and ultimately to the Greater David, Christ Jesus. Consider the narrated events leading up to this climax.

    Chapter 1 discloses a famine stalking through the land of Judah, and a family fleeing from its ravages. Elimelech and his wife Naomi, with their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, seek refuge in Moab. The husband that land and the two sons marry two Moabitesses. After about ten years of sojourn Mahlon and Chilion die, childless. This leaves three women, and no seed unto Elimelech. Only a levirate marriage could provide a seed, and only in Israel were near kinsmen qualified to fulfill that law. The three women turn their faces westward and start the trek to Judah. Twice Naomi warns of the scant possibility of husband and home for the two young Moabitesses in a strange land, and invites them to count the cost. They do. Upon the second warning one turns back; the other, Ruth, makes a touching plea and voices determined resolve, saying: "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." (Vss. 16,17) The elder Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth journey on to Bethlehem, arriving at the beginning of barley harvest.

    The second chapter carries matters a step nearer the climax, locating the near kinsman in whom hope centers to provide a seed for Elimelech. Ruth's industry and Boaz's respect for the strangers gleaning rights open the way; but doubtless Jehovah was directing events. Her first day of labor finds her gleaning after the reapers of Boaz, an elderly Jew. Boaz' inquiries concerning the Moabitess acquaint him with Ruth's loyalty to Naomi and her willingness to leave home and native land to dwell among Jehovah's people. He shows himself friendly, tells her to glean in no fields but his, provides her with noon meals, and causes special favor to be shown her in the gleaning work. When Ruth relates to her mother-in-law her blessed lot in Boaz' field, Naomi sees in it the hand of the Lord. On Naomi's instructions Ruth continues to glean in the field of Boaz throughout both barley and wheat harvest.

    Chapter 3 brings matters to a head, sets the stage for a settlement in harmony with the levirate marriage law. Naomi says, "My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee ?" She then recommended that Ruth go to Boaz at the threshing floor at night and lie at his feet. But she was not suggesting unchaste conduct. Naomi was too old to participate in a levirate marriage; so Ruth was to act in her stead. Thus it was proper for her to "seek rest" or the married state for Ruth. Ruth's lying at Boaz' feet was not a proposal of impure relationship, but an invitation for him "to spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman". (Vs. 9) This was a symbolical way in Israel of taking a woman to wife. Naomi's advised course was a call to Boaz to perform the kinsman's part in levirate marriage. He so understood it, but one obstacle stood in the way: there was one kinsman nearer than Boaz.

    The fourth chapter of the book shows the settlement of this complication and relates the climax and conclusion of matters. Informal court was called into session at the gate of the city; the nearer kinsman was haled in by Boaz and acquainted with the facts and his responsibility. Would he redeem f His answer was yes when it seemed that he would thereby swell his own wealth, but was quickly changed to no when he further learned that through Ruth he must raise up seed unto Elimelech, which seed would inherit Elimeleeh's redeemed lands. This refusal left Boaz next in line to redeem. To the people gathered at the gate he said, "Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimeleeh's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place." (Vss. 9, 10) Thereafter by Ruth a son was born to Boaz, named Obed, who in time became the grandfather of David. The levirate marriage law was carried out, a breach in the royal line avoided, and a significant prophetic drama brought to a close. The closing verses state the genealogy from Pharez to David. Between Obed and Jesse no one is mentioned. Is this due to the lack of importance of connecting links, or did each one from Nahshon to Jesse live to be of a very great age, and each one in his extreme old age bring forth a son? This latter conclusion appears to be the correct one, and emphasizes Satan's efforts to break the royal line leading to David and Jesus, and Jehovah's watchcare to see to it that it was unbroken.

    The canonical authority of the book of Ruth is sufficiently confirmed by the fact that Ruth the Moabitess is mentioned in Matthew 1:5 as one of the ancestresses of Jesus, but fulfillment of the prophetic drama in these "last days" incontrovertibly proves its divine inspiration. The facts fit the drama and prove the record true.