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.

About Jeff Short