Dr. Joe Temple


We are going to begin the study of the book of Ruth. The book of Ruth is a very brief book of four chapters. That means that we will not be spending a great deal of time on the book because there isn't that much of it, but we will be thinking together about some truths that I believe will be of real interest to us.

I would like to begin our discussion by calling to your attention what I think is at least an observation. I always think about this when we have any kind of discussion related to the book of Ruth. There are only three books in the Bible with women as central figures. Those three books are Esther, Ruth, and the second epistle of John, which is addressed to the elect lady. Many times attention is called to the fact that there are two books in the Bible which have for their names the names of women–Ruth and Esther. That is true, but I always like to emphasize that there is the other book of II John, which has the one to whom the book is addressed, the elect lady. Who that lady was, no one knows. There has been a number of observations made as to whom she might have been, but there is no definite evidence as to who she was.

Related to Preservation

I have suggested that these three books are related to the subject of preservation, and I am personally of the opinion that this is one of the reasons they are included in the canon of Scripture. Ruth, I believe, is included in the canon of Scripture that the Messianic line might be preserved, because if we did not have the record of the genealogy which we have in the book of Ruth, then there would be no way to trace the Lord Jesus Christ and His lineage to David. He was introduced, you will recall, to the world as the Son of David.

Esther, I believe, is included in the canon of Scripture to tell the story of the preservation of the chosen nation. You will remember that the king was going to block out the nation of Israel through the duplicity of Haman. An order was given to slay all of the Jewish people throughout the Persian empire and Esther, the Jewess, marrying a Gentile king, was used of God to preserve the Jewish nation.

The “elect lady” in the second epistle of John is included in the Scripture that the preservation of the doctrine of Christ might be amplified. You will remember that in the second epistle of John, we are told what the basis of all Christian fellowship ought to be. The basis of all fellowship ought to be the doctrine of Christ. Some of us make the basis of fellowship associations; some of us make the basis of fellowship baptism; some of us make the basis of fellowship a certain kind of clothing, and we could go on indefinitely talking about what the basis of fellowship is in the minds of a great many people. The Scripture emphasizes that the basis of Christian fellowship is the doctrine of Christ. If any man comes to you bearing not this doctrine, receive him not into your house nor bid him “Godspeed.” If you read there in the second epistle of John what is recorded, you know that the doctrine of Christ is the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus, the Lord Jesus Christ come in the flesh.

The Canon of Scripture

Having made that observation for whatever it is worth, I would like for us in this introductory lesson, because I think it is important to keep some of these introductory facts in mind, to recognize the place where the book of Ruth happened in the canon of Scripture. When I am using the phrase, “the place in the canon,” you will understand the meaning of the word “canon”. The canon was a test to which all of the books which people thought were sacred books were subjected. “Canon” really means “test”. If the books passed the test, then they were included in the Word of God. There are some sacred books that are known as the “Apocrypha”. They are included in some large family Bibles. They are included in what we used to refer to as “pulpit Bibles”. Some of the newer versions like the RSV, the New English Bible, contain the Apocrypha in them. The Apocrypha consists of a number of books which do not pass the canon of Scripture. In addition to the fact that the books of the Bible passed the canon of Scripture, their arrangement in the Bible, I believe, is according to the canon of Scripture. You will see what I mean in a few moments.

Let me say this so we won't misunderstand one another. We are not suggesting to you that the canon of Scripture is inspired. This is a manmade test. Just as certainly as God has watched over the preservation of His nation, Israel, I believe He has watched over the preservation of His Word. I believe that God has ordained that which is the canon of Scripture so that we can be absolutely sure that the Bible that we hold in our hands is the Word of the living God. The arrangement of the books, then, I believe, has been suggested by the Spirit of God to the men who made up the canon of Scripture.

Time Period of the Book

As we begin our study of the book of Ruth, I think it is important for us to recognize that it is an appendix to the book of Judges. As a matter of fact, in the Hebrew Bible, it is arranged as part of the book of Judges. The reason for that is what you find in the first phrase of the first verse, “it came to pass,” when the Judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. This sets immediately the time for the story as found in the book of Judges, a time about which we will have a bit more to say a little later. You can see from this first statement why it would be considered an appendix to the book of Judges because it is additional information for that which you find within the book of Judges itself.

Importance of the Genealogical Record

Another thing to be recognized is that it is a connecting link between the Judges, which was a form of government, and the king, which began with Saul–more properly with David, who was God's first choice as king. Even though Saul was anointed as king, you will remember that God's first choice was David. If you are familiar with the Scripture, you will recognize that the connecting link between the period of the judges and the period of the monarchy is the book of Ruth because of what you find in verses 21 and 22 of chapter 4. There you read:

Ruth 4

21And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed,
22And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.

This genealogical record, with which the book of Ruth closes, makes a connecting link between the period of the judges and the period of the monarchy.

The third thing that we should emphasize in relation to the place which Ruth has in the canon of the Scripture, I have touched upon lightly and I want to amplify now, is what I refer to as a “genealogical reference”. There would be no historical reference upon which the genealogy which traced the Lord Jesus Christ to David and thus proved that He was the Son of David as well as the Son of Abraham. There is no genealogical record which permits this except this genealogical record which you find in the book of Ruth.

It might be wise for us to take just a few minutes to turn to the Gospel of Matthew and notice the genealogical record which is presented in the first chapter that you might understand the importance of what I am suggesting to you. Notice Matthew, chapter 1, verse 1:

Matthew 1

1The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
3And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
4And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon;
5And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse;
6And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias;

Luke follows the same procedure, including in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ the mention of Ruth, thus relating Jesus Christ to David and declaring Him to be what the prophecy said He must be: the Son of David. Some people feel so strongly about what I have suggested to you that they think the only reason for the inclusion of the book of Ruth in the Bible is to provide this genealogical record that Ruth might be the transition point between the Lord Jesus Christ and David. If we want to speak hypothetically, it is conceivable that if there were not a woman by the name of Ruth, the line would have broken down and Jesus Christ could not have been emphasized as He is prophetically presented as Jesus Christ, the Son of David.

Four Illustrations of God's Grace

I don't know whether you noticed or not when we were noticing that genealogical line in Matthew four illustrations of the grace of God. If you were humanly writing the lineage of a king, you would be very careful not to mention any black sheep in the family; but in this genealogy, four women are named, and all four of them are symbols of what God's grace can actually do. For example, here is Ruth who was a Moabitess, and according to the Scripture, could not come into the congregation of the Lord until the fourth generation, yet the grace of God opened the door for her entrance. Here was Rahab who many people consider to be a harlot–Rahab, the one who believed the twelve spies when they came into the land of Israel. Here she is an ancestress of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then there is Tharam, who was a prostitute, or at least who acted the part of a prostitute in seducing Judah. Here she is in the genealogical line of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then of course there is Bathsheba, the wife of Urias. You well know the story of adultery involved in that. Only God's grace could provide for the mention of the individuals such as these. All of us ought to be grateful for that grace because it is the only reason any of us are related to the family of God.

The Meaning of the Name

As we continue our discussion in introductory fashion concerning the book of Ruth, it is important for us to know something about the name. Of course you are apt to say almost immediately, “Well, of course, it's Ruth.” That is true, but the word “Ruth” comes from the Hebrew word rayah , which is translated in a variety of ways. It is translated by the words “friend,” “associate,” and “companion.” Of course this is exactly what she was to Naomi, her mother-in-law–a friend, associate, and companion. The word “Ruth” also involves the idea of compassion. It involves the idea of pity, and certainly Ruth was to know something of the compassion of Boaz, the pity of Boaz, and thus be able to offer this same compassion and pity to those about her.

The Author of the Book

Who is the author of the book of Ruth? Well, I wish I could speak with authority and tell you that I know who the author of the book of Ruth is, but I have to say to you on the authority of the material available that the author of the book of Ruth is unknown. There are a great many people who feel that Samuel was the author, and it could very possibly be true from internal evidence within the book of Ruth. As we have suggested to you many times, it really doesn't matter who the human author of any one particular book is because the author of all of the Word of God, we believe, is the Holy Spirit Himself. He is the author and the human instrumentality really does not matter, does it?

Time of the Writing of the Book

Another question that we would like to settle in our mind when we are studying any book in the Bible is the approximate time, if we can discover it, that the book was written. The date of the writing of the book helps us in our understanding and interpretation of the book.

The first thing that I would like to suggest to you is that it was written quite some time after the story, quite some time after the events which are recorded in the book. One of the reasons that I say that to you is found in chapter 4, the paragraph which begins with verse 6:

Ruth 4

6And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem thou my right to thyself; for I cannot redeem it.
7Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.

If you are thinking, what you are reading is that sometime in the past, the author of the book is saying, “Way back yonder in days gone by, this was a custom. It is not a custom any more.” Sometimes we parents have a habit of saying to our children, “Now, when I was a boy, they did thus and so.” Whoever wrote the book of Ruth was saying, “When this story actually occurred, they had a rather strange custom, the guarantee of a pledge.” That custom was to remove the shoe from off the foot and give it to the neighbor as an indication that the pledge was going to be kept. This would indicate that the book of Ruth was not written when the events actually occurred but sometime after the dates recorded in the book itself.

Another suggestion about the date is that it was written probably in the time of David and before the time of Solomon. My reason for that observation is found in the two passages of Scripture at which we have already looked. The genealogy found in chapter 4 of the book of Ruth takes you up to David. This would suggest that it must have been written in the time of David because it could not have been written much before that time. It suggests that it was not written after the time of David because no mention is made of Solomon, the son of David.

You may be wondering exactly why it is important for us to know when the book was written. The answer is found, as we shall see in our study, in the forthcoming explanation of phrases and customs to which reference was made. The only way we can discover what the real meaning of those references and customs are is to examine them in the light of the time that the story actually was written as well as the time the story actually occurred. I don't think that needs any amplification. You are able to understand that for yourself.

Background of the Book

I think it would be good for us in this introductory study to have a word about the background of the book, and again we call to your attention the subject of time. This time we call to your attention the time that the story that is recorded in the book of Ruth actually occurred. In a general fashion, the answer will be found in the first verse of the book of Ruth, chapter 1:

Ruth 1

1Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.

Notice the first statement, “…it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled…” We already touched upon the thought that the book has its setting in the days of the judges, but more specifically we would say that the story of the book of Ruth might be pinpointed within the reign of a certain judge. If you will turn back to chapter 6 of the book of Judges, you will have a description of the time when the book of Ruth actually occurred. Remember in Ruth, chapter 1, verse 1, it was pointed out that it occurred not only in the time of the judges, but when there was a famine in the time of judges. In chapter 6 of the book of Judges, verse 1, we read:

Judges 6

1And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD: and the LORD delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.
2And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel: and because of the Midianites the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and caves, and strong holds.
3And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east, even they came up against them;
4And they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.
5For they came up with their cattle and their tents, and they came as grasshoppers for multitude; for both they and their camels were without number: and they entered into the land to destroy it.
6And Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites; and the children of Israel cried unto the LORD.

I believe it was during this famine in the days of Gideon that Naomi and her family went into the land of Moab, there met Ruth, and the plot for the story was laid. Though the little book of Ruth is told in four chapters, the story took about ten years to be completed from the time that the family of Elimelech went into the land of Moab until the time that Ruth became the wife of Boaz and her child was born.

The Setting of the Story

In relation to the background of the book, there are two places which are important. One of them is Moab. The origin of Moab is found in chapter 19 of the book of Genesis, verse 37. We will not take the time to go back and read it. You will recall that Lot and his two daughters escaped from the city of Sodom, and they felt that they were the only people on the earth, not understanding that the judgment fell only on the cities of the plains. The daughters of Lot caused their father to become drunken. They lay with him and the offspring of these two girls and their father were named Moab and Ammon. From those two children grew the races the Moabites and the Ammonites. We are interested in the moment in Moab. The word “Moab” means “from her father.” Moab bore in his name the blot of this incestuous relationship for all of his life.

There was a period of time recorded in the book of Judges when Eglon, the king of the Moabites, kept the Israelites subject for eighteen years, but now they were on friendly terms. In the days of Gideon, when famine occurred in the land of Israel, the family of Elimelech went down to Moab expecting to find bread. The interesting thing is in order to go down to Moab, they had to leave Bethlehem; and Bethlehem is translated by the phrase, “the house of bread.” They left “the house of bread” and went down into Moab, lost everything they had and did not begin to have any of it returned until they came back to the place of God's appointment, “the house of bread.”

I think it would be wise for us to keep in mind what is recorded in Psalm 37. Turn there, please, in order to understand the sad things that happened to Elimelech when they left Bethlehem, “the house of bread”, and went down into Moab. In Psalm 37, David speaks to the children of Israel at a later date and says:

Psalms 37

1Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.
2For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.
3Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
4Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
5Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.

Let us pause right there. These verses, as you well know from our mention of them and perhaps because you have learned this by personal experience, are verses that have proved to be a tremendous blessing to the believers of all ages. It is true that believers do not need to fret themselves because of evildoers. It is true that if we trust the Lord, the Lord will meet our needs. It is true that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts. And it is true that if we commit our way unto the Lord, if we trust in Him, He will bring it to pass. Rest on these promises. If you haven't learned to claim them, claim them, because they are a tremendous lesson.

The Place of God's Appointment

I called your attention to them to emphasize why Elimelech and his family never should have left “the house of bread,” Bethlehem. Notice verse 3, please:

Psalms 37

3Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.

This is a promise to the nation of Israel first and foremost. Notice the word “so” is in italics, which means it is not in the original text. It is one word added that takes away from the emphasis that is in the original text because you have in this third verse what amounts to two commands. One of them is, “Trust in the LORD, and do good.” That is God's word to Israel. The other command was, “Dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.” The moment that Elimelech left Israel, that moment he was out of fellowship with God. Nothing good could come of it.

Some very practical person might say, “Wasn't there a famine in the land?” Yes, there was. “What was he supposed to do? Starve to death?” No, he was supposed to follow the injunction in the verse: “Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.” The Israelite in the land is where God wanted him to be. When famine came, he could say to God, “God, I am here where you have placed me. You feed me, please.” God could be expected to discharge His obligation, because when you are in the place of God's appointment, then God assumes all of the responsibility for expenses related to your sojourn there. When they left to go to the land of Moab, they were ready to foot their own bill, or perhaps I should say that they would have been ready to foot their own bill because God would not pay and does not pay and will not pay any bills that He does not contract.

The Cast of Characters

I want to suggest that we notice who the characters are because this is what I would like for you to do while we are studying the book of Ruth. Read it through every day if you can. Certainly if you can't every day, just as often as you can because actually it takes a very slow reader only twenty minutes to read the book of Ruth. The more you read it, the more it is going to get hold of you. The more the book of Ruth gets hold of you, the more the things that the Spirit of God brings to our mind to point out to you, you will be able to receive. So you won't be entering a totally strange territory, I would like for you to keep in mind the characters.

The first character that we call to your attention is the husband of Naomi. His name was Elimelech, and his name means “God is king.” That indicates the kind of man he was. He was a man who had made God the Lord of his life. Isn't it interesting that sometimes the individuals who have the greatest testimony–listen carefully to what I am saying–succumb under pressure first. Sometimes we think the individual who has the greatest testimony, as we would think of it, could stand the real test; but here was Elimelech who publicly said, “God is my King, and I make no apology for that.” When the real testing time came, he melted. I say that because sometimes individuals are discouraged about their relationship to the Lord and they think they are the only one who fails. Some of the greatest characters in the Word of God have failed.

Naomi was the wife of Elimelech. “Naomi” means “pleasant.” She was exactly that. When you read the book of Ruth, you are going to read how when Naomi returned home all of her friends said, “Well, this is Naomi, isn't it? We hardly know her, but this is she, the pleasant one.” She said, “Don't call me 'Naomi' any more. Call me 'Mara' because things are not pleasant any more. Things are bitter.” There again there is an interesting observation. Oftentimes folk who live very pleasant lives in the center of God's will will know what the bitterness of experience out of fellowship can be.

Another character in the story was the eldest son of Elimelech and Naomi, Mahlon. “Mahlon” means “sickly”, and we don't know what this means unless perhaps the child was a sickly child and lived a delicate life for all of his childhood and young adulthood even up until the time he married.

Chilion was the other boy, for they only had two children, and his name means “pining.” This would indicate that he was not in the best health, too. It is interesting to notice that two of the children in this family are not well. When these two boys grew up in the land of Moab, they married two girls. One girl's name was Ruth, whom we have already noticed, and the other central character to her was Boaz.

“Boaz” is a Hebrew word of uncertain derivation, and we do not know the meaning of it. There is no lexicon which provides the meaning of it. The only thing that we do know is that Boaz was a name that was given to one of the pillars in the temple of Solomon at a later date. For that reason, folk who trace the derivation of names feel that perhaps Boaz and certainly his character in the story proves he was a strong and mighty man of God.

Obed was the son that was born to Boaz and Ruth. His name means “serving” and this of course is an indication of the way the child was reared.

The Plot of the Story

The plot of the story is a very simple one. I think that the best way that we can portray the plot for you is to follow the chapter divisions in the book of Ruth, for there is no better outline of the book than what you find in the chapter division. Sometimes this is true with the books we study in the Bible. Sometimes it isn't true as we pointed out to you, but in this particular instance, it is. Let's build the plot around Ruth and say the first chapter deals with Ruth returning home because she had adopted Bethlehem, “the house of bread”, as her home. She could have only done this because of the testimony that was presented by Naomi.

Elimelech died, Mahlon died, Chilion died, and only Naomi was left. In the midst of all of her sorrow, Naomi said, “I want to go home. I want to go where I ought to have been in the first place.” Ruth said, “I want to go with you.” The whole story is built around Ruth and Naomi is mentioned only incidentally. We say the plot is built around, first, Ruth returning home. The second chapter is Ruth reaping in the fields of Boaz. The third chapter is Ruth resting at the feet of Boaz. The fourth chapter is Ruth rewarded in her marriage with Boaz.

If you don't object to marking in your Bibles as you go along, it might be helpful for you to write these headings there at the top of your Bibles and then you will remember them as you read: Chapter 1, “Ruth Returning Home;” chapter 2, “Ruth Reaping;” chapter 3, “Ruth Resting;” chapter 4, “Ruth Rewarded.”

Method of Study

There is one other thing that I would like to discuss with you very briefly relative to our introductory remarks to the book of Ruth, and that is the manner that we are going to study the book of Ruth, the approach that we are going to take to the book of Ruth in our study. This will explain why we will be calling to your attention different things at different times.

The first approach that we are going to take will be one of analogy. Analogy is the process of making a personal application of truth that you find in Scripture. For example, there is an analogy here between Elimelech, as I have already touched upon, and the Christian of today who is out of fellowship with God. There will be, as we shall see, an analogy between Naomi and the Christian who returns to fellowship with God. There will be an analogy between Ruth and the individual who had nothing but received everything. Many personal applications are in the book of Ruth, and as we make these analogies, I hope they will be a source of growth in your Christian experience.

Another approach that we are going to take is one that is described by the word “soteriology.” This is not a word that we use every day. It is familiar to theologians. It simply means “the doctrine of redemption” or “the study of redemption.” “Ology”, the last part of the word means “study,” and “soteri” means “salvation” or “redemption”. So we are going to study the doctrine of redemption as it is revealed here in the book of Ruth. If we had only one book in the Bible from which we could glean the truth concerning the doctrine of redemption, the book of Ruth would be sufficient material for us to present such a study.

The third approach that we are going to take is the approach that is described in the word “eschatology”, which simply translated is “the study of last things.” Perhaps more familiar to you is the study of prophecy. There is one of the most interesting prophetic studies here in the book of Ruth that you will find anywhere in the Word of God, because the book of Ruth contains the study of God's plan for Israel in the last days–God's plan for Israel not as she has been in the days of Judges when the book of Ruth actually was written, but as God has plans for Israel in the future, even in our day and beyond our day.

As we make this threefold approach to the book of Ruth, we will find ourselves intrigued as I have been anew and afresh. I don't know how many times I have taught the book of Ruth, but I never keep outlines as such. The only exception to that are the lessons that have been put in print by the printed page committee. I never keep outlines as such; I always dispose of them when I finish the study of some book because I want to, if nothing else, be forced into restudy whenever we teach a book in the Word of God so that the things that come to us will be fresh and we'll be able to give you not something stale, but something fresh from the heart of God. My heart has been warmed in a very real way as I have been preparing these studies in the book of Ruth. I think your hearts will be thrilled as well.


Father, we ask that Thou will take these introductory remarks to the book of Ruth and make them realistic so that as we read and reread this book, we will be able to glean more and more from it. Grant, our Father, that these periods of time will be times of real refreshing from the Lord as You speak to us in a very real way. For we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

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