The book of Ruth is most stereotypically viewed as a touching love story between the demure heroin Ruth and the strong kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. Not so fast! This brilliantly written story (which many scholars believe may have been written by a woman author) is full of surprises that would have been especially shocking in the context of the ancient world. Perhaps the biggest surprise surfaces almost immediately within the first few verses. The story begins as all stories did in the ancient world: with a male protagonist, Elimelek. Ho hum, nothing different here. But within the first few sentences, the stage is cleared of all male characters and the ones left standing in the spotlight are three women: Naomi, Ruth and Orpah. The real story begins with them. In a world in which a woman had no value apart from her relationship with a man, this was truly shocking. To be clear, this was not some ancient statement about female superiority. It was rather the beginning of a countercultural narrative that centered on these women and their courage, loyalty, and relationships with God.
We’re going to spend this fall exploring this wonderful story. While we will see this theme of God’s high regard for women throughout this book, an even greater theme that will surface nearly ever week is that of love. Not romantic love between Ruth and Boaz, but love that is best defined by the Hebrew word Hesed - which means strong, committed, unbreakable love. Or, as Paul Miller defines Hesed, “love without limits.” We will see this love modeled by all three main characters in this book (Naomi, Ruth and Boaz), and principally demonstrated by God whose strong hand guides and directs the story. Ultimately, it is God who uses the loyal love of a foreign woman to redeem not just a family but to prepare the way for the great Kinsman Redeemer of the world.
In preparation for worship this week, try reading through the entire book of Ruth as a story, ignoring the chapter and verse numbers. Ask God to use this book to grow and encourage our whole church community.
Our weekly worship guide can be found here.
RUTH 1:1-5, 16-17
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”