In high school I was part of an all girls youth-group bible study. I was also pretty involved in the Christian group (Crusaders) at my all girls school.
This meant I read Esther and Ruth a lot. (‘I know, let’s study a woman for a change…again’)
So I can very quickly tell you that Boaz is a redeemer-figure in Ruth and his character and redeeming role ultimately point us to Jesus. You can also find Jesus in Ruth if you look at her descendants. She’s the grandmother of David and therefore the foremother of Jesus. God used her faithfulness to bring the Messiah.
But there’s another Jesus-figure in Ruth.
Feminist Laura used to get a bit worried about Ruth. I suspected it was a story about a ‘nice girl’ for whom life gets tough. She keeps being ‘nice’ to everyone and God blesses her by sending Boaz (prince charming) to rescue her by marrying her. Then all her problems are gone and life is wonderful. Great. Another story about a passive damsel in distress saved by a man.
But the real Ruth is anything but passive. On a closer reading I found that Ruth is proactive all the way through. She decides to go to Israel, the gleaning thing was her idea. The threshing floor was Naomi’s scheme, but it’s Ruth who ‘proposes’ to Boaz. Ruth is the main actor in the book of Ruth! She consistently shows the initiative. Amazing how I missed that, but I did.
More than that, she is also a Christ-figure, the suffering servant, who gives up everything to redeem someone who had no hope; Naomi.
The story begins. Naomi is destitute. They are leaving Moab to head into the Promised Land. In Naomi’s misery, Ruth makes an amazing promise which signals that this will actually be a story of hope and redemption.
Where you go, I will go and where you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people, and your God my God.
It sounds a little familiar. Promises upon leaving an old country. Who else promised to make a people his own? Who else promised to stay with them wherever they go, even the Promised Land?
Ruth’s covenant with Naomi echoes God’s great promises in Genesis 12 and 17, and Exodus 29.
Naomi doesn’t realise how great a blessing Ruth will be. Like whinging Israelites, even though she’s received this great promise, she calls herself ‘bitter’ and ’empty.’
Don’t call Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.
Ruth consistently puts Naomi before herself, giving up her own interests for Naomi’s redemption. She feeds and cares for Naomi by her gleaning work.
Then there’s the juicy bit on the threshing floor.
It just looks dodgy. I think it’s meant to. Naomi’s idea to score Ruth a husband was incredibly risky. She had to come and go in the dark before anyone could recognise her. All dressed up, she would have looked like a prostitute. I wouldn’t have done it – I’m too proud. Boaz could have taken advantage of her and left it at that. He could have exposed her and shamed her. Were it not for Boaz’s good character, Ruth could be stoned.
As a foreign woman in Israel she wasn’t so desirable. Indeed she had to resort to risky night-time threshing floor moves in order to make her intentions clear. She was so lowly that there was no other way.
But Ruth didn’t have to do this. She was still young and hot. She could have gone back to Moab and found a husband there. But she chose to go for Naomi’s Israelite relative so she could continue to provide for Naomi (by providing a son).
She really gave up everything. Her homeland, her family, her people and now she even risked what’s left of her reputation, her pride, her honour, her very life.
Eventually, when God blesses Ruth with a son, she gives him up for Naomi too. It was Naomi who took the child and brought him up. Everything for Naomi.
Naomi is blessed and saved from her emptiness through Ruth who made herself nothing and emptied herself of everything she had.
Perhaps it is evangelicals’ preference for marriage (in action if not in speech) that we tend to read Ruth as the needy character, saved by marriage. Perhaps it’s just our addiction to romance stories. We paint her as the ideal Christian woman – faithful, patient, long-suffering, hard-working – who is rewarded by becoming wife and mother.
It is true that Ruth is redeemed by God’s great love through Boaz. And it is God who blesses her richly in the end.
But Ruth is also a type, pointing us to Jesus, the redeemer, the suffering servant, faithful to all his promises, who gave up everything to make us whole and full.