“He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.” (Song of Sol. 2:4)
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2)
The story of Ruth is often told like a biblical fairytale. A poor, young widow from a strange country follows her widowed mother-in-law to a new land. While working hard in the fields to provide food for the two of them, she catches the eye of the unmarried, wealthy landowner. After a meet-cute in the field, her mother-in-law (fairy godmother) concocts a plan to secure the handsome landowner (prince). The daring plot works! The story ends with a (royal) wedding and a baby. And they lived happily ever after.
It’s a compelling story, but is that what we’re supposed to take away from the book of Ruth? Aside from the royal genealogy that connects Ruth to King David and eventually to Jesus, how does the biblical account point us to Christ and the gospel? Ruth is filled with rich gospel themes of salvation and redemption.
A Parable of Israel
In a recent Sunday School lesson, my pastor pointed out that the book of Ruth is actually Naomi’s story.1 The book begins with Naomi and her family leaving Israel and moving to Moab because of the famine. Naomi loses her husband and children and returns to Israel “bitter,” empty, and afflicted:
Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?Ruth 1:20-21
Ruth ends with a complete reversal of Naomi’s situation. Naomi is blessed, restored, and honored:
Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the LORD who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you one who restores life and sustains your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse.Ruth 4:14-16
Ruth is Naomi’s story from beginning to end, and Naomi’s story is a real-life parable of Israel’s history. When the Israelites entered the promised land, God told them that if they obeyed His commands, they would live in the land, and the land would be blessed. If they disobeyed, the land would be desolate and barren, and they would be carried off by their enemies (Deut. 28). God also promised that when they disobeyed and all these terrible things had taken place, He would restore them and bless them (Deut. 30:1-7).
Naomi’s life mirrors these promises and events. The events in the book of Ruth take place during the time of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). The people and land experienced cycles of disobedience, curses, repentance, and restoration. Naomi and her family leave Israel because of famine, which would have been one of God’s punishments. They live in a foreign land for a time, away from the Promised Land. When Naomi returns, God had restored the land and given His people food again (Ruth 1:6). But Naomi is still bereft and empty. She has no husband, no sons, no one to provide for her.
The story of Ruth is about Naomi’s redemption and restoration. Both Ruth and Boaz act to redeem and save Naomi. Boaz is a kinsman-redeemer. Levitical law gave instructions for close relatives to redeem property sold by poor Israelites to keep the land—their inheritance—from being lost (Lev. 25:25-28). Boaz steps in to redeem Naomi’s inheritance in two ways: He buys the land from Naomi, and he marries Ruth so that she can have a child who will inherit in place of her first husband, Naomi’s son (Ruth 4:9-10).2 Boaz fulfills the law to provide for Naomi.
Pointing to Christ and His Gospel
It’s easy to see how Boaz points us to Jesus and the gospel. As a redeemer, he’s a type of Christ. There’s an interesting parallel between Boaz’s interaction with Ruth and Jesus’s healing of the woman in Mark 5. In Ruth 2, Ruth is gleaning in Boaz’s fields. Boaz sees her and speaks kindly to her, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids” (Ruth 2:8). In Mark 5, Jesus says to the woman with the hemorrhaging, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34). In both passages, the redeemer tenderly calls the unclean woman “daughter” and offers her protection and standing.3
Ruth also is a type of Christ. She gives herself sacrificially to redeem and provide for Naomi. Ruth didn’t have to stay with Naomi. She could have chosen, like Orpah, to return to her own people and gods. But she chooses to leave everything behind and follow Naomi and follow God. In Israel, Ruth works to provide for Naomi, bringing home the grain she gleans and giving it to Naomi (Ruth 2:18).
Finally, when Ruth proposes marriage to Boaz, it’s not a love match. She calls on him to act as Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer by marrying her (Ruth 3:9). Ruth could have married or stayed single, but she chooses to marry Boaz to redeem Naomi’s inheritance. When Ruth’s son is born, the baby is placed in Naomi’s lap and is called Naomi’s son (Ruth 4:17). Ruth sacrifices her own life and relationships to give Naomi a son and inheritance. What sacrificial love!
God gave us the story of Ruth and Naomi to prepare His people for Jesus and His work of redemption. Jesus is the ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer who saves His people and gives them an inheritance. He is also the Bridegroom who will return one day for His bride, the church. In some ways, the book of Ruth is a love story. It’s a story of Ruth’s love for Naomi, but it’s also a story of God’s love for His people lived out in the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. (Rev. 19:7)
1 See Todd Bordow, “Teaching the Book of Ruth,” and “Teaching the Book of Ruth, Part 2.”
2 Deuteronomy 25:5-10 explains that if a man dies without an heir, his brother is supposed to marry the widow so that she could have a child to continue her dead husband’s line of inheritance.
3 According to the Old Testament laws, bleeding made the woman unclean. Ruth was “unclean” according to OT laws because she was a Gentile from Moab (Deut. 23:3).