In literary terms, the book of Ruth is a comedy. Not in the modern sense that it is designed to make us laugh, but in the classical sense that it begins with a happy situation, the happiness is broken, but in the end, an even greater happiness is restored. It’s a story of romance, so maybe it’s a rom-com, too.
It is also a historical narrative, and has peculiar value because a) it is a story primarily about women and b) it reinforces overarching themes of the bible, and connects them to us in a very personal way. We can read this book and find reassurance that, rather than finding the “devil in the detail”, we find that God himself is very much sovereign in even the seemingly inconsequential aspects of human life.
We’ve just finished reading Judges, which ended with terrible stories about tribal warfare, murder, godlessness and finally, some accounts of terrible incidents involving the abuse of women and families.
Then, in direct contrast to this, we get the story of Ruth. Here we have the perspective of three women who become widows, and we are invited to understand how the chaotic tides of sinfulness sweeping the land (and the world) affect individuals. But in the midst of this, there is great hope.
What was Israel supposed to get from the story of Ruth and Boaz? Was there an object lesson? “Step out in faith, and God will reward you with blessing”? Or is it a reassurance to the single person desperate for a partner “trust God and you’ll find a partner”? Some have used Ruth’s lying at the “feet” of Boaz to suggest that she was making some kind of sexual contact (feet sometimes being a euphemism for other body parts!), and thus use it as an example of God’s progressive views on sexual expression (though this hardly fits with the tone or intention of the story).
Ruth and Boaz are heroes because they represent people pursuing a God-ordained peace. Marriage, prosperity, security, community, family: these were things that Ruth hoped for, which Boaz hoped for, and what Israel should also have hoped for. And they both understood that for God’s children, the only way this “shalom” might be achieved was to act according to God’s guidance: by submission to God’s law. Salvation from the fears and terrors of life is only found by submitting ourselves to God (an act of faith in the face of adversity), and the book of Ruth is a precious reminder to the people of Israel that their God has not abandoned them, nor is he unwilling to keep his promises.
It is fitting that the line of David is established from Ruth and Boaz. The story is probably written after David’s ascension to the throne…why should it have such national significance otherwise? The characters are idealized, or rather, their most noble, faithful actions are highlighted as examples worth following. The peace and prosperity found by Ruth and Boaz is symbolic of a greater peace, an eternal shalom that awaits God’s true children: just as their heroic descendant David was a foretaste of the greater, eternal hero in whom every Christian can place their faith.
Is this a fair summary of Ruth? Are there any more important lessons to learn from it? Please add your comments below.