The book of Ruth reminds us that good things come in small packages. 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, 1 and 2 Samuel. It almost seems like an afterthought—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, 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 it’s not quite that easy either.
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 creates Adam and Eve and they are placed in a garden. When they rebel, they are cast out of it. Cain kills Abel and is forced to wander the earth—he has no land. And of course, God has a promised land for Israel. When they rebel, they go into exile until once again, God restores 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 this 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.
Good things come in small packages!