This story is best categorized as an idyll, a simple description of rustic life. The plot centers around three main characters: Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. The action may be viewed in four scenes, each scene revolving around an important dialogue. The events of ch. 1 take place in Moab (more technically on the road back from Moab), and the dialogue involves primarily Naomi and Ruth. The rest of the action is set in Bethlehem or its environs.
The material in Ruth is organized according to a “problem-solution” framework. The basic problem and its severity is presented in stark terms in 1:1-5. Driven from home by famine, Elimelech's family is forced to live in Moab for ten years. While there, all three males die, leaving the mother, Naomi, without progeny. Naomi returns to Bethlehem to face the prospects of a life of privation and sorrow. The events of ch. 1 fail to address the problem, but merely explain how Ruth the Moabitess came to live with Naomi in Bethlehem. At the close of the chapter, the problems are abundantly clear. Naomi is without child, Ruth without husband. Together they face the realities of poverty. The rest of the book describes the slow, gradual unfolding of the solution to these problems. The denouement occurs in the climactic fourth chapter where Ruth gets a husband, Naomi gets a (grand)son, and Boaz (a man of “standing”) serves as their kinsman-redeemer (4:13-16).
Many have questioned the originality of the concluding paragraphs. The birth of Obed (4:13-17) and David's genealogy (4:18-22) are commonly taken as secondary to the story. But recent studies have demonstrated that these sections serve an important literary function as closures (known as “codas,” Berlin, 101-10). We agree that 4:13-22 is an integral part of the author's purpose, and these verses will be treated in the commentary as original.