We love the book of Ruth because it narrates the delightful romance of Ruth and Boaz. We love it because it is full of delicious irony meant to make us laugh for joy at the goodness of God. We love it because it is a tale that focuses not on the exploits of warriors, judges, or kings, but on two destitute women trying to find a path back to wholeness and hope. But the book of Ruth offers much more.
1. The Subtle Steps of Sin
First, in the opening account of Naomi and Elimelech’s fateful decision to leave, we see apparently reasonable decisions, each of which led the family away, step by subtle step, from the promises of God. The tragedy of the death of Elimelech and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, and the turning back of Orpah to go home to Moab instead of returning to Israel with Naomi and Ruth, all speak of a family that once walked in faithfulness to God but had lost its way. Elimelech’s name means “My God is King.” But the intermarriage of his sons with pagan daughters and his abandonment of the promised land in favor of the apparent plenty of Moab all speak of his short sightedness. The famine was one of the warning curses that God had promised to send upon His people for their covenant-breaking (Deut. 28:15–18, 38–40). But it seems that instead of remembering the Word of God, remaining in the land, and repenting for covenant-breaking, Elimelech sought to read providence, reasoning, “Since there is no famine in Moab, that must mean we’re supposed to move there.” But we are never safe interpreters of providence. We must let the Word of God rule our lives, not the conclusions of our own private judgments.
2. The Generous Grace of God
Unlike Orpah, Ruth resolved to continue with Naomi and to make Naomi’s people and God her own. She was converted. The rest of the story wonderfully illustrates the welcoming of this Moabitess into the covenant community. In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, sinners who trust in Him are welcome from every tribe and language and nation. As it turns out, it is more often Naomi, the Hebrew widow, who sounds like a Moabite than her formerly pagan daughter-in-law. For example, the text seems to suggest that she encourages Ruth to corner Boaz late one night on the threshing floor in an attempt to secure a husband. But Boaz was a man of God, and his integrity and kindness brought both Ruth into the covenant community by marriage and Naomi back from bitterness to newfound joy. We might even say that the book of Ruth is almost as much about the restoration of Naomi from her heartbroken wandering as it is about Ruth herself coming to belong under the shadow of the Almighty’s wing.
And in this, Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, points us to the Lord Jesus Christ. The kinsman-redeemer’s duty was to take possession of any lands that once belonged to the dead relative in order to ensure that his allotment in Israel remained in the family. Naturally, this made the prospect of serving in the role potentially lucrative. But in this case, it carried the additional duties of providing for Naomi, marrying Ruth, and raising an heir to Elimelech. Any child from the union would inherit Elimelech’s land, and it would no longer belong to the redeemer.
In the book of Ruth, there is a kinsman-redeemer who had a prior claim ahead of Boaz. When he learned of the possible land and assets, he was initially eager. But when he heard of the two women and the duty to provide an heir to Elimelech, he quickly demurred. His duty toward Elimelech’s family could easilly be far more costly than any benefit the land would bring him. But Boaz had no such concerns. He was willing to bear all the costs and shoulder all the burden. Here is another glimpse of the gospel in the book of Ruth, for we have a true and perfect kinsman-redeemer in Jesus Christ, who at the terrible cost of His own life gladly gave all to make the church His bride.
3. The Ordinary Origins of Obed
The book ends with the marriage of Ruth and Boaz and the birth of their son, Elimelech’s heir, Obed. The narrator uses a phrase for Ruth’s conception that is only used twice in the Hebrew Bible, most prominently in the curse on Eve in Genesis 3:16. Eve would conceive and bring forth children in pain, yet her seed would one day crush the serpent’s head. Ruth is depicted like a new Eve, and her son is a child of promise who will serve the purposes of God (Obed means “servant”). Obed, we learn, is Jesse’s father, and Jesse is the father of David.
The book of Ruth began by locating the action in the time of the Judges, when there was no king and each did what was right in his own eyes (Judg. 21:25). But now we see God’s sovereign plan at work in the apparently mundane details of one insignificant family. He was weaving all the details together to ensure the birth of David the king, and through David, the King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant. Jesus comes from ordinary origins. He is one of us. And because He is, He can stand in our place, and He can sympathize with us in our weaknesses.