You would be hard-pressed to find a more delightful story than that of Ruth. On the surface it reads like a romantic mini-drama in three scenes. Nice girl falls on hard times; girl meets man; man marries girl. But as with any really good story, just below the surface there are some very important ideas taking shape – ideas far beyond the edges of a little three-act play.
For one thing, if it should be named for anyone, it ought to be Naomi, since the story is more about her than about Ruth. It is also the only book in the Old Testament to be named for a “foreigner” and Ruth was a foreigner from Moab. Things had never been good between the Israelites and the Moabites. Moab’s national origin was recorded as a disgrace involving drunken incest (Genesis 19:30-38). More recently they had attempted to destroy Israel by hiring Balaam to curse them before they entered Canaan (Numbers 22-24). And most recently, in the period of the Judges where Ruth’s story is set, they had attacked and oppressed Israel (Judges 3:15-23). So when Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law drifted back to town having lost everything, there was probably a lot going on in the minds of the villagers of Bethlehem:
Oh! A Moabite! We all know what they’re like don’t we – won’t be long before she’s begging for beer money in the streets, and you’d better keep an eye on your husbands!
Wrong country; wrong race; wrong stereotype; I bet Ruth could feel their stares like needles. She was an outsider in a small village. But Ruth had clung to Naomi out of faithfulness, and she had clung to Naomi’s God too. And Naomi’s God has a way of bringing things around. As she gathers up the pauper’s portion of the harvest, Ruth’s quiet, polite diligence brings her respect and opens the door for a series of redemptions. Enter Boaz the handsome hero!
In obedience to the promptings of her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth approached Boaz after he has finished supper and a few cups of wine at the end of the harvest day. Now remember Moab’s shameful origins as a tribe: Lot’s daughter seduced her father after he had been drinking wine. Given Ruth’s ancestry we would expect her to behave in a certain way, right? But she behaved modestly, and Boaz behaved with dignity and charity, and so the bad reputation of the Moabites is redeemed. Boaz is unashamed to refer to her as “Ruth the Moabite” as he establishes his intention to marry her before the town council (Ruth 4:10).
It is really Naomi who was in need of a kinsman redeemer. She owned land that would be forfeited because she has no descendants to inherit her allotment. But in buying the land and marrying Ruth, Boaz is able to ensure that Naomi has money to live on, and her own home to stay in with her faithful daughter-in-law and new son-in-law. So Boaz redeems Naomi’s good standing and secures her future. It all stays in the family!
Finally, of course the new baby arrives. But notice that it is Naomi who gets the blessing and the credit, and it is the son, Obed who is declared to be her redeemer and restorer of life (4:14-17). As I said, Naomi’s God – our God – has a way of bringing things around, and He’s still about the work of redemption.
Copyright © 2014 by Dr Terry Boyle. All rights reserved worldwide.