The beautiful book of Ruth is far more than a well told story. It teaches us that God’s loyal love always looks out for vulnerable people and was as present in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament.
Ruth takes place during the days of the judges, which was a time in Israel’s history that was characterized by cycles of disobedience, foreign oppression, cries of desperation, and God’s deliverance. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat again.
The nation as a whole was distant from God and morally degraded, but the book of Ruth zooms in for a close look at the lives of people who followed God’s law and made sure that poor people were fed, aliens were treated fairly, widows were cared for, and that God’s loyal love would be seen by everyone.
It reminds me a bit of the Lerner and Loewe musical Brigadoon (1954). Brigadoon is the story of a magical village in Scotland that appears for only one day every hundred years. The villagers see the enchantment as a blessing to keep the ways of the world from ruining their village. According to the arrangement, if anyone leaves the village Brigadoon will disappear, and the only way anyone may remain in the village is if one loves someone so completely that he or she is willing to remain in Brigadoon forever.
Ruth, who was not an Israelite, chose to stay with God’s people forever. We see in Ruth that love ruled the day; Ruth’s love for Naomi, Naomi’s love for Ruth, and God’s love for his people.
Naomi, her husband and two sons were Israelites who had lived in Judah, but they moved to Moab because of a famine in Israel. Eventually Naomi’s husband died, and her two sons who had married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, also died. Naomi decided to return to Judah and leave her daughters-in-law with their families in Moab. However, Ruth, who loved Naomi deeply, protested with these beautiful words, “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
Naomi and Ruth returned to Judah with no wealth and even less status. They were both widows, Ruth was an alien, and they were poor. The women of Judah recognized Naomi, but Naomi said, “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20)
Naomi would find out that God can turn bitterness into blessing. Ruth and Naomi were stepping into the Brigadoon-like alternate universe of God’s love and covenant community.
The laws that God had given his people were intended to show his love and provide for people just like Ruth and Naomi. He told farmers not to be too thorough when they harvested so that those who did not have enough to eat could glean the leftovers from their fields. He also prescribed a way for a family member, a kinsman redeemer, to reclaim property that had been sold due to financial problems.
Ruth went gleaning, because that was the only way they would have any food. It was a risky and demeaning endeavor, but Ruth loved Naomi and had committed herself to her. She ended up in the field of Boaz, and Boaz looked out for her because he had heard what Ruth had done for Naomi. “May you be richly rewarded for what you have done,” he said. (Ruth 2:12)
When Naomi realized that Ruth had found herself in Boaz’s field, she started thinking. She knew that Boaz was one of her kinsman redeemers. Naomi instructed Ruth to go to Boaz on the threshing floor during the night after Boaz had winnowed the barley and to ask him to “spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are my kinsman-redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9) Boaz understood that she was proposing marriage, and replied with “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier; you have not run after the younger men…” (Ruth 3:10)
Ruth married Boaz, and they had a son named Obed who was the grandfather of King David. God’s law had been followed as intended, and Ruth, Naomi, Boaz, and ultimately the entire nation of Israel had been blessed.
Maybe you have heard it said that the “Old Testament God” was one of judgment and frightful insistence on rigid obedience. Ruth teaches us that faithful obedience to the law of God is loving. The “Old Testament God” is the same as the “New Testament God.” There is One God, and he is love.
Ruth pledged her love for Naomi and entered the Brigadoon-like world of God’s love. Maybe it was only one moment in a hundred years, but the community followed God’s law as it was intended and generations of people were blessed as a result. God’s redemptive plan took one step further and, thankfully, he arranged for the beautiful story to be recorded for us.
God’s loyal love is magnificently expressed in the book of Ruth.
Do you have a personal example of following God’s law and seeing blessings result?