The Bible’s most well-known love story heralds the greatest of all: that between God and His creation.
If you ask any Christian today who grew up in Sunday school, it’s likely that they have heard the story of Ruth and Naomi one way or another. It’s often framed as one of the Bible’s great love stories, with the relationship between Ruth and Boaz taking center stage. For some, this apparently innocuous story can seem out of place or minor in the Old Testament, which can appear to only offer prodigious instances of divine intervention like the Parting of the Red Sea, long and sordid histories of kings and judges, or lines and lines of psalms and prophecies. However, as with every line of the Old Testament, Ruth contains within its brief four chapters a compelling foreshadowing of Christ the Messiah and a layered analogy for life as part of God’s adopted family. Many of the familiar story beats we remember take on deeper meaning when we apply historical context and when we zoom out to observe the story as one element in God’s cohesive plan for redemption. Please join me in peering past the “Just a Ruth looking for my Boaz” memes in this short study of one of my favorite episodes of the Old Testament.
As to be expected when reading literature written during ages past, some context may be necessary. The Book of Ruth’s namesake is a woman from Moab, which may initially lack significance if you’re like me, as the various foreign names and locations of the Old Testament can sometimes blend. Discerning readers, however, will recall Deuteronomy 23, in which Moses lays out that “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord”, establishing - by law - some degree of enmity against those two people groups (v. 3). The reason for this animosity is explained in verse 4, being that they opposed the Israelite return to Canaan, the Promised Land. Thus, our main character Ruth begins this story as a disadvantaged individual on many fronts: not only a widow, but a widow from a foreign land. Not only a widow from a foreign land, but a widow from an ancient enemy of Israel. This station that Ruth occupies at the beginning will more fully illustrate the redemption that is to come in the later chapters.