To Preach a Book: Sermon 2 – From Life to Death

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

Now I am ready to begin preaching the text of Ruth. I have the major divisions of the book in the form of six scenes to work with. I need to decide how to divide the actual preaching units. I suppose I could have preached one sermon for each scene. That’s a good way to preach the book, and especially when dealing with historical narrative books. I didn’t go that route, mainly because it’s not the detailed exposition I want to do when going verse by verse through a book.

Detailed, verse by verse exposition does present a problem in a narrative book. Preachers are generally more comfortable in prose portions of Scripture, like New Testament epistles. In the epistles, we are looking for thought units and think about essay paragraphs to divide the text for preaching. That doesn’t work with narrative because it is a different content genre. It doesn’t work with poetry either.

Narratives are stories and stories are about change. Change is what drives stories. Stories are made up of characters experiencing change, reacting, and either succeeding or failing. I’m generalizing, but change is what we are looking for in narratives, and as we classify those changes, we identify scenes. Scenes are made up of changes in the form of inciting events, progressive complications, turning points, crisis questions, climax choices, and resolutions.

You can see this break down in my scene sheets for Ruth. I use these sheets to help me to determine the preaching units. In each sermon, I want to capture significant change in the narrative, but I also need to know what form the change is in and how it contributes to the immediate scene and overall story.

I chose Ruth 1:1-5 as my first passage to preach. These verses form the opening image of Scene 1, but also the opening image for the whole book. These first five verses give all the necessary information and the changes that set this story in motion. The story unfolds with a chain of related events leading to the final image, which is a reversal of the opening image. The opening image shows how Naomi and Ruth end up as childless widows in Moab. The final image shows Naomi and Ruth in Bethlehem with Ruth married and having a son who legally stands as Naomi’s son and heir to her dead husband and son. The opening image contributes the setting, two of the main characters, important plot points, and the book’s message, or unifying theme.

Verses 1-2 Famine in Israel

The first words we are given in the book tell us the events happened during the time of the judges. This gives us the time period for the story, but also the cultural and environmental setting. I need to do some work in Judges to find and present relevant information for the book of Ruth. Obviously, Ruth is a stark contrast with Judges since Judges emphasizes covenant unfaithfulness and Ruth emphasizes covenant faithfulness.

Next, we learn a famine came to the land of Judah and a family left Bethlehem to live in Moab temporarily. This is the inciting event for the whole story. Everything that happens, all the way to the end of the book, is connected with this family leaving Judah during a famine. The famine, Bethlehem of Judah, and the country of Moab are all significant.

Verses 3-5 Emptied in Moab

The second part of the opening image shows how Naomi’s situation progressed downward. Her husband died. Her sons married Moabite women and then both her sons died. Though her sons had been married for ten years, they were childless.

The narratorial perspective has emerged by the end of this opening image in verse 5, as the events are told in relation to their effect on Naomi. “And the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.”

Sermon Conclusion

In the conclusion, I want to draw out what lessons are learned in this passage. I want to do that both, in relation to the immediate context and the greater context. I want to end with practical applications for the people who will be in front of me when I preach it.

Sermon Introduction

To introduce the sermon, I want to tell about the passage and what part it plays in the scene and the story. I want to give people an idea of where we’re going and what we’re looking for. The aim is to give enough information to interest them in the sermon and to know where we are in the sermon as it progresses. As much as possible, I want to help them hear it.


You can listen to the second sermon here. You can download the marked up journal I used throughout the entire study here.

Up Next

In the next post, I will look at the third sermon.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: Sermon 1 – Introduction to Ruth

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

When I preach a message introducing a book and a verse by verse series through the book, I have few objectives. I want to give a big picture overview of the book. I want to mention the systematic and biblical theology of the book. I want to raise any issues or questions the book addresses. I want to give a brief outline of the book to show the flow of the book from beginning to end.

I want to work through this in this post in reference to my first sermon in the Ruth series. I’m going to look at these topics in the body of my sermon first and then I will look at the sermon introduction and conclusion.

Author, Date, and Place of Writing

Any book study needs to address the author, or writer, of the book, the date when it was written, and where it was written from. For some books, you also need to know whom it was written to. I’m looking for two types of sources—internal and external.

Internal sources refers to any references to these within the text of the book itself. I would also add here any references in the other biblical books relevant to the book I’m studying. The book of Ruth itself does not record any of these facts. No other biblical books give us information on it either. Ruth is only mentioned outside the book of Ruth in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5), and Boaz is mentioned there with Ruth and in the genealogy of David in 1 Chronicles 2:11-12.

External sources refer to historical sources outside of the Bible. Such histories are not a part of the inspired record, but we can often identify reliable historical data. Historical sources are better the closer they are to the time of the original writing. We also want historical sources to have verifications. This is where Bible handbooks, commentaries, book studies, etc., can help by pointing to historical sources. In the case of Ruth, there is not much historical data to work with. We mostly find conjectures and speculations, but little that would have any credible foundation. Of course, you can always find liberal criticisms in this realm that seek only to destroy the views of verbal plenary inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture.

I also want to consider the canonical placement of the book. English translations followed the Septuagint’s book order by placing Ruth after Judges and before 1 Samuel. In the Hebrew Tanak, the book was placed in the collection of scrolls called The Writings. It was placed after Proverbs and before Song of Solomon. The book has been placed differently in some different collections, but these are the primary ones.

The events in the book of Ruth happened during the time of the judges and it ends with the ancestry of David, so historically, it naturally goes between Judges and 1 Samuel. The placement between Proverbs and Song of Solomon is a more thematic placement of the book, and makes sense from that perspective. Canonical placement does give us ideas on how the book was viewed and read historically. It is also a helpful key for considering the intertextuality of Ruth with other Old Testament books.

Classifying the Book

Anytime I begin studying a book, I need to know what kind of book I am working with. We call that the book’s genre, and the genre helps guide us in interpreting the book. Among biblical books, Ruth is classified as historical narrative. I am talking about the primary genre of the book. Books typically have a primary genre, but can also have sub-genres within them. A book may be primarily narrative, but also contain poetry or didactic prose.

Ruth is primarily narrative, but does contain instances of poetry that would be of the wisdom variety. It also has legal proceedings at the city gate and includes a genealogy list. Ruth can be further classified within narrative in literary terms. The narrative of Ruth is a love story and a morality redemption story. Ruth does contain conventions of those stories and the plot structure, or story arc, is comedy, since it generally progresses upward to what we call a happy ending.

Crucial Elements

The setting of the story has to do with time in both the period when the story takes place and the length of time the events of the story take. The setting also has to do with general and specific locations. The general locations are Moab and Bethlehem. The specific locations are the field of Boaz, threshing floor, and city gates of Bethlehem.

The story also has an atmosphere in terms of whether events are on the natural plane only, or if they include supernatural acts. Ruth doesn’t have any supernatural occurrences, so the reality of Ruth is realism. This means the book portrays normal life with providential events and inferred Divine activity.

The point of view refers to the writer or narrator for the story. In Ruth, the narrator is the writer of the book. The narrator relays events and can also provide inspired commentary on the meaning of events and actions. As we read the story of Ruth, we see the writer using the device of dramatic irony, where the reader is given information the character or characters in the scene do not yet know.

Stories also have unifying themes, or a primary message to convey. It can be difficult to identify the controlling theme of a story. It often helps to look closely at the ending of the story to see how the story resolves and that gives us a good clue. The unifying theme unifies the various elements of the story, such as character development and plot points. Each main character will interact with the unifying theme and that theme will be present at different levels throughout the story.

In the book of Ruth, the unifying theme is finding rest. The concept permeates the story. Each of the main characters have arcs relevant to that theme. The story ends with all three main characters finding rest temporally and the genealogy of David points to the greater rest through the Son of David, the Messiah Jesus.


The main characters of a story are indispensable to the story and will experience change (character arcs) in terms of the unifying theme and other major themes of the story.

In the book of Ruth, Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi are the main characters. As the story unfolds from beginning to end, each of these characters experience change in terms of finding rest, going from death to life, famine to fullness, and expressions of love, loyalty, and self-sacrifice, or selflessness.

Commentators differ as to the one main character. When I analyzed the story, I saw the one, main character is obviously Naomi. She experiences the most dramatic change in terms of the story’s values. She is in nearly every scene of the story. The story is nearly 60% dialog, and Naomi accounts for almost one third of the dialog. She speaks the most of any character across the most scenes. Boaz does edge her out as speaking the most words, but that is mainly due two lengthy speeches in Scene 2 and 4. (You can find my overall dialog analysis here and my character dialog analysis here.) Many points in the story are told from Naomi’s perspective, or in relation to how events most affected her. The ending of the story is also related in terms of how the outcome related to Naomi more than the other characters.

The Sermon Conclusion

When I conclude the sermon that introduces the book of Ruth, I want to focus on application to the people listening to me. I don’t want to rehash everything I just said. I focused on how each of us relate to the unifying and major themes of the book of Ruth. This is what the book is mostly teaching us today. The message of Ruth is to trust God through our own problems and challenges. Like the main characters, we have temporal needs and greater, eternal needs. We could say physical needs and spiritual needs.

The Sermon Introduction

Knowing the substance of what I am going to say, the body of the sermon, and where I am going to end, the sermon conclusion, I am ready to open and introduce the sermon. I want to pique interest to draw people into the sermon and I want to introduce the sermon and the series in a way that helps them see the relevancy and usefulness of the study.

I opened with an illustration where I retold the story of Ruth in the broadest, most general terms I could think of. I wanted it to sound like I was pitching the story as a book or movie in the broad love story genre. I counted on this sounding familiar to the hearers. This might be the pitch for a novel they would find interesting, or movie they might like to watch. I turned the illustration in the end by stating the obvious—this is the biblical story of Ruth.

To further introduce the series, I wanted to raise and answer the question: Why should we study the book of Ruth? Or, What should we expect to learn from studying Ruth? This is another way to present the practical applications of the book as a whole and speak to ways the book is relevant to a modern reader. I also wanted to point to the greater Redeemer promised in the coming of Jesus Christ.


I think I accomplished my main objectives in this sermon and I think it came out okay. It will not go down in history as the greatest sermon ever preached. It will not be accounted as even the greatest book introduction ever preached. That’s okay. I am not the greatest preacher to ever preach. Many have preached the book before me and many will preach it after me. As far as I can tell, it was helpful for the church I pastor, it was faithful to the text, and I am thankful for that.

If I could change one thing, I wouldn’t forget to add the outline of the book in the form of the six scenes I divided the book into. I don’t know how I overlooked that and forgot to include it. I hate that I left that out, but I am not a perfect preacher and I will never preach a perfect sermon. Besides that, I am sure the sermon could have been better and I am sure there are problems I am unaware of. Some blessed saint with the gift of helps will probably point them out to me sometime in the future.

You can listen to the first sermon of the Ruth series here.

Up Next

In the next post, I will look at the second sermon in the series.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: A Tale Told

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

I have divided up the scenes and am getting close to preaching the introductory message for the series through Ruth. I’m not there yet. I have found most of the heavy lifting for getting a book series off the ground is done up front, before the preaching begins. I have the scenes I need to work with, and I will work with those all the way through to the final message. I will make minor adjustments to those as I go along. Before I begin preparing to preach the introduction, I still have some work to do.

I have two tasks to complete before I am ready to start building the introductory sermon. I need to go through the whole story again and note the setting, plot points, and characters that constitute the story and I need to fill out what I am calling the book single sheet for Ruth. To explain what I’m looking for and why, I need to talk a little bit about biblical narrative.

Features of Biblical Narrative

I printed out the book of Ruth journal I downloaded from Sermon Audio and marked it up for setting, plot, and character. You can find a scan of what I did here. Rather than looking at every mark on those pages, I think we can discuss biblical narrative and that will explain what I was looking for.

Biblical narrative refers to a form of content in a book or particular part of the Bible. It is a Bible story, and narrative accounts for almost half of all biblical content. The book of Ruth is an historical narrative about certain happenings in Judah during the time of the judges. Identifying the book as biblical narrative means there are genre-specific conventions and features to look for in the book. I have identified eight features of biblical narrative and you can find the chart I made here. I am going to explain that chart as succinctly as I can, but I highly recommend “How Bible Stories Work,” by Leland Ryken, for further study. Ryken’s book is helpful on this subject, goes deeper than I will here, and provides examples from different places in the Bible.

Biblical historical narrative is accurate history, but it is also Scripture, meaning it is revelation. It is God’s revelation in narrative form. Biblical narrative tells a human story with people and events to communicate truth, reality, and life, and it is also a divine story revealing truth about God, his will, and work in the world to fulfill his ultimate purposes. I listed the features of biblical narrative down the left column: setting/time, plot, characters, devices, movement, theme, biblical theology, and systematic theology. Because biblical narrative is both a divine and human story, the narrative’s features will be present on both the divine and human level.

Using the work I have done, I can fill out a biblical narrative chart for the book of Ruth to identify how the book fulfills the conventions of biblical narrative on the divine and human levels. You can find that chart here. You will see the features listed down the right column with a Divine and Human column for each feature.

The Ruth Single Sheet

I am now ready to fill out the single sheet for Ruth. The idea here is to take all the work I have done to this point and put the necessary information for the whole book of Ruth on a single sheet of paper. I have divided the book into six scenes moving from inciting incident to resolution. I have the analysis sheet of the scenes and I have the biblical narrative chart for Ruth. I will pull from all those to fill out the single sheet. You can find the single sheet here.

The single sheet has two important functions. First, to get to the point where I can fill it out means I have to have a reasonable grasp on the book, what it is about, and how it communicates the truth to readers. Second, it is useful to have the book at a glance and it will be a guide for me as I progress through the exposition of the book. It is a part of the small library of my own resources for the book. It also gives me a way to analyze the book for myself before I read other books or commentaries on Ruth.

I am now ready to prepare the first sermon for the series, which will introduce the book of Ruth to the congregation and lay the foundation for our study of it. Every piece of information I have gathered at this point may not necessarily make it into a sermon. That’s fine, because it has been an essential part of my study to grasp the book. I am also ready to revise any of my work as I go through the book, if I see the need to do so. As I write this, I have actually finished preaching the series and I didn’t end up revising anything beyond minor adjustments and clarifications.

Up Next

In the next post, I will discuss the preparation and delivery of the first sermon of the series on Ruth.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: Making a Scene

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

When I start looking for the story scenes, I’m looking for the smallest units where I can see a clear beginning, middle, and end. I want to identify an inciting event that starts the scene. I’m looking for a crisis question and climax choice for the middle. Then, I need to find the resolution that ends the scene. One scene also has to lead to another from the beginning to the end of the book.

All that sounds technical, and it is somewhat. However, we could all read the story of Ruth several times and then divide the scenes by instinct, and we would get pretty close. We have a feel for natural breaks and transitions in a story. People generally have an intuitive sense for story. This can be easily illustrated from Ruth.

Imagine Chapters 1-3 read exactly as they are and then, in Chapter 4, when Boaz advertises the nearer kinsman, the kinsman accepts, redeems the land, and marries Ruth. This alternative ending doesn’t feel right. It feels unsatisfying, but why? Ruth would be remarried and she and Naomi would be provided for, so why doesn’t it work. From a story standpoint, alternative Chapter 4 doesn’t work because it’s not what we’ve been set up for in Chapters 1-3. It also fails to work on a deeper level within the story. It satisfies the external want of the story, but not the internal need. Again, we may not be able storytellers ourselves, but we know a good story when we hear one and instinctively feel satisfied with a good resolution.

I included a shot of my marked up 11×17 sheet in the last post. I printed the whole text of Ruth, without chapter or verse numbers, in one block of text. I read it and marked it up to end up dividing the story into six scenes. You’ll notice at this point, I’m not considering the theology of the book. I am focusing on the story, or book, itself, because I first want to know what the book says on the face it. I will dive deeper later. Now I want to go through this sheet and the six scenes to give a brief explanation of the choices I made.

Scene 1

You’re seeing the 11×17 when I was done with it. I did not mark it in order from top to bottom. I read and marked as I saw things. Of course, I marked with a pencil and I erased and adjusted as needed. I am going to explain it, though, in order from top to bottom.

I marked Scene 1 from 1:1 to 1:19a with a large bracket on the left side. I realize I split a verse, but when I preach it, I won’t split that verse up. The opening image of the scene gives the status quo—an Israelite family in Bethlehem of Judah. The inciting incident that changes that is a famine in the land of Israel, at least in Judah, so Elimelech takes his wife Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Chiliion, to the country of Moab to live for a while. I underlined the key statements and marked it with “II.”

The scene moves on to life in Moab for Elimelech’s family. The first complication comes when Elimelech dies. Note how the author describes him as “Naomi’s husband.” That will be important later in this series. I marked that with “PC1,” to note it was the first progressive complication. I later dropped the word progressive and simply referred to complications as complications and numbered them as they occurred in the scene. You will see that on the scene sheets I will link to later. The second complication is when Mahlon and Chilion died and though they were had wives for ten years, they obviously had no children and Naomi is left without husband, children, or grandchildren. She is particularly left without any heirs, which importance is developed in the story.

Then comes the turning point of the scene. I marked this as “PC3,” but a better label is “Turning Point” and that is what I used on the scene sheets. A turning point is some action or revelation that causes the character(s) to make a choice and take action that leads to the resolution of the scene. In this case, the turning point comes as a revelation when Naomi hears the famine in Israel has ended. I am using the term revelation here in the literary sense of a character receiving information they previously did not have. I don’t mean Naomi received a message directly from God. This revelation prompts Naomi to choose whether to stay in Moab with her two daughters-in-law, or return to Bethlehem by herself. She chose to return to Bethlehem.

The turning point leads to the crisis, which is the dilemma for one or more characters. Naomi’s choice to leave Moab brings the dilemma for Ruth and Orpah. Will they go with Naomi to live in poverty in a foreign land with people antagonistic toward Moabites with no hope of finding rest there. Or, will they leave Naomi to her own fate and return to their homes and likely find rest in the future.

The crisis then leads to the climax, which is the choice the characters make who are faced with the dilemma. Finally, Orpah chooses to leave Naomi and return to her own home in Moab. However, Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi and go to live in Bethlehem. Ruth commits to Naomi’s God and to her mother-in-law to stay with her and care for her in her old age. She makes this choice while seeming to give up the hope for rest.

The climax leads to the resolution of the scene. Naomi returns to her home in Bethlehem. She returns at least ten years later and without her husband or her two sons, who have all died in Moab. She returns as a destitute and bereft widow accompanied by her widowed and foreign daughter-in-law. The overall value shift of the scene is marked on the left as +/-. This means positive to negative and reflects the stakes of the scene, which are life to death. Basically, the scene starts positive and ends negative.

Scene 2

The breakdown of the rest of the scenes will generally follow the pattern of the first scene, so explanations of terms will not be needed. I marked Scene 2 from 1:19b to 2:17. The inciting incident is Naomi’s return to Bethlehem and encounter with the townspeople where she explains her return as going from fullness to emptiness. Coming home empty raises the question of what she and Ruth will do now.

The first complication stated is that they returned at the beginning of the barley harvest. Of course, they don’t have a crop to harvest. They came back empty, but there’s literally food everywhere. How is it going to benefit them? How are they going to get it?

The second complication arises when Ruth proposes to go the field to glean. She is an impoverished foreign widow going to scavenge in the fields belonging to Israelites. She acknowledges that any real productive gleaning she is able to do will depend on grace being shown her by some landowner.

The turning point of the scene is two events stated in succession in the text. Ruth happened to come to the field of Boaz and Boaz came to the field at just the right time. We’ve already been setup to expect Boaz to contribute to the story by the author’s mention of him and his connection to Naomi at the beginning of Chapter 2.

The crisis dilemma in the scene is when Boaz offers Ruth to glean in his field alongside his maid servants and to continue in his fields until the end of the harvest. When you analyze Boaz’ speech, it seems that Ruth had been harassed to some degree and was perhaps leaving the field when Boaz urged her to stay.

The climax comes in Ruth’s response to Boaz. She acknowledges her lack of standing, even the standing of one of his servants. She interprets his kindness as an extraordinary grace extended to her and so she will stay in his field.

Boaz invited her to eat with them and after that she continued working to the end of the day. The resolution comes as she threshed out her grain and ended up with somewhere over 30 pounds of grain to take home. The emphasis on the amount reflects the kindness and generosity shown to her. It is unlikely she would ever have been able to glean that much in a day without extraordinary generosity. The stakes of the scene went from negative to positive, from emptiness to fullness.

Scene 3

I marked Scene 3 from 2:18 to 2:23. It is a short interlude scene that turns on revelation and resolves some of the suspense in the story to this point. The inciting incident is when Ruth gets back to Naomi and she sees the haul her daughter-in-law brought back. Naomi was off stage for most of the last scene. She agreed to Ruth going to glean, but is depicted as being without hope.

The first complication arises when Ruth responds to Naomi’s question of where she gleaned. She told her it was in the field of Boaz. The turning point comes when Naomi then reveals to Ruth that Boaz is one of their near kinsman and Ruth adds his invitation to stay in his fields to the end of the harvests.

The crisis comes as Naomi recommends Ruth to accept his offer and the climax choice is given in summary fashion that Ruth stayed in his fields through the barley and wheat harvests, about six to eight weeks.

The resolution of the scene is the last statement of the chapter that Ruth lived with her mother-in-law. The stakes of the scene shift from positive to double positive as Ruth and Naomi move from fullness to hope.

Scene 4

I marked Scene 4 as encompassing all of Chapter 3. The harvest ended with a positive improvement in Naomi and Ruth’s situation, but the greater need of rest has not been accomplished. Boaz showed up and was a benefactor to the women in generously providing them food. As promising as it all seemed, the harvest ended with nothing further developing between Ruth and Boaz. The inciting incident of the scene is Naomi’s revelation that Boaz was that night at the threshing floor.

The first complication arises for Boaz when Ruth, following Naomi’s plan, secretly came to the floor and he was awakened at midnight to discover a woman at his feet. He naturally inquired who she was and Ruth stated who she was and requested Boaz to play the part of kinsman redeemer.

Boaz responds favorably, but the turning point of the scene comes when he reveals there is a nearer kinsman than himself. This leads to the crisis dilemma of whether the nearer kinsman will be the redeemer or not. The climax follows as Boaz states his intentions to be the redeemer if the nearer kinsman will not.

The resolution of the scene comes before dawn the next morning. Boaz sends Ruth home with grain from the threshing floor, which Naomi properly interprets as an earnest of his intentions. She tells Ruth to wait and see how it will turn out, for she is sure Boaz will not rest until he has seen this through that very day. The stakes of the scene shifted from positive to negative as the women go from hope to uncertainty and suspense is built to drive us out of the middle of the story into the first scene of the end.

Scene 5

I marked Scene 5 from 4:1 to 4:12. The inciting incident of the scene is after Boaz has assembled the nearer kinsman and ten elders of the city at the gate. He advertises the sale of the family land by Naomi. The first complication arises when the nearer kinsman announces he will redeem the land. The second complication follows when Boaz reveals that redemption of the land includes marriage to the young, marriageable widow in order to raise up an heir to Mahlon.

The turning point of the scene comes as the kinsman changes his mind and states he cannot redeem it. The crisis follows from this as the right is publicly passed to Boaz as the next kinsman in line. The climax of the scene comes when the shoe is given to Boaz and he calls the elders and the townspeople to witness the proceeding ceding the right of redemption to Boaz and his intention to redeem the land and the name of Elimelech’s family.

The resolution of the scene when the people and the elders confirm their witness to the transaction. They further speak a blessing and prayer for the house of Boaz, which does raise some suspense. The stakes shifted from negative to positive as the story goes from uncertainty to redemption.

Scene 6

I marked Scene 6 from 4:13 to 4:22. This scene ends the story by resolving the storyline and giving an epilogue. The inciting incident of the scene is Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. From the story thus far, it seems Ruth was married to Mahlon for 10 years without having any children and we would conclude she was barren. The first complication arises when God gives her conception and she and Boaz have a son.

The turning point of the scene comes when the neighbor women bless Naomi and declare how her life has been saved by this son, bringing her from death to life. The crisis and climax of the scene is Naomi’s care of the child since he replaces her own son, in a manner of speaking.

The resolution of the scene and the story comes in the epilogue when the son is named Obed and he is shown as the father Jesse, who was the father of David. The genealogy from Pharez to David ends the book and resolves the greater stakes of the story, which is the continuance of the line of the Messiah, King of Israel. The stakes shift from positive to double positive as Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi have gone from redemption to rest.

Up Next

Now that I have the scenes divided up, I still have some work to do analyzing before I am ready to preach the introduction to the book. We still need to look at the characters and themes and how the story parts work together. That is what I will do in the next post. Here is where you can find the scene sheets I referred to and here you can find a scene analysis spreadsheet.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: Analyzing

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

I had spent the daylight of one afternoon playing with a friend. We played ball, rode bikes, dug in the dirt, and generally maintained high activity. That evening, he asked me if I had ever seen a certain movie. I told him I hadn’t. Most of my early childhood was spent with a snowy black and white picture on a TV hooked to an antenna atop a tall metal pole beside our house. We picked up three channels and sometimes four in exceptionally good weather. He had a color TV and a VCR.

He pulled a VHS tape from the shelf and put it in the player. I can’t remember the name of the movie. I want to say it had the word “ninja” in it. It was a low budget action flick with a rice paper thin plot that was mostly an excuse to string together a bunch of martial arts fight scenes. I had seen some of the old, overdubbed Kung Fu pictures and always enjoyed the action. I don’t remember much about it, but I’m sure it was every bit as cheesy as it seems it would be.

We began watching, me for the first time and my friend for the nth time. He really liked the movie and had watched it over and over for who knows how long. Seeing it repeatedly had not dulled his enjoyment of it, but it had sharpened his perception of it. As it played, he added bits of commentary. Many of his comments were pointing out discontinuities in the film. At different points in the same scene there would be differences in the actors involved, costumes, props, etc. Of course, I hadn’t noticed it until he pointed it out.

I’m sure he hadn’t sat down with a clipboard and deliberately analyzed this straight to VHS movie. He had watched it so many times he began to notice these problems. I’m sure, after he had noticed a few, he began to look for them more consciously. While I wouldn’t recommend investing time in analyzing low budget actions flicks from the 80s, the act of repeated viewing, or reading in our case, is necessary to analyze any work.


Before I am ready to begin working on a passage or a sermon, I have to analyze the book and identify aspects of it that will help me find the overall controlling theme. Repeated readings are necessary, but it helps if I have some idea of what I’m looking for.

I chose the book of Ruth, so I immediately know the biblical genre of the book. It’s an Old Testament book and that means it is one of four main genres—law, history, poetry/wisdom, or prophets. Ruth is a book of history, but what kind of a book of history? I am ready to start reading.

On the first round of readings, I am not deliberately trying to notice anything. I want to read the whole book in one sitting, mainly to get a feel for the story. I may notice something or think of some questions in these readings. If so, I will write it down and go on reading. I’m not ready at this point to start researching and investigating. I first read Ruth in the KJV. I preach from the KJV and it is the translation I have predominantly used and am most familiar with.

I also read the book in other translations. Every reading helps me see the book as a whole. Different translations help me see it differently. The KJV was translated into very early modern English and uses archaic words and idioms. I sometimes assume I know what a word or expression means, when further study shows me I wasn’t right. I read the book of Ruth in the CJB, NASB, ESV, and NIV translations. I may like or dislike what a translation says. I may agree or not, but they are like first order commentaries on the text because they are what various scholars believe the original words to mean. I also read Robert Alter’s translation of Ruth in his collection titled, Strong As Death Is Love.

These readings were helpful in getting the big picture of the book in mind. I didn’t notice anything major among the translations that warranted further study. I’m likely to come across some translational issues as I do the deeper, line level study of the book, but I’m still not there yet. I am now ready for the next step.


Earlier, I asked what kind of historical book Ruth is? Several readings confirmed that Ruth is one story and not a collection of stories, like Judges for instance. If I were classifying the book of Judges, I might call it episodic history. All the events in Ruth are connected and interdependent as one leads to the next from the beginning to the end, so Ruth is one story.

I am realizing as I try to describe my process, I am explaining some things I’ve never tried to explain to anyone before. I am using and going to use a bit of shop talk that I will try to explain. We should’ve learned much of this in high school literature class. Maybe we did, but have forgotten it. I may need to spend some time working on terms I use. There are various methods of literary analysis and I’ve noticed a number of terms that are inconsistent among different uses. I will try to explain the terms and the way I am using them as I go.

What do I mean when I say Ruth is a story? I am referring to the form of the book and not whether it is fiction or nonfiction. In Aristotle’s Poetics, he defined a story as a narrative that has beginning, middle, and end. He arrived at this conclusion from analyzing ancient stories to his day. He meant that a story is unified and cohesive, leading to a resolution. The beginning starts the story, giving an opening image that gets out of balance in some way and leads to the middle. The middle continues the story as resolution of the imbalance is sought and leads to the end. The end is the resolution where the imbalance is overcome and the closing image of the story is typically a reverse, or mirror image of the opening. Ruth definitely fits this description.

At this point, I need to start dividing up the text of the book. I am not referring to preaching units at this point. I am analyzing the story, so I want to divide the book into the different scenes of the story. A scene is a smaller unit of the larger story. Just as the whole story has beginning, middle, and end, scenes also have beginning, middle, and end. A scene has an opening image and inciting action that causes change leading to a resolution of the scene. I am looking for the smallest unit of the story, which satisfies that description.

I started this process for Ruth by taking the Word document of the AV text of the book and removing all chapter numbers, verse numbers, and spacing. I ended up with a document of the text of the whole book that looks like one long paragraph. You can find that file here. I printed the file on a single sheet of 11×17 paper. In this case, the book is short and I could fit the entire text on the front of an 11×17 sheet.

I took that sheet and read the text over and over and over again. I don’t know how many times, but it was certainly several times. I read and looked for scenes and began marking the text up to identify the scenes and the components that made up the scenes. Here is what that sheet looked like when I was done. You can click on the thumbnail to enlarge it.

I identified six scenes that satisfied the beginning, middle, and end form of story. You will notice the marks and notes I put on that sheet. I will explain those later, but for now I want to talk about finding the controlling theme. During this process, I identified the controlling theme as finding rest, and noted that in the upper right hand margin. I circled the word rest twice in the text. It actually occurs a third time, but I didn’t realize the significance of that third occurrence until later.

In the AV text, the word rest occurs three times (Ruth 1:9; 3:1, 18). Each time, the Hebrew word is different. The two main occurrences (Ruth 1:9; 3:1) capture the concept of rest as what is found in the home of a husband—love, peace, security, abundance of provision, continuing life through children and grandchildren, etc. The ideal of rest is present throughout the entire book and works on the different levels of want and need for the main characters. I will explain more about that later.

I have a lot to work with as I move forward in studying the book. I don’t consider my initial decisions to be final. They will need to be tested and refined as I continue to work through the book. I realize I could open up commentaries and other books on Ruth and get all this already broken down for me. At this point in the study, I haven’t opened any of those books and it will be a while before I am ready for them. First, I need to know what I think and understand about the book before I ever hear what others think about it. Second, you will notice when you read some different commentaries and books that they don’t all agree on how to break a book down or even on what the primary message of the book is. I will refer to other books as a check on my work later, but I’m not ready for that at this point.

Up Next

In the next post, I will write more about the scenes and how I divided those up.

This post is part a of series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

To Preach a Book: Panicking

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Follow one preacher’s journey preaching through a book.

I have chosen a book to preach through and I have assembled a pile of books and tools to use. I’ve had a host of thoughts go through my mind. I’ve probably thought of a title for the sermon series. I’ve thought about some things I’m going to say in sermons. In other words, this is the really fun part of preaching through a book.

Yes, the fun part is just before you actually start working on preaching through a book. Everything is perfect at this point. I have selected a book. The biblical book is a fixed point. I have some familiarity with it, though I’m probably overestimating how well I know the book. I have a pile of books I haven’t read yet, but I’m confident all the answers to my problems are there in characters on the pages. I just have to fetch them, but that shouldn’t be too hard. I also have blank pages, an empty file, or a blank canvas if you’re feeling artsy. The blankness means endless possibilities and limitless space for a brilliant sermon series.

The Blank Page

Uh oh. The blank page. Writers call it the blank page syndrome. The blank page holds endless possibilities until you actually sit down to write, and then the endlessness of it becomes overwhelming. To preach through a book, those blank pages will have to actually be filled with notes or manuscripts of sermons going section by section through an entire book of the Bible. Where am I going to find time to read all those books and how am I going to sort out inheritance laws, kinsman redemption, and levirate marriage? Does that have something to do with Levites? Why did I pick this book? Maybe I should check the want ads to see who’s hiring and find another line of work.

Maybe you don’t experience those types of panics, but I do and quite frequently. In the process of putting together nearly every sermon I preach, there is a point where I think I cannot do this and I am tempted to just preach a topical sermon, or pull an old one from the file. I feel I am in the center of a terrible maelstrom with all these pieces whirling around and I can’t manage to pull them together. I don’t go to the old file, but I experience the tempting thought more often than I wish was true. Maybe that was too honest.

A Line Anywhere

The answer at this point is to keep praying and keep working. When I’m overwhelmed and don’t know what to do, how do I keep working? I need something to work on.

I read about an artist who had a particular method for overcoming the blank canvas syndrome. The artist would simply make a mark or line, in any shape or direction, anywhere on the canvas. That mark might become a tree, mountain, shoreline, or something else entirely. What it ended up being in the painting did not matter. What did matter was the mark now gave the painter something to work with and took away the blankness of the canvas. That’s what I need—a line anywhere to give me something to work with.

I will explain what I mean in a minute. First, the illustration I just used provides us with a bonus lesson. I read that in a book sometime in the last two years. It came back to me as I was thinking over this post. I remember reading it, but I can’t remember where. I can’t remember if it was a well-known artist or someone the author knew. Maybe it wasn’t actually a real person, but a story to simply make a point. I don’t know, because I can’t remember.

I remember reading it, but I don’t remember thinking anything special about it at the time. I was thinking about how I get started preaching a book and how I could best describe that to you, and out of the leaf-mold this story came. That’s just how my mind works. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere.” That’s a great quote my mind offered me in this search, but Chesterton wasn’t talking about the same thing. I searched through the books I have read in the last couple of years and could not find it. I searched the internet for too long and couldn’t find it. If you recognize it and know where it came from, please let me know. I will continue to try to find it, but I may never come across it again. So, the lesson here is don’t trust your memory. You’re going to be reading and thinking a lot about the book you’re preaching through. You’re going to come across little bits and pieces of insight. You need to write it down somewhere. If it is tied to a particular verse or passage, the Scripture Journal I mentioned in the last post is a great place to make a note.

Back to the original train: How do I make a line anywhere to start preaching through a book? I have to have something to work with in order to keep working. The first thing I need is the big picture of the book, and, more specifically, the big idea of the book. Sometimes we call the big idea of a book the theme of the book. Theme is a perfectly fine term, but it can be confusing because theme can refer to the primary message of the book, or refer to recurring ideas within the book. You have the theme and a theme, or themes. See how this can get confusing?

Any repeated idea or teaching in a book is a theme. What I have to find is the dominant theme, or major theme. This theme is sometimes referred to as the controlling theme or unifying theme. Those are good terms because they highlight the fact that a book is written with one main, overarching theme, and that theme controls or unifies all lesser themes. Lesser themes serve the main theme. Identifying the controlling theme gives you the key to interpret the book. When I am looking at an individual section in a book and wondering why it is there, or why it is written the way it is, I know the controlling theme is the answer. Every section contributes to the controlling or unifying theme, whether directly or indirectly.

At this point in the process, I usually have an idea what the controlling theme of a book is. That is perfectly fine. Write it down. I now have a line anywhere. I also have to remember that line may end up being a mountain or a tree or something else entirely. I don’t want to force the book to conform to my initial idea. I want to conform my idea and refine it so it’s shaped accurately by the book. Sometimes what I start out thinking is the theme turns out to be a theme, or something else in the book, or I may just be wrong. This is the starting place for the work of preaching through a book. Identifying the controlling theme is the first objective.

Up Next

Identifying the controlling theme is where the work starts to preach through a book. How do I identify the unifying, controlling theme? I will start on that in the next post.

This post is part of a series. To read the entire series from the beginning, go here.

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