One of the most beautiful short stories ever written, The Book of Ruth may be brief, but it has a powerful message.
I encourage you to take about 15 minutes to read (or re-read) the Book of Ruth. It’s short—only four chapters—and the story has a happy ending. But for those of you who are unfamiliar with this short story, here’s the summary:
- Famine drives the family of Elimelech out of Bethlehem to Moab, a land cursed by God.
- Elimelech dies, leaving his wife Naomi with two sons. The sons take local wives (Ruth and Orpah), and then the sons die without children.
- Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, but she releases her daughters-in-law to return to their Moabite families.
- Orpah stays in Moab, but Ruth returns to Bethlehem with Naomi.
- Back in Bethlehem, Ruth works in the barley field of Boaz, a rich godly man, to support herself and her mother-in-law. Boaz also happens to be a distant relative.
- Boaz treats Ruth with compassion, and Naomi sends Ruth to sleep at Boaz’ feet (no hanky-panky). It’s her way of showing that she is willing to marry him and come under his protection.
- Spoiler alert: Ruth is protected and redeemed by Boaz, they are married, and Ruth gives birth to a son named Obed.
That’s the whole book. It’s an easy story to read and to understand on its surface. There are no kings, no prophecies, no laws, no smiting. It’s a simple story of one family and two good women.
The best-known passage in Ruth is, no doubt, her incredibly beautiful speech in Chapter 1 (NIV): “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” This passage is often-cited in marriage ceremonies, but Ruth was referring to her mother-in-law rather than her husband.
Ruth’s stunning speech gives us insight into how people often choose a religion. Ruth does not come to the Lord because He is the Lord. She comes because she loves Naomi. In his article, “Why It’s the Most Popular Book in the Bible,” author David Plotz makes an interesting point: “Almost always we come to God or Allah or the Buddha not because we have carefully analyzed the relevant laws, texts, and miracles. But because someone we love and admire leads us to them. Relationships, not theories, make religions grow.” And that’s understandable, because what God wants most from us is a relationship.
Yes, the Book of Ruth has a happy ending, but what does it teach us? On the surface, Ruth’s story shows the blessings that come with obedience, “since it shows how good people should behave even when they don’t expect God to intervene” (Plotz).
Ruth also teaches us that God wants His people to be obedient, and He wants us to be recognized because of our love for others. And that connects to Jesus’ words recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. When a lawyer asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest of all, Jesus replies: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Another lesson from Ruth that was important at the time is that those who convert to Judaism can become good Jews and they will be grafted into the community of the chosen. Ruth, a foreigner and a non-Jew, is accepted into the Jewish faith.
Over ten centuries later, Jesus grafts all non-Jews who believe in Him into His favor. (The Jews are still his Chosen people, and He’s still waiting for the Jews who don’t recognize Him as the Messiah to get back on board.) The gates of the Promised Land, through God’s mercy in giving us His Son, are opened to all who believe in Jesus.
But the most remarkable thing about the Book of Ruth is described in the final verses in Chapter 4 which link Ruth with her great-grandson David:
16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.
17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
18 This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Perez was the father of Hezron,
19 Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,[a]
21 Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
22 Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.
Because Ruth is King David’s great-grandmother, we realize that Ruth is in the line of ancestry of Jesus Himself! (Remember that whole prophecy thing that the Messiah will come from the house of David?) Ruth, an outsider and an alien to God, was only the third woman mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. But she is redeemed and becomes not only a part of Israel, but part of the lineage of Christ! And centuries later, God gives all of humanity a 100% guarantee of redemption through His son! Now that’s a happy ending!
Why is Ruth in the Genealogy of Jesus?
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