‘The story of Ruth,’ said my granddaughter on Saturday, ‘is one of my very favourites.’ It’s one of mine, too.
Ruth is the story of a Moabitess, a childless widow, a poverty-stricken foreigner, who becomes the ancestor of King David (and ultimately of Christ’s parents). It is also the story of Naomi, who deserts Israel for a foreign land and is herself deserted through the death of her husband and two sons, but who returns home and finds a future through the birth of her grandchild. Ruth and Naomi – though not blood-related – are a family. Orpah, the other daughter-in-law, also loves Naomi – but not enough to leave her homeland for an uncertain future in a strange land.
While Ruth is the heroine of the story, it begins and ends with Naomi. Naomi can be seen as representative of the people of Israel, who travel away from God and find only death and poverty, and whose return to God is supported and made possible by a foreigner, a gentile. And Boaz can be seen as representing the redeeming God, who delivers widows and orphans. By this reading, the message of the Book of Ruth is that loyal love wins salvation for those we love, as well as ourselves.
Ruth’s words of loyal love are often quoted at weddings: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” However, Ruth was addressing – not a spouse – but a mother-in-law. I find it profoundly satisfying that this next branch in Jesus’ family tree depended on two women of different faiths, nations, and ages, choosing to love one another as mother and daughter.