Ruth and Naomi

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Women in the Old Testament

  • The name "Ruth" is traditionally derived from "friendship" or "friend," but it could also mean "to be soaked" or "irrigated."
  • 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 occurred.
  • 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 neck."
  • 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 protect them.
  • 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 "father's" house.)
  • 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 sons.
  • 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's return.
  • 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 about her.
  • 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 was up.
  • 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 kinsman.
  • 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 a verdict.
  • 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 that follows.
  • 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.

Bible Characters