My People: Lessons from Ruth (Part 1 – Introduction)

I’m excited to dive into another incredible story from the Bible with a new series, “My People: Lessons from Ruth”. Ruth is a wonderfully simple story that takes place during the period of Israel’s judges. If you’ve read through the book of Judges, you might have noticed that Ruth is a refreshing reprieve from the horrific accounts of Israel’s moral spiral. Ruth takes you away from the savagery of Israel’s apostate leaders, to a simple story of God’s faithfulness still at work in the everyday lives of God’s people who still love and obey him.

Why Ruth?

Ruth follows the book of Judges. Her story takes place during a dark period of Israel’s history. After recounting dozens of hard-to-stomach tales of Israel’s moral depravity, the book of Judges ends on a note of hopelessness:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

The Judges narrative revolves around this refrain. Israel has no righteous king to lead them, and left to their own devices, the people devolve into unimaginable sin. Enter, Ruth: a radically different tale that sows a seed of hope for a nation in desperate need.

The Bible has a way of eclipsing its ancient context and offering remarkably prescient encouragement to its modern readers, even millennia after its stories were put to paper. The lesson of Ruth is a perfect example: In a world of depravity and corruption, the righteousness of God lives on through his people, and it is through these people that God ushers in hope for a future.

Cast of Characters

Below is a table which lists the major characters in the book of Ruth, along with some minor, but significant characters. One of the things I love doing when reading Old Testament stories is to do a little research on the names of the characters. Hebrew names are full of meaning, and sometimes they can even shed some meaning on the story itself. I’ve given you the characters’ English names, their Hebrew equivalent, and their meanings.

CharacterName EtymologyName Meaning
Ruthרות
(rūt)
Friend, Friendship

Naomi


Mara
(After the death of
her husband and sons)
נעמי
(na’omi)

מרא
(mara’)
Pleasantness

Bitterness
Boazבעז
(bo’az)
“In strength”
Orpahערפה
(‘orpah)
“Back of the neck”
Obedעבד
(‘abad)
Servant

How to Read Ruth

Ruth is a narrative – and a very short one, at that. In my opinion, the best way to read it is straight through. It’ll take you about 20 minutes – 10 if you’re a quick reader. I recommend reading Ruth in an ESV Study Bible.

It’s important to understand what the book of Ruth is, and what it is not.

Even those who have never read Ruth may have heard one of its more famous passages recited during wedding ceremonies. They may even be familiar with its basic plot: a Moabite woman in need of a husband is redeemed through marriage by a man of Israel. However, despite the theme of marriage moving the plot of the story along, Ruth is not a love story and should not be read as such. To read it as a marriage textbook would be to miss out on the teaching point of the story: that God works through the everyday kindness of his people to bring about redemption.

Canonically, Ruth serves as a historical prologue to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. Spoiler alert: Israel’s long-awaited righteous king will eventually be appointed to rule, and though we don’t meet him in Ruth, this book is where his story begins.

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