Summary: In this introduction we look at the background to the book itself, who the Moabites were and the concept of Levirite marriage, as well as looking at the fact that Ruth is in our Lord's genealogy
Introduction to Ruth
Story. Almost ten years ago, I decided to downsize.
Now when a rural Vicar talks of downsizing, he means reducing the number of parishes he has.
In my case it meant going from 15 parishes to five.
And this also meant moving house.
As we were taking our bedroom apart, I found 2 baskets underneath our bed.
One with three eggs in and the other with £50
So I asked Maddy my wife what the two baskets were about.
"Oh " she said " I must confess that every time you preach a bad sermon, I put an egg in the basket"
Secretly I was quite pleased - I thought” Not bad three bad sermons over three years”
But what is the £50 for in the other basket.
She gave me a sweet smile as all Vicar’s wives do to their husband and said
"Well every time I got a dozen, I sold them!"
Hopefully this won’t be an egg sermon!
I have been asked to prepare the background to the Book of Ruth and so I would like to start by introducing the book of Ruth to you with Acts 1:8
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem: and in all Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth”
May I ask you to hold that verse and I plan to come back to it at the end
Ruth is more than a beautiful love story.
You can go to Israel and see the Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem where they remember Ruth and Boaz.
But I think we need to look a bit at the background to the story.
1. When did Ruth take place
Moses has led the Children of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land – Canaan.
He dies before they enter the land and it is left to Joshua to take the land.
Joshua is a fine military commander and he takes the children of Israel into the Promised land, winning battle after battle.
After entering the land of Canaan and dividing up the land among the tribes, Joshua gathers the Israelites together and speaks the words of Yahweh's covenant to the people (see Josh. 24).
In his address he rehearses all that God had done for his people. Beginning with Abraham through the exodus from Egypt, to the conquest of the land of Canaan.
Joshua reminds the people of Israel that it was Yahweh who did all of these things for them.
Joshua then challenges the people to serve Yahweh alone, to which the people respond:
"The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey" (Josh. 24:24 NRSV).
At the outset of the book we are told that the events that took place in the book of Ruth took place in the
300-year rule of the Judges
And this period is best summed up by the last verse of the book of Judges that reads like this
In those days Israel had no king: everyone did what he saw fit (Judges 21:25)
Some scholars have dated the book at 1322 -1312BC, which gives you a rough date of about 3,500 years ago
I came across this Jewish commentary on the setting of Ruth and I think it is worth reading
"And it was in the days of the judging of the judges" (Ruth 1:1).
The simply meaning of this is, "When the judges judged."
However, the Sages interpret this homiletically as, "The people judged their judges!"
The 300-plus years of the Jewish Judges in Israel (before the reign of the Kings) was unique in the history of mankind.
A judge was appointed by popular consent (not elected) and he decided private and public affairs, as well as setting national policy.
However, he had no means to enforce his decisions.
He had no police force or army (which was purely voluntary when required for war) to carry out his orders.
The entire nation ran on the "honour system" for over 300 years!
Although in the Book of Judges, we find two national calamities that are attributed to the fact that "there was no king in Israel," implying that a monarch with power might have prevented those events, all in all, two events in 300-plus years is a pretty good track record.
What would happen in New York City in one day without a police force? (or even with a police force!)" (Rabbi Avigdor Miller)
It seems to me that these two calamities were:
1. The Israelites do not fully conquer the land and destroy the Canaanites, which include the Moabites
2. They do not worship YHWH consistently but often introduce false gods
The story of Ruth begins with a famine
Again my Jewish commentator says this. It is a long passage but I think it is worth reading as we can see the background from a Jewish perspective