In the days when the Judges ruled over Israel, there was a famine in the land. A man named Elimelech, who lived at Bethlehem-Judah, together with his wife Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, left their home on account of it, and went to live in the country of the Moabites.
While they were there Elimelech died, leaving Naomi and her sons, who married two women of the country, named Orpah and Ruth. In about ten years the sons also died. Naomi hearing that the famine which had driven them from home had passed away, decided to return home with her daughters-in-law.
They had gone far before Naomi, remembering that she was now poor, as well as a widow, thought it would be better for her daughters-in-law to stay among their own people than to go with her to what was to them a strange land. She kissed them, and told them return to their mother's house, praying God to bless them for their kindness to her and her sons.
Her daughters wept, and refused to leave her, she urged them to do so, till Orpah yielded, and, bidding Naomi a loving farewell, went back to her own home in Moab.
Ruth, still clung to her mother-in-law; and when Naomi would have had her follow her sister-in-law, who was gone to her own people and the gods of her country (the Moabites where heathens, and worshiped the idol Baal), she answered her, " Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! for wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried.”
Naomi saw how steadfastly Ruth loved her, and she stopped trying to convince her to return. They went on together to Bethlehem-Judah. When they arrived there all the people of the place were surprised to see them, asking, "Is not this Naomi?" Naomi, full of sorrow for her dead husband and sons, and the poverty that had now fallen upon her, answered them, "Call me not Naomi (which signifies "Pleasant"), but Mara ( that is, "Bitterness"), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”
It was the time of barley harvest when Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem. They were so very poor that Ruth went out into the fields to work with the reapers. Ruth happened to work in a field belonging to Boaz. He was a very rich man.
Boaz, seeing her, asked the man who was over the reapers who she was. The man answered that she was Ruth the Moabitess, who had come to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi, and that she had asked him to let her work in the field. Boaz then spoke kindly to Ruth, and told her not to go to any other fields to work. He told her, when she was thirsty, to help herself to the drink that was brought to refresh his servants.
Ruth felt grateful to Boaz, and asked him how it was that he showed so much kindness to a stranger. He told her that he had heard how good a daughter she had been to Naomi and that she had left her own father, and mother, and country, to come with her into a strange land. He prayed that the God of Israel would bless and reward her.
At meal-time he told her to eat and drink with the reapers. So she sat beside them and Boaz himself set food before her. When she returned to the fields to work he told the reapers to let some handfuls of grain fall on purpose for her, that she might gather the most.
Ruth went home in the evening and she gave her mother-in-law some of her own dinner, which she had kept for her and then she beat out the barley she had collected. There was so much barley that Naomi asked her where she had worked that day. Ruth answered, in the field of Boaz. Naomi was glad when she heard this. She told Ruth that he was their near relation and she must cleverly try to see the great man again, and make him understand that the poor gleaner was nearly related to him.
Ruth did as Naomi told her. Boaz knew who she was, he blessed her and said that he would do for her all that the law of the Israelites required from him as her nearest kinsman. He called together the chief men of the city, and before them, as witnesses, bought back the piece of land that had belonged to Elimelech, and Ruth, as the widow of his son, was the next heir.
He took Ruth for his wife and their son Obed was the grandfather of David, who was afterward the great King of Israel.