Ruth is such a wonderful story but we often miss the significance of this book; other than Ruth being in the lineage of David and Jesus. The story of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges and was possibly written by Samuel around the end of his life. While the events in the story are based on true events, the book of Ruth seems to be written as an allegory to shed light on Israel’s failings and open their eyes to who they are called to be. There is a lot of imagery going on in this story so I just want to hit some highlights that really stuck out to me.
Within the first five verses we see a description of Elimelech’s family falling from high stature to unfortunate strangers in a foreign land. Elimelech’s name paints a picture of what is to come for his family by the end of the story. His name means “may kingship come my way.” His sons, Mahlon (which means Sickness) and Kilion (meaning Decimation), marry Moabite women and then die (not right after marrying them but shortly after being mentioned in the text). It is probably safe to assume that their names were changed to give them literary symbolic value (There are two sons, Joash and Saraph, in 1 Chron. 4:22 who are listed to have married Moabite women. It is possible that these names were changed for the literary function of Ruth).
What imagery do you see taking place here? What might Samuel be communicating to Israel through this story at the end of his life? What can we learn today?
Placing this story within the context of the Judges points to the horrible position Israel placed herself in by not keeping covenant with The LORD. Symbolic nature of the names and events: they left their position with God, married Moabites (their gods), and therefore died. The symbolic nature of the allegory shifts to the purpose of Israel’s call to be a blessing to the world, or…redeem the world.
You’ve read the story so I’ll point out some more symbolic images. Two foreigners are left with Naomi when their husbands die. She warns that they will not be treated well by the Israelites because they are foreigners and sends them back to their people and their gods (1:15). Orpah turns away from Naomi and the Israelite people and heads home to Moab (Orpah’s name means “Back of the head” which is what she showed as she walked away). Ruth clings to Naomi and makes a claim of conversion, “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (1:16).
The question then becomes, what will happen to this foreigner who has decided to be a follower of God? This is where we are introduced to this ancient Israelite concept of the “Kinsman-Redeemer.” In short, the Kinsman-Redeemer is supposed to marry the closest relative’s widow in order to provide a male heir for the sake of carrying on the family line. Take a moment to look for the powerful imagery in Ruth 4:1-12.
The redeemer who is next of kin is happy and willing to cash in on the land that Naomi has for sale. He is completely unwilling to do so when it means he would have to also redeem a foreigner, “because it might endanger his own estate” (4:6).
This imagery leaped off the page at me since we’ve worked our way through the Old Testament in just a few months. God called Israel to inherit this land from their ancestors so that they could redeem God’s broken creation. The question is, will Israel be the first redeemer who does not want their land messed up by foreigners? Or, will they be like Boaz, who not only will redeem the foreigner God has brought into his care but will also be the Great-Grandfather of King David (and then Jesus down the line)?
The message I see in the allegory of Ruth is that God has called us to take part in the redemption of this broken creation through our special position in this world through Christ. Who is the foreigner we are refusing to redeem and therefore missing out on the blessings of God?