Title of the book
The books of Ruth and Esther are the two books of the OT named after the name of a woman, and there is an interesting connection between the two. Ruth was a Gentile woman, who is brought into the midst of the Jews to fulfil her divine destiny, with grace, faithfulness and dignity. Esther was a Jewish woman, who is brought into the midst of the Gentiles to fulfil her divine destiny, also with grace, faithfulness and dignity.
The book of Ruth is the story of a friendship between two women, which leads to Ruth's marriage to Boaz and the birth of Obed, who is a descendent of King David, the great ancestor of Jesus Christ. The book is a link between the time of the judges and the introduction of the monarchy and King David.
The story of Ruth is in quiet rural contrast to the fighting, immorality and unfaithfulness of Judges. The vivid contrast is shown between the quiet faith and obedience in Ruth and the anarchy and every man doing what is right in his own eyes in Judges. There are contrasts between: the ungodly Jews during time of Judges, with godly gentile Ruth; Balaam & Balak who cursed the Jews, and Ruth who blessed them; the turmoil and violence of Judges and the love story of Ruth.
Ruth in Hebrew Scriptures
Ruth is one of the Megilloth (five scrolls), along with the Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Esther, which were read at particular Jewish feasts. The Megilloth formed part of the Writings, the third section of the Hebrew canon. Ruth was read at the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (the time of barley harvest) foretelling the inclusion of the Gentiles. It was moved to be included with the history books in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT.
The historical setting of Ruth during the time of the Judges (1:1), and the book was probably completed (perhaps by Samuel) during the reign of King David, who is mentioned in 4:22. It refers to the sandal custom as a custom of former times (4:7). The story could have been transmitted orally for many years before being written down.
The book of Ruth gives an accurate account of the customs prevailing during the time of judges. The famine could have been the one which occurred during the time of Gideon (Judges 6:2-6,11), when food was scarce during the siege by the Midianites. It would have been natural for a Jewish family to take refuge in Moab during such a famine and for Jewish people to marry local inhabitants (1:3-5), even though God had prohibited such marriages.
David, being descended from Ruth, a Moabitess, later took refuge with the King of Moab when Saul was pursuing him (1 Sam 22:3-5).
Message of Ruth
The inclusion of Ruth, the Moabitess, foreshadows the day when Gentiles will be joined by God's grace to the commonwealth of Israel. A Gentile is included in the royal lineage of the Messiah (Matt 1:5).
Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer is a type of Christ by fulfilling the qualifications and functions of a kinsman-redeeemer. He had to be a blood relative, as Jesus was by virgin birth and incarnation. He had to be willing to redeem the forfeited inheritance (4:9), as Jesus was willing to give his life as a ransom for many. He had to be able to redeem the forfeited inheritance (4:10), as Jesus was able and paid the price for sinners. He was also obliged to take as his wife the one whose forfeited inheritance he had redeemed (4:10), as Jesus takes the church, whose redemption he has purchased, as his bride.
The book of Ruth gives the genealogy of King David, the ancestor of Jesus Christ. Boaz is considered as: lord of the harvest (2:3), provider of bread (3:15), the kinsman-redeemer (2:20, 4:7), a man of wealth (2:1), the giver of security & protection (3:1), the bestower of grace & favour (3:6-13). The name Boaz means 'strength'.
Ruth is also a representative of Gentile believers converted apart from the law. The book shows the sovereignty of God in action, for whom nothing is impossible and the results of people having faith and trusting in him. God rules over all and brings his blessings on those who trust him.
In Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, there are five women. Three had some immorality in their lives or ancestry, and four are probably Gentiles: Tamar, was probably a Canaanite married to Judah, Rahab was a Canaanite prostitute from Jericho, Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, Ruth was a Moabitess, and Mary the mother of Jesus, the only Jew.
As Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was only a half Jew (Mt 1:5). Salmon had married Rahab, the Gentile woman of faith (Heb 11:31, James 2:25), and Boaz married Ruth, another Gentile woman of faith. This clearly show that Gentiles are included in the people of God, the blessing of God was not exclusively for the Jews, even in the OT.
The word 'Levirate', comes from the Latin 'Levir', a husband's brother. The provision was for a childless widow to be taken as wife of a surviving brother of her deceased husband so that she could bear a son who would be legally the heir of the dead first husband (Deut 25:5-10). The dead man's name was then carried on by the son, so that his name would not become extinct. This law ensured that land owned by the first husband remained in the family. This custom was common in other nations other than in Israel.
The brother was allowed to refuse the role of substitute husband for the dead man (Deut 25:7-8). If so, the widow could complain to the elders and the man would be in public disgrace. Publically, she would untie and remove his sandal and spit in his face, cursing him, saying, "So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house". His house would then be called, "The house of him who had his sandal pulled off" (Deut 25:10).
A similar situation arises in Gen 38:1-11 (before the Mosaic law). Judah's son, Er, who was married to Tamar, was killed by the Lord. His second son, Onan, is called to perform the duty of a brother-in-law and raise up offspring for his dead brother. He refuses to have a child by her, because the offspring would not be his. He was also killed by the Lord, as what he did was displeasing to God.
In the negotiations between Boaz and Ruth's kinsman (Ruth 4:3-8), the following additional features appear. The first is that Ruth had no surviving brother and the Levirate responsibility was on the nearest male heir. Secondly, in addition to taking the widow as his wife, he was also responsible to redeem any land of the dead man which was about to be sold or forfeited. This is included in Lev 25:25, but not Deut 25. The fact that Ruth was a Moabitess may have influenced the nearer kinsman not to take her as his wife (Deut 23:3). This kinsman is allowed to take off his own sandal and is spared the humiliation of having Ruth spit in his face. As it was known that Boaz was willing to fulfil the requirements of the Levirate marriage law, Ruth was willing to surrender the formalities of Deut 25.