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The Bible Story of Naomi and Ruth is Relevant Today

By Edited May 15, 2016 0 0


The story of Naomi and Ruth is one of the most beautiful stories in the bible.  It is told in the Hebrew Scriptures “The Book of Ruth,” Chapters 1-4.  The tale is paraphrased here to facilitate understanding, but contains actual conversational passages from the Scriptures.


Map of Israel, Judea, Moab

                                       Map Showing Israel, Judah, and Moab - Wikimedia


In the year 1100 B.C., there lived in Bethlehem a man named Elimelek, whose wife was called Naomi.  They had two sons named Mahlon and Chilion.  The family prospered greatly until a famine came upon the land.  It is believed that God’s chosen people had fallen into idolatry and immorality, causing God to allow no rain to fall on the parched earth for several years.

Elimelek had always made a good living by farming his land.  His family were accustomed to living well and having the esteem of their neighbors.  Naomi was a hard worker, making sure that Elimelek and their two boys were well fed and  well-behaved and helped their father with the work in the fields.

Naomi spent a great deal of time on her appearance since she did not regard herself as beautiful.  She made her own clothes from the richest fabrics that were available in Bethlehem.  Her humble demeanor allowed her to improve her observation skills and to make good judgments about their friends and acquaintances.  She was invaluable to her husband Elimelek who sought Naomi’s opinion when he was required to make business decisions.

Elimelek’s success was due to his willingness to work long hours at his farm and to continue to increase his knowledge of his crops and when to rotate them, the effects of weather, and the market for his wares during the harvest season.

Famine Strikes in Bethlehem

When the famine struck, Elimelek brought Naomi and his two sons together and informed them that they had to leave Bethlehem and settle in another land where they would prosper.  That land was Moab, named after the son of Lot who was born of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his oldest daughter.  The people of Moab were looked upon as pagans who were not favored by God.

“I am told,” said Elimelek, “that the land in Moab is fertile and the people are prospering.  It is just across the Dead Sea from us, so we must travel far, first up to the northern kingdom of Israel and down from there to Moab.  We will leave soon. There is nothing to keep us hear in Judea.”

The Trip to Moab

The trip was long and full of hardship but Elimelek and his family were received well in Moab and found a choice piece of land where they started life all over again.  Even though they lived in the midst of pagan people, the family kept faith with their allegiance to their God.

Elimelek Passes Away

When Elimelek became ill from the effects of the hazardous trip plus the hard work that was needed build up his new farm, Mahlon and Chilion took on additional chores to make life easier for their parents.  Despite their efforts, Elimelek passed away, leaving Naomi and her sons as strangers in a strange land.

Mahlon and Chilion Take Wives

Mahlon and Chilion made friends with the Moabites who were a peaceful people at that time.  As they grew older, they began to look for wives among their friends and acquaintances.  “I have found a wife,” said Mahlon.  “Her name is Ruth and she is beautiful.  We will marry even though she is a pagan and does not believe in Yahweh.  We will have many children, my mother, and you will want to be their nursemaid.”

Chilion also came to his mother with a similar story.  “Orpah is my choice.  We love each other, and all that is lacking is your blessing, dear mother.”  Naomi blessed her two sons and the family prospered together for the next ten years in the land of Moab.

Mahlon and Chilion are Killed

Nevertheless, tragedy struck again.  Mahlon and Chilion were killed in a freak accident with some faulty farm equipment.  They could not be saved.  Naomi was left alone without her two sons and her husband.  She mourned along with Ruth and Orpah, who looked to their mother-in-law for comfort. 

Naomi had never felt at home in Moab.  She longed for Judea and her old friends who shared her faith.  She heard a rumor that prosperity had returned to her homeland, and spoke to her daughters-in-law about moving back.  Ruth and Orpah both said they would go back to Judea with her, even though it meant that they would no longer be surrounded by their life-long friends.


Naomi, Ruth and Orpah Going to Bethlehem

                                                         Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah - Wikimedia                                                                                                                                   {{PD-US}}                           

Naomi Tells Ruth and Orpah to go back to Moab

While they were on the road back to Bethlehem, Naomi had a change of heart.  “Go back, my daughters.  Go back to your people and your god.  Find husbands in your own land who will take care of you.”  All three embraced and wept, but only Orpah turned back.  Ruth stayed with her mother-in-law, sobbing.

“I cannot turn my back on you,” she said.

                       “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.

                        Your people will be my people and your God my God.

                       Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.

                       May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely,

                       if even death separates you and me.” 

Ruth Stays with Naomi

In effect, Ruth was saying that she would embrace the Jewish religion, and she and Naomi continued their walk to Bethlehem by way of the northern kingdom of Israel and down from there to the kingdom of Judea. 

After several weeks of walking, Naomi and Ruth approached the edge of the town of Bethlehem.  An old acquaintance came up to Naomi and looked at her closely.  “Can this be Naomi?” she asked.  “I am no longer Naomi,” she said.  “Naomi means ‘pleasure.’ Call me Mara, which means ‘bitterness’ because the Almighty God has made my life bitter.  My husband and my two sons have died.  I am grateful, though, that my beautiful daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite chose to stay with me.  She has left her people and her god behind, and has accepted our God as the one true God.”

Ruth Becomes a Gleaner

It was Spring and the barley harvest was just beginning when Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem.  Naomi and Ruth had very little money and were hopeful that Naomi could sell Elimelek’s land in Bethlehem that they had left behind when they went to live in Moab.  In the meantime, they had no way to make a living.  Ruth said to her mother-in-law “I will go into the fields and pick up the leftover grain so that we will have something to eat.”  This practice is called gleaning.  Those who harvested the grain were obligated to leave some behind which could be retrieved by “gleaners,” poor women and children who used this method to feed their families.  Naomi said “Go, my daughter.  That is so kind of you to think of that.  It will only be for a short time.”


Ruth Meets Boaz

                                           Ruth Meets Boaz While Gleaning - Wikimedia

Ruth Meets Boaz

And so Ruth the Moabite went to a nearby field and began to glean behind the harvesters.  The field where she worked belonged to Boaz, who was a relative of Elimelek, although Ruth did not know that.  Soon the owner of the field, Boaz, came by to greet the harvesters.  “The Lord be with you,” he said.  “Who is that young women gleaning behind the harvesters?” he asked his overseer.

“She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from Moab.  She asked if she could glean behind the harvesters.  She has worked since early this morning except for a short rest at noon.”

Boaz approached Ruth and spoke to her kindly.  “My daughter, I do not want you to glean in any other field.  Stay with me and follow along after the women who work for me.  I have told the men not to lay a hand on you.  And whenever you are thirsty, get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”  Ruth was stunned and bowed down to the ground.  She asked “Why have I found favor with you.  Why do you notice me - a foreigner?”

Boaz Praises Ruth

Boaz replied “I heard all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since Elimelek died - how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live here with Naomi’s people whom you do not know.  May the Lord bless you.  May you be richly rewarded by our God, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Ruth spoke “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, Sir.  I will work only in your field as you have asked.  You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to me, although I do not have even the standing of one of your servants.”

When it was time to rest and to eat, Boaz said to Ruth “Come sit by me.  Have some of this good bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.  It will give you strength.”  Ruth sat down next to Boaz and he offered her some roasted grain which the harvesters had prepared.  She had her fill and there was still some left over.

When Ruth got up to begin gleaning again, Boaz said to his men “Let her gather as she pleases, and do not trouble her.  Pull out some stalks from your bundles and leave them for her to pick up.  Be kind to her.”

Ruth continued with her chores until evening, separating the barley seeds from the husks, and it amounted to one bushel.  She carried the load back to town to show her mother-in-law how much she had gathered.  She also gave Naomi what she had left over at mealtime after she had eaten enough.

Naomi then asked her daughter-in-law, “Where did you glean today?  Who is this man who took notice of you?”  Ruth answered her, “The man I worked for today is named Boaz.”



                                                           Ruth - Wikimedia {{PD-US)

Boaz is a Close Relative - A Guardian-Redeemer

Naomi was surprised.  She said “Boaz is our close relative through my husband.  He is one of our guardian-redeemers.  May God bless him for showing such kindness to you and to our family.”

A guardian-redeemer was a close relative to whom members of the extended family could turn for help in times of crisis.  He was responsible for buying back family land sold under pressure, and caring for relatives in difficult circumstances.

“He even said to me ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting the grain,’” explained Ruth.  Naomi answered her, “That is right, my daughter-in-law.  You should stay with the women who work for Boaz.  You could be harmed in someone else’s field.”

So Ruth did as her mother-in-law told her and stayed close to the women who worked for Boaz to glean until the harvesting was over.  She went back to her mother-in-law’s house each evening.

Naomi Has a Plan

Naomi worried that there would be no one to take care of Ruth when Naomi passed away.  She had a plan which she presented to Ruth.  “My daughter,” she said, “I must find a husband for you who can provide for you well.  I will not be here forever and I want to know that you will be well taken care of.  It seems to me from what you have told me that Boaz is a kind-hearted man who has taken an interest in you.  He is a relative of ours and I am sure he will look out for our best interests.  This is what I want you to do.”

“Tonight Boaz will be on the threshing floor winnowing barley.  Bathe yourself, put on perfume, and get dressed in the finest garment that you have and go down to the threshing floor.  Do not let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.  Notice where he goes to lie down.  When he is asleep, go there, take a place at his feet and lie down.  Then wait until he speaks to you.  He will tell you what to do.”

This ritual was a method of proposing marriage to the man who was their guardian-protector and had a legitimate claim to Ruth.  Ruth and Boaz were both highly virtuous people, and Ruth knew that Boaz would not take unfair advantage of the young girl.  Ruth said to Naomi, “I will do whatever you say.”  Then she went down to the threshing floor.

Ruth Does as Naomi had Instructed Her

Boaz was eating and drinking with his harvesters and they were all in good spirits.  He planned to stay for the night to guard his crops, so he took a place at the farthest end of the pile of grain.  When Ruth was certain that Boaz was asleep, she approached quietly, and lay down at his feet, as Naomi had instructed her.

After several hours, Boaz was startled by a noise and woke up.  He saw then that a woman was lying at his feet.  He asked “Who are you?” “I am your servant Ruth,” she answered.  “Spread the corner of your garment over me, as you know that you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”

Boaz is Flattered

Boaz was aware that Ruth was proposing marriage to him.  He was flattered because he was an elderly man and did not expect that a beautiful young woman such as Ruth would be interested in him. 

“May the God of Israel bless you, my daughter,” said Boaz.  I know that you are a kind and virtuous woman.  You have not run after the younger men.  I have noticed that.”

“Do not be afraid, my daughter.  The people of my town have observed that you are a woman of noble character.  I will do for you whatever you ask.  It is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, but there is one more closely related to you than I.  He has greater claim to you than I do.”

“But stay here for tonight, and in the morning I will speak to him.  If he wants to do his duty to you as guardian-redeemer, then it shall be.  But if he is not willing, I will gladly do it.  Now go back to sleep.  We will see about this in the morning.” 

Ruth stayed until early morning, but left before anyone was aware that she was there.  Boaz said, “No one will know that a woman came to the threshing floor.”  He thought to protect her reputation as well as his own.

Then Boaz poured into her shawl six measures of barley for her to take back to Naomi’s house so that they would have enough to eat.  He placed the bundle on her back, and he himself went back into town to find the other guardian-redeemer.

Ruth Tells Naomi All That Occurred

When Ruth returned to her mother-in-law’s house, Naomi asked her, “Tell me all about it, my daughter.”  Ruth told her everything that happened.  She then said “He gave me these six measures of barley, and told me ‘Don’t go back to Naomi’s house empty-handed.’”  Naomi said to Ruth, “We will wait and see what happens.  I am sure Boaz will not rest until the matter is settled today.”

Boaz went that day to the town gate and sat down with the men gathered there.    The man he was waiting for came along.  Boaz said to him, “Come over here and sit with me, my friend.”  The man came over to Boaz and sat down.

Boaz Makes an Offer to the Other Guardian-Redeemer

Boaz then asked ten of the elders to sit with them also as he wanted them as witnesses.  He said to his relative, the other guardian-redeemer, “Naomi wants to sell the piece of land that belonged to her husband Elimelek.  I thought I should bring this to your attention in the presence of these ten men who are seated here and also suggest that you buy it.  If you want to redeem it, you can do so.  But if you will not, tell me.  For no one has the right to redeem it except you, and I am next in line.”

The Other Guardian-Redeemer Refuses

“I will redeem it,” he said.  Then Boaz explained to him, “When you buy the land from Naomi, you will also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Naomi’s son Mahlon.  When he heard this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because that will endanger my own estate.  You redeem it, Boaz.  I cannot do it.”

The man understood that by marrying Ruth, his own estate would be divided amongst any children he had with Ruth.  Also, the first male child of their union would be considered the legal son of Mahlon and the grandson of Elimelek.  The land he redeemed would stay in Elimelek’s family and he would receive no financial compensation for taking care of Naomi and her daughter-in-law.

In Israel at that time, for the redemption and transfer of property to be legal as well as finalized, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other.  So the guardian-redeemer removed his sandal and gave it to Boaz.  “Buy the land yourself,” he said.

Boaz Announces His Proposed Marriage to Ruth

Then Boaz proudly announced to the elders and all the people standing around, “You are my witnesses today that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Mahlon, and Chilion.  I have also acquired Mahlon’s widow as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown.  Today you are my witnesses.”

This was an unselfish act on Boaz’ part, in contrast to the other guardian-redeemer who wanted to redeem the property but could not agree to the conditions that the redemption would impose.

The elders and all the people standing at the gate said, “We are your witnesses, Boaz.  May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel.  May you and she be famous in Bethlehem.  May your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”


Ruth, Naomi, and Obed

                                                  Ruth, Naomi, and Obed - Wikimedia

Boaz and Ruth Have a Son Named Obed

So Boaz and Ruth became man and wife.  Ruth conceived on their wedding night and gave birth to a son.  They named him Obed.  He was the father of Jesse, who was the father of David.

Naomi’s friends said to her “Your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth.”  Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and became his nurse.


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  1. "Old Testament - Ruth." Douay-Rhiems Catholic Bible RHE. 6/03/2016. 6/03/2016 <Web >

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