Guests: Carl Cosaert and Zdravko Stefanovic
The story Ruth and Boaz is well known and well loved. It serves as a favorite for contemporary writers of “historical Bible fiction.” As one reads the book of Ruth, it is easy to see why this is the case.
The book of Ruth has a literary symmetry with the crucial turning point in the story at the exact midpoint of the book–Ruth 2:20. There are also a variety of ironies, puns, and other interesting cultural features which figure prominently in the story.
1. In the Jewish canon, the book of Ruth is placed just after Proverbs. A reason for this is that Ruth is seen as an example of the virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31. (Compare Proverbs 31:10 and Ruth 3:11, where the same phrase is used).
* What qualities does Ruth exhibit that mark her as a virtuous woman?
* Are there any characteristics of Ruth that would be problematic in today’s world?
2. Central to the story is the cultural practice of levirate marriage, described in Genesis 38 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
* What exactly was levirate marriage as it is described in these passages?
* What was the purpose of levirite marriage?
* In North American culture, most people place a great emphasis on their immediate family. From a biblical perspective, what sorts of obligations do we have for our extended families? If others in our extended family are poor, for example, must we provide for them, and in the process, jeopardize our own security?
3. Boaz, while not the nearest relative of Naomi and Ruth, nevertheless steps in to fulfill the obligations of the near kinsmen. The near kinsman was also to act as a redeemer and avenger.
* According to Leviticus 25:25-28, 47-50 and Numbers 35:12-34, describe these other responsibilities of the near kinsman.
* If someone lacked a near kinsman, who would fulfill that role for them? (See Exodus 6:6 and Job 19:25.)
4. Research the meaning of the names in the book of Ruth.
* In what ways do these names contribute to the meaning of the story?
5. In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, Ruth (a Moabitess) is mentioned by name (Matthew 1:5-6). Notice her proximity to David and Solomon.
* Now, read Deuteronomy 23:3-4. Why is this mention in the genealogy of David (and Jesus) so surprising? What lessons should we take from this?
6. What would you say is the basic message of the book of Ruth? Does the book focus on Ruth’s faithfulness? The kindness of Boaz? The providence of God? Or is it something else entirely?