In the Hebrew canon, Ruth appears after the book of Proverbs as an example of the “woman of valor” or “capable” woman mentioned in Proverbs 31:10 (the same phrase appears in Ruth 3:11). In the Christian canon, however, Ruth is a bridge from the chaos the ends the book of Judges to the story of David that begins in 1 Samuel. Whichever larger canonical placement the book of Ruth is given, Ruth tells the story of King David’s surprising ancestry.
Through a series of unexpected circumstances, Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of David. From the very beginning of the book, these circumstances are rooted in tragedy. Naomi’s husband dies and her two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The sons die and Naomi gives her daughters-in-law the choice of returning to their homeland or staying with her. Ruth elects to stay, uttering the words that are often repeated in contemporary wedding services, “Where you will go I will go, and where you will stay I will stay” (1:16).
Naomi and Ruth settle in Bethlehem, where Ruth goes to pick grain in the fields of Boaz, Naomi’s relative. Boaz notices her, learns of her story, and makes sure that Ruth has the grain she and Naomi need. Boaz also comes to understand that he has a legal obligation toward Ruth and Naomi, which he willingly accepts. As a kinsman, Boaz is responsible to “redeem” the family, which means to protect the interest of his extended family and provide an heir for his dead relatives. Boaz then marries Ruth and they have a son, Obed, who will be the grandfather of David.
What makes this situation so remarkable is that Ruth is not an Israelite but a Moabite woman. According to Deuteronomy 23:3, Moabites were not admitted to the “assembly of Yahweh.” Some scholars think that the book of Ruth was written to explain David’s mixed ancestry: yes, Ruth was a Moabite, but she was also a model of conversion (see 1:16). Also, the book makes the case that Obed was actually a surrogate son for her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi, as we see in 4:17, “Naomi has a son.” This gives David a pure Israelite heritage of sorts.
– Peter Enns