The delightful story of the Book of Ruth has captured the attention of Christian readers all through the Church’s history. As one commentator observes, “Mention [Ruth’s] name and Bible readers gently smile, warmly praise its beauty, and quietly tell what it means to them personally.”¹ Ruth’s loyalty, Boaz’s generosity, and Naomi’s journey through suffering speak across space and time through this simple story of people simply seeking to live during the difficult time of the Judges. It is for this reason that the Book of Ruth is most suitable for our study during this Covid-19 season. This short article serves to introduce you to the Book of Ruth so that you might better hear, understand, and live out the lessons taught in the video lessons on this remarkable book.
The Book of Ruth is formally anonymously written. Its opening words – “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1) – tell us that the story is set in the messy era of the judges where “there was no king in Israel [and] everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). However, the end of Ruth provides a resolution to this mess: through the actions of the main characters the child Obed is born, from whom ultimately comes King David (Ruth 4:22), the king who unifies Israel.
This concluding emphasis on David in the Book of Ruth reminds the reader that the book itself was compiled after the time of David. Scholars tell us that the book was probably compiled during the pre-exilic period, after Israel had split into the northern and southern kingdoms, but before foreign invaders had sent either kingdom into exile.² The emphasis on David had led some scholars to dismiss the Book of Ruth as political propaganda meant to legitimise the Davidic dynasty’s rule. However, such theories ignore the role of the thick narrative dominating the book that draws the reader’s attention more toward the story’s characters.
In light of this, the purpose of the book is rather to emphasise the quality of ḥeseḏ (“lovingkindness”; see 1:10; 2:20; 3:10) shown by the characters towards each other, and even more importantly, by God to His people. This lovingkindness is epitomised in the actions that Boaz takes to redeem Naomi (and hence, Ruth) in his role as a gō’ēl (kinsman-redeemer). Through Boaz’s actions, God acts to not only bring Naomi from a state of emptiness to fullness, but to bring about King David who himself will bring Israel into its fullness. Thus, in the Book of Ruth, God’s lovingkindness and His people’s lovingkindness work hand-in-hand. As one commentator summarises well: “The book’s teaching is simple and straightforward: whenever people of faith practice God-like ḥeseḏ toward each other, God himself acts in them.”³
Of course, this coming together of the ḥeseḏ of both God and humanity sees its fulfilment in the ultimate gō’ēl of all – the Lord Jesus Christ. Boaz foreshadows Jesus’ supreme act of redemption as the fully human and fully divine Saviour, who sacrifices Himself upon the cross to redeem us from sin and death. As Christians, even as we enjoy the comfort of being under God’s wings, we would do well to imitate Jesus, practising ḥeseḏ towards a hurting and broken world, extending God’s wings of love to all whom we meet.
¹ Robert L. Hubbard Jr, The Book of Ruth, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), p. 1.
² Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), p. 250.
³ Hubbard, The Book of Ruth, p. 72.
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