To preserve the inheritance of each head of family and the piece of land he owned in the midst of his tribe was considered in Israel as the way to protect the dignity and the freedom of everyone. This practice of redeeming the land together with the name of the one who died without children is highlighted in the case of Ruth.
An old tradition held that among David’s ancestors, there was a foreign woman named Ruth. She protagonizes this beautiful story. These pages preserve for us scenes from the lives of the Palestinian farmers, Christ’s ancestors, as they lived for centuries. In the simple life of these peasants we find true culture, an exquisite human quality, and unconscious nobility.
A spirit of supranational openness inspires this story written around the fourth century B.C. Shortly before this, Ezra had forced the Jews to get rid of their foreign wives who might have enticed them to follow pagan religions. By contrast, here the protagonist of the story is a foreign woman. Ruth accepts the true God of Israel and she is welcomed into the community of the people of God.
Your God will be my God
1There was a famine in the land during the time of the Judges, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah departed with his wife and two sons to sojourn in the country of Moab. 2The man was Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. A little later, after they had settled in Moab, 3Naomi’s husband Elimelech died. She was left with her two sons, 4who married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.
After living in Moab for about ten years, 5Mahlon and Chilion also died and Naomi was left bereft of husband and two sons. 6Having heard that Yahweh had come to help his people by giving them food, Naomi prepared to return home. 7With her two daughters-in-law, she took the road back to Judah.
8It was then that Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s house. And may Yahweh be kind to you, as you have been to your dead and to me. 9May he also grant each of you rest in the home of another husband.” She kissed them goodbye. But they wept aloud 10and said to her, “No, we will go back with you to your people.”
11Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why should you come with me, when I have no more sons to become your husbands? 12Return home, my daughters. I am now too old to marry again. Even if I hope to have a husband tonight and give birth to sons, 13would you remain unmarried waiting for them to grow up? No, my daughters. I won’t share my lot with you for it is too bitter. Yahweh’s hand has been raised against me!”
14Again they sobbed and wept. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 15Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law returns to her people and her gods. You too must return. Go after her.”
16Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you. For I will go where you go and stay where you stay. Your people will be my people and your god, my God. 17Where you die, there will I dieand be buried. May Yahweh deal with me severely if anything except death separates us.” 18Realizing that Ruth was determined to go with her, Naomi stopped urging her.
19So the two went on till they reached Bethlehem. Their arrival set the town astir. Women asked, “Can this be Naomi?” 20She said to them, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara for Yahweh has made life bitter for me. 21I came away full but go back empty. Why call me Naomi, when Yahweh has afflicted me?”
22Thus it was that Naomi returned from Moab with her Moabite daughter-in-law and arrived in Bethlehem as the barley harvest began.
Ruth gleans in the field of Boaz
1Naomi had a well-to-do kinsman, Boaz, from the clan of her husband Elimelech. 2And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to pick up the left-over grain in the field whose owner will allow me that favor.” Naomi said, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3So she went to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. It happened that the field she entered belonged to Boaz of the clan of Elimelech.
4When Boaz came from Bethlehem, he greeted the harvesters, “Yahweh be with you.” They returned the greeting, “Yahweh bless you.”
5Noticing Ruth, Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “To whom does that young woman belong?”
6The foreman replied, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She came this morning and asked leave to glean behind the harvesters. Since then she has been working without a moment’s rest.”
8Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Don’t go away from here to glean in anyone else’s field. Stay here with my women servants. 9See where the harvesters are and follow behind. I have ordered the men not to molest you. They have filled some jars with water. Go there and drink when you are thirsty.” 10Bowing down with her face to the ground, she exclaimed, “Why have I, a foreigner, found such favor in your eyes?”
11Boaz answered, “I have been told all about you—what you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death, how you have gone with her, leaving your own father and mother and homeland, to live with a people you knew nothing about before you came here. 12May Yahweh reward you for this! May you receive full recompense from Yahweh, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!”
13Ruth said, “May I prove worthy of your favor, my lord. You have consoled your servant with your kind words, though I am not the equal of your maidservants.”
14Boaz called her at mealtime, “come over, have some bread and dip it in the wine.” As she sat among the reapers, he handed her some roasted grain. She ate her fill and had some left over.
15When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his men, “Let her glean even among the sheaves and do not scold her. 16And pull some stalks from the bundles; leave them scattered for her to glean.” 17She worked until evening and when she threshed what she had gleaned it amounted to about an ephah. 18Ruth carried back to town the threshed barley, which she showed to her mother-in-law. She also gave her what she had left over from lunch.
19Naomi asked her daughter-in-law, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? May the man who took notice of you be blessed.” Ruth told her mother-in-law about the owner of the field where she had worked. “His name is Boaz,” she said. 20Naomi exclaimed, “May Yahweh bless him! God indeed is merciful both to the living and the dead. This man is a close relative, one with a right of redemption over us.”
21Ruth continued, “He even told me to stay with his servants until they finish harvesting the grain.” 22Naomi said, “It will be better for you, my daughter, to go out with his maidservants than to go working in some other field where harm might come to you.”
23Ruth, therefore, stayed close to the maidservants of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the wheat and barley harvests. And she continued living with her mother-in-law.
She went and lay down at his feet
•1Later Naomi talked to Ruth: “My daughter, is it not my duty to see you settled in a home where you will be well provided for? 2And is not Boaz, who has treated you kindly with his maidservants, a close relative of ours? Tonight at the threshing floor, he will be winnowing barley. 3So bathe and perfume yourself, then put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor. But don’t make yourself known to him till he has finished eating and drinking. 4Take note of the place where he lies down to sleep. Then go, uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”
5Ruth answered, “I will do as you say.” 6She went down to the threshing floor and did as her mother-in-law told her.
7Feeling happy after eating and drinking, Boaz went to lie down at the end of the pile of grain. Ruth then approached quietly, turned back the covering of his feet and lay there. 8At midnight the man awoke when he turned over and felt someone lying at his feet. He got up and was startled to find a woman there. 9“Who are you?” he asked.
The answer came, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread the corner of your cloak over me for you are a kinsman who has right of redemption over me.” 10Boaz said, “May Yahweh bless you, my daughter! This kindness of yours now is even greater than that which you have shown earlier, for you have not gone after young men, rich or poor. 11Have no fear, my daughter; I will do for you all that you ask, since all my townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. 12It is true that I am a close relative, but there is another still closer. 13Stay here for the night. In the morning, if he wants to claim you—good! But if not—as surely as Yahweh lives—I will claim you myself. Lie here till morning.”
14She lay at his feet till morning and got up before anyone could be recognized. For Boaz said, “It must not be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” 15Then turning to Ruth, Boaz said, “Hold out the mantle you are wearing.” She did so and he poured into it six measures of barley. He helped her lift the bundle, then went back to town.
16Ruth returned home to her mother-in-law, who asked, “How did you fare, my daughter?” She told her everything 17and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley because, as he said, he did not want me to go back to my mother-in-law empty-handed.”
18Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, till you learn what happens, for he will not rest until it is settled today.”
The Levirate law
1Meanwhile Boaz went to the town gate and sat there waiting for the closer relative about whom he had spoken to Ruth. When he saw him coming, he called him by name and said, “Come here and sit down.” And so he did.
2Boaz picked out ten from the city elders and asked them to sit with them, which they did. 3Then he said to the other man who also had right of redemption, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4I thought of bringing this matter to you before our elders here, because as the closer kin you have more right to lay claim to it. But if you have no wish to redeem it, let me know because I am next to you in line.”
The man replied, “I am willing to put in my claim. I will redeem it.” 5Boaz continued, “If you buy the land from Naomi, you will also have to take the Moabite Ruth, widow of the late heir, and her sons will inherit the name and the land of the dead.”
6The man said, “Then I cannot redeem it, because I might endanger my own estate. Redeem it yourself.”
7It used to be the custom in Israel that for a contract of redemption or exchange to become binding, one party had to take off his sandal and give it to the other. This act legalized transactions.
8So the man took off his sandal and said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.”
9Boaz turned to the elders and all those present. “This day you are witnesses that I buy from Naomi all the holdings of Elimelech, Chilion and Mahlon. 10I also take Mahlon’s widow, Ruth the Moabite, as my wife to raise up a family for her late husband, so that the name of the dead will be restored to his inheritance and be present among his brothers when they gather at the gate of his town. Do you witness this today?”
11The elders and all those at the gate answered, “We witness. May Yahweh make the woman coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you prosper in Ephrathah and be of good standing in Bethlehem. 12And through the offspring Yahweh will give you by this woman, may your house become like that of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah.”
Obed was the father of Jesse, who was David’s father
13So Ruth was taken by Boaz and became his wife. Yahweh made her conceive and give birth to a son. 14The women said to Naomi, “Blessed be Yahweh who has provided you today with an heir. May he become famous in Israel! 15He will be your comfort and stay in your old age, for he is born of a daughter-in-law who loves you and is worth more than seven sons.”
16Naomi took the child as her own and became his nurse. 17And the women of the neighborhood gave him his name, saying, “A son has been born for Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, who was David’s father.
18This, then, is Perez’s family line:
Perez was the father of Hezron, 19Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab,
20Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon,
21Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed,
22Obed of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.
• 3.1 Why does Ruth want to have Boaz for her husband? In order to follow the so-called “Levirate” law, mentioned in chapter 38 of Genesis.
When a man dies without leaving children, the sacred duty of his widow is to marry the nearest relative of her deceased husband. The first son she would bear him would take the name of the dead man and be considered his son.
This explains Ruth’s sacrifice. She gives up marrying a young man and accepts being the wife of an older and foreign man, because this can give her a son “for” her dead husband. Thus Ruth fulfills the mysterious plan of God who predestined her to be among Christ’s ancestors (see Mt 1:5).