The book of Ruth is a beautiful story of love that serves as a window into which we can peer back in time and note that even during this time of rejection by the Jews of other races as inferior, one steps forward into the limelight to receive praise for her devotion, and unfettering love for her widowed mother-in-law. Ruth, the Moabitess, stands out among the women Bible characters as a shining example of how to conduct oneself while going through the trials and tribulations of life. The book of Ruth is one of only two books in the Bible to showcase the story of a woman and not just any woman, but one who will become part of royal lineage of David. Set in the time of the judges, the story is a beacon of light in the dark period of Jewish history. The story takes places in Bethlehem, the same town that King David is to be born and subsequently Jesus, who is of David’s lineage. The Book of Ruth is the only book in the Bible to showcase an example of the kinsman-redeemer, someone who was legally responsible under the Law for protecting the interests of needy members of the extended family by providing an heir for a deceased brother or buy back land sold out of the family.1 The book makes an undeniable parallel for us today between Boaz, Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer and Jesus, our Redeemer. Even the casual reader of the Bible can embrace the admirable virtues presented in this book and glean from Ruth’s noble character. The Book of Ruth proclaims the virtue of love and devotion from a woman for her mother-in-law at a time of despair and hardship which we can use as an example today of Jesus, our Redeemer.
Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, is a woman of great character. During a time of famine, Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons travel to Moab in search of food. While there Elimelech dies and her sons meet and marry two Moabite women: Ruth and Orpah. Her sons then also die. Having nothing left for her in Moab, she entreats her daughters-in-law to return to their families and she would return to her home of Bethlehem. Both women wanted to go with her, but she beseeched them to stay. Orpah returned to her people, but Ruth clung to her. Ruth then spoke her now famous words, “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.”2 At this, Naomi knew she wasn’t going to change her mind and allowed her to come with her.
Back in Bethlehem, Ruth’s humble character was noticed by Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s. In order to care of herself and Naomi, she spent the day gleaning wheat behind the shearers under the heat of the sun. The events that happened in Moab were known to Boaz, the owner of the field, for he had heard about her loyalty to her mother-in-law and was kind to her. He told the shearers to leave extra wheat for her to glean so she would have an abundance to eat. Word got back to Naomi about the kindness of Boaz for her daughter-in-law. She advised her to go to the threshing floor and sit at the feet of the sleeping Boaz. When he awakes, she asks him to spread his garment over her. A way of proposing marriage was for a man to spread his cloak over a woman.3 Boaz first took the matter to another relative who would have first rights to her under the Law. That man declined the proposal, so Boaz married Ruth and the two had a son, Obed, who would become the grandfather of David.
J. Vernon McGee proposes four different purposes to this book’s inclusion into the Biblical canon: historical, dispensational, genealogical, and doctrinal.4 Historically, it shows that in the dark days of the judges, God’s divine plan was still in action through the lives of those who were righteous. By the incorporation of this book into the Biblical canon, we are reminded that there was always an upright remnant among the Jews. The town of Bethlehem is also made mention as an important historical setting, since David and Jesus were also born there. Dispensationally, the book sets the stage for the age of grace. Ruth, representing a type of church, is redeemed by Boaz, representing a type of Christ. From a genealogical standpoint, Ruth is one of four women to be mentioned in the lineage of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus’ pedigree is of high importance, since it is his line that is frequently mentioned in scripture, while others are merely mentioned. The Book of Ruth provides a critical genealogical link, connecting David to the line of Judah. Doctrinally, the idea of redemption is brought out in the kinsman-redeemer. Boaz had the wealth and power to be that redeemer and he did so willingly. Just as Jesus was not involved in our fall from salvation, neither was Boaz, but he still stepped in to make things right for Ruth and Naomi.
The story takes place “in the days when the judges ruled.”5 David would have been the great-grandson of Ruth, placing the events of the book back approximately 100 years, in the town of Bethlehem. We can surmise that the book was written after during or after David became King of Israel because of David’s lineage being recorded in Ruth 4:22, but it does not include the name of David’s son, Solomon. The author could have simply left off any additional names since they are addressed in other books, such as the book of Kings. Some hypothesize that the author could have been a descendant of David, such as Hezekiah or Josiah.6
The Book of Ruth applies to us today by virtue of Ruth’s noble character. There is a great lesson to be learned by following the example of Ruth. The love she had for her mother-in-law cannot be understated. She took care of her in her old age by gleaning in the fields at harvest and when asked to do something, she did it without hesitation. She was told to lay down at Boaz’s feet during the night and in doing so, she and Naomi were both redeemed by him. If we were to follow God’s commands the say way Ruth followed those of her mother-in-law’s, we would not need to “worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”7
The example of the kinsman-redeemer from the Book of Ruth also plays an important role in our Christian lives. J. Vernon McGee points out, “Redemption is the love story of a Kinsman who neither counted the cost nor figured up the profit and loss, but for joy paid an exorbitant price for the one that He loved. The Book of Ruth rightly declares that redemption is not a business transaction but a love affair.”8 We can read the story of redemption and see how Christ bought us back in the same way as Boaz did for Ruth and Naomi.
The Book of Ruth, the story of a woman whose love shines from the despair of the time of the judges, whose devotion to her mother-in-law was so unbounded that she left her homeland, her gods, and her people, is a book we can look into as a mirror to illuminate righteous characteristics we should have in own lives. Ruth was to become the great-grandmother of a king after God’s own heart, and it was by this demonstration of love that she was able to teach her children and grandchildren through the generations. We need to be like Ruth and leave our worldly possessions, desires and selfishness to become the kind of people God wishes from us. Every one of us needs to be redeemed from our sins and the story of Ruth and Boaz gives us a great example of that process. Jesus, as our redeemer, does so with the upmost of willingness and desire, with hand out-stretched, we need to embrace his generous offer and be bought back, just as were Naomi and Ruth.
1 Ruth & Esther, Life Change Series. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, The Navigators, 1987), 37.
2 The Holy Bible, The New King James Version. The New Open Bible Study Edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.
3 Harold W. Attridge & Wayne A. Meeks, The HarperCollins Study Bible. (HarperCollins Publishers, 2006), 387.
4 J. Vernon McGee, Ruth, The Romance of Redemption. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981), 15.
5 The Holy Bible, The New King James Version. The New Open Bible Study Edition. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.
6 Hubbard, Robert L., Jr. The Book of Ruth. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988, 43.
7 The Interlinear NASB-NIV Parallel New Testament In Greek and English. Translated by Alfred Marshall. Zondervan Publishing House, 1993.
8 J. Vernon McGee, Ruth, The Romance of Redemption. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1981), 18.