When we read the Old Testament, it’s easy to get caught up in the dramatic events of God’s miraculous work among the Israelites. Burning bushes, parting seas, and pillars of fire draw us in and inspire awe. We expect God to show up in such stories, and when he does, we marvel at his power and might.
The extraordinary nature of such accounts makes it easy to overlook a seemingly simple and small book like Ruth. Yet while Ruth contains no epic stories of battles fought and won, it does contain a powerful testimony to the loving-kindness of God.
One of the remarkable features of the book of Ruth is that it is named for a woman—and not just any woman, but a Moabite woman. The Israelites, especially in later years, didn’t hold women in high esteem and often viewed outsiders with contempt. The Israelites particularly despised the Moabites because of their incestuous origin (Gen 19:30–38), their history of leading God’s people into physical and spiritual adultery (Num 25:1–9), and their hostility to the Israelites (Num 22–24). Yet Ruth stands out among the Moabites as a virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11). Following the book of Judges and its descriptions of a rebellious and spiritually bankrupt Israel, the book of Ruth offers an example of a foreign woman who exhibits extraordinary courage and covenant love.
But Ruth is more than a story of an interesting woman. The book revolves around the central themes of God’s loving-kindness, faithfulness, and loyalty—concepts communicated by the Hebrew term chesed (דסח). In the biblical accounts prior to Ruth, we see God’s saving acts as a testament to his chesed for his people. In Ruth, the tables are turned: It’s time to see if there are any who would show that same loyalty and faithfulness to God.
Ruth and Naomi repeatedly express their faith in God through their declarations (1:13, 20–21), the blessings they give to one another, and their prayers for favor. In return, God shows his loyalty through divine acts of provision: in Ruth and Naomi’s settling in close proximity to a suitable kinsman-redeemer, in the legal procedures of the court leading to the right outcome, and in Ruth’s pregnancy (4:13). Through the eyes of a bystander, perhaps a Moabite woman like Ruth should have met a different outcome. But God’s covenant loyalty intervenes, and in the end he provides for both Ruth and Naomi.
Ultimately, the power and depth of God’s chesed lies in the underlying message, woven throughout the book of Ruth, that points to the coming Messiah. What Ruth and even the author of this narrative might not have realized is the significance of God’s covenant loyalty to his people. The Gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy of Jesus the Messiah in which Boaz and Ruth appear (Matt 1:5). Ruth was not just the ancestor of the great King David, but of the Messiah himself. In God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness, he sent a messiah, Jesus, to represent all the peoples of the earth. There is hope for even the least of these, including the lowly, the outcast, the foreigner, and the Gentile. If God can use a Gentile like Ruth in his plan for the salvation of the world, then there is hope for us all.
Ultimately, there is no more epic plotline than the one we find in Ruth. Through Ruth, God prepared the way for David and ultimately Jesus the Messiah. Ruth gives us a glimpse into the extent of God’s fierce loyalty and the lengths he will go to in order to save us.