The Book of Ruth begins with tragedy and death. After losing her husband and both sons in a foreign land during a famine, Naomi changes her name to Mara, meaning “bitterness.” She feels God has taken everything away from her and her life is miserable now. While it looked like God was punishing her, it becomes clear that God is setting up the circumstances by which He could bless her. As her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, cares for her, finds provision, and discovers the love of a benefactor, Naomi comes to realize God has turned her tragedy into joy. Watch this video by The Bible Project to learn more about the biography of Ruth.
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It’s a brilliant work of theological art and it invites us to reflect on the question of
how God is involved in the day-to-day joys and hardships of our lives.
There are three main characters in the book:
Naomi, the widow, Ruth, the Moabite and Boaz, the Israelite farmer.
And their story is told in four chapters that are beautifully designed.
Let’s just dive in and see how this all unfolds. Chapter one opens with this line: “In the days when the judges
ruled.” And it reminds us of the very dark and difficult days from the book of
Judges. And here we meet an Israelite family in Bethlehem struggling to
survive through a famine. And so, in search of food, they move on to the land
of Moab, Israel’s ancient enemy. And there, the father of the family dies and the
sons marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. And then the sons, they die too and so
they leave only Naomi and these new daughters-in-law. And so Naomi, she has no
reason to stay anymore. And so she tells her new daughters-in-law that she’s
moving back home. And Naomi, she knows that the life of an unmarried foreign
widow in Israel is going to be very hard. So she compels the women to stay behind.
Orpah agrees but Ruth does not. She shows remarkable loyalty to Naomi and she says,
“Wherever you go, I’m going to go. Your people will become my people and your God will
become my God.” And so the two of them return to Israel together and the chapter
concludes with Naomi changing her name
to Mara, which means “bitter” in Hebrew, and she laments her tragic fate. Chapter
two begins with Naomi and Ruth discussing where they’re going to find
food and it just so happens to be the beginning of the barley harvest. And so
Ruth goes out to look for food and it just so happens that she ends up
picking grain in the field of a man named Boaz, who just so happens to be
Naomi’s relative. We’re told that Boaz is a man of noble character and
he notices her. So after finding out more about her story, he shows remarkable
generosity to her. He makes these special provisions so that the immigrant Ruth
can gather grain in his field. And in doing so
Boaz is actually obeying an explicit command in the Torah to show generosity
to the immigrant and the poor. Boaz is so impressed by Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi,
he prays for her that God will reward her for her boldness. So Ruth comes home
that day and Naomi finds out that she met Boaz and she is thrilled. She says
Boaz is their family Redeemer. Now this “family redeemer” thing, this was a
cultural practice in Israel where if a man in the family died and he left
behind a wife or children or land, it was the family Redeemer’s responsibility to
marry that widow, to take up the land and protect that family. So Naomi, she
begins to hope that perhaps there might still be a future for her family.
Chapter 3 begins with Naomi and Ruth making a plan to get Boaz to notice
their situation. So Ruth is going to stop wearing clothes of a grieving
widow and she’s going to show signs that she is available to be married. And so
Ruth goes to meet Boaz on the farm that night and as she approaches, Boaz wakes
up. And he’s totally startled. And Ruth makes her intentions very clear. She asks
if Boaz will redeem Naomi’s family and marry her.
Boaz is once again amazed by Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi and her family and he calls
Ruth a woman of noble character. It’s the same term used to describe the woman in
Proverbs 31. So Boaz tells Ruth to wait until the next day and he will
redeem both Ruth and Naomi legally before the town elders. And so the
chapter ends with Ruth returning to Naomi and they marvel together at all of
these recent events. In chapter four it all comes together. It turns out, at the
Boaz discovers there is a family member who’s closer to Naomi than he is and
he’s actually eligible before him to redeem the family. But at the last second
this family member finds out that he’s going to have to marry Ruth the Moabite.
And so he declines. But Boaz, remember, he knows Ruth’s true character, and so he
acquires the family property of Naomi and he marries Ruth. And so just as at the
beginning, how Ruth was loyal to Naomi’s family, so now Boaz is loyal to Naomi’s
The story concludes with a reversal of all of the tragedies from chapter one. So
the death of the husband and the sons is reversed as Ruth is married again and
gives birth to a new son, granting joy to Naomi. And this symmetry between the opening and
the closing, its even more remarkable.
So, remember the opening tragedy was followed by a great act of loyalty on the
part of Ruth and that is now matched by Boaz’s act of loyalty that leads to the
family’s final restoration. And this symmetry, it highlights the design of the
internal chapters as well.
Each of the chapters begins with Naomi and Ruth making a plan for the future.
And that’s followed by a providential meeting between Ruth and Boaz. And each
chapter concludes with Naomi and Ruth rejoicing at what’s taken place. This
story is beautifully designed and that design actually connects with the really
interesting feature of the story and that’s how little God is mentioned. The
characters talk about God a few times but the narrator actually never once
mentions God doing anything directly in the story and that its brilliance–
because God’s providence is at work behind every scene of the story, weaving
together the circumstances and choices of all these characters. So Naomi, her
tragedy leads her to think that God is punishing her but actually the whole
story is about God’s mission to restore her and her family. And he’s doing so
through Ruth, through her boldness and loyalty, which brings healing to Naomi’s life. But
not without Boaz, who’s a no-nonsense farmer who’s full of generosity and
loyalty. And so God uses his integrity combined with Ruth’s boldness to save
her family. So this story brilliantly explores the interplay of God’s purposes
and will with human decision and will. God weaves together the faithful
obedience of his people to bring about his redemptive purposes in the world. And
that leads to the real end of the story. The Book of Ruth concludes with the
genealogy showing how Boaz and Ruth’s son, Obed, was the grandfather of King
David, from whom came the lineage of the Messiah. And so all of a sudden these
seemingly mundane, ordinary events in the story are woven into God’s grand story
of redemption for the whole world. And so the book of Ruth invites us to consider
how God might be at work in the very ordinary, mundane details of our lives as
well. And that’s what the book of Ruth is all about.