The prophet Micah, in speaking of it as the future birthplace of the Messiah, describes Bethlehem Ephratah as “little among the thousands of Judah” (Mic 5:2). However, that small village already had a long and important history, dating back to when Rachel died while giving birth to Benjamin (Gen 35:19; 48:7). It was the hometown and burial site for the judge Ibzan (Jdgs 12:8-10; cf Josephus’s Antiquities 5.7.13). Bethlehem also receives mention as the hometown of both the Levite named Jonathan who ended up in the city of Dan by way of Micah’s house (Jdgs 17; 18), and of the concubine who was later attacked all night long (Jdgs 19). It was of course also the hometown of King David (e.g., 1Sam 16:1; 17:12), and this fact alone might make us suspect that it would be the birthplace for the Messiah even if we didn’t have Micah’s prophecy.
Not to be overlooked is that Bethlehem is also the primary setting for the beautiful story about Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. This article will explore the question of how this story came to be written and included as inspired Scripture. In particular, we ask: how did the writer of this book know about the details of the story?
Like many other Old Testament books, the author of the book of Ruth is anony- mous. Later Jewish tradition refers to Samuel as the author, and while this is very plausible, it is not provable. Whoever the author was, he began the story by referring to the days in which the judges ruled, and so he wrote the book some time after Saul had become the first king of Israel. Further, reference is made in Ruth 4:7 to a “former custom” that needed explaining in the author’s time. Finally, the book concludes with a genealogy that runs to the time of David the son of Jesse, and thus must have been written some time after David was first anointed by Samuel as recorded in 1 Samuel 16. Therefore, whoever the author was, we can safely deduce that the author was not present at the various events described in the book. How then did the author know about Ruth’s “thy people shall be my people” statement, the touching story of how Ruth and Boaz met, including their private conversation of 3:7-13, and other private details that were not generally known?
While appeal to outright divine revelation can be considered, a preferred solution in all such similar questions is to carefully consider whether and how the author could have had access to such information by way of having the story handed down by eyewitnesses. As an example of this, consider the opening words of Luke’s gospel. There the author noted that, while not an eyewitness himself to the events of our Lord’s life, he carefully obtained the facts from those who were themselves eyewitnesses. Thus Luke’s knowledge, for example, of the words spoken by Gabriel to Zacharias in the temple (Luke 1:13-20) was undoubtedly obtained from someone to whom Zacharias had related the story.
In similar fashion, it is beautiful to consider how the true story of Naomi and Ruth would certainly have been a favorite family tale passed orally through Obed and Jesse to David, before it was written down under inspiration as inspired Scripture. How many of us have a family story about the first Christadelphian in our lineage,
and/or about our own conversion to the Truth? Telling and sharing these stories with others can often be a source of inspiration to us and others.
In the case of Ruth herself, it is perhaps remarkable that David would want the story to become publicly known, since Ruth was a Moabite. Under the Law, no descendant of a Moabite was to enter the congregation of the LORD even to the tenth generation (Deut 23:3), and thus some may have considered that it might be best to keep the story about this part of David’s lineage private. But clearly the story was so touching, not only because of Ruth but also because of the faithful- ness of Naomi and Boaz, that it was worth telling.
David might well have told the story to Samuel in the time between their first meeting (1Sam 16) and Samuel’s death (1Sam 25:1), and Samuel could then have been inspired to write it down. Alternatively, David would have had many oppor- tunities over the course of his reign to tell the story to either Nathan the prophet or Gad the seer, both of whom are said to have written down events concerning David’s reign (1Chron 29:29). Perhaps Solomon himself wrote down the story. Until Christ returns, we cannot be sure about who committed the story to writing, but we can be sure that it was orally retold until someone, under divine inspiration, wrote it down so that we might learn from it. And learn from it we can!
Ruth became an ‘Abraham’, leaving her people and her homeland behind in order to follow the Truth (Gen 12:1; cf Ruth 1:16,17). Boaz as the kinsman-redeemer was a type of Christ. And beautiful Naomi was a female counterpart of Job. Much like Job, she had lost everything — her husband, her sons, and her original homeland. Upon returning to Bethlehem, she asked that her name be changed to Mara, which means bitter, “for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20,21). But she remained faithful to God and was blessed in the end. Job remained steadfast, knowing that his redeemer lived (Job 19:25) — and Naomi’s redeemer Boaz saved both her and her faithful daughter-in-law (Ruth 4:14,15). Easily overlooked is the wording of Ruth 4:17, which states that when Obed was born the women didn’t remark that, “A son has been born to Ruth”, as we might expect. Instead, they said, “A son has been born to Naomi.” Job in his latter days had seven sons (Job 42:13), but Naomi had Ruth, who was “better than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15).
What wonderful ancestors David (and Jesus!) had, and what touching exhortations we have in this story. Our thanks go out to David and his family for passing this story down, and to the anonymous author of this book who preserved it under inspiration for our benefit. In a time when there was so much unfaithfulness in Israel (cf Jdgs 17:6; 21:25), it is refreshing to hear about such a faithful remnant who lived in those same days. May the Lord Jesus Christ find us to be a similar faithful remnant when he returns.
Dean Brown (Avon, IN)