The Global Message of Ruth
Ruth and the Redeemer
The book of Ruth is set within the larger historical context of the “days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1) and provides a vivid picture of the decline taking place during this period of Israel’s history. This book also, however, plays its role in preparing for a final redeemer of God’s people.
The Lord Intervenes
The book of Judges, then, provides the setting for Ruth. The basic purpose of the book of Ruth is to show how the Lord intervened to protect Naomi’s family line from extinction, in order that her great-great-grandson David—the future, divinely chosen king of Israel and ancestor of the Messiah—might be born (Ruth 4:17–22). The book is ultimately the world’s miracle story. It recounts how close the world came to having its hope of cosmic restoration cut off forever, but how the Lord intervened to preserve Naomi’s line to ensure that God’s mission to rescue the world through the Messiah, the Son of David, stayed on course (see Matt. 1:1–6). Ruth is thus good news for global Christians.
The Significance of Ruth’s Identity
To understand just how miraculous it was that David was born, the reader must understand the massive yet largely unstated significance behind Ruth’s identity as a Moabite. The Moabite nation was the result of the incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew Lot and Lot’s older daughter (Gen. 19:30–37). The Moabite people were therefore related to Israel. This is why, as Israel prepared to enter the Promised Land, the Lord commanded them not to go to battle with Moab. He was not going to give any of the land of Moab to Israel, for he had given it to the descendants of Lot (Deut. 2:9). Although the Moabites refused to show the hospitality due to members of their extended family, they did permit Israel to cross through their territory on the way to the Promised Land (Deut. 2:26–29). Before it was all over, however, Moab decided to hire Balaam, a diviner, to curse Israel, having determined that Israel was their enemy (Numbers 22–24). When that failed, Moabite women seduced Israelite men into immorality and idolatry (Numbers 25).
The Lord thus excluded Moabites from the temple, and Israel was not to seek Moab’s peace or prosperity (Deut. 23:3–6). Consequently, Ruth’s ethnic identity is what makes Boaz’s redemption of Ruth—and, more significantly, the Lord’s redemption of Ruth—so amazing. Ruth was a Moabite who worshiped Moabite gods.
The Redemption of Ruth and the Coming Messiah
What accounts, then, for the redemption of Ruth, and thus for the rescue of Naomi’s property, family name, and lineage? By the grace of God, this redemption flows from Ruth’s unexpected decision not to abandon Naomi. Ruth commits tenaciously to Naomi with an oath of loyalty, declaring her commitment to become as an Israelite daughter to her and to worship Israel’s God. Ruth thus abandons her Moabite identity and gods. Boaz then accepts Ruth, otherwise a “foreigner” (Ruth 2:10), because of this loyalty (2:11). Ruth embodies the Lord’s loyalty to Naomi (1:8; 2:20; 3:10). And because Ruth has taken refuge under the wings of the Lord, Boaz takes her under his wing, redeeming her (compare 2:12 with 3:9). Boaz embodies the Lord’s redemption of Ruth in his own redemption of her.
The book narrates how Moabite Ruth becomes a daughter of Israel, better “than seven sons” to Naomi (Ruth 4:15). By her faith, Ruth becomes a deeply significant woman in Israel’s history, on a par with Leah and Rachel, who built up the twelve tribes, and like Tamar, who built up the line of Judah (4:11–12). Because of the Lord’s faithfulness to Ruth and Boaz, the world would be given the Messiah.
The Universal Significance of Ruth
The dominant theme in Ruth for global Christianity is Gentile inclusion into the people of God. Ruth is a classic example within the Old Testament of how an individual outside the covenant community becomes a member of the people of God by faith alone (see Rom. 3:29–30). Ruth is a foreigner and part of a despised people who had treated Israel with inhospitality and hostility. Nevertheless, through her faith, the Lord welcomes Ruth into his covenant community as a full member. In fact, by her unswerving loyalty to Naomi, Ruth matches the great matriarchs of ancient Israel. Ruth is one of only five women to be mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:1–16).
The Global Message of Ruth for Today
The book of Ruth has much to teach us today regarding relationships with foreigners and the ultimate healing of ethnic strife. Paul’s letter to the Galatians, with its clear call to unity and to welcoming the outsider, calls the global church to offer equal treatment to those whom the broader community has despised and treated as outsiders.
The global message of Ruth applies wherever ethnic strife exists—whether in the despiteful treatment of the Dalit people in India; or the brutal genocide in nations such as Rwanda and Sudan; or the atrocities in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia; or the occasional antagonism against immigrants in North America.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the only ultimate cure for ethnic strife, but its teaching that in Christ all are equal, accepted, and loved must penetrate to the depths of the heart and soul of the global church. The book of Ruth shows that the Lord delights to accept ethnic outsiders into his community if, through faith in Christ, they are willing to come. The faithful town of Bethlehem likewise understood that this was the way of the Lord, when its community embraced Ruth (Ruth 4:11–12, 14–15; compare Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11).