Like a high-quality diamond dazzling on a background of black velvet, the book of Ruth in the Bible stands out against the sordid stories of Judges which just precedes it and during which era the events of Ruth took place.
Having read and studied this jewel of a book countless times already, I am awed again today by the wisdom, love, power, and faithfulness of the great God who orchestrated these events and then made sure they were recorded for all generations to enjoy and learn from.
On the surface, it is a beautiful love story of Ruth, a young foreign widow, and Boaz, a kind and respected citizen of that place.
On a historical level, this story is set in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. In fact, the book closes with a brief genealogy which is unique in that it projects forward to link to David who is the great-grandson of Ruth & Boaz and the royal ancestor of Christ.
On a thematic level, the book of Ruth is a story of faithfulness, the hesed (Hebrew) or loyal love that runs like a golden thread through the whole Bible:
—God’s hesed to Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, who lost everything and then received so much more. (Does this remind us of Job’s experience?) She and her husband suffered economic loss and displacement, then she lost her husband and sons, her joy and confidence, concluding that God had become her enemy.
In the end, God restored her to fullness with a daughter-in-law “who is better to her than 10 sons,” a secure place in Boaz’ home and even a very special grandson whom she considered as her own.
—Ruth’s hesed to Naomi and to Naomi’s God whom she acknowledged as her own, turning her back on the god Chemosh of her native Moab. Her pledge to Naomi is well-known: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” Ruth’s hesed was displayed in her commitment to the welfare of Naomi and obeying her rather than seeking marriage with a younger man.
—Boaz’ hesed to Naomi and Ruth and even to their deceased husbands and family line. This is seen first in his unusual kindness to this foreign widow who came to pick up bits of grain left behind by his reaper. And then as a step of much greater commitment, his loyal love leads him to take on the responsibility for Naomi and Ruth, redeem the mortgaged family land, and allow his firstborn to be considered as another man’s son (Ruth’s first husband, according to the custom).
While it may well be argued that Naomi is the main character of the story, Ruth and Boaz are its heroes. They are well-matched! Each of them is called a “man/woman of outstanding character” (2:1 & 3:11). And for each of them, this virtue is highlighted by a contrasting counterpart who exhibits the attitude and behavior of a “normal” self-centered person.
–Ruth’s sister-in-law Orpah decided to go back to the security of her home instead of going with Naomi and Ruth to embrace a new life with its potential inconveniences.
–Boaz’ unnamed relative decided not to take up the first option of marrying Ruth and all the responsibilities that entailed, thinking first of his own financial security.
Did Ruth have any idea, when she insisted on going with Naomi, of the security and love that she would find, much less that she would have the incredible honor of becoming an ancestor of Jesus Christ? What might be the surprise ending of my own story as I follow God out of my comfort zone?
By the way, I hope you will take time to read this very short story—whether for the first time or as re-reading a worn love letter. You’ll love it!