By BRUCE GREEN
Teaching Minister at 10th Street Church of Christ
The book of Ruth reminds us of this truth. It is a quick read, checking in at just four chapters/85 verses. Furthermore, it is tucked in between more expansive books like Joshua, Judges and 1 and 2 Samuel. It almost seems like an after thought — what is such a tiny book doing among these heavyweights?
But there’s more to Ruth than meets the eye. On the surface, it’s a sweet vignette about Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. Naomi returns to her home (Bethlehem), Ruth meets Boaz and they get married and start a family. And honestly, after all the warfare and brutality of Joshua and Judges — we’re ready for a story of home and hearth.
But Ruth is much more than that and its original audience would have had no trouble grasping the story’s deeper connections. For those of us who are over 3,000 years away from the story — it’s a different matter. We’re confused by Naomi wanting to send her daughters-in-law away, the concept of a guardian-redeemer, and the scenes at the threshing floor and at the city gate.
To appreciate Ruth at a deeper level, we must understand that in many ways, it is more the story of Naomi than it is of Ruth. Note how the women of Bethlehem proclaim at the story’s conclusion, “Naomi has a son!” (4:17) — even though it is Ruth’s son. The book of Ruth is the story of how Naomi’s loss (her family and her land), are restored by God through Ruth and Boaz. Ruth is at the center of all of this of course, so it’s not wrong that the book is named after her, but to reduce it to being only about her is to miss the larger story the writer wants us to see.
Naomi’s loss of family and land is emblematic of Israel; she is a microcosm of the nation. After all, God established the nation by blessing Abraham with descendants and giving them a land. Indeed, God’s people and land have gone together since the very beginning. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a garden. When they rebelled, they were cast out of it. Cain killed Abel and was forced to wander the earth — he had no land. And of course, God had the promised land for Israel. When they rebelled, they went into exile for a time until He restored them to the land.
All of this tells us that land is more than land — it is a symbol of the nation’s status with God. Here is Ruth living in a muddled time known as “when the judges ruled” (1:1). Israel is in Canaan, but they are nowhere near a nation. At best, they are a loose confederation of tribes. There is no king to unite them, so everyone “did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Surely God had more in mind than this in His promises. Yet given the reality of things, how can the nation hope for more?
The book of Ruth answers this question. It shows how God can take a woman (Naomi) who has lost her family and her land and not only restore both to her, but in doing so, provide a glimpse into the glorious future He will bring about with through a king and later the King of Kings (see 4:18-22).
Good things come in small packages!
You can find more of Bruce’s writings at his website: a-taste-of-grace-with-bruce-green.com