Reading the Old Testament story of Ruth brings into focus the powerful truth that the story of our lives intersects with God’s story for human history. There are four aspects to Ruth’s story that struck me as I read it this time around as part of “Through the Bible 2011.”
Ruth enters into the story of Scripture through loss. The first chapter of Ruth appears to feature Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, as the main character. Naomi’s husband and two sons die while she is in the land of Moab. With no family support structure there, Naomi decides to return to her home in Bethlehem. In Naomi’s grief and loss, her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, follow her but she tells them to return to their own families in Moab. Here we find three widows caught up in a season of deep difficulty. Orpah stays in Moab, but Ruth follows Naomi back to Bethlehem. Ruth’s story begins with grief and loss. It may have seemed like the end for her, but it was not. God still had plans for Ruth. Many times in our lives we encounter seasons of loss that seem like the end of things. But what was true for Ruth is also true for us: God still has plans for us.
Back in Bethlehem, there is still little for these two widows, Naomi and Ruth. According to the provision of God’s law (Deuteronomy 24:19-22), Ruth gleans grain from the fields of someone nearby in order for Naomi and her to survive. In the irony of God’s provision, Ruth unwittingly gleans grain from a near relative of Naomi named Boaz. Boaz is gracious to Ruth in her loss and poverty. He offers her freedom to gather grain, protection from those who might take advantage of her, and abundance beyond her asking. In another dramatic turn, we find out that Boaz is actually one of two relatives who could serve the role of kinsman-redeemer. The kinsman-redeemer is one who can redeem the lost land of a poor relative as part of their own territory (Leviticus 25:25-55). Boaz can redeem the land but knows that, as part of the bargain, Ruth must become his spouse. Boaz chooses to act on this opportunity, redeeming the land and taking Ruth as his spouse. Ruth’s story is no longer dominated by loss but is now dominated by redemption and grace. For us, many of our deepest seasons of loss are actually the platforms in which God wants to bring redemption into our lives in profound ways.
Ruth had blessed Naomi by following her. Boaz had blessed Ruth – and Naomi – through his kindness. But Ruth’s life story moves even further in blessing. As a widow she had no children, which signified a lack of God’s blessing on her marriage and life. Naomi, her mother-in-law, lost both of her sons, which also conveyed some sense that God had removed his blessing from her. This was so strong for Naomi that she asked to be called Mara, which means ‘bitter’, instead of Naomi, which means ‘pleasant’. After her marriage, Ruth conceives by Boaz and has a son named Obed. This blessing of a child – a son, no less (see Psalm 127) – brings abundant blessing to Ruth and Boaz, but also to Naomi. These three people whose family line looked to be over suddenly experience the blessing of God through this child. Ruth’s story moves from loss to redemption to blessing.
The writer of Ruth’s story gives us an epilogue that points to the deeper truth that the story of our lives intersects with God’s story for human history.
They name him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:17)
Ruth’s story of loss, redemption, and blessing fits into God’s larger story for humanity. David, who becomes Israel’s most memorable king, is the grandson of Ruth’s son, Obed. David is the man after God’s own heart who becomes a representation of the Messiah-King to come. At the end of the day, Ruth’s story is significant not merely for what God does in her own lifetime, but more deeply significant because of how she factors into God’s larger plans. As we listen to Ruth’s story in our own lives, it is helpful to consider that God is doing something in and through us not just for ourselves but for His greater purposes.