After Judges, reading Ruth is such a relief. No crazy appalling stuff going on, plus, a happy ending!
Elimelech (‘my God is king’) moves his family to Moab because of a famine in Judah. After some time, Elimelech dies, and so do his sons Mahlon (‘sickly’/ ‘invalid’) and Kilion (‘pining’/ ‘wasting away’). Twice the narrator tells us Naomi (‘the pleasant one’) was left (1:3, 1:5). On hearing that the famine was over, she decides to pack up and go home. A seemingly inconsequential act that had very far-reaching effects.
On the road, she urges her widowed daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and prays that they may find other husbands. After much crying, one takes her advice and the other stubbornly clings to her.
The best way to put it is that Ruth had been converted. When and how, we aren’t told. What we can tell is that, humanly speaking, she had no reasons for doing so. This family had come to Moab because of a famine—presumably the God of Israel wasn’t powerful enough to feed His people. Naomi and her family weren’t the best portraits of Yahweh’s faithfulness either, what with all those deaths. Whatever else we say about it, Naomi’s faith was far from robust, and she actually encouraged Ruth to return to Moab’s gods (1:15). By following Naomi to Judah, Ruth faced social rejection as a foreigner. There was no reason for her to do what she did. That’s the mystery of faith. It is a wonder that any of us believes, and we should marvel at God’s grace in having given it to us.
Naomi, for her part, doesn’t abandon God, however weak her faith. She should get some credit for that.
They get to Bethlehem safely, and another seemingly inconsequential thing happens. Ruth goes gleaning, and just happens to find herself in a field belonging to Boaz. The portrait of Boaz and his workers is an exceptional one, considering this all took place in the dark time of the judges: they greet one another in the name of the Lord (2:4); Boaz follows the gleaning laws; and his men don’t harm Ruth.
Naomi comes up with a slightly reprehensible plan to get Boaz to notice Ruth. Boaz is flattered by the proposal and calls her a woman of noble character, just like the Proverbs 31 lady. He then takes the risk of losing Ruth by following protocol (3:12-13, 4:2-6): he’s such a nice guy (swoon)! The other relative (the narrator calls him ‘such and such’) is concerned about his estate, and won’t redeem. And thus his name is not recorded for posterity. (Or maybe the narrator wanted to protect Mr So and So’s descendants.) Boaz is selflessly concerned with fulfilling the Law, and preserving the name of Elimelech’s family (4:10). Another seemingly inconsequential action, in which Boaz reflects his distant descendant, Jesus of Nazareth. He also selflessly became our kinsman–redeemer, elevating us from the status of aliens and enemies to family—children of the living God.
One last thing: all the prayers in Ruth are answered. In 1:8-9, Naomi prayed that Orpah and Ruth would find rest in the home of another husband. We don’t know about Orpah, but it worked out for Ruth. In 2:12, Boaz prayed that Ruth would be rewarded by Yahweh. In 4:11-12, the town elders prayed for blessing on the union, and the offspring it would produce.
The book of Ruth is the story of God working in the lives of two unremarkable widow women. I’m an unremarkable single woman, and reading it builds my faith in Ruth and Naomi’s God.
Sources: Bible.org, Alistair Begg, Dale Ralph Davis, D. A. Carson, ‘How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth’ by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart