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Ruth 1:1-5 Towards the end of the period of the ‘Judges’, during seventy years of Philistine rule in c.1060BC, there is a severe famine in Canaan. Two Israelites, Elimelech and his wife Naomi, travel east from Bethlehem in Judah, cross the River Jordan and settle in the land of Moab (see 1 on Map 52). Some time later, Elimelech dies, and their two sons marry Moabite women. About ten years later, both the sons also die.
Map 52 Ruth's journey to Bethlehem
Ruth 1:6-18 Naomi decides to return alone to Bethlehem from Moab in c.1050BC, but one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth (a Moabite), is determined to go with her and care for her (see 2 on Map 52).
Ruth 1:19-22 The two women arrive in Bethlehem (meaning ‘house of bread’) at the start of the barley harvest in April. Barley was used to make bread.
Ruth 2:1-23 Ruth goes to pick up leftover grain in a field belonging to a relative of Naomi (see Leviticus 19:9-10). She gains the favour of Boaz, the landowner, who has heard about her kindness to Naomi.
Ruth 3:1-18 Ruth seeks out Boaz under cover of darkness. Boaz is fast asleep after winnowing barley on the threshing floor. He awakes to find Ruth at his feet. As a relative, Boaz agrees to help Ruth and Naomi by buying a plot of land which belonged to Naomi’s husband Elimelech (see Leviticus 25:25).
Ruth 4:1-12 To fulfil the laws of inheritance, another kinsman – who is more closely related to Ruth than Boaz – is given the option of buying the land, but he cannot afford it. So Boaz buys the land from Naomi and then marries Ruth in order to keep the ownership of the land within Elimelech’s family.
Ruth 4:13-22 Ruth and Boaz have a son, Obed. He becomes the father of Jesse, the father of King David. In due course, Bethlehem becomes the ‘City of David’.
View overlooking Bethlehem (Maysa Al Shaer)
Bethlehem has a long history whose significance stretches back far before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Towards the end of the period of the Judges, in c.1060BC, Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi returned across the River Jordan from Moab to Bethlehem. Ruth worked in the field belonging to her relative Boaz and ultimately became his wife. The reputed site of this field – the Field of Ruth - can still be seen at Beit Sahur (‘Village of the shepherds’) near Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is also the site of the tomb of Rachel, the wife of Jacob, who had died here about six hundred years earlier, in c.1690 BC. Rachel’s tomb can still be visited today, on the main road leading from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
Almost a thousand years after the death of Rachel (see Genesis 35:16-20), the prophet Micah, writing between 747BC and 722BC, declared, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are too small to be among the army groups from Judah, from you will come one who will rule Israel for me” (Micah 5:2). This prophesy was fulfilled seven hundred years later when Jesus – a descendent of Isaac, Jacob and Judah, and of Ruth and Boaz - was born at Bethlehem in Judaea (see Matthew 1:2 & 5 and Genesis 49:10).
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