How to Read Ruth

The Book of Ruth


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

Ruth tells the story of two widows and a righteous farmer. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Ruth, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 




Now that you have an overview of  Ruth in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Ruth. Read Ruth's response to Naomi when she decided to leave for Israel in Ruth 1:6–18. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Ruth 1:6–18.   

Ruth 1:6-18 (ESV)

Ruth’s Loyalty to Naomi

6Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.7So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.9The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.10And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?12Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons,13would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”14Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”16But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.17Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Ruth was a Moabite—a foreigner—who trusted Yahweh.


Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Ruth 1:6–18? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Ruth was a Moabite—a foreigner—who trusted Yahweh. (Interpretation) God saves people of all nations when they put their trust in Him.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Ruth 1:6–18? How does its message connect with the main message of all of Ruth? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: God calls the nations to Himself throughout the Old Testament. In Ruth, God grafted in a Moabite woman into king David's lineage. David sang of God’s love for the nations. Jesus commanded His disciples to preach the gospel to all nations. Revelation talks about God’s people as a great multitude from every tribe, nation, and tongue. 


Contextualize: What themes does Ruth 1:6–18 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Ruth? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Since God saves anyone who trusts in Him, I should not hold back from sharing the gospel with anyone because of their race, age, language, or class. This week, instead of shying away from spreading the gospel with certain people because of their nationality, I can boldly tell them about the God who loves them.


Apply: How does the truth from Ruth 1:6–18 affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Ruth to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Ruth, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Ruth this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.