What makes “The Book of Ruth” so special? It is unique as it is one of only two books in the Bible named after a woman – the other one is “Esther”. And, Ruth isn’t even a descendent of the Chosen People – she’s from Moab on the Eastern side of the Dead Sea – a despised foreigner. So, why all this focus on Ruth? Hmmm – let’s see!
Ruth can be characterized as a “short story’’, based on historical facts, whose simple plot plays out as a drama with about two-thirds of it being dialogue. Hence, it moves quickly through four episodes designated by its four chapters with a concluding account of relief and hope that highlights the theme of “Redemption”.
In this story human actors occupy center stage. God is present, but hidden in the words and action of the main characters.
The story takes place, as mentioned in verse one, in the time of the Judges – a turbulent era of religious and moral degeneracy, national disunity, and frequent foreign oppression. But, there seems to be a period of peace existing between Israel and Moab as this story unfolds.
The story points out the dilemma and concern women faced at the time when their husbands passed away. Who could they turn to for protection, housing, and financial assistance? We see how Naomi was feeling the emptiness of having lost her husband, her two sons, and now her two foreign daughters-in-law, as she tries to be brave and allow them to return to Moab and find new husbands. What was she going to do? Fortunately, only one daughter-in-law, Orpah, takes her up on her suggestion and heads back to Moab. The other, Ruth, decides to stay behind to be with Naomi.
Ruth’s decision is what drives the rest of the story.
Ruth, the foreigner, becomes a model and example of piety, faithfulness, and hard work for the Israelites to emulate. She and Naomi stay focused, relying on God’s providence, and are led to a relative of Naomi’s, Boaz of Bethlehem, who becomes their protector (could be translated as “redeemer”). He is quickly enamored with Ruth and, through some manipulation on Naomi’s part, Boaz ends up taking Ruth as his wife. What results is that God rewards the heroic, unselfish, and faithful loyalty shown on the part of the three main figures – Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. He fills the emptiness of Naomi with joy that concludes with the birth of the newlyweds’ baby boy, Obed, who became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David. All parties prosper as they have obeyed in faith the leading of a loving God. This is the Asah Shamah in action– “by doing/obeying, we understand”.
The inclusion of a foreigner, Ruth, in the line of David and the messianic lineage of Jesus may seem strange because of the ethnic purity that the Israelites tried to maintain by not marrying outside of their own people. But, this seems to foreshadow the universal nature of salvation preached so often by Paul. (see Galatians 3:26-29 – “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus….”). Christianity is a faith without borders – all are welcome!
Ruth rates our attention and admiration as she gives real spiritual significance and meaning to the term BFF – with of all people, her mother-in-law. What a trooper! Ruth’s example of faithful confidence in God’s provision is a model for us all to follow in our own Christian walk.
Pat McQuillan – Your Christian BFF!!