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An Introduction to the Book of Ruth

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I. A BROAD INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORICAL BOOKS:

A. A Recurring View of History based upon YHWH’s covenants:

1. A Western view of history is primarily linear as it traces events in a chronological line from A to Z with cause and effect viewed in naturalistic terms

2. An Ancient Near Eastern view of history is primarily cyclic (often around the regular cycle of seasons) with cause and effect viewed in supernatural terms

3. The Ancient Near Eastern neighbors of Israel sought to direct (or control) their historical cycles of destiny by the recitation of appropriate incantations or omens

4. Israel was forbidden in their Law to practice divination, omens, and incantations, therefore, they sought to direct (or control) their history by conforming to their covenant with YHWH

5. Therefore theology and history merged for Israel through the covenants of YHWH, and the historical books unfold YHWH’s sovereign, covenant work in history:

a. Cause and effect are understood in view of God’s covenant response to human activities and decisions:

1) Note the cycles of Judges

2) Note the apostasy in the books of Kings

b. In particular, the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants explain YHWH’s sovereign unfolding of history for Israel

B. The Theology of the Historical Books is Deuteronomistic:

1. The concept of a Deuteronomistic History was a development of the earlier source-critical approach to the Pentateuch (JEDP), but first found its detailed expression in 1943 by Martin Noth in his work The Deuteronomistic History (Sheffield, England: JSOT, 1981)

2. A classic Deuteronomistic History would affirm that the historical books of Deuteronomy--2 Kings were the editorial work of prophets during the eighth century B.C. in order to promote religious reform which did not occur until after Josiah read the book (cf. 2 Ki. 22-23)

3. The problems of this classic approach are enormous for the conservative student of scripture including deception concerning Mosaic authority for Deuteronomy, and a rewriting of history for political purpose by the eighth century prophets

4. There are many levels upon which one can address the veracity of the classic Deuteronomistic approach1 including the fact that 2 Chronicles 34 places the reforms of Josiah before the discovery of the book of the Law in the temple. Therefore, it seems best to reject the historical reconstruction of a classic Deuteronomistic History

5. Nevertheless, the theological emphasis of a Deuteronomistic History is valuable for understanding the historical books because Israel’s history is viewed in terms of her loyalty to the covenant--especially Deuteronomy 27--30:

a. Obedience to the Mosaic Law and faith in YHWH will bring blessings and prosperity of the Mosaic covenant

b. Disobedience to the Mosaic Law and a refusal to trust in YHWH will bring cursing (cf. Deut. 4; Josh. 23; Judges 2:11-23; 1 Sam. 12; 2 Sam. 7; 1 Ki. 8; 2 Ki. 17:7-23)

c. Nevertheless, Israel is continually disobedient and deserving of judgment, but God does not completely destroy the nation because of his covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12)

C. The Design of the Historical Books: To reveal God who works in accordance with his covenants

1. Western societies write history for information’s sake, or to learn lessons from others, or to analyze elements of naturalistic cause and effect

2. Ancient Near Eastern societies often wrote history as a tool of propaganda in order to honor those in power with “historical” accounts which ignored the negative and embellished the positive

3. However, Israel’s historical approach hardly could be considered to be with the design of propaganda (even for the Davidic dynasty) since it includes so much of the faults of its rulers (including David--2 Samuel)

4. The design of Israel’s historical literature was to teach about the way in which YHWH, their covenant God, acted in history--especially in view of Israel’s failures and unfaithfulness:

a. Legal literature declared God’s will which was designed to mold the moral, spiritual, and ethical direction of the nation

b. Historical literature was a revelation (record) of the sovereign work of God in accordance with his covenants in history

c. Prophetic literature was a declaration of the will of God in history in judgment of the nation’s historical dealings and in promise of God’s future blessing

d. Although Israel was unfaithful to their Mosaic covenant with YHWH and often received the judgment due them from their suzerain-Lord, YHWH was also committed to his people and delivered them in accordance with his promises to Abraham with an eye to a New Covenant which He would work in their hearts

II. AUTHOR: It is reasonable to ascribe authorship of the book of Ruth to the prophet Samuel (or Nathan)

A. Strictly speaking this work is anonymous since no author is named

B. External Evidence: Though not definitive, the external evidence allows for Samuel as the author of Ruth

1. The Talmud ascribes authorship to Samuel,2 but it is very difficult to date this conclusion

2. Many argue against the possibility of Samuel as author because they hold to a late date for Ruth for some of the following reasons:

a. The explanation of levirate marriage (4:7), but if the custom had ceased during Samuel’s day, he would have needed to explain its meaning for his generation and for those to follow

b. The genealogy “presupposes” that David was a well known figure at the time that it was written, but if this would have been written later, surely Solomon would have also been mentioned

c. Proposed purposes of post-exilic, ethnic toleration in view of reforms by Ezra’s and Nehemiah, but the ethnic emphasis may well be explained by the portions of the Law which existed in Samuel’s day (Deut. 23:3 [Moabite]; Gen. 38:1ff [Tamar’s treachery]; Deut. 25:5ff [Leverite marriage]) and in fact would have historically undone Ezra’s reforms

d. The presence of Aramaisms, but these are not necessarily an indication of a late date since they were present in Palestine from at least the Amarna Age (Fourteenth century B.C.3

3. It is reasonable to adhere to an early date for the book of Ruth which allows for Samuel, or possibly Nathan, as its author (see below)

C. Internal Evidence: Internal evidence allows for Samuel as the author of Ruth

1. The brevity of the genealogy in 4:18-22 argues for an earlier, rather than a later date of composition which could well align with Samuel

a. If the book was written from a time period while David was popular or later during Israel’s “Golden Age” while Solomon was king, Solomon would have surely been added to the list

b. Samuel knew well of the division which his anointing of David (1 Sam. 16) would cause between the northern and southern tribes of the nation (2 Sam. 1--5), therefore, he demonstrated that David was from the line of Judah fulfilling Jacob’s prophecy (Ruth 4:12,18; cf. Gen. 38; 49:8-12)

2. The author of Ruth uses ancient Hebrew prose idioms and classical syntactical forms4

3. The setting of the book captures the period of the judges in a uniform manner which would be very familiar for Samuel

4. The attitude of the Law towards foreign marriages (Deut. 23:3) allows for an early date during Samuel’s life

5. The only passages concerning levirate marriage which are referred to are those which would have pre-dated Samuel (Gen. 38:1ff; Deut. 25:5ff)

6. The Hebrew style of Ruth is not only different from Esther, Chronicles, Nehemiah, or Jonah, but is on a level with the best portions of Samuel5

III. DATE: During the early Monarchy (c. 1000 B.C.)

A. The Book of Ruth offers no direct identification concerning its date

B. Ruth does site its setting with the time of the Judges (“when the judges judged” myfpvh fpv ymyB ) (1:1), and probably occurred toward the end of the period:

1. This probably was not when Ehud led Israel out from under the Moabite oppression (Judges 3)

2. This may well have been during the later portion of the book of judges--especially since the genealogy is only three generations before David6

3. The time when the “judges judged” is also the time when two other accounts from the Bethlehem Trilogy occurred (e.g., Micah and the Levite [Judg. 17--18], and the Levite and His Concubine [Judg. 19--21]); The Book of Ruth is the third work of the trilogy7

Even though all three accounts concern Bethlehem-Ephraim, the first two accounts focus upon the flawed ancestors of Samson and Saul respectively; the third account is meant to focus upon the loyal ancestors of David!

C. The earliest date that Ruth could have been written was when David was anointed King (1 Sam. 16)

D. The latest that Ruth was probably written was during the pinnacle of David’s fame since a later date would have probably required the inclusion of Solomon’s name in the genealogy8

E. Therefore, the book was probably written during the early monarchy of Saul or David, but before the selection and/or enthronement of Solomon (c. 1000 B.C.)

F. During David’s reign there was a time when David showed favor to the Moabites (1 Sam. 22:3)

G. The custom of exchanging the shoe (4:7) may have been a later gloss to explain the activity to later readers, or more probably was included by the writer because he lived close enough to the change-over to explain the custom for present and future readers who no longer practiced the custom.9 The custom does not conflict with Deuteronomy 25 because in Ruth 4:7 the sandal is being used for a different purpose--to confirm the transaction

IV. AUDIENCE: The United Nation of Israel:

A. If Ruth was written by Samuel, then it was written to endorse David as God’s chosen king for Israel after Saul

B. If Ruth was written by Nathan, then it was written to establish David before the newly established kingdom of Israel

V. Purposes of the Book of Ruth:

A. To provide a biographical sketch of the pious ancestors of David the King (which the books of Samuel do not provide)

B. To contrast the reproach brought upon Bethlehem in Judges 17--21 with the account of the righteous in Bethlehem

C. To emphasize the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises through Judah at a time when the nation Israel had lost her first king--Saul from the line of Benjamin

D. To demonstrate how YHWH supplies for the enormous needs of his people both individually and nationally in accordance with his covenant promises


1 See Kitchen, Ancient Orient and Old Testament.

2 Bab. Bath., 14b.

3 See R.K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, 79, 1061; John Bright, A History of Israel, p. 109.

4 Harrison, IOT, 106.

5 S.R. Driver, Introduction, 454.

6 See Merrill, Kingdom, 182, n. 97.

7 Merrill, Kingdom, 178-188.

8 Keil and Deiltzsch, The Books of Joshua, 2:569.

9 See a similar case in 1 Sam. 9:9; Cundall & Morris, Judges & Ruth, pp. 234-235; see also the Nuzi parallels from c. 1500 B.C. which make a late date difficult as discussed by E. A. Speiser, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 77 [Feb. 1940], pp. 15-18, and E. R. Lacheman JBL LVI [1937]: 53-56.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines