Where do you turn when you hit rock bottom and there is nowhere else to go? That’s when God’s amazing love and kindness becomes incredibly real to us!
Who was Ruth?
The Old Testament story of Ruth, Boaz and Naomi takes place in a turbulent time in Israel’s history. Moses and Joshua are long since dead, and the fledgling nation have been governed by a series of leaders called Judges. It’s not a great time to be alive, and society is getting more and more anarchic (see the book of Judges for the grisly details).
Ruth is from the neighbouring country of Moab, which if anything was even more anarchic than Israel! Not only that: they had actively opposed Israel in its recent history. In that sense, Ruth is the ultimate outsider.
Who else do we meet in the story?
Before Ruth appears on the scene we meet Naomi, wife of Elimelech. The family had moved to Moab during a food shortage, effectively signalling that they didn’t trust God to provide for them and they wanted to try life without Him. The experiment is a resounding failure, as Naomi has to endure not just the death of her husband but also her two sons (one of whom leaves Ruth a widow).
Boaz is the other main character. He’s an Israelite landowner who just so happens to be the one chance of rescue and security for Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, as he’s a relative of Naomi’s late husband. Will he welcome the turncoat Naomi and the outsider Ruth into his family?
Why does it matter?
As we follow the story of Boaz’s kindness to Ruth and Naomi, we see God’s kindness at work. One key word in the book is chesed – in our Bibles it’s translated as kindness, but it is bigger than that. It’s a kind of self-giving love. In The Jesus Storybook Bible, there’s a wonderful repeated phrase that captures something of chesed: it describes God’s love as His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love”. This is the kind of love that God shows both the person who has turned away from Him (Naomi) and the person who is regarded an outsider (Ruth), and it’s the same love He offers to each of us today.
Another key idea in the book is how God has set up Israel’s laws to provide for the destitute, particularly through appointing family members as kinsman-redeemers. These people (like Boaz in the story) have a responsibility to rescue their extended family out of poverty and trouble, often at great personal cost. And as we see that in action through Boaz we see a little shadow of the way Jesus acts as our kinsman-redeemer, sacrificing Himself to rescue us out of trouble and bring us back into His family.
The book of Ruth even ends with a more overt pointer to Jesus, as Ruth’s family line leads to the birth of King David (whose family line culminates in the birth of Jesus as Matthew chapter 1 tells us). This is a story of God being kind to people on an individual level (Boaz, Naomi, Ruth) but also preparing to rescue the whole world. A small story that packs a big punch!
What do you think?
This story may at times feel alien to us, taking place in a different country and a radically different era. Nevertheless we can see our own joys and sorrows mirrored in the characters, and ultimately we see pointers to the rescue God offers us. As Boaz reminds us, God is the best place to turn when we’re in trouble! Here’s what he says to Ruth in chapter 2 verse 12:
May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
Are you ready to turn to God like Ruth and Naomi did?