The Book Of Ruth
Addendum 7
Reg Grant - "Literary Structure in the Book of Ruth"


The Book of Ruth - Introduction - Contents

1.  General Introduction 8 Addendum-1 Ruth VS Israel
2 The Story: (Keil and Delitzsch) 9 Addendum-2 The "Field of Boaz"
3.  The Story: (C. I. Scofield) 10 Addendum-3 Israel and The Feast Of Weeks
4 The Characters 11 Addendum-4 Salmon the Rescuer_?
5 The Full Outline with Text 12 Addendum-5 Innuendo
6 The Full Outline and Charts 13 Addendum-6 The Cycles of Fellowship
7.  Book Text in Paragraph Form W/outline 14.  Addendum-7 Literary Structure in the Book of ruth - "a must read" - Reg Grant (Bibsac)

Literary Structure in the Book of Ruth

Reg Grant

Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministries
Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas 35

The Book of Ruth is so profound in its structure that it has induced a flood of literary analyses. The purpose of this study is not to explore the book’s many intriguing literary angles, but to consider just its plot structure. A presupposition of this study is that the book’s plot structure is comic/monomythic. As such, it manifests four literary structural elements as the plot moves from tragedy through anti-romance, and then through comedy to romance.1

Another presupposition is that plot structure should inform (but not prescribe) exegesis. Where the structural elements occur in a strategic place (e.g., as central words, phrases, or sentences in chiastic structure), this study attempts to demonstrate the significance of the placement. Consideration is therefore limited to literary aspects of the book that contribute in some substantial way to the reader’s understanding of the hermeneutical significance of the structural elements. Though each of the four elements will be examined, the focus will be on the transitional elements (the comic and tragic), since they are the loci of change in the story.

The Literary Element of Tragedy

The first scene is recorded in Ruth 1:1–7a. The element of tragedy is introduced in the first part of the scene (v. 1 ), in which the Lord used a famine to initiate the tragic element.2 The tragic element itself (that which effects the transition between the ideal state and the unideal) occurred at some point between the cause (“famine”) and the effect (expressed initially in Elimelech’s decision to move his family to Moab). A consideration of the contextual link to the period of the Judges3 reveals why the audience would expect that the famine mentioned in verse 1 would lead to tragic consequences for Elimelech and his family.

First, one may note the significance of Elimelech’s departure from Bethlehem in light of the place of the Ruth narrative in the so-called Bethlehem trilogy.4 In the first of these narratives (Judg 17–18 ), Jonathan, a Levite and descendant of Moses, left his hometown of Bethlehem5 to seek employment elsewhere (17:8 ). The results of his leaving were tragic for several individuals and groups, himself, the one he served at first (Micah),6 the tribe of Dan, and eventually the entire nation (he established a cult center at Laish, which caused problems for Israel from that time on).

The second narrative in the trilogy (Judg 19–21 ) reinforces the message of the first by repeating the Bethlehem-Ephraim connection motif of the first narrative.7 Another Levite (this time from Ephraim) retrieved his concubine from Bethlehem, which was her home (19:1 ) and to which she had returned (v. 2 ). They left Bethlehem to return to Ephraim by way of Gibeah of Benjamin. The tragedy that befell the concubine and her husband affected them personally (the woman was raped and killed) and then affected the tribe of Benjamin and the nation (all but 600 Benjamite men were slaughtered by Israel in reprisal for the murder of the concubine). The nation was further affected in that daughters from Shiloh and Jabesh-Gilead had to be taken as wives for the surviving Benjamites to insure the continuance of the tribe of Benjamin.

In the first two narratives, everyone suffered and everyone lost. By now the idea is fixed in the reader’s mind that departure from Bethlehem will probably lead to trouble. This is exactly what one finds in the Ruth narrative, but with an important difference. In the previous two narratives, the structure that tied the tragic events to their long-term consequences received the focus. In the Ruth narrative, the tragic events and the consequences that followed on Elimelech’s departure from Bethlehem are at their worst by 1:5 . Following verse 5 , the return motif (based on the good news that “the Lord had visited His people in giving them food” [v. 6 ]) and Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi (vv. 16–17 ) combine to suggest at least the remote possibility of comic resolution. The focus shifts subtly then from the tragic to the (potentially) comic with the introduction of this news.8

Also by the end of the Ruth narrative, the reader is convinced of Yahweh’s faithfulness to His covenant promises.9 There is never a hint of comic resolution in either of the Judges narratives. The structures in the closing narratives of the Book of Judges are like a spiraling whirlpool that gradually sucks everything down to destruction. However, the narrative of the Book of Ruth surprises the audience by avoiding the inevitable (even though the initial archetypal “departure” motif coupled with Naomi’s fatalism would lead the audience to expect otherwise). What should have been the worst of three tragedies turns out instead to be a romantic comedy.

The famine as a “natural” cause of tragedy launches a series of increasingly painful events in the human realm (also archetypal) that combine to establish one of the two primary motifs in the first act, that of emptiness. First, Elimelech died (1:3 ), leaving Naomi with her two sons. Then Mahlon and Chilion died (v. 5 ), leaving Naomi with her two Moabite daughters-in-law. Finally, she lost one of them, and so she was left with Ruth (v. 18 ). The descent into the unideal state was gradual (it actually took more than 10 years [v. 4 ]), but the narrator covers the downward spiral in just 18 verses. The remainder of the narrative covers approximately three months (from the beginning of the barley harvest to the end of the barley and wheat harvest, 1:22 ; 2:23 ).

The famine is a perfect archetype at this point in the narrative, for it introduces the concept of literal, physical barrenness. The land was barren, unfruitful, empty. The concept moves to the personal realm when the reader realizes that Ruth and Orpah are both apparently barren (1:5 ; 4:13 ).10 Naomi is seen as barren as well. She has lost her husband, her sons, one of her daughters-in-law, and her hope (1:12 ). Even Ruth’s statement of commitment (vv. 16–17 ), as beautiful as it is, seems to anticipate a tragic end with its closing focus on death: “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” Thus the emptiness motif is introduced and developed in verses 1–18 . The major motif in this section, however, is not that of emptiness, but “return.”

The return motif dominates chapter 1 , the first act, which means that it spans all the tragic consequences as well as the unideal experience (vv. 19–22b ). To have a return, one must have an initial departure. That departure and its immediate repercussions are outlined in verses 1–5 . The return motif is introduced in verse 6 when Naomi decided to go home to Bethlehem, based on what she had heard concerning the Lord’s provision of food. Here is the first hint of the possibility of comic resolution. There is further cause for hope in the fact that Naomi and Ruth emerged from a literal (and figurative) winter of barrenness into a potentially fruitful spring (the barley harvest began about the end of April in Israel).

Seasonal archetypes play a subtle but distinctive role in the development of the comic and romantic elements in the Book of Ruth. The archetypes of autumn (normally associated with the tragic element) and winter (the unideal experience) are noticeable only in that the arrival of Naomi and Ruth is coincident with the beginning of the barley harvest in April (which suggests that winter had come to an end). Their arrival at the beginning of the barley harvest was more than “coincidental,” however.

The significance of this season extends beyond literary expression of hope for fruitful land, fruitful wombs, and fruitful lives, though this is certainly part of the author’s design. The significance of the barley harvest relates also to the feasts that were celebrated at that time of year, the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits (Lev 23:4–14).11 The festal cycle in Israel corresponded to specific points on the agricultural calendar, which also happened to reinforce the emptiness (and fullness) motifs as developed in Ruth.12

It is necessary to examine briefly those three feasts as they relate to the development of the structure of the Book of Ruth.13

In the Passover, Israel acknowledged her need of a redeemer and her fealty to Yahweh. The Lord honored the Israelites’ obedience by redeeming them out of a foreign land and ultimately by bringing them to the land of promise. The Passover feast celebrated this redemption and the faithfulness of God in bringing them to the land He had promised to Abraham (Gen 12; 15 ). Ruth, of course, had come from a foreign land to the land of promise just in time for the celebration of this feast.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread focused on Israel’s willingness to cut herself off from her old life in Egypt. Leaven, in the context of this feast, symbolized continuity; it was a symbol of connection with the old life of bondage. In calling for the baking of unleavened bread, the Lord was calling, in effect, for a symbolic break with Israel’s tie to the past. Similarly Ruth broke with her past life in Moab when she decided to accompany Naomi into whatever situation lay before them; and this decision by Ruth was made at the same time of year that Israel had decided to leave Egypt hundreds of years before. Her break was no less complete, though her personal loss and anxiety may have been greater. She left her family, her home, and her people to live in a foreign land and to embrace a God her fathers had not known; and she had only a destitute widow to lead her rather than a miracle-working Moses.

Perhaps the most significant of these feasts for this study, in light of the prominent agricultural motif, is the Feast of Firstfruits. The wave offering at that feast signified Israel’s recognition of her need of divine provision. It was a wave offering of a sheaf of raw barley (Lev 23:11). Surely the reader would see the significance of Ruth’s gleaning among the sheaves of barley (she was certainly in need of divine provision) at the very time Israel celebrated a feast that focused on the nation’s need for divine provision. And this is not to mention Naomi’s earlier request to the Lord that He deal kindly with Ruth and Orpah (i.e., give them husbands, a home, and rest; Ruth 1:8–9). Of significance is the difference between the attitude that should have been expressed according to Leviticus 23 and the attitude expressed by Naomi. Leviticus 23 enjoins an attitude of acknowledged dependence coupled with faith that the Lord will provide, that He will remain faithful to His covenant promises by giving His people a full harvest. Naomi lacked the component of faith. She definitely recognized her need for divine assistance, and she recognized that that assistance was available for Ruth and Orpah (Ruth 1:8–9), but Naomi felt she herself was beyond the point of receiving help from the Lord (v. 13 ).

Resenting her lot in life, Naomi nourished a fatalistic resignation to live out the rest of her empty days in bitterness (witness her name change to Mara [“bitter”], v. 20 ). Ruth, on the other hand, moved out in faith (“Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God,” v. 16 ), never complaining (as Naomi did, and as the Exodus generation did repeatedly) or looking back (as the Exodus generation did in longing for the leeks and onions of Egypt, Num 11:5). By the Lord’s design, it was Ruth who wound up holding the raw barley. It was she who unwittingly embodied the true spirit of the feast, even though the Feast of Firstfruits was never mentioned explicitly.

Besides the literary connections with the previous context and the overlapping archetypal images and motifs, the structure of Ruth 1:1–7a highlights the transitional element. The context of verse 1 —there was a famine and Elimelech left Bethlehem for Moab—is matched by verses 6–7 —Naomi set out to return because the Lord had provided food. The return motif is strengthened through repetition of the word שׁוּב, “return,” in verses 6 and 7 .

The second (1:7b–19a ) and third scenes (1:19b–22a ) also are framed by narrative constructions that reinforce the return motif: “And they went on the way to return to the land of Judah” (v. 7b ); “so they both went until they came to Bethlehem” (v. 19a). The passage includes several other references to the “return” theme, all in symmetrical relationship. Naomi’s speech in verse 8a (“Go, return each of you to her mother’s house”) balances with her admonition to Ruth in verse 15b (“return after your sister-in-law”). At the center of this scene (vv. 10–13 ) the dialogue between Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah reflects the return motif: “And they said to her, ‘No, but we will surely return with you to your people’“ (v. 10 ); “But Naomi said, ‘Return, my daughters…. Return, my daughters! Go, for I am too old’“ (vv. 11–12 ).

The third scene continues to reinforce the return motif with another narrative bracket: “And it came about when they had come to Bethlehem” (v. 19 ); “so Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab” (v. 22 ).14

The Literary Element of Anti-Romance

The unideal experience in its pure form (i.e., an existence devoid of joy) is evident in Ruth 1:19b–22a, the third scene. When Naomi arrived in Bethlehem (v. 19 ), immediately the city was “stirred.” The word translated “stirred” (וַתֵּהֹם, a niphal form) is the same word used to express the excited joy in the Israelite camp over the ark of the covenant (1 Sam 4:5, also a niphal; translated “resounded” in the NASB). The word is also used in 1 Kings 1:45 (also a niphal) to express joy over Solomon’s anointing.15

The women of Bethlehem asked, “Is this Naomi?” “The reaction is certainly…more of delight than of pity; hence, the question which follows, ‘Is it Naomi,’ is not to be taken as expressing shock at what time and suffering have done to Naomi, but rather delighted recognition.”16 The emphasis on delight in again seeing Naomi (“pleasant,” “delightful,” or perhaps best here, “sweet”; cf. Prov 9:17; 2 Sam 1:23; 23:1 )—prepares the reader for the sharp contrast that follows in the name change in verse 20.

Verses 20–22a form the nadir of the Ruth narrative. Here all the negative elements are present in concentrated form. Naomi and Ruth were now physically present in Bethlehem, and Naomi was preparing to live out her days in bitterness. Perhaps the most significant word in this passage is the one that captures the mood of a woman who felt that she had lost everything, including her hope: “Mara” (“bitter”). Naomi’s name change is also descriptive of the static quality of the unideal experience in its purest form.

Naomi then recounted the reasons for her bitterness. She said, “The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me” (v. 20 ). How so?

He had allowed her to leave Bethlehem “full” (of love, hope, family, purpose) but had brought her back “empty” (v. 21 ). Naomi’s emptiness and bitterness typify the spiritual “famine” that characterized the nation during the period of the Judges and was pictured in the natural famine that plagued the land. The scene comes to a close with a narrative bracket emphasizing the theme of return: “So Naomi returned [וַתָּשָׁב] and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned [הַשָּׁבָה] from the land of Moab” (1:22a ).

From this point the narrative builds on the difference between Naomi’s perception of “things as they are” and actual truth. As the reader advances through the narrative he becomes increasingly aware of the comfort and assurance that came (to Naomi in particular) from the realization that there is a literal correspondence between what God had said concerning His character17 and the way He actually demonstrates His character. In the first two scenes of the first act Naomi interpreted God in light of her circumstances. She looked at her situation and said in effect, “This bitterness is the only reality I know or that can be known. This is ‘truth,’ and by it I will redefine my concept of God.”

In other words Naomi interpreted God in light of the phenomena rather than interpreting the phenomena in light of what she knew to be true of God. Naomi was on the verge of discovering that a phenomenological approach to life and to the interpretation of God’s promises is both frustrating and inappropriate. Over the course of the next three months (the months between the Feast of Firstfruits, when Israel acknowledged her need of divine provision, and the Feast of Pentecost, when she thankfully acknowledged God’s having provided) Naomi learned that there is a direct correspondence between God’s revelation concerning Himself and reality.

The Literary Element of Comedy

The comic structure of the Ruth narrative begins to unfold in the first verse of the second act: “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (1:22b). As already noted, the barley harvest had significance for the original readers of this narrative. Until this point, the narrative is preparatory in a sense. Now the story comes into full play. This study concentrates on the comic element itself, which appears between verses 5 and 6 of chapter 4 .

Boaz had just added a stipulation to the redemption contract he was negotiating with the unnamed kinsman: “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance” (4:5 ). In the brief space of two Hebrew verses, the comic element occurred, the decision was made, and the kinsman-redeemer (הַגֹּאֵל) responded, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it” (v. 6 ).

Again, as is always the case with the transitional elements, one notes the move from cause (4:5 ) to effect (v. 6 ). This “effect” is the apex of the action, the denouement of the narrative, and counterpoint to the nadir of 1:20 . Here the audience breathes a collective sigh of relief and celebrates with Boaz in his acquisition of Ruth (and the land; 4:9–10 ). The blessing of the people in the court (vv. 11–12 ) is the blessing of the auditors or the reading audience as well. The action then settles into joyful celebration immediately following the recognition recorded in 4:5–6 . All that remains for the audience is the brief falling action and the “curtain.”

Regarding the structure itself, there is an amazing inversion of traditional archetypal images as they are normally employed in this kind of narrative.18 Alter has combined a modified version of the Homeric scholarship of Walter Arend19 and his own understanding of biblical literature20 in an effort to construct a literary paradigm that reflects the patterns he sees in certain biblical narratives called “type-scenes.”21 While this study disagrees with Alter on some of his character designations (e.g., Alter views Ruth as the protagonist), his insights into the archetypal inversions in the Book of Ruth narrative have a direct bearing on the hermeneutical significance of the relationship between structure and archetypal content. A few of the structural parallels and archetypal dissimilarities between the Ruth narrative and three earlier biblical betrothal type-scenes22 will now be examined briefly to demonstrate archetypal accommodation to a basically “fixed” comic structure.

First, the reader is confronted with the unusual situation of the protagonist (Naomi) functioning as the pivotal character, but not as the heroine. In two of the three betrothal type-scenes that precede this one, the pivotal character was also the protagonist. The exception among the three is in Genesis 24:10–61, where Abraham’s servant functioned as the protagonist, while Rebekah was the pivotal character. Jacob was both protagonist and pivotal character (Gen 29:1–20), and Moses too functioned as both (Exod 2:15b–21).

Second, readers are surprised to discover a focus on the heroine (Ruth), rather than on the hero (Boaz). Even though Rebekah was the pivotal character in Genesis 24:10–61, the reader is acutely aware of the importance of the absent (and typically passive) Isaac in the person of his father’s servant. There could be little argument about the focus of the other betrothal narratives. Both Moses and Jacob were constantly in the heroic spotlight.

A third surprise for the reader of the Book of Ruth turns on the distinctiveness of the geographical locus of the narrative. From previous narratives the reader would expect the protagonist to travel to a foreign land where he would obtain a bride. Isaac (through his father’s servant), Jacob, and Moses all traveled to encounter the women they eventually married. Not so in the Book of Ruth. In this narrative Ruth (a foreigner) left her home to “return” (1:22 ) to the “foreign” soil of Judah, where she was discovered by the hero, Boaz (thus the thematic emphasis on “return”). But how is it that Ruth could “return” to a place she had never been before? Alter suggests that “we get a progressive sense that [Ruth] is actually coming back to the unknown homeland of her new destiny.”23

Another small twist on the use of geographical conventions is evident in the location and use of the well. Typically the well was located on foreign soil. In Ruth the well was in Judah, near Bethlehem. Given the inversion of the traditional archetypal roles of men and women in the Ruth narrative, the fact that the men drew the water (2:9 ) was a consistent action. (Men as a group did not draw water in the other three betrothal narratives: Rebekah drew water for Abraham’s servant [Gen 24:45–46]; Jacob drew water [Gen 29:10]; and Moses drew water [Exod 2:17, 19]). As Alter points out, since the three men each chose a wife from among the women who gathered around the well, the reader might have even expected Ruth to have chosen a marriage partner from among the young men.24

Boaz’s conversation with Ruth is expected, though there was a twist in the content of their discussion. In the previous betrothal narratives much attention was given to the genealogies of both Rebekah and Rachel. Abraham made it clear to his servant that Isaac’s wife must come from his relatives and not from the Canaanites (Gen 24:3–4).25 Isaac did the same with regard to Jacob’s choosing a wife (Gen 28:1–2). Boaz, however, focused not on Ruth’s lineage, but on her selfless service to Naomi. His wording in 2:11 is so close to the wording of Genesis 12:1 as to make the connection of Ruth with Abraham unmistakable. Just as Abraham moved from the east to Canaan, so did Ruth. Her exhibition of courage and faithfulness was recommendation enough for Boaz; no genealogy was needed. Thus the physical link to Abraham was downplayed and the spiritual link was reinforced.

Following the drawing of the water and the conversation with the prospective bride, the prospective groom (or his representative, as in Gen 24) enjoyed a meal, often with his future bride. Abraham’s servant enjoyed a meal following his conversation with Rebekah (v. 54 ). The Jacob narrative lacks reference to a meal after the initial encounter with Rachel, but the Moses narrative includes a meal at the behest of Reuel (Exod 2:20). Thus the meal in Ruth 2:14 fits the pattern established in preceding narratives.

The archetypal reversals in the Ruth narrative are not to be taken as “the technical manipulation of a literary convention for the sheer pleasure of play with the convention.”26 If the initial readers had grown to expect certain literary conventions (as a result of exposure to earlier type-scenes)27 by the time of the Ruth narrative, it seems logical to conclude that in an extended betrothal type-scene (such as the Ruth narrative), the significance of the archetypes and their structure would assume an even greater magnitude. If the crucial archetypes are reversed, then even more attention would accrue.

In the Book of Ruth, the basic structure (that which is common to the betrothal type-scene) remains intact. The action progresses from one archetype to the next as expected. The surprises, therefore, do not come in the structure but in the archetypal inversions. While the significance of the archetypal inversions is dramatic enough in light of the already established type-scenes, it is heightened even further when seen against the contrasting structures of the two preceding narratives in the Book of Judges.28

Thus the narrative of Ruth stands out. It is archetypally unique to the traditional betrothal type-scene, and it is structurally unique to the preceding narratives (though it maintains the structural conventions associated with romantic comedy). The comic structure of Ruth is established; however, while the structure is consistent, the archetypes within that structure are fluid. The careful interpreter cannot, therefore, assume (and may certainly not impose) a structure based on archetypal content alone. An exegetically determined structure will reveal the significance of archetypes that are a part of that structure, but the archetypes must not be used (in any determinative sense) to reveal structure, since the same archetype can be employed legitimately in a variety of structural contexts.

The Literary Element of Romance

One discovers the romantic element in the Book of Ruth in the changes recorded in 4:1322 . The joy of the birth29 of a son to Ruth and Boaz is immediate. The sense of fullness has returned. She who had been barren was made fruitful just as the land was emerging from a famine to yield its full harvest, which also coincided with the (unheralded) celebration of divine provision at the Feast of Pentecost. But this joy is heightened in the following verses when the reader is informed that Ruth and Boaz were in the direct line of David the king (vv. 17, 22 ).

As noted in the discussion of Boaz’s first conversation with Ruth, Boaz downplayed Ruth’s foreign ancestry. Why is attention suddenly given to her progeny in 4:17 and in 4:1822 ? One begins to understand the answer to this question by considering the betrothal narrative of Genesis 24. There Abraham demanded that Isaac’s prospective wife be a relative from his land and that she be brought to his son in Canaan. Genesis 24:7 states the reason for his demand: “The Lord, the God of heaven…took me from my father’s house and from the land of my birth, and…spoke to me, and…swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’“ Abraham based his directive to his servant on God’s promise of the land as stated in the Abrahamic Covenant (12:7 ; 13:15 ; 15:18 ).

Intermarriage with the pagan Canaanites would contaminate the spiritual purity of the Abrahamic line, which in turn would jeopardize the fulfillment of the promise. Also since the Lord had brought Abraham out of Mesopotamia to the land of promise, he did not want Isaac to live in the land that held no divine promise of inheritance (Gen 24:6–7). Abraham wanted to keep the marriage in the family and in the land.

Of particular interest is Abraham’s desire to maintain racial purity. The Ruth narrative closes on a strong romantic note with a genealogy of the chief names that will be associated with the new “society” (the monarchy) that emerged (by the time of writing) out of the dark period of the Judges. The last name—David—mentioned in the short list of Ruth 4:17 is the same name that occurs last in the longer list in verses 18–22 . Thus David is seen to be the product of the union of an Israelite (Boaz) with a foreigner (Ruth). What Abraham feared would disallow the inheritance was used by God to secure it.30 But the irony does not stop there. To appreciate the impact that this concluding genealogy must have had on the original readers, it is necessary to look more closely at the list in verses 18–22.

The lineage that leads to David began with Perez, the illegitimate son of Judah and Tamar (Gen 38:29). Tamar was almost certainly a Canaanite who, like Ruth, married into the covenant community (v. 6 ). Posing as a prostitute (v. 14 ), she seduced Judah because he had not fulfilled his levirate responsibility to her. The focus on levirate responsibility is clear in Ruth. Equally clear is the contrast between “the-end-justifies-the-means” attitude of Tamar and the purity of Ruth, as well as the lechery of Judah over against the dignity and self-control of Boaz. The author prepared his audience for a heightened sense of contrast between these two pairs in the way he recorded the night meeting of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 3).

The provocative imagery in Ruth 3 combines with the reference to Perez in 4:18 to reinforce not only the contrast between Judah/Tamar and Ruth/Boaz, but also to widen the gulf between the expectations of man and the ways of the Lord. Who would have expected the Lord to include the illegitimate product of a sinful union of a Jew and an ostensibly Canaanite prostitute in the messianic line? The historical parallels actually serve to heighten the contrasts.

Matthew 1:5 states that Salmon (Ruth 4:21) was the husband of Rahab (presumably the Canaanite prostitute of Josh 2:1). Rahab was probably the “mother” of Boaz in the sense of being his ancestress, since she lived in Joshua’s day, 200 or 300 years before Ruth and Boaz.31 This connection with Rahab is especially interesting in light of the Judah/Tamar story. While Rahab was indeed a prostitute, the Joshua narrative emphasized her courageous service to the spies and her inclusion within the covenant community (Josh 6:25; cf. Heb 11:31). Her character was more nobly presented than that of the scheming Tamar. Again the reader is forced to admit that he would probably not have picked either Rahab or her descendant Boaz as participants in the covenant promises, much less as contributors to the messianic line.32

In establishing the spiritual link between Ruth and Abraham (Ruth 2:11) and the physical link from Perez through Ruth to David (4:1822 ), the author reinforced the concept that one’s physical relationship to the head of the Jewish nation was not the ultimate criterion for the Lord’s fulfilling His covenant promises. Neither does one’s spiritual relationship with the Lord depend on physical connection with Abraham. Ruth, Rahab, and even Tamar entered the spiritual (and for them the physical) blessings of covenant community by an act of faith. The ideal experience, the idyllic romance into which Ruth resolves, turns out to be the product not of human engineering and manipulation but of simple faith in the Architect of history. The curtain comes down on a joyful new society, a society that began with the cry of new life and that held the promise of continued blessing in the person of David, Israel’s greatest king.


What benefit does the definition of plot structure afford the interpreter of the text? Once the reader discovers the type of structure(s) of the narrative, and the locus of the defining element(s) in those structures, then he can more accurately reflect on the dynamic movement (or development) of the narrative from one level to the next and then to its climax and denouement. This kind of literary analysis offers several practical benefits to the interpreter: (1) It reinforces and adds dimension to correct exegesis. (2) It highlights the artistry of the writer, and thereby the audience’s appreciation for the aesthetic beauty of God’s inspired text. (3) It prevents the interpreter’s placing an improper emphasis on what may be only incidental to the development of the author’s message. (4) It exalts the Lord by showing that He is the Master of history. (5) Once the structure is discovered33 and is shown to be theologically consonant with the rest of Scripture, that structure becomes a source of truth in and of itself. That is to say, the reader can discover truth not only through structure, but also in structure.

Plot structures, as immutable forms, provide more than a grid through which the reader may filter narrative. They offer more than a series of predetermined literary pegs on which one may hang exegetical data in an effort to see some abstruse design. Rather, the design inherent in the structures is meaningful as a structure in that context.34 In other words any of the plot structures in the Book of Ruth, or even the monomythic structure of the narrative as a whole may, when taken in context, yield a different truth from the same structure in a different context. All comedies do not teach the same lesson. Otherwise the reader would need only one in the Bible.

One of the primary lessons learned from the comic structure of the Ruth narrative is that “appearances are often deceiving.” Very little in this narrative unfolded as either the audience or the characters involved in the action would have guessed initially. Out of this constant twisting and turning of conventional literary patterns one also learns that the Lord is faithful to His covenant promises, that He is in control of even the most mundane affairs of life, and that He is free to choose whomever He desires as the object of His gracious provision. He is not bound by man’s finite understanding of His ways and will always act consistently with His character.

But all of this means nothing unless the interpreter clings (as Ruth clung to Naomi) to a correspondence view of truth. Unless the interpreter comes to the same realization that Naomi did in 2:20 , namely, that Yahweh is in reality the covenant-keeping God that His name suggests Him to be, then his studies will ultimately prove as fruitless and barren as the Judean desert during the famine of Ruth 1. These highly poetic narratives are no less true for their beauty. In fact, the events recorded in such high style reveal more accurately God’s artistic design in history than would a dry and unliterary reporting of the events. The critic’s hesitancy to embrace the events as historic reveal more about his pedestrian view of God than about any professed historical objectivity.

The truth revealed in plot structure will always enhance exegesis; it will never detract from it. This author hopes this brief study on plot structure in Ruth will help reveal the harmony of God’s design of all history (as revealed in His inerrant Word), the artful symmetry of His working in human lives, and the absolute trustworthiness of His Person.


1. These elements may be described briefly as follows. Romance is literature that depicts an ideal human society; joy and harmony pervade the atmosphere. Anti-romance is the opposite of romance, and portrays a society in bondage; there is a distinct absence of joy and harmony. Tragedy is an event that drags the romantic ideal down into the anti-romantic unideal; the tragic element is in this sense transitional. Comedy is also transitional and is the opposite of the tragic element in that it pulls the movement up from the bondage of joyless anti-romance into the freedom of joyful romance. The monomyth is the cyclic composite narrative comprising the four elements just described; it is the archetypal pattern true of all literature. For detailed definitions and analyses of these components of literary analysis, see Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973); and idem, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981).

2. The tragic element can only be defined in terms of its cause and effect, because the precise moment of transition can seldom be captured in and of itself. Both the cause and the effect are often expressed in terms of archetypes of ideal or unideal experience, or in language expressive of a pivotal decision (= transition). The famine in Judah was not tragic in and of itself, and so is not transitional. It was merely the instrument God used to initiate a transition that eventuated in anti-romance.

3. While the Book of Judges does not come immediately before the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible (Proverbs precedes Ruth in the Massoretic Text), it does provide the historical setting for the events of Ruth. In fact the narrator invited a comparison with the period of the Judges (Ruth 1:1), the most natural book to consult for a record of that time. Literary connections must certainly have been explored in light of the vivid contrasts between the key elements in each book. Disregarding the chronological connection, the contrast in moral climates alone would have been sufficient to invite further literary comparison.

4. Merrill has given an excellent analysis of the features of the trilogy (Eugene H. Merrill, “The Book of Ruth: Narration and Shared Themes,” Bibliotheca Sacra 142 [April-June 1985]: 130-41).

5. Note the emphasis on Jonathan’s levitical and geographical origins, as well as the connection with Ephraim: “Now there was a young man from Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite; and he was staying there. Then the man departed from the city, from Bethlehem in Judah…he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. And Micah said to him, ‘Where do you come from?’ And he said to him, ‘I am a Levite from Bethlehem in Judah.’ …So the Levite went in. And the Levite agreed to live with the man…. So Micah consecrated the Levite…. Then Micah said, ‘Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, seeing I have a Levite as priest’“ (Judg 17:7–13). The emphasis on the levitical origin of this descendant of Moses as well as the Bethlehem-Ephraim connection is important as the author of Judges developed by implication a subtly pro-Davidic/anti-Saulide emphasis. This emphasis is increasingly evident in the second and third narratives of the trilogy. For a consideration of this, see the discussion below on the romantic element.

6. It is interesting to note an “emptiness” motif here as well. In Judges 18:24 Micah bemoaned his loss: “You have taken away my gods which I made, and the priest, and have gone away, and what do I have besides?” Micah had lost his gods, while Naomi felt that God had deserted her. Note also that Micah returned to his house (unideal experience) once he realized that his cause was hopeless (18:26 ). This “return” motif is dominant early in the Book of Ruth.

7. Cf. Merrill, “The Book of Ruth: Narration and Shared Themes,” p. 131.

8. The shift is subtle. Later readers may suspect a potential resolution because of recognizing the phrase “the Lord had visited [פקד] His people” as a clue to a positive outcome (cf. 1 Sam 2:21; this is of particular interest in light of the possibility that Samuel may have written both 1 Samuel 1:1–25:1 and Ruth and that the same construction is used in both places to describe the Lord’s making fruitful what was barren). Note also Genesis 21:1; 50:24–25 . It is still true that from the character’s point of view, the situation is irredeemably tragic. It is also true that the good news from Judah is unsubstantiated for both Naomi and the reader. It is only something she heard about (1:6 ), and so the possibility exists that her return could be based on a vain hope.

9. This aspect of the development of the plot is considered under the romantic element below.

10. There is no mention of Naomi being bereft of grandchildren, a detail the writer certainly would not have overlooked in view of his emphasis on personal loss. Also note the phrase in 4:13 , “And the Lord enabled her to conceive,” suggesting that Ruth had not previously been able to have children.

11. The significance of the Feast of Pentecost, linked with the end of the barley and wheat harvests, will be discussed below with the development of the fourth structural element.

12. There is no direct mention of any of the feasts in the Book of Ruth. However, is the reader to take the pointed seasonal references in 1:22 and 2:23 as merely temporal indicators? Do the prominent agricultural images of famine, harvest, wheat, and barley serve no other purpose than to reinforce metaphorical parallels with the main characters? Could not these and other such references be a subtle artistic device that draws attention to a significance in the feasts that lies beyond surface observations? In fact could not the book’s lack of explicit mention of the feasts be taken as an indirect commentary on their significance, especially in light of these other considerations? It is as if the author were “talking around” the feasts, noting the times of year in which Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Firstfruits were celebrated; noting the harvesting of particular crops of barley and wheat; tying the agricultural motif into the lives of the characters in an essential way; and emphasizing the blessing of God as He made fruitful what had been barren. It seems, therefore, that a consideration of the significance of the festal cycle as it relates to the events in the Book of Ruth is called for.

The absence of direct reference to the feasts does not automatically suggest that they were not being observed. Unless one holds that the lineage leading to David in Ruth 4:18–22 is a historical gloss or other type of conflation, there is some biblical evidence to suggest that at least some of the annual feasts were being observed at or near the time of writing (probably the early monarchical period): Joshua 5:10–12 records the observance of the Passover at Gilgal when Joshua brought the people into Canaan; the celebration of Tabernacles during the time of Ezra is said to have been different from anything done since the days of Joshua (Neh 8:13–18), suggesting there had been at least some observance of the feast in the interim; the feast mentioned in Judges 21:19 is almost certainly one of the annual feasts and could have been the Passover (“behold, there is a feast of the Lord from year to year in Shiloh”; note the dancing of the women [v. 21 ], which may imitate the celebratory dance of the women following the first Passover after the deliverance from the Egyptians through the Red Sea [Exod 15]); the feast that is mentioned without elucidation in 1 Kings 8:2 is almost certainly the Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:65; 2 Chron 7:9–10), since it occurs in the seventh month (cf. Lev 23:33–36). In 2 Chronicles 8:12–13 Solomon is said to have offered burnt offerings to the Lord for the three annual feasts (among others). There can be little doubt that at least some of the feasts were being celebrated, if not during the time of Ruth, then certainly during the monarchy, when the audience would have noted not only the significance of the calendrical references but also the absence of any direct reference to the feasts.

13. For an extended discussion, see Terry C. Hulbert, “The Eschatological Significance of Israel’s Annual Feasts” (ThD diss., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1965).

14. In 1:22a the word “returned” (שׁוּב) is used once as a verb and once as a participle. This repetition mirrors the double statement of Naomi’s return with her daughters-in-law which closed out the first scene (1:6–7 ).

15. Müller suggests the following translations: “terrified” (1 Sam 4:5), “uproar” (1 Kings 1:45), “uproar” (Ruth 1:19). In each case, the context helps determine the translation of the niphal. The 1 Samuel context is positive, as is the 1 Kings context. It seems that after Naomi’s arrival, the initial atmosphere—that is, the one in which the exclamation of the townsfolk was made—was also positive. However, Naomi quickly reversed the mood in her insistence on being called “Mara” (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v. המםhmm,” by H.-P. Müller [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974], 3:422).

16. Edward F. Campbell, Jr., Ruth: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, vol. 7 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1975), p. 75.

17. Naomi’s familiarity with God’s revelation of Himself as the covenant-keeping God of Israel is evident in her repeated use of His covenant name Yahweh (1:6 , reported conversation from the narrator’s point of view; 1:8–9, 13, 21 ). This does not suggest she was unfamiliar with other names for God. For example she used אֱלֹהִים in reference to the gods of Moab in 1:15 . Ruth referred to “your God” (וֵאלֹהַיִךּ), the one true God (1:16 ). Naomi used another name for God in 1:2021 : “Call me Mara, for the Almighty (שַׁדַּי) has dealt very bitterly with me…and the Almighty (וְשַׁדַּי) has afflicted me.” That Naomi fully understood the covenant-keeping nature of the Lord is also evident in her declaration of 2:20 : “May he be blessed of the Lord [Yahweh] who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” The word translated “withdrawn” is עָזַב. A better translation in this context would be “forsaken,” the idea being that Yahweh has not “forsaken” the “kindness” (חֶסֶד) on which His unilateral covenant is at least partially predicated, by which it is sustained, and through which it is revealed in His covenant-keeping name. The use of עָזַבhere anticipates David’s use of the same word when he reminded his readers of God’s promise never to forsake the righteous by allowing him to fall into the hands of the wicked (Ps 37:25, 33). Neither do the poor and the oppressed have anything to fear, since the Lord has not forsaken them: “The Lord [Yahweh] also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble, and those who know Thy name will put their trust in Thee; for Thou, O Lord [Yahweh], hast not forsaken those who seek Thee” (Ps 9:9–10). Of particular note in light of the Ruth narrative is Ethan’s use of the word in Psalm 89:30–37. Even if David’s descendants forsake (עזב) Yahweh’s law, still He will not break off (v. 33 ) His lovingkindness (חֶסֶד; cf. Ruth 2:20), nor will He violate His covenant (Ps 89:34) with the Davidic dynasty. Given the author’s definite interest in presenting the Davidic line in a positive light (Ruth 4:18–22), Naomi’s recognition in 2:20 of the Lord’s guiding hand is all the more significant.

18. Robert Alter has similarly observed, “In this elliptical version, the author has rotated the betrothal type-scene 180 degrees on the axes of gender and geography” (The Art of Biblical Narrative [New York: Basic Books, 1981], p. 58).

19. Cf. Walter Arend, Die typischen Szenen bei Homer, Forschungen zur klassischen Philologie 7 (Berlin: Weidmann, 1933).

20. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, p. 50. Regarding the audience expectation of certain archetypal ingredients, Alter writes, “What I would suggest is that when a biblical narrator—and he might have originally been an oral storyteller, though that remains a matter of conjecture—came to the moment of his hero’s betrothal, both he and his audience were aware that the scene had to unfold in particular circumstances, according to a fixed order. If some of those circumstances were altered or suppressed, or if the scene were actually omitted, that communicated something to the audience” (ibid., p. 52).

21. Alter’s type-scenes are defined in terms of archetypal content as well as the structure of that content and the ordered movement within that structure (from one archetype to the next). While he does not go far enough in defining the structure per se (he seems to assume fixed archetypes), still Alter offers a summary of the essential components (along with archetypal significance) of the traditional betrothal type-scene based on observed structural and archetypal similarities in Homeric epic. The summary is of interest here, since his study reflects a comparative analysis of exclusively biblical texts: “The betrothal type-scene, then, must take place with the future bridegroom, or his surrogate, having journeyed to a foreign land. There he encounters a girl—the term ’na`arah’ invariably occurs unless the maiden is identified as so-and-so’s daughter—or girls at a well. Someone, either the man or the girl, then draws water from the well; afterward, the girl or girls rush to bring home the news of the stranger’s arrival (the verbs ‘hurry’ and ‘run’ are given recurrent emphasis at this junction of the type-scene); finally, a betrothal is concluded between the stranger and the girl, in the majority of instances, only after he has been invited to a meal.
“The archetypal expressiveness of this whole type-scene is clear enough. The hero’s emergence from the immediate family circle—though two of the most famous betrothal scenes stress endogamy (Gen 24:10–61; Gen 29:1–20)—to discover a mate in the world outside is figured in the young man’s journey to a foreign land; or perhaps the foreign land is chiefly a geographical correlative for sheer female otherness of the prospective wife. The well at an oasis is obviously a symbol of fertility and, in all likelihood, also a female symbol. The drawing of water from the well is the act that emblematically establishes a bond—male-female, host-guest, benefactor-benefited—between the stranger and the girl, and its apt result is the excited running to bring the news, the gestures of hospitality, the actual bretrothal. The plot of the type-scene, then, dramatically enacts the coming together of mutually unknown parties in the marriage” (ibid., p. 52).

22. There are, of course, others, including David’s obtaining of three of his wives (though these narratives contain a number of ambiguities and so are suspect as legitimate betrothal type-scenes). Samson’s “betrothal scene” in Judges 14 is almost heavy-handed in its obvious omission of the “proper” channels of courtship (underscoring his impetuosity; see Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, p. 61).

23. Ibid., p. 59.

24. Ibid.

25. The significance of Abraham’s insistence will be discussed under the romantic element.

26. Ibid., p. 59. Alter allows for “significant playful activity on the part of the Hebrew writers” (ibid., p. 60).

27. It should be noted as well that it is not merely a question of being exposed to previous narratives with a similar structure and archetypal content. The fact is that the betrothal scene of Isaac and Rebekah sets the archetypal pattern for the scenes that follow by virtue of the fact that they were the first children to marry under the canopy of the Abrahamic Covenant. All subsequent betrothals would necessarily be measured against the original (cf. ibid., p. 60).

28. Those structures contrast not in the sense of violating the structural conventions associated with tragedy, but in the sense of injecting an unexpected comic structure. This structure is particularly deceptive due to the introductory archetypes of the unideal experience that had just been employed at the outset of the previous two tragic narratives (Judg 17–18 ; 19–21 ).

29. “Birth” is anticipated in the blessing in 4:11c–12 and is realized and emphasized in 4:1322 . The word for “birth” (יָלַד) is repeated in several forms 12 times, not including the derivatives תּרֹלְדרֹת (“generations,” which occurs once), and יָלֶד(“child,” which occurs once).

30. Ruth’s literary connection with Abraham in 2:11 is especially interesting in this light.

31. Another explanation is that this Rahab is in fact the mother of Boaz and thereby is not the same person as the prostitute in Joshua 2.

32. Merrill points out that the selection of David himself was “contrary to all convention since he was not the eldest son of Jesse but, to the contrary, the youngest. Beyond the confines of the genealogy proper it is significant finally that David’s own dynastic heir, Solomon, was born to a royal wife who had become such under most inauspicious circumstances. And he was not the eldest son of David, not the one who by every traditional criterion should have become heir apparent. Moreover, he was the son of a foreigner, a Hittite” (Merrill, “The Book of Ruth: Narration and Shared Themes,” pp. 134-35). Merrill also demonstrates the regal link to Messiah through the continuum, Abraham-David-Christ (evident in the Book of Ruth), as well as the priestly link with Messiah through the Melchizedek-David-Christ continuum, neither of which is interrupted by Mosaism (ibid., p. 137). This means that in David’s functioning as a priest after the order of Melchizedek (1 Chron 15:25–28; 16:1–3, 8–36 ; cf. Ps 110; he could not have functioned as an Aaronic priest since he was of the tribe of Judah [Matt 1:1–6]), he did so “outside the Mosaic priestly order and in an inherently more universal and comprehensive way since, as Hebrews argued, even Levi in Abraham’s loins paid tithe to Melchizedek” (ibid.). This is especially interesting in light of the Tamar/Judah connection in Ruth 4:18, but it is beyond the scope of this article to explore the New Testament connection with Messiah in any depth.

33. The point of discovery comes when the content of the exegetically analyzed text (consisting of archetypes of ideal or unideal experience, motifs, “incidental data,” etc.) assumes the “shape” of one of the four recognizable structures. It is at this point that the focus narrows to a search for the transitional or static element that is the sine qua non of that structure.

34. Individual structures are initially defined in terms of their relationships with other structures; however, once the overall structure of the entire narrative has been discovered, one may return to individual structures or even to the structural elements themselves (as they occur in context) for insight. It is also important to remember the nature of the individual structures: the ideal and unideal structures are static, while the tragic and comic structures are transitional. This means that one can analyze the static structures as they are, but one can only analyze the transitional structures in terms of “having been” and “becoming.”

35. Grant, Reg, Bibliotheca Sacra, Vol. 148,  October-December 1991, pp. 425-442. Used by permission Bibliotheca Sacra.

The Book of Ruth - Introduction - Contents

1.  General Introduction 8 Addendum-1 Ruth VS Israel
2 The Story: (Keil and Delitzsch) 9 Addendum-2 The "Field of Boaz"
3.  The Story: (C. I. Scofield) 10 Addendum-3 Israel and The Feast Of Weeks
4 The Characters 11 Addendum-4 Salmon the Rescuer_?
5 The Full Outline with Text 12 Addendum-5 Innuendo
6 The Full Outline and Charts 13 Addendum-6 The Cycles of Fellowship
7.  Book Text in Paragraph Form W/outline 14.  Addendum-7 Literary Structure in the Book of ruth - "a must read" - Reg Grant (Bibsac)

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