Sunday School Lesson #20

Lesson 20: Ruth; 1 Samuel 1

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 as husband and wife or as a family. 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. But see if 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?

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).

Ruth 1

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 t his point Naomi thought of Ruth as an asset or more of a burden?

Ruth 2

Verse 1: Note the meaning of Boaz’s name in footnote 1a. 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 Israelis 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?

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?

Ruth 3

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?”

Ruth 4

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. That wife, however, 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 clues as to why Elkanah has two wives?

Verses 2 and 5: What group that we have met before does Hannah belong to?

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?

Veses 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?

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 to 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?

16 comments for “Sunday School Lesson #20

  1. Jenny
    May 27, 2006 at 11:32 pm

    I realize this comment is quite late, but my ward’s a week behind, and I’m running behind as well…. First, thank you for your questions–as always, they encourage me to think through the scriptures rather than read over them. Your suggestion to read Ruth aloud foregrounded the poetic prose, as well as the highly structured nature of the text. Given the emphasis on structure, it was interesting to note the central question: “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?” Pondering the motif of rest/home/redemption throughout the text (the redemption of the land from famine, the redemption of the body through seed) to me has been very fruitful (no pun intended).

    Also, I think the story of Ruth contains some interesting connections with the story of Sarah in terms of their treatment of faith. While Abraham might appear to be the more obvious connection when talking about faith, Abraham had the promise of the Lord that Isaac would have seed (Gen. 17:19) behind all his actions, and Ruth did not. I wonder if Ruth’s faith here is somehow related to the silence of Sarah as she watches her husband and only child leave for a sacrifice (my own imagined scene, of course, but Sarah must have realized they were gone. And I find it hard to believe that anyone married that long and caring for their first child would not have been able to preceive that “something” was amiss). What was interesting to me as I read the lesson was the inclusion of Hannah’s story at the end–while both Ruth and Sarah’s faithful actions/silence lead to their sons, Hannah’s faith leads to a symbolic sacrifice of her son to the Lord. Thanks for the questions.

  2. May 29, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    Jim F: Thanks for the suggestion to read this book aloud. My wife and I read it together and found it meaningful.

    I just taught this lesson and I focused on two topics in my lesson plan: 1) the contrast between the treatment of women in Judges (as pointed out by Robert C) versus women in Ruth; 2) ways in which the Book of Ruth is deeply symbolic of Christ (the word “redeem” and “kinsman” are translated from the same Hebrew word).

    If we read chapter 4 as Boaz = Christ, Ruth = Us (hopefully), then who is the nearer kinsman that declines to fulfill his obligation? What does Boaz/Christ get out of being a kinsman/redeemer?

    A class member pointed out how appropriate it was to study this lesson just before Memorial Day: the Book of Judges is about Israel fighting with everyone around them–including amongst themselves. The Book of Ruth, in contrast, focuses on a non-Israelite as a “virtuous woman” and shows how she blesses all of Israel.

  3. Patty
    May 30, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    I cant get this to line up very well, but this is some symbolism I thought we might discuss in class

    Elements from Ruth- Symbolism
    Famine- Apostasy, no revelation in the land
    Going to Moab-Scattered Israel
    Moab and Israel enemies-War Between God and Satan
    Naomi’s sons marry Israelites- Missionary work-joining with the covenant people
    Returning to Bethlehem- Turning to God
    Poverty of Ruth and Naomi -Spiritual poverty
    Gleaning -Searching for truth
    Boaz’s generosity -Blessings from God
    Threshing Floor -Temple, being separated out
    Chaff -Sinful, unbelieving people
    Grain -Righteous, covenant people
    Boaz guarding the grain- God looking out for His people
    Ruth sleeping at Boaz’s feet -Seeking the Lord’s protection
    Boaz spreading his skirt, or wing Lord gathers as a hen gathers her chicks
    Boaz inviting her to eat -Lord invites all to come to Him and partake of all He has
    Boaz purchasing Naomi’s property- Paying for our sins
    Boaz and Ruth marry Israel and Christ united, elevates our status to what it once was

  4. May 31, 2006 at 3:30 am

    BrianJ and Patty: Thanks for what you’ve posted regarding redemption. In particular, I hadn’t really thought about the “elevating our status to what it once was” aspect of redemption in this story. I think this is a unique view that Mormons have (b/c we believe we are pre-mortal children of God). Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary has some interesting details about how the kinsman-redeemer process works—I posted a link to the entry here at my (preliminary) lesson notes.

    My impressions of the Anchor Bible have been that they are of mixed quality, but I am really enjoying their commentary on Ruth by Edward F. Campbell Jr. I highly recommend it.

    Campbell makes some interesting observations of contrasted themes in Ruth and the end of Judges (Judges 19 in particular). One interesting theme is the recurrence of the number two in Ruth compared to the “everyone for themselves” mentality that seems to prevalent in Judges. Also, Ruth’s loyalty contrasts nicely to the prominent theme of Israel’s disloyalty/whoring after other God’s in Judges.

  5. Patty
    May 31, 2006 at 10:29 am

    Something from the IM you might be interested in:
    Old Testament Student Manual: Genesis–2 Samuel, p. 263
    “The word here rendered ‘redeemer’ we translate literally from Hebrew go’el and this is its proper translation. It is rendered merely ‘kinsman’ in the King James English translation. The function of a go’el was to make it possible for a widow who had lost home and property to return to her former status and security and to have seed to perpetuate her family.

    “It is easy to see why the later prophets borrowed this word from the social laws of Israel and used it to describe the functions of Him who would become the Divine Redeemer: Think of what He does to restore us to proper status with God, and to give us future security and eternal ‘seed.'” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:157.)

  6. June 1, 2006 at 4:35 pm

    Jenny: Thank you for suggesting the parallel between Ruth and Sarah.

    Brian J: Thanks for reminding us that the “kinsman” in Ruth is the redeemer.

    Patty: Thanks for your suggestions for teaching a class and also for filling out the point that the “kinsman” is really the redeemer.

    Robert C: I have tried, with only moderate success, to keep up with the publishing schedule of the Anchor Bible, but I agree with you: the quality is mixed, though the volume on Ruth is excellent.

  7. Jenny
    June 2, 2006 at 1:03 am

    BrianJ–you ask “If we read chapter 4 as Boaz = Christ, Ruth = Us (hopefully), then who is the nearer kinsman that declines to fulfill his obligation?” I’m not sure if you’re looking for an answer in asking, but the question made me think. In the story, it appears that the nearest kinsman declines because he feels that he can’t fulfill the obligation (possibly because he doesn’t have enough money to provide enough inheritance for his offspring and Ruth’s possible offspring). I think it’s possible to see that nearest kinsman as ourselves in a way–as much as I love my husband, my child, my brother, my sister, I am unable to offer them redemption (I can’t pay their price) and vice versa. As brothers and sisters, we are kinsmen, but we require the aid of a second kinsman–still closely related, yet unique–who does have the resources to provide for our redemption.

  8. June 3, 2006 at 9:20 am

    Jenny–I appreciate how you described the way we all come up short in helping the ones we love. I think, however, that there is something less honorable about the “nearer kinsman” than how you read it. He initially agrees to purchase the land (vs. 4) and Boaz tells him (vs. 5) that he will also have to redeem Ruth. Now the nearer kinsman refuses, and the key phrase is in Ruth 4:6 “…lest I mar mine own inheritance.” The initial deal was to gain some land–that clearly benefits the nearer kinsman. Any children he might have with Ruth, however, would not belong to the nearer kinsman, but rather to Ruth’s first husband (note that when she conceives with Boaz, the people announce that Noami has a son–vs. 17). Taking Ruth as a wife, therefore, would force the kinsman to divide his lands among his children and any he would have with Ruth, thus giving his sons a smaller portion. So the nearer kinsman was interested when he saw personal benefit, but he shied away from responsibility.

  9. Jenny
    June 3, 2006 at 11:33 am

    BrianJ–You make a good point–the nearest kinsman’s refusal to honor his original agreement when he learns that Ruth is also part of the deal does seem less honorable/more self interested. But then again, a reading focusing on the honor of the actions of the participants should also then question the actions of Boaz himself. It appears that Boaz mislead the nearest kinsman (or allowed him to be mislead) by not making it clear up front that gaining the land also meant gaining Ruth. The text also suggests that Boaz did this because he himself wanted to marry Ruth, and thus was self interested/saw personal benefit (though not necessarily financial). So there is a way to read the story that, at least to modern ethical sensibilities, questions the honor of both Boaz and the nearest kinsman. In my reading I chose to focus on the financial status of the characters as opposed to their ethical status (I’ve been thinking about the atonment and financial imagery a lot lately). Boaz was wealthy. It is clear that the nearest kinsman was not (if he had been sufficiently wealthy, the inheritance problem becomes moot). And in a financial perspective, the problem boils down to who can ultimately afford to pay the price to redeem the land, Naomi, and Ruth. So I think my original reading does work in a specific context. I’ll have to think more about another reading involving the points you brought up–thanks for opening it up more.

  10. June 3, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    BrianJ and Jenny: I think that Jenny’s reading is very interesting. And I wonder whether BrianJ’s is a little too harsh. As Jenny points out, it seems to require a modern understanding of the situation. However, even on a modern undertanding I think we can have more sympathy for the kinsman’s decision. He may redeem Ruth. The law requires that someone do so, and he is first in line. However, he knows that if he doesn’t Boaz will. So he isn’t required to do so. In addition, redeeming her will harm his family, Since Ruth will be taken care of in either case, and his family will be harmed in the second, he makes a reasonable decision not to redeem her.

  11. June 3, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Jim F and Jenny: I admit that my reading may be harsh–and I appreciate your comments that have helped me to see some alternatives. I still think that my reading is possible (meaning that I don’t see the problems that you suggest), but I also admit that the text does not limit us to that interpretation. Thanks again!

  12. June 7, 2006 at 4:13 am

    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?

    Wow! I think that’s:
    a harlot, a harlot, a widow remarried, an adulteress, and one seen as a fornicator. That’s what I see in common right off the bat. That is interesting to me…

  13. June 8, 2006 at 12:40 am

    grego: I think it is incorrect to call Tamar a harlot. (See the discussion of lesson in the comments on lesson 11–there’s something, though not a lot, on that there). However, I think it is interesting that there is something suspect about each one in the list.

  14. June 10, 2006 at 10:52 pm

    I think I got it last night–the women mentioned are not the normal line/ wife link–they’re aberrations/ special cases. Looking at Matthew, I saw “Rachab”, not “Rahab”–don’t know about this one.

  15. June 11, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Although Hannah isn’t part of Jesus’s genealogy, her son is the one that calls David. I think this connection strengthens the feminist theme in Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel. I’ve elaborated a bit on this view here.

  16. June 11, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    grego (#13): Rachab = Rahab. They are just two different ways of writing the Hebrew name in English.

    Robert C: Thanks for that link and, again, for bringing up a theme that is easily overlooked. I was out of town today (11 June), but the previous two Sundays my lessons were quite different than I thought they would be, and your notes about women in Judges and Ruth made the difference. A big help.

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