New American Bible Revised Edition

* [1:1–2] Back in the time of the judges: the story looks back three generations before King David (4:17) into the time of the tribal confederation described in the Book of Judges. David’s Moabite connections are implied in 1 Sm 22:3–4. Bethlehem of Judah: Bethlehem, a town in which part of the Judean clan-division called Ephrathah lived; cf. 1 Chr 2:50–51; 4:4; Mi 5:1. Jos 19:15 mentions a different Bethlehem in the north. The plateau of Moab: on the east side of the Jordan valley rift, where the hills facing west get more rain, and where agricultural conditions differ from those in Judah. Ephrathites: a reminder of David’s origins; cf. Mi 5:1.

* [1:5] Boys: the way the storyteller chooses certain words as guides is shown here; “boy” will not appear again until 4:16.

* [1:6] Had seen to his people’s needs: lit., “had visited his people.”

* [1:8] Mother’s house: the women’s part of the home, but also perhaps the proper location for arranging marriage; Sg 3:4; 8:2; Gn 24:28. Kindness: Hebrew hesed. The powerful relationship term used here will recur in 2:20 and 3:10; kindness operates on both the divine-human and human-human level in Ruth.

* [1:11] Other sons…husbands: a reference to a customary practice known from Dt 25:5–10, levirate marriage, which assigns responsibility to the brother-in-law to produce heirs in order to perpetuate the name and hold the patrimonial land of a man who died childless. How far the responsibility extended beyond blood brothers is unclear; cf. Gn 38:8 and the upcoming scene in Ru 4:5–6. Naomi imagines the impossible: were she to have more sons they could take Ruth and Orpah as their wives.

* [1:16–17] Ruth’s adherence to her mother-in-law in 1:14 is now expressed in a profound oath of loyalty, culminating in a formulary found frequently in Samuel and Kings; cf. especially 1 Sm 20:13. Even death: burial in Naomi’s family tomb means that not even death will separate them.

* [1:21] Naomi’s despair is made clear by her play on the meaning of her name in v. 20 and now by her accusation, like that in many psalms and in Job, that God has acted harshly toward her. The language belongs to the realm of judicial proceedings. By crying out in this way, the faithful Israelite opens the door to change, since the cry assumes that God hears and will do something about such seemingly unjust circumstances.

* [1:22] Barley and wheat harvests come in succession, from as early as April–May into June–July; Dt 16:9–12 suggests that the grain harvest lasts about seven weeks. The time reference leads effectively to the next episode.

* [2:1] Kinship ties and responsibilities now become very important. Boaz is introduced as one of a group surrounding Naomi through her husband’s kin who are expected to extend care. The particular term used here (moda‘, “relative”) is picked up in 3:2; otherwise, most of the terminology about this responsibility to care will use the vocabulary of redeeming (go’el, “redeemer”).

* [2:2] Israelite custom made provision for the poor, the widow, the stranger and the orphan to gather what was left behind by the harvesters, and instructed farmers not to cut to the edges of their fields, for the sake of these marginalized; Lv 19:9–10; 23:22; Dt 24:19–22.

* [2:4] The story brings Boaz upon the scene quickly, but he moves among his workers with the grace of a man of prominence, greeting them and being received with courtesy. The Hebrew blessing formulas used are frequent in Jewish and Christian liturgies.

* [2:7] The verse is somewhat garbled, but the points are clear that Ruth has been appropriately deferential in seeking permission to glean, and has worked steadily since arriving. Or perhaps she has waited patiently until Boaz arrives to gain permission.

* [2:13] Servant: only here is the language of servanthood used. Ruth has spoken with very deferential words to Boaz, but then seems to think that she has assumed too much.

* [2:17] Ephah: see note on Is 5:10.

* [2:20] For the first time, the story uses the Hebrew word go’el, “redeemer,” for the responsibilities of the circle of kinship surrounding Naomi and Ruth and their deceased relatives. Involved are the recovery or retention of family land (Lv 25:25; 27:9–33; Jer 32:6–25), release of a relative from voluntary servitude to pay debts (Lv 25:47–55), and “redeeming blood” or vengeance, attested in passages which regulate such vengeance. No explicit connection is made elsewhere in the Bible between marriage responsibilities and redeeming.

* [3:2] Ruth’s determined action to bring relief to Naomi’s and her own circumstances now impels Naomi to move, using means available in Israelite custom which no one in the story has up to this point brought into play.

* [3:4] Uncover a place at his feet: Naomi advocates a course of action that will lead Boaz to act. Israelite custom and moral expectations strongly suggest that there is no loss of virtue involved in the scene.

* [3:9] Spread the wing of your cloak: Ez 16:8 makes it clear that this is a request for marriage. Ruth connects it to “redeemer” responsibility. A wordplay on “wing” links what Boaz is asked to do to what he has asked God to do for Ruth in 2:12.

* [3:11] Worthy woman: the language corresponds to the description of Boaz in 2:1 (lit., “strong and worthy”); the two worthy people are linked in character to one another, as they have already proven to be in their generous behavior toward the ones in need of their care. The townspeople, lit., “all the gate of my people,” will ratify this at the gate in the sequel.

* [3:12] Another redeemer closer than I: Boaz knows of a closer relative who would have a prior right to buy the field and marry Ruth.

* [4:1] The gate of an Israelite town was the place where commercial and other legal matters were dealt with in publicly witnessed fashion.

* [4:2] Ten of the elders: to serve as judges in legal matters as well as witnesses of the settlement of business affairs; cf. Dt 25:7–9.

* [4:4] Although the laws governing inheritance by Israelite widows are not specified in the Bible, Naomi seems to have the right of disposal of a piece of Elimelech’s land. The redemption custom in Lv 25:25 would then guide the procedure.

* [4:5–6] Although redemption and levirate practices are not otherwise linked in the Bible, they belong in the same area of need. Boaz claims that buying Elimelech’s field obligates the other redeemer to produce an heir for Mahlon, who would then inherit the land. That would jeopardize this redeemer’s overall holdings, since he would lose the land he had paid for. He can afford the first step but not the second, and cedes his responsibility to Boaz, who is willing to do both.

* [4:7] Take off a sandal: the legislation in Dt 25:8–10 provides that if a “redeemer” refuses to carry out the obligation of marrying his brother’s wife, the woman shall strip off his sandal as a gesture of insult. In later years, when the obligation of carrying out this function of the “redeemer” was no longer keenly felt, the removal of the sandal may have become a formalized way of renouncing the rights/obligations of the “redeemer,” as in this text.

* [4:12] Gn 38 contains a story about Tamar similar to Ruth’s in levirate marriage. Judah, under less laudable circumstances, fulfills the same role as Boaz will, and Perez, son of Judah and Tamar, perpetuates the line. Thus two non-Israelite women, Tamar and Ruth, are important links in David’s genealogy.

* [4:16] Cradled him: the child belongs to Naomi in the sense that he now becomes the redeemer in the family, as stated in 4:14. This tender act by Naomi is not necessarily adoptive and differs from the relationship in Gn 30:3; cf. Nm 11:12. Naomi now has a “boy” to replace her two lost “boys” in 1:5.

Read Chapters

Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Bible Hub

Ruth 1
Top of Page
Top of Page