Ruth and Naomi
Categories: Women in the Old Testament
- The name "Ruth" is traditionally
derived from "friendship" or "friend,"
but it could also mean "to be soaked"
- Naomi is derived from "Winsome"
or "My Lovely One."
- Elimelech (Ruth's father-in-law) left the
land of promise and moved to Moab when a famine
- There was no prohibition against Israelites
marrying foreign wives at that time.
- The name "Orpah," Ruth's sister-in-law,
is typically derived from "back of the
- Mahlon and Kilion mean "Weakening and
Pining" or perhaps "Blot Out and Perish."
- As foreigners in a strange land, the loss
of male members of the family was devastating.
The women had no one to care for them or to
- The family had lived in Moab for ten years.
- Neither daughter-in-law hesitated to return
with Naomi, even though it meant they would
have to leave their homeland.
- It was Naomi who began the conversation in
which she tells each of them to return to her
"mother's house." (Perhaps this means
the safety and comfort of her mother's house,
but typically they would have returned to the
- Naomi's words to them are predicated upon
"levirate marriage" - if the husband
dies, the wife is given to his eldest brother.
The whole point is to keep the family line going
and the property within the family.
- Since they would be foreigners in Bethlehem,
the likelihood of them finding new husbands
would not be high.
- If Naomi remarried, the daughters-in-law would
be too old by the time she could raise up new
- Ruth's answer to Naomi is oftentimes used
in wedding ceremonies -- "Whither you go,
I will go; whither you stay, I will stay."
- Ruth swears an oath, invoking the name of
Yahweh, saying she will remain with Naomi.
- Naomi must have been an amazing woman to instill
that amount of loyalty.
- Bethlehem "buzzed" with news of
- Naomi had changed; so she takes on a new name
- she no longer wants to be called Naomi (pleasant);
now she would be called Mara (bitter). She has
returned "empty," childless. (This
is so ironic, since Ruth is probably standing
next to her at this point. Obviously, she is
thinking of her lost sons, which is perhaps
a commentary on the value of sons vs. daughters.)
- In attributing this misfortune to God, she
is acknowledging God's control over every phase
of her life.
- The name Boaz is derived from "son of
strength" or "lively."
- The law specifically granted the poor the
right to glean (take the leftover grain from
the fields after they had been harvested). However,
the landowner also had to give his permission.
- It is not known if Ruth looked for Boaz's
field or if this was a divine "coincidence."
If the latter, then it is a wonderful testament
to the fact that God is active in the lives
of the most helpless.
- The eyes of Boaz are immediately drawn to
Ruth. He asks who she belongs to, i.e., which
family. When he is told, he has already heard
- The good report from the foreman only increases
Boaz's curiosity about her.
- He offers advice and gives her privileges
not normally given to gleaners - access to water
and an invitation to lunch - obviously Jews
were not prohibited from eating with Gentiles
at this time.
- By inviting her to have lunch with his reapers,
Boaz, in effect, incorporates her into his household.
- An average day of gleaning usually netted
about two pounds of grain. At the end of the
day, Ruth has 29 pounds - a testament to Boaz's
help and her diligence.
- She and Naomi could live off this for weeks.
They were well on their way out of starvation!
- Naomi immediately recognizes Boaz as a Kinsman-redeemer.
That meant he could fulfill the duty of marrying
Ruth in order to keep the family name alive.
- Ruth continues to glean every day until the
harvest is over - lasting about 7 weeks. She
and Naomi would have had enough grain to tide
them over for a long time.
- Playing "matchmaker," Naomi's plan
is to have Ruth approach Boaz and let him know
she is interested in marrying him. In so doing,
she is providing a mate and a home for Ruth
- as any parent would.
- It is not clear why Boaz spends the night
at the threshing floor. Maybe he was guarding
it; maybe he was a "regular" guy,
helping his workers at all levels.
- It is not clear what "uncovering his
feet" really means - other than providing
a signal indicating her willingness to marry
him. The point is that neither woman is being
passive in this endeavor.
- Ruth follows Naomi's instructions to the letter,
then adds a bit of her own initiative.
- When Boaz wakes up (because of cold feet?),
he doesn't know who she is.
- After identifying herself, she asks him to
cover her with the blanket - a direct proposal
for him to protect (marry) her.
- Boaz is flattered and agrees to her request.
- Just when all seems well, Boaz says there
is a closer kinsman than he. That person would
have first right of refusal to act as kinsman-redeemer.
But if he should choose not to do so, Boaz pledges
he will accept the responsibility, invoking
the name of Yahweh for his oath.
- He invites her to stay with him for the remainder
of the night
. Scholars are very mixed
in their commentary about what might have happened
that night. Fact is, we'll never know. What
we do know is that she left before any one else
- By putting grain into her shawl, Boaz might
have been paying the "bride price"
to Naomi or just thanking her for her role in
making this all come about.
- Boaz wasted no time in finding the nearer
- The city gate was where legal transactions
took place. The ten elders served not only as
witnesses, but if there had been a dispute,
they would have had the authority to decide
- The nearer kinsman was delighted to buy the
land, but changed his mind when he realized
marrying Ruth was part of the deal. Any children
born to her would affect the amount he could
give to his own children. Plus, he might have
to use some of their inheritance to buy the
land, which would technically belong to other
offspring. Maybe he also had reservations about
marrying a Moabitess, though this is not indicated.
Nonetheless, his refusal opened the way for
Boaz to make good on his oath.
- Boaz declares that their first child will
be Mahlon's heir.
- Boaz and Ruth are married immediately and
give birth to a son.
- The story, however, reverts back to Naomi
- she is the one who has been blessed.
- The women say Ruth, who "loves"
Naomi, is worth more than seven sons. This is
a very strong cultural expression for a society
that places such a high value on sons.
- Scholars question whether Naomi officially
adopts this child, or if she is the ultimate
grandmother. The text hints at the former. This
child ended Naomi's childlessness and family
demise. Besides making her happy, this child
would sustain her in her old age.
- Naomi is the one who nurses (raises) the lad.
- The women of the village declare: "A
son has been born to Naomi!" They also
name the child! (This is the only instance in
the OT where parents do not do the naming.)
- Obed (the baby's name) means "one who
works/serves." He certainly served Naomi
by assuring her survival.
- Despite the good intentions of Boaz, Mahlon
is not the father of Obed according to the genealogy
- Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the
father of David.
Alter, Robert and Frank Kermode. The Literary Guide to the Bible. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. 1987.
Auld, A. Graeme. "Joshua, Judges, and Ruth." The Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.