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. Orpah reluctantly leaves; however, Ruth says, "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. 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 Ruth reminds him that he is "the one with the right to redeem." 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 before the town elders. The other male relative is unwilling to jeopardise the inheritance of his own estate by marrying Ruth, and so relinquishes his right of redemption, thus allowing Boaz to marry Ruth.
Boaz and Ruth get married and have a son named Obed (who by levirate customs is also considered a son or heir to Mahlon, and thus Naomi's grandson). In the genealogy which concludes the story, it is pointed out that Obed is the descendant of Perez the son of Judah, and the grandfather of David.
Many of the books of the Old Testament do not identify their authors, and the Book of Ruth is one of these. There is, however, a historical tradition that alludes to a possibility. The Talmud refers to Samuel as the author, but scholars do not accept this tradition. Samuel died before David became king, and the way in which the author writes the genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22 supposes that the lineage is well known. Even the reference in Ruth 1:1 to the "days when the judges ruled..." indicates that the era had ended and that the audience was somewhat removed from the time. Furthermore, Ruth 4:7 states that the legal custom of taking off a shoe to seal the agreement is no longer in use. Only a generation exists between Samuel and Boaz; therefore, it is unlikely that the time span would require this explanation.
Some scholars suggest that the author of the text is a woman. Two observations point in the direction of a woman author. First, the story centers on the life journey of two women in desperate straits in a male-dominated society and appears to be from the viewpoint of a woman. Second, Naomi and Ruth’s ingenuity and assertiveness propels the story line. However, female authorship is conjecture, supported by only circumstantial evidence.
On the other hand, the message of the book shows acceptance of the Israelites marrying converts to Judaism, and this has been used to suggest that the book was written during the postexilic period, perhaps around 500 BC. Ezra (10:2ff) and Nehemiah (13:23ff) record the problem that arose from the Israelites marrying foreign women. Instead of the wives converting to Judaism the Israelites began to follow their wives' gods. As a result, God’s people fell out of relationship with YHWH. For this reason, Ezra condemned intermarriages and forced the Israelites to abandon their non-Jewish wives. According to this theory, the book was written in response to Ezra's reform and in defense of a marriage to a foreign wife when the wife converts to Judaism. Acceptance of marriages to foreigners who convert to Judaism is further enforced by making the connection to the Davidic line since David is commonly seen as Israel's greatest king. Scholars who prefer the 500 B.C. date do so in reference to this dilemma, and such writers contend that the Book of Ruth demonstrates the belief that a marriage to a foreigner is acceptable to God when the foreigner follows God.
In addition, the later date of 500 B.C is preferred when explaining the use of language in Ruth; however, scholars also realize that the linguistic style of the book could reflect the work of editors following the 900 B.C. date. Essentially, the dating of Ruth is ambiguous, and scholars cannot date the Book of Ruth with any degree of certainty.
It is actually argued, in terms of language, that the book of Ruth is much more akin to an archaic style of Hebrew (J.M. Myers, The Linguistic and Literary Form of the Book of Ruth and Ronald M. Hals, The Theology of the Book of Ruth). It is much more likely that the author wrote in an "archaic" style of Hebrew because he lived in the time period when that form of Hebrew was normal, and that the Aramaic infiltrations in the book of Ruth were later inserted. This is much more easily argued than the other stance that the book was written later (i.e. circa 500 B.C.) with archaic forms of Hebrew being inserted. Therefore, linguistically, it is believed that the Aramaic that is found in the book does not indicate that the book was written later, but that later editorship brought about certain linguistic changes, that, if not scrutinized, may be taken to be evidence for a late authorship. This has not held up well to most scholarship on the subject.
The mood of the story is fashioned from the start through the meanings hidden in the names of the participants. Elimelech, which means "my God is King, foreshadows the continuance of his line to King David, who is God’s anointed on earth. Naomi, which means "my gracious one" or "my delight, later asks to be called Mara, "the bitter one. Naomi’s name change elicits the emotions that she is experiencing and the direction of the story. Even the names of the two sons, Mahlon ("sick") and Chilion ("weakening" or "pining") alerts the reader to their physical conditions. Orpah (meaning "mane" or "gazelle", from the root for "nape" or "back of the neck") turns her back on Naomi and returns to her people; Ruth (meaning "friend") pledges her loyalty to Naomi. Boaz ("fleetness or "strength is (in) him" or "he comes in strength") becomes the kinsman redeemer and Obed’s name appropriately means "servant. Obed is the ancestor of King David, and Israel’s kings are servants of Yahweh. The use of names in the Book of Ruth deepens the story’s narrative strength and assists the reader in appreciating the text’s meaning.
The marriage of Boaz and Ruth was of a type known as a levirate marriage. Redemption is a feature of levirate marriage, and it is a duty taught in Deuteronomy (25:5-10). This custom required a close relative to marry the widow of the deceased (the kinsman) in order to continue his family line. Interestingly, Ruth is not Elimelech’s widow and Boaz is not his brother. Therefore, some scholars refer to Boaz’ duty as “levirate-like” or as a "kinsman-marriage.
Moreover, the Israelites understanding of redemption included both that of people and of land. In Israel land had to stay in the family. The family could mortgage the land to ward off poverty; and the law of Leviticus 25:25ff required a kinsman to purchase it back into the family. The kinsman, who Boaz meets at the city gate, first says he will purchase the land, but upon hearing he must also take Ruth as his wife he withdraws his offer. His decision was primarily a financial decision since a child born to Ruth through the union would inherit Elimelech’s land, and he would not be reimbursed for the money he paid Naomi. Boaz becomes Ruth and Naomi’s "kinsman-redeemer."
The Israelites' understanding of redemption is woven into their understanding of Yahweh. God stands by the oppressed and needy. He extends his love and mercy offering a new freedom and hope. God has a deep concern for the welfare of his people, materially, emotionally and spiritually. The redemption theme extends beyond this biblical book through the genealogy. First, in Ruth 4:13 God made her conceive. Second, through the genealogy it is shown that the son born to Naomi is more than just a gift from God to continue her lineage. The history of God’s rule through the David line connects the book’s theme in to the Bible’s main theme of redemptive history.
Hesed, sometimes translated as "loving kindness," also implies loyalty. The theme of hesed is woven throughout Ruth, beginning at 1:8 with Naomi blessing her two daughters-in-law as she urges them to return to their Moabite families. She says, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” Both Ruth and Boaz demonstrate hesed to their family members throughout the story. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure. Rather, they are acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that a person can be required to go beyond the minimum expectations of the law and choose the unexpected. However, the importance of the law is evident within the Book of Ruth, and the story reflects a need to stay within legal boundaries. Boaz, in going beyond measure in acquiring the property (demonstrating hesed), redeems not only the land but both Naomi and Ruth as well. The two widows now have a secure and protected future.
For Christians the book has additional significance. The connection between Ruth and David is very important because Jesus of Nazareth was born of Mary and adopted by Joseph, both of the lineage of David (see Chapter 3 in Luke and Chapter 1 in Matthew, respectively). Thus in Christian Biblical lineage, Ruth is the fore-mother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). The line can be traced as:
The genealogy of Jesus that we find at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is a male lineage. Only four women from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are included in this long lineage, one of whom is Ruth. The inclusion of these four particular women in a male lineage is noteworthy, indicating that these four women were especially significant.
Ruth's famous words, "For wherever you go, I will go ...," are used in Catholic and some Protestant marriage services, underscoring the similarity of marriage and religious conversion in their covenantal nature. Ruth is also commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on July 16.