A Study in Ruth

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mattrose
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A Study in Ruth

Post by mattrose » Tue Apr 17, 2012 4:07 pm

I made up a little Bible study on Ruth (with mini-commentary and discussion questions). Thought I'd share it in case anybody thought they could use it.

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The Book of Ruth

It is surprising that this book should be titled Ruth for three reasons:

1) Ruth was not a man
2) Ruth was not an Israelite
3) Ruth was not the main character

The book tells of a touching tale that took place during a terrible time in Israel’s history (b/w the death of Joshua in about 1400BC and the birth of Samuel in about 1100BC) which was marked by the Canaanization of God’s people (see Judges)

The purpose of this narrative, however, is not simply to provide relief for those who have just read the book of Judges. The story provides us with a beautiful portrait of the ancestry of King David.

These ancestors were humble people: “A widow left without husband or sons, an alien in a similar state, and a bachelor from the humble town of Bethlehem.” This story proves that nobility has less to do with blood and more to do with integrity.

The book of Ruth is written as a drama with four Acts: There is a Crisis (chapter 1), a Ray of Hope (chapter 2), a Complication (chapter 3), and a Rescue (chapter 4) of the holy line.

Act 1
The ‘days when the judges ruled’ was a notorious time in Israel’s history as God’s people were thoroughly Canaanized. It is, therefore, easy to explain this famine (1:1) as a judgment from God.

When the town of Bethlehem (which means ‘house of bread’) no longer provided bread for the family of Elimelech, he decided to take his wife Naomi and their two sons across the Jordan River and into Moabite land (1:2) despite an intense animosity between the two peoples.

After Elimelech died (1:3), Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women even though Yahweh had forbade religiously mixed marriages. For about 10 years, neither marriage produced any children. When both of Naomi’s sons also died (1:4-5a), she was left in a foreign land with no husband or sons feeling hopeless and judged by God (1:5b, also 1:12-13)

When she heard that the Lord had brought relief to Israel, Naomi and her daughters-in-law (Orpah & Ruth) began the journey to Judah (1:6-7). But Naomi believed that these young women would be better served staying in Moab (especially in a male-dominated culture) and attempted to persuade them to turn back (1:8-13).

Orpah was eventually persuaded (1:14), but Ruth remained passionately committed to Naomi (1:15-18). The town of Bethlehem was stirred by the arrival of an older and embittered Naomi (1:19-20). She blamed God for her woeful circumstances (1:21-22).

Act 2
Before returning to the action, the narrator introduces us to a new character in this drama. Boaz is a man of standing from the clan of Elimelech (2:1). This “raises the interest and hopes of the readers, especially those who are familiar with Israelite” laws & customs.

Thankfully, Naomi and Ruth had returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest, when food was most abundant. But how would they obtain it? Mosaic Law stipulated that harvesters should leave leftovers for the needy, so Ruth volunteered to go to the fields hoping to find favor (2:2).

As it turned out, she found herself working in the field of Boaz (2:3). When Boaz arrives, he is seen to be a gracious employer (2:4). Taking notice of Ruth (2:5-7), he immediately assured a positive and productive work environment for her (2:8-9, also 14-16). She is amazed at his generosity (2:10, 13).

Boaz insists that his kindness is a response to Ruth’s own kindness (to Naomi) and courage (to leave her home). His kindness was God’s way of repaying hers. The God of Israel was taking care of Ruth (2:11-12).

Naomi was surprised at the amount of Barley Ruth had gathered (2:17-19a). Upon learning that she had worked in the field of Boaz, Naomi alerted Ruth to the fact that this man was their kinsman-redeemer (2:19b-20)! Ruth continued to work in the fields of Boaz for the remainder of the season (2:21-23).

Acts 3
We pick up weeks later. With seemingly nothing materializing out of the stunning development from the last Act, Naomi decides to take the initiative in finding Ruth a husband. She has Boaz in mind (3:1-2).

Naomi has an aggressive plan of action. She tells Ruth to wash, perfume, and get dressed in normal (non-mourning?) clothes (3:3a). She is to covertly arrive at the threshing floor where Boaz will be working (3:3b). Once he falls asleep, she is to remove the covers from his feet, lie down, and wait for him to act (3:4).

Ruth followed the instructions given to her (3:5-6). When the cool night air touched his skin, Boaz awoke startled to find a woman lying at his feet (3:7-8). Upon learning that it was Ruth, he must have been more startled when she boldly told him to marry her (3:9)!

How will Boaz respond to this remarkable situation?
A surprised Boaz responds in a surprisingly kind way. Indeed, he is impressed by Ruth’s commitment to him as a kinsman-redeemer and wants to oblige (3:10-11). But there is a problem. A closer kin has the initial rights to be the kinsman-redeemer (3:12)!

Boaz comes up with a plan of his own. Ruth is to lodge in the threshing floor (3:13a), wake up early (3:14) and sneak out with some barley (3:15a) for her mother-in-law (3:17). In the morning, Boaz would go to town (3:15b), find this kinsman (3:13b), and settle the matter that very day! Upon hearing that her plan had worked (3:16), Naomi was confident that Boaz would see it through (3:17). Ruth must simply wait and see (3:18).

Act 4
The final Act takes place at the town gate, where official business was done in the ancient world. Conveniently, the kinsman in question is there and Boaz takes the initiative and gathers the elders (4:1-2).

Prior to leaving Bethlehem, Elimelech had apparently sold his land to someone outside the family. Naomi had no rights (as a woman) or means (as a poor widow) to re-acquire this land, but she could appeal to her kinsman-redeemer to do that very thing.

Boaz alerts the elders to Naomi’s appeal and the potential kinsman redeemer to his opportunity (4:3-4a). Boaz makes clear that he is next in line and is willing to redeem the land. The other kinsman, however, initially accepts the responsibility (4:4b) until he is told (by Boaz) that he would also be responsible for marrying Ruth (4:5-6) and giving Elimelech/Mahlon an heir.

The way was now clear for Boaz to accept the position of kinsman-redeemer. These intentions were made official with the elders and townspeople serving as witnesses (4:7-10). By acquiring these rights, Boaz had secured the possibility of continuing the line of Elimelech/Mahlon into future generations (4:11-12).

About 9-months later, the married couple had a son (4:13)! The women of Bethlehem praised God for His faithfulness to Naomi. She had been blessed with a kinsman-redeemer (4:14), a wonderful daughter-in-law (4:15), and a grandson who would become the grandfather of King David (4:16-22)!

Discussion Guide for Act 1
1. Do you think God sent the famine to Israel? Why?

2. Was Elimelech wrong to leave Israel? What would you have done in his situation?

3. Should we interpret the 3 deaths in this story and the barrenness of the women as judgments from God?

4. Should we fault Orpah for turning back?

5. Why in the world did Ruth go with Naomi?

6. What is your impression of Naomi so far? How would you describe her ideas about God?

7. What are your thoughts after Act 1?

Discussion Guide for Act 2
1. What do you think of the law requiring farmers to leave leftovers for the needy? Do you think this law was always followed?

2. Was it coincidence or providence that Ruth ended up in the field of Boaz?

3. What is your impression of Boaz?

4. How does this section answer the prayer of blessing Naomi gave in 1:9?

5. What does the term “kinsman-redeemer” mean?

6. By the end of Act 2, what has changed for Naomi? What hasn’t changed?

7. What are your thoughts after Act 2?

Discussion Guide for Act 3
1. Why do you think Boaz failed to take the initiative himself?

2. Why did Naomi come up with such a daring plan?

3. Was this plan sexually inappropriate?

4. Was this really a marriage proposal?

5. What are some of the possible ways Boaz could have responded? Why did he respond as he did?

6. Why did Boaz want the barley to go to Naomi?

7. What are your thoughts after Act 3?

Discussion Guide for Act 4
1. Why is Elimelech’s land suddently part of the story?

2. Why would the kinsman-redeemer also have to marry Ruth?

3. Why did the potential kinsman-redeemer change his mind after finding out about Ruth?

4. How does this story of Boaz/Ruth compare and contrast the story of Judah/Tamar?

5. Why does the focus shift back to Naomi?

6. Why tell this story? What does it say about David? Israel? God?

7. How does this story relate to us under the New Covenant? In what ways is Jesus our Kinsman-Redeemer?

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