The story of Ruth occurs “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). It is not, strictly speaking, in chronological order. Indeed, from here on out, you may wish to consult the Old Testament chronology in the Bible Dictionary if you wish to see the historical connectedness of the various stories.
What do Naomi, Ruth, and Hannah have in common? Why is it appropriate that this lesson is about these three women?
The story of Ruth is completely different than any of the stories we have read so far. God is only mentioned obliquely and plays no intervening role in the story, nor do any of his prophets or judges. It is not about a struggle between the forces of good and evil. It is a simple love story of sorts about common people, living common lives. They are not the heroic (or anti-heroic) individuals we have seen so far in the Old Testament. Why is this book scripture? How do we see Jesus Christ in it?
Ruth is short enough to read be aloud in one sitting. Try doing so, preferably with someone else, perhaps your spouse or children, or a good friend. Try reading for the full impact of the story. If you are the reader, you may even want to practice once or twice before you read it aloud for someone else. But as you read, don’t stop here and there to discuss what this or that might mean. After you’ve read the whole thing aloud, discuss it. See whether the experience of reading it aloud and hearing it read aloud doesn’t give you a feel for the story as a whole that you might otherwise miss.
As mentioned, in one sense—in the sense that he doesn’t explicitly appear in the story—the Lord isn’t part of this story except as a kind of shadow. References to him appear in chapter 1, verses 6, 8, 9, 13, 16, 17, and 21; in chapter 2, verses 4, 12, and 20; in chapter 3, verses 10 and 13; and in chapter 4, verses 11, 12, 13, and 14; but none of these references are references to his commandment or revelation or expectation. Instead, with only a couple of exceptions in chapter 1, the references are all either to the Lord’s blessing or they use his name as part of a covenant.
In another sense, however, the story is about nothing but the Lord. One way to understand the story of Ruth is to see it as a story that exemplifies the ways in which human beings can imitate the Lord. This is most obvious by the way in which covenant and blessing are at the very heart of the story. We see a covenant between Ruth and Naomi, a covenant that goes beyond the clearly righteous behavior of Orpah. We see Boaz called on to fulfill his covenant obligation. But we also see blessing in each of these things, the way in which each person goes beyond the minimum requirements of covenant.
Here are some things to think about after you’ve read the story aloud or heard it read aloud:
In chapter 1, Naomi complains against the Lord. Is her complaint a sinful act? Compare Moses’s complaint in Numbers 11 or Job’s complaints against the Lord or Doctrine and Covenants 121:1-6. When is it sinful to complain (as Israel did in Numbers 11)? When is it not sinful to complain? How does the rest of the book of Ruth answer Naomi’s complaint? Does the Lord tell her not to worry and make everything as it was? How does he take care of her complaint? What might these things have to say to us?
How is the covenant that Ruth makes with Naomi like the covenant Israel has made with the Lord? How is it like any covenant with the Lord? How does the covenant Israel has made with the Lord become a blessing to Ruth and Naomi through Boaz? What covenant is Boaz fulfilling?
How is it fitting that this story be the story of King David’s ancestors and, therefore, the story of the Savior’s ancestors? In the genealogy given for Jesus in Matthew, only five women are named, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. (Notice that two of these women are not Israelite by birth.) Why is Ruth one of those mentioned? What do these women have in common? So what?
One of the most important words of this book is the Hebrew word esed. The word appears in Ruth 1:8, 2:20, and 3:10. It is variously translated as “kindness,” “kind dealings,” and so on. It can also mean “beauty,” “favor,” “good deeds,” “mercy,” and “pity.” Its connotation is that something goes beyond what is expected or required.
In Ruth 1:8, Naomi prays that the Lord will deal kindly with Orpah and Ruth, and the rest of the story shows us how that prayer is fulfilled, not through a direct intervention by the Lord, but by the kind dealings of Boaz (2:20) and those of Ruth (3:10). How do Ruth and Boaz go beyond what is required? How do they deal kindly with one another? How does the Lord go beyond what is required through them? How is that an example of his kind dealings? Does this help us better understand grace?
Compare this story of a woman whose husband has died with that of Tamar (Genesis 38).
Verse 1: Why did Elimelech and Naomi settle in Moab, and what is unusual about that?
Verse 2: “Ephrath” is the ancient name for Bethlehem. (See Genesis 35:19.) Why is that important?
Verses 4-7: How does the writer gradually let us see Ruth’s character in these verses?
Verse 4: Why would Elimelech’s sons marry Moabite women, when it was prohibited by Israelite law? Or was it? What about Moses?
Verse 6: What took Naomi back to Bethlehem after her ten-year sojourn in Moab?
Verse 11: Why does Naomi tell her daughters-in-law, when they want to go back with her, that she has no more sons in her womb? For a possible explanation of this see Deuteronomy 25: 5-6.
Verse 13: What does Naomi mean when she says “the hand of the Lord is gone out against me”? (Note that she repeats this in verses 20-21.)
Verse 19: Why do her friends in Bethlehem question her identity?
Verse 22: Given the previous several verses, do you think it is more likely that at this point Naomi thought of Ruth as an asset or more of a burden?
Verse 1: Note the meaning of Boaz’s name in the footnote. Does his name tell us anything about the story? Does it suggest anything about him?
Verse 2: What was the law of the harvest among the Israelites regarding gleaning (Leviticus 19: 9-10; Deuteronomy 24: 19, 22)? What seems to have prompted this law? Why would it be Ruth rather than Naomi who suggests she go glean in the field? How would Ruth, a Gentile, know of this law? Is there anything comparable to gleaning in our lives?
Verses 11-12: Ostensibly, why did Boaz favor Ruth?
Verse 14: Might there have been more to the situation than Boaz said?
Verses 15-16: What special instruction does he give his workmen regarding Ruth?
Verse 17: How much did Ruth glean? How much is that in terms that we understand?
Verses 19-20: Why is Naomi excited that Ruth has been in Boaz’s field? Notice the significance of “next kinsmen” in footnote 20b.
Verses 21, 22-23: These verses speak of “young men” and of “his maidens.” What does that tell us about the harvesting process in ancient Israel?
Verse 1: What does the term “seek rest for thee” imply? How can marriage be called a rest?
Verse 4: The term “uncover his feet” is obscure and scholars are not universally agreed concerning its meaning. Some have suggested that this is merely a euphemism for seduction. How would you use the text itself to argue against that suggestion?
Verses 8-11: What was Boaz’s reaction to finding Ruth at his feet? How did Boaz know that Ruth was not a “loose woman”? What is Ruth’s reputation among the people of Bethlehem?
Verses 12-14: What is all the business about “the kinsman’s part” that Boaz keeps referring to? (Though this story seems to come from an earlier time, see Deuteronomy 25: 5-10 for related customs and laws.)
Verse 16: Why does Naomi ask Ruth “Who art thou, my daughter?”
Verses 1-12: The kinsman has a problem. If he redeems Elimelech’s property, which he has not only the right, but a certain amount of obligation to do, then he will end up with a piece of property that he will have to turn over to Naomi’s sons should they return since it is their inheritance. So, if he buys the property, he ends up with an additional wife, but perhaps without any additional property. In addition, that wife may produce more sons, requiring him to split his inheritance further than he must now split it. So, when he backs out, Boaz is next in line to marry Ruth, which he does.
Notice that with the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, the blood lines of Abraham and Lot come together.
Verse 8: It is unclear why the kinsman took off his shoe, but it may have something to do with the idea that only the owner of a piece of property has the right to put his foot on it. By handing the shoe to Boaz, he renounced all rights to it.
Verses 14 and 17: According to the law, how is Naomi involved in the heritage that results from the union of Ruth and Boaz?
Verse 17: Why do they say that a son is born to Naomi rather than to Ruth? Why is Naomi given precedence over Ruth in the story? What important Israelite is born to this family? What relationship is Ruth to King David? What future king will be born to this lineage (Matthew 1: 5)?
1 Samuel 1
Verse 1: Why is Samuel’s genealogy important? What is unusual about the lineage and place of abode of Elkanah? Hint: what does the fact that he is from mount Ephraim tell us about his genealogy? What does the fact that he is descended from an Ephrathite tell us? Why would one not normally find these two together? Note that it seems possible that a person from one tribe may live in the territory of another. This may help to explain why, in the Book of Mormon, Lehi—who is from Manasseh, is living in Jerusalem, which is in the land of the tribe of Judah.
Verse 2: Does this verse give us any clue as to why Elkanah has two wives?
Verses 2 and 5: What group that we have met before does Hannah belong to?
Verses 3-6: Where before have we seen a relation like this between two wives? Why is it such a terrible thing for Hannah to have no son? What does it mean to say that Elkanah gave Hannah “a worthy portion”? Why might he give Hannah a measure that was significantly different from that he gave to Peninnah and her sons?
Verse 3: A medieval Jewish rabbi (Yalkut) said of verse 3 that it teaches us that prayer is more important than sacrifice because the verse says that Elkanah went up “to worship and to sacrifice” rather than “to sacrifice and to worship.” Even if you don’t agree with this interpretation of the verse, what do you think of the idea? Might prayer (worship) be more important than sacrifice? If so, how so? What counts as worship? What counts as sacrifice?
Verses 4 and 7: How is the relationship between Hannah and Peninnah like that of Sarah and Hagar, of Rachel and Leah? What might lead to this type of jealousy?
Verses 7-8: What do we see here of Elkanah’s relation with Hannah?
Verse 8: What does Elkanah mean when he says “Am I not better to thee than ten sons?”
Verses 9-18: Hannah promises that she will give her son for temple service. But since he was the first-born son in a Levite family, he was already obligated for that service. So what is Hannah promising more than would happen anyway? In verse eleven, there is an indication that she is pledging her son as a Nazarite (also spelled “Nazirite”). Read about the Nazarite vow in your Bible dictionary and in the references mentioned there. You might also want to look in a larger Bible dictionary. It might be fruitful to compare the story of Samuel with the story of another Nazarite, Samson. In fact, that comparison may be part of the reason that the story of Samson is included in the Bible.
Verse 9: Why do you think that the priest at the temple sat by the door post, in other words at the entrance? What might that have signified?
Verse 11: Whose example is Hannah following? (See Judges 13: 1-5.)
Verses 12-14: Why does Eli lecture her on drunkenness?
Verse 16: Note the term “daughter of Belial.” We will see it (and “sons of Belial”) often in the Old Testament. See footnote 16b.
Verse 17: What blessing does Eli give Hannah?
Verse 20: How is Hannah’s prayer fulfilled? Why does she name her son “Samuel,” in other words, “name of God”?
Verses 21-24: How long does Samuel stay with his parents? How does his experience differ from Samson’s, who was also a Nazarite? What does the fact that Hannah is willing to give up her only son tell us about her? How is she a type of the prototype of God?
Verse 23: What is Elkanah saying when he says, “Only the Lord establish his word”?
Verses 24-25: Why does Hannah take three bullocks and sacrifice only one?
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