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The meaning of Ruth in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)

rooth (ruth; Rhouth): The name Ruth is found in the Old Testament only in the book which is so entitled. It is a contraction for re'uth perhaps signifying "comrade," "companion" (feminine; compare Exodus 11:2, "every woman of her neighbor"). OHL, 946, explains the word as an abstract noun = "friendship." The Book of Ruth details the history of the one decisive episode owing to which Ruth became an ancestress of David and of the royal house of Judah. From this point of view its peculiar interest lies in the close friendship or alliance between Israel and Moab, which rendered such a connection possible. Not improbably also there is an allusion to this in the name itself.

1. History:

The history lies in the period of the Judges (Ruth 1:1), at the close of a great famine in the land of Israel. Elimelech, a native of Bethlehem, had, with his wife Naomi and two sons, taken refuge in Moab from the famine. There, after an interval of time which is not more precisely defined, he died (Ruth 1:3), and his two sons, having married women of Moab, in the course of a further ten years also died, and left Orpah and Ruth widows (Ruth 1:5). Naomi then decided to return to Palestine, and her two daughters-in-law accompanied her on her way (Ruth 1:7). Orpah, however, turned back and only Ruth remained with Naomi, journeying with her to Bethlehem, where they arrived "in the beginning of barley harvest" (Ruth 1:22). The piety and fidelity of Ruth are thus early exhibited in the course of the narrative, in that she refused to abandon her mother-in-law, although thrice exhorted to do so by Naomi herself, on account of her own great age and the better prospects for Ruth in her own country. Orpah yielded to persuasion, and returned to Moab; but Ruth remained with Naomi.

At Bethlehem Ruth employed herself in gleaning in the field during the harvest and was noticed by Boaz, the owner of the field, a near kinsman of her father-in-law Elimelech. Boaz gave her permission to glean as long as the harvest continued; and told her that he had heard of her filial conduct toward her mother-in-law. Moreover, he directed the reapers to make intentional provision for her by dropping in her way grain from their bundles (Ruth 2:15 f.). She was thus able to return to Naomi in the evening with a whole ephah of barley (Ruth 2:17). In answer to questioning she explained that her success in gleaning was due to the good-will of Boaz, and the orders that he had given. She remained accordingly and gleaned with his maidens throughout the barley and wheat harvest, making her home with her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:23). Naomi was anxious for the remarriage of Ruth, both for her sake and to secure compliance with the usage and law of Israel; and sent her to Boaz to recall to him his duty as near kinsman of her late husband Elimelech (Ruth 3:1 f.). Boaz acknowledged the claim and promised to take Ruth in marriage, failing fulfillment of the legal duty of another whose relationship was nearer than that of Boaz himself (Ruth 3:8-13). Naomi was confident that Boaz would fulfill his promise, and advised Ruth to wait in patience.

Boaz then adopted the customary and legal measures to obtain a decision. He summoned the near kinsman before ten elders at the gate of the city, related to him the circumstances of Naomi's return, with her desire that Ruth should be married and settled with her father-in-law's land as her marriage-portion, and called upon him to declare his intentions. The near kinsman, whose name and degree of relationship are not stated, declared his inability to undertake the charge, which he renounced in legal form in favor of Boaz according to ancient custom in Israel (Ruth 4:6 ff.). Boaz accepted the charge thus transferred to him, the elders and bystanders bearing witness and pronouncing a formal blessing upon the union of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4:9-12). Upon the birth of a son in due course the women of the city congratulated Naomi, in that the continuance of her family and house was now assured, and the latter became the child's nurse. The name of Obed was given to the boy; and Obed through his son Jesse became the grandfather of David (compare Matthew 1:5-6; Luke 3:31-32).

2. Interest and Importance of the Narrative:

Thus, the life and history of Ruth are important in the eyes of the narrator because she forms a link in the ancestry of the greatest king of Israel. From a more modern point of view the narrative is a simple idyllic history, showing how the faithful loving service of Ruth to her mother-in-law met with its due reward in the restored happiness of a peaceful and prosperous home-life for herself. Incidentally are illustrated also ancient marriage customs of Israel, which in the time of the writer had long since become obsolete. The narrative is brief and told without affectation of style, and on that account will never lose its interest. It has preserved moreover the memory of an incident, the national significance of which may have passed away, but to which value will always be attached for its simplicity and natural grace.

For the literature, see RUTH, THE BOOK OF.

A. S. Geden


See more on the meaning of Ruth in the Bible:
Ruth {Easton's Bible Dictionary}
Ruth {Hitchcock's Bible Name}

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