The book of Ruth has long been one of the most beloved short stories of the Church. Its literary features include parallelism, poetry, and vivid characterization. The book of Ruth, whose events most likely follow immediately after those recorded in the book of Judges (Ruth 1:1), is the account of a non-Israelite woman who showed more devotion and faithfulness to the Lord and His people than even many of the Judges who preceded her. Ruth was mightier than Samson.
The opening scene of the book of Ruth details several crises that set the stage for the drama of the story. To survive, Elimelech took his wife Naomi and his family to Moab because of a severe famine that had come upon the land (Ruth 1:1). While living in Moab, Elimelech and his two sons died. As a result, “Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband” (Ruth 1:5). Though the famine ceased in Canaan and the women were able to return home, they had no male security for the voyage or provision once they arrived (Ruth 1:6-9). Read against the backdrop of the Levite’s concubine in Gibeah (see Judges 19), one recognizes the degree of Naomi’s concern for the well-being of her family. Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to return to her own county and the idolatry of Moab (Ruth 1:4, 13, 15). Ruth, however, remained steadfast in commitment to Naomi—and to the God of Israel—saying, “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do this to me, and even more, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:17).
The end of Ruth 1 provides the important detail that Naomi and Ruth “arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22). The author wastes no time in presenting Boaz as God’s instrument of provision for Ruth and her mother-in-law. When Boaz heard of Ruth’s commitment to Naomi, even forsaking her family in Moab (Ruth 2:11), he prayed in her hearing, “May the LORD reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:12). When Boaz heard of Ruth’s desire that he redeem her, he pledged, “I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character…but there is a redeemer closer than I am” (Ruth 3:11-12). Boaz’s desire to care for Ruth is apparent in his commitment to follow legal procedure for her redemption (Ruth 4:1-10).
When Boaz was cleared to redeem Ruth and bring her into his family, the elders of Bethlehem prayed in his hearing, “May the LORD make the woman who is entering your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:11). The text straightaway announces the fulfillment of their prayer: “Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he was intimate with her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son” (Ruth 4:13).
While the plot of the story already has a magnificent conclusion, the author points to the far-reaching implications of Boaz and Ruth’s union. Their son Obed “was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17). His words provide a framework for understanding Scripture’s narrative of redemption in Christ. From the line of David came Jesus Christ, the One who redeemed all nations. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy, he wrote, “Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered King David” (Matt 1:5-6). David was known as king—and the angel Gabriel wanted Mary to think of Jesus as a king too. He told Mary that God would give the baby in her womb the throne of His father David and that that baby would have an eternal reign (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus’ eternal, royal reign was inaugurated in His resurrection, as Paul detailed at the outset of Romans where he noted that Jesus descended from David according to the flesh but was shown to be God’s Son by His resurrection (Rom 1:3-4).