May 20, 2024

Reading Ruth: What’s Going on In The Old Testament

Getting the most out of reading the book of Ruth requires understanding what’s going on in the rest of the Old Testament. Before reading a book like Ruth, it’s important to ask some questions:

Answering these questions helps us uncover why this story is included in the Bible and what we’re meant to do with it.


The Marvel Cinematic Universe and How it Helps You Understand the Book of Ruth

Unless you were living under a rock from 2008 to 2019, you’re more than likely familiar with at least one of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). From Iron Man to Thor, Black Widow, and Dr. Strange to Avengers Civil War and End Game, the MCU has woven together (at least) 33 movies into one universe.

But if you’re anything like me, you saw maybe one or two of these movies in theaters but never got into the whole “universe” thing. I missed one or two theatrical releases and fell off the bandwagon. It was confusing, and I found the individual movies a little uninteresting. That is until my husband decided we would watch all the movies to see how the story unfolds before End Game’s theatrical debut.

Here’s what I found: Each movie told a story inside of a bigger story, and each character across the 33+ movies connected to one another. Their stories were woven together into one overarching story, all leading to Avengers: End Game. So, while I may have found some of the individual movies uninteresting, I was enthralled by how they connected that story to the rest of the stories. I enjoyed the individual movies so much more when I began to understand the greater story they were telling together.

Reading scripture requires the same skillset. You are reading individual stories that fall within a larger story. So, as you embark on reading the book of Ruth, I encourage you to read it within the Bible’s “universe.”

Read it like you would watch the Black Widow movie, with one eye on the rest of the story in this universe.

Where Does the Book of Ruth Fall in the Larger Story of Scripture?

The Book of Ruth is part of the Old Testament: 39 books before Jesus’s time. The Old Testament opens with God creating a people in the Garden of Eden. Their purpose is to be with God, care for the Garden, and fill the Earth with more people to be with them and God—creating a family that lives in God’s presence.


Through their actions, the people in the Garden choose a life separated from God and outside of the Garden. So, God begins working to reconcile His relationship with people, leading them to a new place and building His family. He does this through Abraham, Abraham’s son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob (Israel).

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

From there, the story shifts to Israel and his 12 sons. We see the family grow for several generations in Egypt until there are a whole lot of them! In fact, the Egyptians feared they would take over Egypt.

As a result, the Egyptians were ruthlessly cruel to the Israelites (descendants of Israel and his 12 sons). So God used Moses to lead them out of Egypt to the place He promised Abraham.

Moses is leading the family to the land God has for them. But just like the original people, they are not living as God’s family should live. So, God works to establish laws for how they should behave, interact with each other, and worship Him. These laws are the conditions for God’s place and people, the mark of being a part of His family.

We see that this family repeatedly chooses not to live within the conditions given to them. For 40 years, this large group of people has wandered between Egypt and where God has been leading them.


Moses dies without leading the people to the land God had promised. God uses Joshua to lead the people after Moses. Under Joshua’s leadership, the people are doing well.

Joshua leads them in conquering the land God promised them. By his death, the land was open, but the people still needed to “settle” in. Joshua reminds them to be very strong in keeping and doing all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses (Joshua 23:6). However, they do not fully drive out the land’s current inhabitants and their way of life, leading to future complications.


After Joshua’s death, Israel is a collection of tribes with no national government. The book of Judges shows a cycle of Israel’s decline into compromise, convenience, and half-hearted devotion to God. Judges 2:10 marks a significant turning point in the story of this family: “There arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that He had done for Israel.” This leads to a repeated cycle throughout Judges:

Judges is a downward spiral of Israel’s national and spiritual life, characterized by idolatry, violence, war, moral depravity, and oppression of the weak.

The book ends with a striking statement: “In those days, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). This line nods to the future kings of Israel that God will raise.

By the end of Judges, you have read some of the most graphic and violent scenes in the Bible and feel the ache for a godly king. The nation has lost its way, though God continues to respond when his people cry out.

The story of Ruth takes place here in a time before the kings when everyone was doing what was right in their own lives.

What Was It Like to Live During The Time of The Book of Ruth?

In Ruth’s time, family was the cornerstone of social, economic, and legal identity. The basic family unit was essential for survival and stability, serving as the primary safety net for its members.  In this patriarchal society, the family’s well-being was paramount, and one’s identity was deeply tied to family affiliation.

Ruth’s story is particularly significant as it highlights the role and struggles of women within this framework. Women depended entirely on their male relatives for their social status, economic security, and safety. As Richter described, “a woman was first her father’s daughter, then her husband’s wife, and finally her son’s mother.” This dependency meant that a woman’s resources and rights were mediated through the males in her life. Without a male protector, women like Naomi and Ruth faced severe vulnerability and marginalization.

Inheritance and the passing down of possessions and land were also governed by male lineage. Property and family legacy was traced through male heirs, leaving women without direct access to inheritance rights. This system underscores the remarkable nature of Ruth’s story, where a Moabite widow, through her loyalty and faithfulness, becomes integrated into an Israelite family and ultimately into the lineage of King David. Ruth’s inclusion highlights the transformative power of God’s providence and the breaking of cultural norms to fulfill divine purposes.

Who are the Characters and How Do They Connect to Other Characters in the Bible?

The Book of Ruth introduces us to a small yet pivotal family in the larger story of Scripture. The family tree begins with Elimelech and Naomi, Ephrathites (descendants of Israel’s grandson Ephraim) from Bethlehem, a part of the land God had promised His people. Due to a famine in Bethlehem, they moved to Moab (outside of the land God had placed them) with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.

In Moab, Elimelech dies, and both sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, Mahlon and Chilion also die, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law widowed and childless.

The story then focuses on Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, whose lives intersect in significant ways that tie into God’s broader story for His people and, ultimately, His relationship with the whole world.


Despite being a foreigner and outsider to the Israelites, Ruth is a central figure in the book. As a Moabite, she hails from a nation often at odds with Israel. Her status as a non-Israelite is crucial, emphasizing her extraordinary faith and commitment. Ruth is depicted as a “woman of worth,” a term used in Proverbs 31:10 to describe a woman of noble character. Her loyalty to Naomi and willingness to embrace the God of Israel set her apart, showcasing her strength and integrity.


Though the book bears Ruth’s name, Naomi is the main character around whom the story revolves. As a widow who loses both her husband and sons, Naomi’s situation is dire. Living in Moab due to the famine in Bethlehem, she faces profound grief and insecurity. Her return to Bethlehem with Ruth signifies a turning point. Naomi’s narrative arc from despair to hope and restoration is central to the story, illustrating God’s provision and the renewal of life even in the bleakest circumstances.


Boaz enters the story as a man of substantial means and influence in Bethlehem. Described as a “man of excellence,” Boaz stands out as a pillar of the community. His actions and decisions significantly impact Ruth and Naomi’s lives. Boaz’s kindness, adherence to the law, and willingness to marry Ruth and inherit Elimilech’s land highlight his integrity and his pivotal role in restoring Naomi’s family line.

Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz are beautifully tied to the larger story of Scripture. Naomi’s story of loss and redemption reflects God’s faithfulness and care for His people. Boaz’s role as a redeemer to Elimilech’s family prefigures the ultimate redemption through Christ. Then, almost like a Marvel end credit seen, the story wraps up with the sharing of Ruth’s descendants. We see that she is the great-grandmother of King David, linking her directly to the lineage of Jesus Christ.

Together, their stories illustrate themes of loyalty, providence, and redemption, weaving their personal journeys into the broader tapestry of God’s redemptive history and pointing to the next part of Israel’s story: the Kings.


Show notes:

This episode is a part of a larger conversation on the Book of Ruth. Listen to the rest of this conversation here.


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