Why did Naomi tell Ruth to anoint herself?

Q. Why did Naomi tell Ruth to anoint herself?

As I explain in my study guide to Joshua, Judges, and Ruth, at the point in the book of Ruth that you’re asking about, Naomi was giving Ruth instructions that would signal to Boaz that the mourning period for Ruth’s late husband was now over and so Ruth was available for him to marry.

Naomi literally says “put your clothing upon you,” but by this she clearly means “your best clothing.” In other words, Ruth is to lay aside the widow’s garments she has been wearing, and instead put on something designed to be beautiful and attractive. Naomi also tells her to “anoint” herself. This means to put olive oil on her hair and head. This is still done in many similar climates and cultures to refresh the hair and skin. Some interpreters speculate that this could have been perfumed olive oil. If so, that would have been a further signal that Ruth was eligible for marriage.

You can read my study guide online or download it from this link. For a longer discussion of the meeting between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor, see the series of posts that begins here.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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