Ruth (Heb. Ruth, רוּת, probably for רעוּת, and this for רִעיָה, a female friend; Sept. and New Test., ῾Ρούθ; Josephus, ῾Ρούθη, Ant. 5, 9, 1), a Moabitess, the wife, first, of Mahlon, secondly of Boaz, and by him mother of Obed, the ancestress of David and of Christ, and one of the four women (Tamar, Rahab, and Uriah's wife being the other three) who are named by Matthew in the genealogy of Christ. She thus came into intimate relation with the stock of Israel, and her history is given in one of the books of the sacred canon which bears her name. The narrative that brings her into the range of inspired story is constructed with idyllic simplicity and pathos, and forms a pleasant relief to the sombre and repulsive shades of the picture which the reader has just been contemplating in the later annals of the Judges. It is the domestic history of a family compelled, by the urgency of a famine, to abandon the land of Canaan, and seek an asylum in the territories of Moab. Elimelech, the head of the emigrating household, dies in the land of his sojourn, where his two surviving sons "took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth." On the death of the sons, the widowed parent resolving to return to her country and kindred, the filial affection of the daughters-in-law is put to a severe test, and Ruth determines at all hazards to accompany Naomi. "Whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me," was the expression of the unalterable attachment of the young Moabitish widow to the mother, to the land, and to the religion of her lost husband. They arrived at Bethlehem just at the beginning of barley harvest, and Ruth, going out to glean for the support of her mother-in-law and herself, chanced to go into the field of Boaz, a wealthy man, the near kinsman of her father-in-law, Elimelech. The story of her virtues and her kindness and fidelity to her mother-in-law, and her preference for the land of her husband's birth, had gone before her; and immediately upon learning who the strange young woman was, Boaz treated her with the utmost kindness and respect, and sent her home laden with corn which she had gleaned. Boaz had bidden her return from day to day, and directed his servants to give her a courteous welcome. An omen so propitious could not but be regarded as a special encouragement to both, and Naomi therefore counselled Ruth to seek an opportunity for intimating to Boaz the claim she had upon him as the nearest kinsman of her deceased husband. A stratagem, which in other circumstances would have been of very doubtful propriety, was adopted for compassing this object; and though Boaz entertained the proposal favorably, yet he replied that there was another person more nearly related to the family than himself, whose title must first be disposed of. Without delay he applied himself to ascertain whether the kinsman in question was inclined to assert his right — a right which extended to a purchase of the ransom (at the Jubilee) of Elimelech's estate. Finding him indisposed to the measure, he obtained from him a release, ratified according to the legal forms of the time, and next proceeded himself to redeem the patrimony of Elimelech, and finally, with all due solemnity, took Ruth to be his wife, amid the blessings and congratulations of their neighbors. As a singular example of virtue and piety in a rude age and among an idolatrous people; as one of the first fruits of the Gentile harvest gathered into the Church; as the heroine of a story of exquisite beauty and simplicity; as illustrating in her history the workings of Divine Providence, and the truth of the saying that "the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous;" and for the many interesting revelations of ancient domestic and social customs which are associated with her story, Ruth has always held a foremost place among the Scripture characters. Augustine has a curious speculation on the relative blessedness of Ruth, twice married, and by her second marriage becoming the ancestress of Christ, and Anna remaining constant in her widowhood (De Bono Viduit.). Jerome observes that we can measure the greatness of Ruth's virtue by the greatness of her reward — "Ex ejus semine Christus oritur" (Epist. xxii ad Paulam).
The period in which the famine above spoken of occurred is a greatly disputed point among commentators. The opinion of Usher, which assigns it to the age of Gideon (B.C. cir. 1360), and which is a mean between the dates fixed upon by others, carries with it the greatest probability. The oppression of the Midianites, mentioned in Jg 6:3-6, which was productive of a famine, and from which Gideon was instrumental in delivering his people, wasted the land and destroyed its increase, "till thou come unto Gaza;" and this embraced the region in which Judah and Bethlehem were situated. The territory of Judah was also adjacent to Moab, and a removal thither was easy and natural. The scourge of Midian endured, moreover, for seven years; and at the expiration of ten years after the deliverance by Gideon was fully consummated, Naomi reemigrated to her native land (see Henstenberg, Pentat. 2, 92, note). Ruth seems in the genealogy of David to have been his great-grandmother; but as Boaz is in the same list set down as the grandson of Nahshon, who flourished at the Exode, we are forced to suppose the omission of some nine generations, which chronologers insert according to their respective schemes. SEE GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST.