The book of Ruth seems like a quaint little story, off by the side of the road, but it is actually a crucial part of the story of the coming Messiah. The fact that these events were recorded long before the arrival of David shows the sense of expectancy that attends this story.
“And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias” (Matt. 1:4–6).
Summary of the Text
When we do research in our family tree, which is usually an innocent activity, we are not generally looking for the horse thieves. We like to find distinguished ancestors, like the great great-grandfather who held Robert E. Lee’s horse at Appomattox. But among the Jews it was different—their interest in genealogies was rooted in their desire to find a distinguished descendant. A good portion of the Old Testament consists of telling us the story of how God was narrowing down the options, leaning into the future. First, He chose Abraham (Gen. 12:1). Then from Abraham’s sons He chose Isaac over Ishmael (Gen. 21:12). After that, so that God’s sovereignty might be highlighted, He chose the youngest twin Jacob over his brother Esau (Gen. 25:23). Jacob had twelve sons, and one of them had to be “the one,” and it was Judah (Gen. 49:10). Tamar had twins by Judah, and Perez pushed out ahead of Zarah the firstborn who had the scarlet thread tied to his wrist (Gen. 38:30).
Achan was a great prince in Israel, who caused Israel to stumble by his covetousness (Josh. 7:1), and he was removed from the messianic line by means of execution, his whole household perishing with him. That house was cut off. A distant cousin to Achan named Salmon, a cousin from a rival house, was a man descended from Perez, and we should not be surprised when Salmon married Rahab, the woman who marked her household by means of a scarlet rope (Josh. 2:21). Salmon and Rahab had a son, whose name was Boaz.
And after Boaz married Ruth, we are still leaning forward, yearning for the Messiah to come. The thing to note about this is that messianic expectation is not something we project backward with the benefit of hindsight. They looked forward, with the benefit of promises. What was the blessing given to Boaz through Ruth by the people of her city, and by the elders? “And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman” (Ruth 4:12). And Boaz was like Perez, making his move in the back stretch.
“Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” (Ruth 4:18–22). So we have narrowed it down quite a bit further. We have now come to the one who would give his name to Jesus. Jesus was the son of David (Rom. 1:4), He was Jesus ben-David, or, as we would put it, Jesus Davidson. This is what the book of Ruth is about.
Zeal for the Law
One of the things we learn from this book is that David’s ancestors were pious and devout, even during a time when Israel as a whole frequently was not. The law was given to Israel, and we see how the law is honored by them. The laws concerning gleaning are honored by Boaz (Lev. 23:22). The laws about the kinsman-redeemer were honored (Lev. 25: 25, 47-49). The laws concerning inheritance are carefully followed (Lev. 25:23). The laws concerning solicitousness for the alien are observed (Deut. 10:18). Remember that zeal for the law is nothing other than zeal for love.
Empty or Full
The book is about loss and restoration, about emptying and filling again. Bethlehem, the house of bread, suffers a famine. Elimelech and Naomi go to Moab. Their two sons marry there, but Elimelech dies as do his two sons. Naomi is left desolate, with two Moabite daughters-in-law. There is an ancient rabbinical midrash that says Ruth and Orpah were sisters, daughters of the Moabite king Eglon, the one assassinated by Ehud. There is no biblical warrant for this, but it helps us identify other assumptions we may have had about Ruth that are equally unsupported.
Naomi returns to Bethlehem with Ruth, both of them with empty arms. But the barley and wheat harvests are good—a master image of abundance and filling—and their arms and hearts are filled, in ways beyond imagining.
The harvesters work gathering in the grain. Ruth works hard also, gathering in what she is able to glean. Boaz makes sure extra grain is available for Ruth, so that she may gather much. In addition, Boaz expresses the wish that God would gather Ruth under His wings (Ruth 2:12). Ruth echoes that language in the next chapter when she asks Boaz to spread his garment over her, gatheringher in (Ruth 3:9). Boaz does so, but also gathers six measures of barley to give her. And at the culmination of the book, Naomi gathers Obed to her arms so that she might hold on her lap the grandfather of the greatest king Israel would ever have. Naomi, who had been bitter and empty, was now privileged to hold in her arms all the promises of God.
Fullness of Christ
When we come to Christ as supplicants, we come with nothing. When we cry out for salvation, we are crying out for something we do not have. But notice how Boaz responds to Ruth’s request. Boaz is the kinsman-redeemer, and he does not put a mercenary construction on Ruth’s request. He is (probably) twice her age, and he could easily have interpreted her request as the move of a gold-digger. But he did not. “And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10).
The fact that we need to be saved by Christ alone does not mean that we might not be tempted to look for salvation elsewhere. When people try to save themselves, when people try to figure out for themselves what kind of help is most suitable for them, then they do what Boaz praises Ruth fornot doing. She went where there was real help, not where there was apparent help—younger and good-looking help. Ruth was a woman who walked by faith.