By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
The book of Ruth does not always get the respect it deserves. Tucked between the books of Judges and 1st Samuel, it can be easily missed when thumbing through the Old Testament. Its four chapters hold no account of exciting battles or awe-inspiring miracles. Instead, Ruth reads like a quaint love story. It almost seems out of place.
The story is simple. Having suffered the loss of her husband and her two sons, Naomi must return to her family in Bethlehem. Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, chooses to go on the journey with her. It is here where she meets Boaz, whom she eventually marries. The book ends with a record of Ruth and Boaz’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. That is pretty much it.
While this book may not contain epic battles or divine displays of power, Ruth is packed with meaning. Both Ruth and Boaz have an impact far beyond the four chapters they inhabit. Ruth and Boaz are important people within God’s unfolding plan of salvation. Below are seven things you should know about these two important biblical characters.
Who Was Ruth in the Bible?
The book of Ruth opens with a description of Naomi and Elimelech living in the nation of Moab. This is due to a famine in Judah. While in Moab, their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, marry Moabite women. Ruth is one of those wives.
The Moabites are traced back to the lineage of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Despite this familial link, however, Moab was not part of the 12 tribes of Israel; they were a separate nation. Thus, Israel and Moab frequently fought over territory. In fact, the book of Judges specifically calls the Moabites Israel’s “enemies” (Judges 3:28). This was partly because Moab worshiped a different God than the Israelites. Whereas Israel worshiped Yahweh, Moab’s deity was known as Chemosh.
This means that Ruth was a foreign woman and not part of the covenant people of God. Despite this, it is through Ruth that God’s covenant promise is furthered. We see this theme constantly in the Scriptures. God chooses “the foolish and the weak” to bless God’s people and establish God’s promises (1st Corinthians 1:27). Ruth is a prime example of this.
Why Did Ruth Stay with Naomi?
After the death of Mahlon and Chilion, Naomi attempts to release her daughters-in-law from any obligation to the family. Moving back home, Naomi argues, would allow them to re-marry and begin a new stage in their lives. Orpah agrees and returns to her family. Ruth, however, decides to remain with Naomi.
In a moving bit of dialogue, Ruth declares her faithfulness to Naomi and to the Lord. Ruth says, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God my God…May the LORD do thus, and so to me” (1:16-17). This speech is a profound articulation of Ruth’s devotion to Yahweh. Ruth does not give mere lip service to the worship of Naomi’s deity; she uses the divine name to pledge her allegiance. Despite having grown up with the worship of Chemosh, Ruth pledges her faithfulness to the God of Israel. It is out of that faithfulness that Ruth travels to Bethlehem with Naomi.
Who Was Boaz in the Bible?
Boaz only receives passing mention outside the book of Ruth. He is described as “a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1). Nothing more is mentioned about him until we read his genealogy at the end of Ruth. Here we read that Boaz’s father was named Salmon. It is in the Gospel of Matthew, however, that we hear of his mother. As part of Jesus’ genealogy, Matthew records, “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse” (Matthew 1:5). The Rahab being referred to is the very Rahab who hid the Israelite spies in Jericho.
Biblical genealogies do not necessarily list every name in succession. Thus, it is possible that Rahab was Boaz’s grandmother or even great grandmother. The important element, however, is that Boaz is a direct descendant of this heroine of the faith. Boaz testifies that God continues to work through Rahab beyond the destruction of Jericho. More importantly, this shows the grand arc of God’s salvation plan. God set the stage for the birth of King David generations earlier, in the book of Joshua!
What Was Boaz Like in the Bible?
When Boaz marries Ruth, he acts as the “kinsmen redeemer” of Elimelech’s family. This was a deeply held tradition in Israel. If a man died, leaving a widow and/or children, it was incumbent on the other males of the family to “redeem” the widow. This was a way for families to care for the widow and the orphaned.
Additionally, there was a strong economic incentive to this. The succession of property and possessions within a family was crucial. Land allotted to the tribe of Judah, for example, was not to be given to the tribe of Zebulun. Thus, not only was the act of being a kinsman-redeemer important for the protection and care of the widow, but it also ensured that land ownership did not move outside one’s traditional family heritage.
Boaz recognizes that he is not in line to act as a kinsmen-redeemer. Boaz could have kept silent. He could have simply redeemed the property, and Ruth, without interference. He would have gained the woman he loved and the economic benefit of the land, with no one the wiser. Instead, he chooses to remain honest. Boaz searches out the rightful kinsmen redeemer and describes the situation, “The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth, the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance” (4:5). The man rejects the claim, and Boaz marries Ruth. In each stage of this negotiation, Boaz remains forthright and honest, proving him to be righteous before God and others.
Ruth and Boaz Are the Great Grandparents of David
Arguably one of the biggest names in the Old Testament is that of King David. David is the greatest of kings, a military strategist beyond compare, and the author of many of the Psalms. More than anything, David is described as “a man after God’s own heart” (1st Samuel 13:14). Many of the famous stories of the Old Testament detail the highs and lows of David’s life.
David is descended from Ruth and Boaz. In fact, the book itself closes with a mention of David (4:21). Boaz and Ruth play an important role in this respect. Their marriage sets the stage for the great king of Israel – and the one from whose line would come the Messiah. This means that Ruth and Boaz play a key role in the outworking of God’s loving plan of salvation.
Ruth and Boaz Are Mentioned in the Lineage of Jesus
The Gospel of Matthew opens with a genealogy. Matthew traces Jesus’ earthly lineage all the way back to Adam. Many names are found in this genealogy, some well-known, some lesser-known. Astoundingly, Matthew makes a point of mentioning both Ruth and Boaz.
We cannot underestimate the significance of this. Jesus continually embraces those who are considered unholy or unclean. Jesus touches those he should not touch and goes to places no faithful Jewish person would go. He offers love and forgiveness to those cast aside and deemed beyond the scope of religious sensibility.
This embracing of “the other” is rooted not only in his divine personhood but in his earthly personhood as well. Jesus is born of the line of David, which means his earthly ancestry includes a Moabite woman and a prostitute from Jericho. How astounding it is that Christ’s assumption of fallen humanity goes even to the family lineage he adopts in the incarnation. This proves that there is nothing God’s love and grace will not overcome.
Where Is the Lord in the Story of Ruth and Boaz?
The book of Ruth does not mention any overt acts of the Lord. Yahweh is mentioned in each chapter yet never appears to speak or act. In fact, the only mention of the Lord’s action is found at the end of the book, where it reads that ‘the Lord enabled Ruth to conceive” (4:13). Beyond this, the Lord seems somewhat absent throughout the book’s events.
Or maybe not.
One of the most provocative statements in the book of Ruth occurs when Ruth goes to glean some wheat. It is here where she meets Boaz. The phrase used to describe this chance encounter is, “As it happened” (2:3). It reads like a random occurrence. Ruth could have met anyone in that field - it just so happened that she met Boaz.
This encounter with Boaz can easily be written off as a mere coincidence. When we consider the lineages of both Ruth and Boaz, however, and how their offspring paves the way for the births of David and the Messiah, this can hardly be considered a random incident. “As it happened” is a wonderful way to describe the activity of God, working behind the scenes to bring about God’s good purposes.
At first glance, the book of Ruth may appear to be nothing more than a quaint romance. When we dig a bit deeper, however, we find an exciting story of God working for the salvation of his people. In creative and exciting ways, God brings about God’s purposes through unlikely circumstances and people. The book of Ruth testifies that there is nothing beyond the redemptive activity of the Lord. Even when we think the Lord is silent, God is active. May these seven truths, described above, inspire you to read the book of Ruth, and in doing so, find your faith encouraged.
Photo credit: © Getty Images/Mikhail Azarov
Reverend Kyle Norman is the Rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of the Christian community, and the role of Spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found here.