Ruth (Introduction)

 (You will need a whiteboard or flipchart – to draw the family tree of Judah)

Before we look at the book of Ruth we need to sort out some of the background.

It is set during the 300 years of the Judges, between the occupation of the Promised Land (1350bc) and the reign of Saul (1050bc). Early in Judges we read that the Moabites came and retook Jericho, holding it for 18 years before Ehud killed the King of Moab and regained control. Besides that, there is no mention of trouble with Moab in the book of Judges so we can assume that there were fairly normal relations between the two countries for many years.

Apart from Ruth herself, the important characters in the story are all from the tribe of Judah and we will first of all look at some of Judah’s family tree to see just where they fit in.

When we looked at the Levites (Judges 3 a-c), we referred to the ‘sons of Levi’ and the ‘sons of Korah’.

What do we mean by that expression? (Not literal sons - just descendants).

As we look at some lists of names we are going to have to make the same assumptions. Where to assume gaps can be difficult so we’ll start with what is known.

Genesis 37:36, - 38:5
36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

1 At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam (W of Bethlehem, in Judah) named Hirah. 2 There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and lay with her;
3 she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. 4 She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. 5 She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him.


Genesis 38:6-10
6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.7 But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death.
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfil your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother.”9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother.10 What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so he put him to death also

Judah then lay with Tamar, his sister in law (Genesis 38:15,16 etc.) and:

Genesis 38:28-30
8 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out and he was given the name Zerah.

So we can draw

In our earlier study (Judges 3a) we saw that Judah was 9 years older than Joseph so we can date Judah’s children to about 1985bc to 1945bc

Then follows the dark ages – the time in Egypt leading up to the Exodus. There is no detailed record of what went on, but we know that by 1446bc (the exodus) the Israelites had become a nation of about 2.5 million.

(Ex 38v26: 603550 men 20+yrs old, assume same no. of women, =1207100 + children x2 = 2,414,200)

If Judah’s remaining 3 children have 2 children, and their children have 2 children every 30 years, and so on from 1945bc to 1445bc (500 years – 16 generations)

We get 3x2=6, x2=12, x2=24, x2=48, x2=96, 192, 384, 768, 1536, 3072, 6144, 12288, 24576, 49152, 980304, 196608

Add another generation for the 40 years in the desert = 393216

Numbers 26:3,4

3 So on the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them and said,4 “Take a census of men twenty years old or more, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

These were the Israelites who came out of Egypt:

During the Exodus, each group of people is referred to now as a tribe, and within that clans.

Numbers 26:19-22
19 Er and Onan were sons of Judah, but they died in Canaan.

20 The descendants of Judah by their clans were:

through Shelah, the Shelanite clan;

through Perez, the Perezite clan;

through Zerah, the Zerahite clan.

21 The descendants of Perez were:

through Hezron, the Hezronite clan;

through Hamul, the Hamulite clan.

22 These were the clans of Judah; those numbered were 76,500.


Times 2 for women,  =153000, + children = ?300,000

We can now extend the family tree:

1 and 2 Chronicles were originally one book. They end with the return from exile under Cyrus. (2 Chronicles 36:23) so family trees recorded there are from the perspective of people needing to trace their ancestry to their allocation of land in the Promised Land – generations before that were already vague. Much more important was the genealogy of David: when they were free they would again have a King and the family line must be preserved.   


Judah’s family tree as recorded after they had returned from exile (538bc) is recorded in 1 Chronicles chapter 2 and we can now add to our family tree from verse 9

Note 400 years between entry into the promised land and the birth of David, which would probably suggest at least 12 generations

For the purposes of our study in Ruth we will assume that Jerahmeel, Ram and Caleb were those who were in the direct line to King David; and they were the ones heading up the Hezron Clan as they entered the Promised Land. The other 299,997 direct descendants of Judah are ignored!

Before we follow the line of Ram, we’ll take a short diversion.  Genesis 48:7 Jacob (Israel) is speaking

7 As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

So the town of Ephrath (or Ephratha) was already in existence when Jacob lived (2000bc). Imagine the time just after the battle of Jericho. The Israelites are moving into the Promised Land to take possession. I can imagine a young wife, about to have a child, grateful to be able to settle in a town with houses, which had just been vacated by its inhabitants. Her baby was soon born, and she needed a name for her little girl. Why not Ephratha? (Fruitful Place).

Also moving in were the soldiers who had captured it, led by Jerahmeel, Ram and Caleb. NOTE this is Caleb son of Hezron, not Caleb the spy, son of Jephunneh, but obviously a good name to call a son born in the desert, shortly after the spying episode. We’ll quickly look at this branch of the family.

1 Chronicles 2:18-19
18 Caleb son of Hezron had children by his wife Azubah (and by Jerioth). These were her sons: Jesher, Shobab and Ardon.19 When Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath, who bore him Hur.

1 Chronicles 2:50-51
50 These were the descendants of Caleb.
The sons of Hur the firstborn of Ephrathah:
Shobal the father of Kiriath Jearim,51 Salma the father of Bethlehem, and Hareph the father of Beth Gader.
(There were others 1 Chronicles 2:42-50 but I’m ignoring them)

Adding these to our chart we get: (1410BC)

We are not the only ones confused with Caleb so he was called Caleb Ephratha. Besides being named after the town where you live, it works the other way as well and towns were named after the people who lived there. So Ephratha was renamed Bethlehem. The trouble was that there was already a Bethlehem in the north of the country (in Zebulun) so this one was called Bethlehem Judah or Bethlehem Ephratha.

Another thing to bear in mind is that once you have been allocated land, it is to remain in your family for all time. To reinforce that, if you are compelled to sell any land because of hardship, in the year of Jubilee it has to be returned to you. (Lev 25:23)

So we come to the problem with Elimelech. He was forced to sell up and move to Moab because of the famine, but he confidently expected that his sons would be able to return to the ancestral lands when their fortunes improved. Unfortunately both he and his sons died leaving no male heir.

The law provided for this and it was the duty of a brother to marry the widow and provide a son for her. This firstborn son would be treated as if he was actually the dead brother’s son, taking his name and his lands and carrying on the family line.

If there was no brother then the responsibility passed on to the next nearest male relative. This could also raise a problem. If you are a Kinsman redeemer with no sons of your own, when you produce one for your relative’s wife he might legitimately claim your own lands as his inheritance as well.

Deuteronomy 25:5-10
5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
7 However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” 8 Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandalled.


The last thing to look at was where in the family tree Elimelech figures. We have no Idea, other than that he was close to Boaz, but not that close (not brother or cousin). He lived in Bethlehem and he must have been descended from either Jerahmeel, Ram or Caleb, and was the same generation as Salmon.

So into the book of Ruth:

One study introducing the book of Ruth

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