One of my favorite things about the Bible is that there is no lack of amazing stories. One of the great gems of the Old Testament is the story of Ruth. Now this story comes to us in the midst of one of Israel’s darkest moments. The very first verse of the very first chapter places the historical account of Ruth during the days of Israel’s judges. This time period was full of outlaws, chaos, slavery, murder and wickedness of every sort. But in the midst of such hopelessness, we encounter God’s mercy coming to one of the most unlikely of candidates. In short, Ruth is a story about God’s grace.
Ruth herself was a woman from the people of Moab. These people were one of Israel’s great enemies, known for their wickedness, idolatry, and sexual perversion. The Israelites were forbidden from intermarrying with them because they would inevitably forsake the God who redeemed them. But Ruth’s story begins with a family of Israelites who did precisely what God forbid. Not only did the family of Elimelech and Naomi depart from the land of God, and even the city of Bethlehem. But even worse, they take up residence in the camp of the Moabites, the very people who enslaved Israel in the early chapters of the book of Judges. Eventually, Elimelech died, and his sons who took Moabite wives, also followed in turn. In the end, all that remained was Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.
On paper these two daughters-in-law were indistinguishable. Both were young women from the land of Moab, confronted with the ancient shame of barrenness, and the fright of young widowhood. Motivated by love, the grief-stricken Naomi bids Orpah and Ruth to move on and find new husbands. Orpah left, but Ruth remained. Ruth made a promise to Naomi, “where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16 ESV) There was a clean break with her past, and a ferocious clinging to her present with Israel and their God.
As the story unfolds a new redeemer is presented: the man Boaz. He is a relative who is able to redeem Ruth from her shame and perpetuate the line of Naomi’s family as God’s law required then (cf. Deut. 25:5-6). In the character of Boaz, we find one who, at great cost to himself, willingly takes this barren widow, from the wrong family, and the wrong background into his home. It is a marvelous display of God’s grace and how He welcomes us into His own family.
Boaz redeemed Ruth. His redemption is a public affair, properly sanctioned through the council of the elders in open dialogue with another man, who though he had the right to redeem Ruth, chose to pass over her because of how it would affect his wallet. Boaz covenanted before everyone to buy back Elimelech’s land, to take Ruth as his wife, and to sire an heir for their name: “that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place.” (Ruth 4:10 ESV) The covenantal overtones are brought to the foreground by Boaz’s language as he addressed the elders in saying “You are witnesses this day…” (Ruth 4:9 ESV)
Like every story of the Bible, we are meant to see glimmers of God in the details. Boaz’s covenant is meant to make us think back on God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are meant to remember the gracious testimony of fidelity provided in the past by God for His people.
After their union, the rest of Ruth unfolds in rapid succession whereby we see Ruth’s redemption both by marriage and conception. We also see Naomi’s shame reversed by the grace of God (cf. Ruth 4:15). But there is another promissory seed at work. Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed. His name means “one who serves”. God, by His grace alone, brought penniless, homeless Ruth into a glorious inheritance and gifted her with a son who would serve. He would serve the people of God by inevitably fathering the greatest king of Israel, David. And from David’s line we would eventually find another servant, a suffering servant (cf. Isaiah 53), the Lord Jesus Christ “the son of David” (Matt. 1:1).
God used the most unlikely of all instruments, Ruth, to bring forward the King of Kings and Lord of Lords that the Abrahamic promise would come to pass that “all families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3 ESV). Christ like Boaz would come one day to redeem another helpless foreigner. But he would not offer money, or land, or his sandal as Boaz did, but His very body and blood. Christ is our great kinsman redeemer who saves us from our shame, and plucks us from death itself so that we can be His forever.