Often, Ruth is simply viewed as a book about biblical dating. Some consider it the Bible’s own fairytale, “the little love story in the big love story”. But the relationship – if it is romantic at all – is secondary.
Ruth was a Moabite, so according to the Law, her Israelite husband should not have married her (Deut. 23:3). Yet she was brought into God’s big love story.
After she was widowed, Ruth was entitled to follow Orpah back to Moab, to shed her widow status and remarry in her own community. But she left everything she knew to follow her mother-in-law and a newly-adopted God to a foreign land where the laws expressly forbade her from participating fully in life and worship.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi only had each other: no protector and no income. However, where we lack, God’s grace abounds. The Law provided for vulnerable people such as Ruth and Naomi – foreigners, orphans and widows:
‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.’ (Lev. 23:22)
Ruth certainly qualified.
She diligently gathered fallen barley to feed both herself and Naomi. She lived humbly and sacrificially, for Naomi and under God, and her attitude earned her respect: she became known around Bethlehem as a woman of “noble character”, not just as an outsider. Her attitude earned her two months of security, for the barley and wheat seasons (Ruth 2:23).
Throughout the narrative, Ruth is outstanding in loyalty, bravery and selflessness. She didn’t go out looking for a husband, nor did Naomi send her out to find one. But God’s grace provided a man of noble character to be her husband. But this only happened after she dedicated her life to God and to living the way that he commanded.
In the Jewish ordering of the Old Testament, the book of Ruth comes after Proverbs. So you read about “the woman of noble character” (Prov. 31) and then, in Ruth, you see her embodied. Just go and read it – it’ll take you 15 minutes and you’ll see so much more than a story on dating.
Currently, Elaine is a Diamond and Watch Advisor for a large high street jewellers. She likes it partly for the real life love stories and partly for the shiny things. You’re most likely to find her with a can of Diet Coke in hand. Elaine is with the Church of God in Manchester and is also an unironic hand-raiser (she apologises for this if you’ve ever been stood behind her!)