Elimelech, Naomi and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, move to Moab because of a famine. The sons marry the Moabites Orpah and Ruth; Elimelech and sons die. Naomi sets out back to Bethlehem, and tries to persuade Orpah and Ruth to return to their own people. Saying she is too old to bear sons for them to marry. Orpah returns, but Ruth eloquently insists that she wants to stay with her mother-in-law: ‘your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.’ Naomi renames herself Mara, meaning ‘bitter’. They arrive at Bethlehem in the time of the barley harvest.
Ruth gleans barley in Bethlehem from Boaz’s field until end of harvest. Boaz is a relative of Elimelech. Hearing of her loyalty to Naomi, Boaz shows kindness to Ruth, insisting that she gleans from his field alone, and allowing her to glean from sheaves already gathered. Ruth shares the gleanings to Naomi.
Ruth visits Boaz during the night, and lies at Boaz’s feet until morning. Boaz accepts Ruth, impressed that she has not gone after young men, and gives her extra barley. Boaz mentions, however, that there is a closer relative, who has a greater right to be her goel (redeemer) and marry her. Ruth returns home with barley.
Naomi’s kinsman at first seems willing to redeem Elimelech’s land which Naomi sold. Part of his duty as goel is to marry Ruth too, however, and the kinsman in unwilling because he would have ‘ruin his inheritance’, ie, have to split it between the children he presumably already has, and any future children he would have with Ruth. Boaz takes off his sandal, as the sign that he has become Elimelech’s goel. The witnesses bless them, wishing their house may be like the house of Perez (ancestor of the Bethlemites), whom Tamar bore to Judah. Boaz marries Ruth, who gives birth to Obed, who gives birth to Jesse, who gives birth to King David.