I love a good romance movie. The plot is often predictable, but that doesn’t limit my enjoyment–especially if i’m watching it with my wife. (To be honest, there is no other time i will watch one.)
In fact, romance movies are so predictable that i decided to try my hand at writing a romance novel in 2018. (It will hopefully be published before the end of the year.) But seriously, there are only six steps to a romance plot:
- Two individuals are living their own lives
- The individuals meet (and–often–they are entirely opposed to one another)
- They grow closer the more they interact with each other
- Everything is ready for a happy ever after, until…
- Something gets in the way and wrecks the relationship (usually communication-related)
- Finally, they settle the problem and live happily ever after
The book of Ruth follows this outline to a T. However, before i illustrate this, allow me to explain the background to this biblical book. This portion will fall under “Opening Credits” below.
This book takes place simultaneously with Judges–and likely closer to the end of Joshua than the beginning of 1 Samuel. (In the Hebrew Bible, it is placed in “The Writings,” after “The Prophets.”) “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted” (Judges 21:25). As such, sinfulness reigned, and as a result, God punished His people, just like we see in the cyclical history of Judges. Moses had warned the generation about to enter the Promised Land:
All these curses will come, pursue, and overtake you until you are destroyed, since you did not obey the Lord your God and keep the commands and statutes He gave you. These curses will be a sign and a wonder against you and your descendants forever. Because you didn’t serve the Lord your God with joy and a cheerful heart, even though you had an abundance of everything, you will serve your enemies the Lord will send against you, in famine, thirst, nakedness, and a lack of everything. He will place an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you.Deuteronomy 28:45-48, emphasis added
We must remember that God is a compassionate, forgiving God. While He lays out all these consequences for disobedience, He isn’t saying, “Okay, that’s strike one! Get ready to be destroyed!” Rather, he sends these sorts of experiences amongst His people to show them that He is serious about His Law being followed. Who knows when His patience will run out? It’s better to be obedient and avoid the consequences–or even repent in the midst of the consequences–than to continue on in sinful rebellion.
But during this time, a famine strikes the land. This was clearly a punishment from God in light of Deuteronomy 28:45-48. Ironically enough, this famine affects people in “The House of Bread” (Bethlehem). For this reason, a family of four leaves Bethlehem, and travels to Moab (cf. Genesis 19:30-38). The husband dies, leaving his widow, Naomi, to fend for herself. Both of her two sons die as well, leaving her with two Moabite widows, one of whom is named Ruth.
The book can be broken down into the following outline:
- Opening Credits (1:1-5)
- Two individuals (1:6-2:7)
- Ruth (1:6-22)
- Boaz (2:1-7)
- The individuals meet (2:8-17)
- They grow closer (2:18-23)
- Everything looks perfect (3:1-11)
- Something gets in the way (3:12-4:8)
- Happily ever after (4:9-22)
The outline is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s a little uncanny how well the book of Ruth fits your average romance plot. Two things require elucidation prior to continuing.
First, Ruth 2:23 contains this interesting line:
And she lived with her mother-in-law.
In our day and age, people who are growing closer to each other move-in together–before marriage. Especially in books and movies, the message is clear: If you love someone, you move-in together. I find it very interesting that the author of Ruth considered it important enough to add this line. I wonder if this is God’s way of telling us in A.D. 2021 that it is foolish (and almost certainly sinful) to move-in together before marriage?
Second, in order to fully appreciate the “Something gets in the way” aspect of the romance-plot, we need to understand the culture of the time. This is a historical story firmly rooted in cultural customs and viewpoints that differ from our own. In our day, if you get to know a beautiful, godly woman (or man–if you’re a woman), you can date them and then marry them. However, in the time of Ruth things weren’t that simple (if our method can truly be called simple).
Ruth meets Boaz, she tells Naomi all about it, and Naomi eventually encourages her to pursue Boaz in marriage. (At the time, widows were all but outcasts and unable to survive for long without help.) When she approaches Boaz (which means it isn’t unbiblical for the woman to make the first move), he informs her that there’s someone else who has “first dibs” to put it in modern parlance.
You see, at the time, if a man died without offspring his brother was supposed to marry his wife and produce a child to be considered the first husband’s heir (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-10). Additionally, if a person became poor, he or she might sell his/her property in order to survive financially. If this happened, a close relative was supposed to buy the property back (“redeeming” it; cf. Leviticus 25:25-28). Both of these concepts are wed in the book of Ruth.
Naomi had been forced to sell her property in order to survive, and Ruth–likewise–was “homeless.” The one who could reverse this situation was Boaz, because he was a “family redeemer.” As far as Naomi knew, Boaz was the closest relative–the first in line–who could redeem them from their distress. Boaz explains:
Yes, it is true that I am a family redeemer, but there is a redeemer closer than I am.Ruth 3:12
Thus the tension grows. Will the closer redeemer be as kind to Ruth as Boaz? And the tension builds, until the unnamed redeemer decides that while it would be nice to redeem the fields of Naomi, he doesn’t want Naomi’s daughter-in-law. Therefore, he lets Boaz redeem Ruth and marry her, providing stability and protection for this former widow.
I believe the thesis statement in this book is found in Ruth 1:16, primarily because Ruth says, “Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Or, in my own words:
Becoming part of God’s family involves a complete change of identity
Ruth had been a descendant of Moab. Moab was technically a relative of Israel. Moab was Lot’s son and grandson (cf. Genesis 19:30-38). Lot was Abraham’s nephew. Therefore, Lot and Isaac were cousins, which means that Moab and Israel (Jacob) were technically second cousins.
Moab was actually cursed by God.
No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the LORD’s assembly; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may ever enter the LORD’s assembly . . . Never seek their peace or prosperity as long as you live.Deuteronomy 23:3, 6
This is huge! How can someone cursed by God be welcomed into Israel and marry an Israelite?
It goes back to Ruth’s amazing faith expressed in Ruth 1:16. It is also comparable to the story of Rahab (cf. Joshua 2) and the story of the Gibeonites (cf. Joshua 9). All three of these texts need to be understood similarly, because all three of these texts deal with individuals (or a group) who were cursed by God to never enjoy God’s favor, but who nevertheless experienced grace and mercy from God.
When Ruth said, “Your God will be my God” (1:16b), she was confessing faith in Yahweh and converting from paganism. No more would the idols of her fathers be her gods. Rather, Yahweh would be her God.
When Ruth said, “Your people will be my people” (1:16a), she was aligning herself with God’s people. It’s not enough to believe in God. We must also be in community with God’s people.
Heaven is where God’s people will dwell for eternity. If all you want is a “get out of hell free” card, and if you have no desire to love and serve God’s people, then you need to reassess your Christianity. Why would you want to go to heaven—fellowshipping with Christians forever—when you can’t even spend two hours a week on earth fellowshipping with God’s people?
The story of Ruth is the story of a cursed woman becoming part of God’s family. It happens to her spiritually through her conversion experience in 1:16. But it also happens physically through her marriage to Boaz.
And—in all honesty—this is the reason why Ruth is in our Bibles. If it was merely about her spiritual addition to God’s family, we see the same story in Rahab in Joshua 2. But Ruth and Boaz end up having a son. The author explains:
Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him. The neighbor women said, “A son has been born to Naomi,” and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Now this is the genealogy of Perez:
Perez fathered Hezron.Ruth 4:16-22
Hezron fathered Ram,
who fathered Amminadab.
Amminadab fathered Nahshon,
who fathered Salmon.
Salmon fathered Boaz,
who fathered Obed.
And Obed fathered Jesse,
who fathered David.
On first glance, the story of Ruth has the same emphasis as the story of Rahab. This is especially the case when we read who Boaz’s mother was in Matthew 1:5.
Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab,
Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth.
However, Rahab’s story is part of a larger narrative—the book of Joshua—and as such, it is included for a different reason (which we will see when i write that entry in this series). But Ruth exists to show us that becoming a part of God’s family involves a complete change of identity. Not only did Ruth cease being cursed, individually, but she gave birth to a son, who gave birth to a son, who after many generations gave birth to Mary, who gave birth to Jesus Christ.
In so doing, Ruth not only ceased being forever cursed, but she helped bring blessing to all the peoples, nations, tribes, and tongues of the world. She helped build up the family of God, starting with her personal faith, continuing with her love for her mother-in-law, and concluding with the birth of her grandson—King David—whose Descendant reigns even today.
The book of Ruth is a short story that is amazingly Christ-centered. I pray that you can see it from this brief blog post.
More than that, though, i pray that you are a believer in Christ.
You, like Ruth, are (were?) cursed and separated from God. You have sinned against a holy God. You have chosen idols and sin over righteousness and love. Your sins have cut you off from God (cf. Romans 3:23). The wages of these sins is death (cf. Romans 6:23).
But the good news is that Ruth married Boaz.
Because a little over a thousand years later, Jesus Christ was born of one of their descendants. Jesus lived the perfect life we could never live, and He loved and served God wholeheartedly His whole life. Then He died on the cross for our sins. He was cursed by God in our place so we could be eternally blessed. Three days later, He rose from the dead because He had done nothing to deserve death. Death couldn’t hold Him.
The story of Ruth starts with death, but it ends with life. In ending with life, it gives us hope for the future. In Jesus Christ is blessing.
Place your faith in Him today!
Join Ruth as a member of God’s family by faith today!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.