Ancient versions and modern translations consistently entitle this book after Ruth the Moabitess heroine, who is mentioned by name twelve times (1:4 to 4:13). Only two OT books receive their names from women—Ruth and Esther. The OT does not again refer to Ruth, while the NT mentions her just once—in the context of Christ’s genealogy (Matt. 1:5; cf. 4:18–22). “Ruth” most likely comes from a Moabite and/or Hebrew word meaning “friendship.”Ruth arrived in Bethlehem as a foreigner (2:10), became a maidservant (2:13), married wealthy Boaz (4:13), and discovered herself in the physical lineage of Christ (Matt. 1:5).
Aside from Bethlehem (1:1), Moab (the perennial enemy of Israel which was east of the Dead Sea), stands as the only other mentioned geographic/national entity (1:1, 2). This country originated when Lot fathered Moab by an incestuous union with his oldest daughter (Gen. 19:37). Centuries later the Jews encountered opposition from Balak, king of Moab, through the prophet Balaam (Num. 22–25). For 18 years Moab oppressed Israel during the judges (3:12–30). Saul defeated the Moabites (1 Sam. 14:47) while David seemed to enjoy a peaceful relationship with them (1 Sam. 22:3, 4). Later, Moab again troubled Israel (2 Kin. 3:5–27; Ezra 9:1). Because of Moab’s idolatrous worship of Chemosh (1 Kin. 11:7, 33; 2 Kin. 23:13) and its opposition to Israel, God cursed Moab (Is. 15–16; Jer. 48; Ezek. 25:8–11; Amos 2:1–3).
The story of Ruth occurred in the days “when the judges ruled” Israel (1:1) ca. 1370 to 1041B.C. (Judg. 2:16–19) and thus bridges time from the judges to Israel’s monarchy. God used “a famine in the land” of Judah (1:1) to set in motion this beautiful drama, although the famine does not receive mention in Judges which causes difficulty in dating the events of Ruth. However, by working backward in time from the well known date of David’s reign (1011–971 B.C.), the time period of Ruth would most likely be during the judgeship of Jair, ca. 1126–1105 B.C. (Judg. 10:3–5).
Ruth covers about 11–12 years according to the following scenario: 1) 1:1–18, ten years in Moab (1:4); 2) 1:19–2:23, several months (mid-Apr. to mid-June) in Boaz’s field (1:22; 2:23); 3) 3:1–18, one day in Bethlehem and one night at the threshing floor; and 4) 4:1–22, about one year in Bethlehem.