Ruth and Naomi, c. 1641-1642
The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida
unused, from 2011
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During the time of the Judges when there was a famine, an Israelite family from Bethlehem—Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion—emigrate to the nearby country of Moab. Elimelech dies, and the sons marry two Moabite women: Mahlon marries Ruth and Chilion marries Orpah.
The two sons of Naomi then die themselves. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers, and remarry. However, Ruth says to Naomi, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me." (Ruth 1:16–17 NKJV)
The two women return to Bethlehem. It is the time of the barley harvest, and in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to glean (collect left over crops). The field she goes to belongs to a man named Boaz, who is kind to her because he has heard of her loyalty to her mother-in-law. Ruth tells her mother-in-law of Boaz's kindness, and she gleans in his field through the remainder of the harvest season.
Boaz is a close relative of Naomi's husband's family. He is therefore obliged by the Levirate law to marry Mahlon's widow, Ruth, in order to carry on his family line. Naomi sends Ruth to the threshing floor at night and tells her to "uncover the feet" of the sleeping Boaz. Ruth does so; Boaz awakes and asks,"Who are you?" Ruth identifies herself, then asks Boaz to spread his cloak over her. The phrase "spread your cloak" was a woman's way of asking for marriage. For a man to spread his cloak over a woman showed acquisition of that woman. Boaz states he is willing to "redeem" Ruth via marriage, but informs Ruth that there is another male relative who has the first right of redemption.
The next morning, Boaz discusses the issue with the other male relative, Ploni Almoni before the town elders. The other male relative is unwilling to jeopardize the inheritance of his own estate by marrying Ruth, and so relinquishes his right of redemption, thus allowing Boaz to marry Ruth. They transfer the property and redeem it by the nearer kinsman taking off his sandal and handing it over to Boaz. (Ruth 4:7–18)
Boaz and Ruth get married and have a son named Obed (who by Levirate customs is also considered a son or heir to Elimelech, and thus Naomi). In the genealogy which concludes the story, it is pointed out that Obed is the father of Jesse, and thus the grandfather of David. This also places Ruth among David's ancestors.