One of the greatest love stories of ancient literature, the Book of Ruth powerfully illustrates the Gospel of Jesus Christ and shows the breadth of the Gospel, not just planned for Abraham’s immediate family, but from the first statement of the promise, it was for “all peoples on earth,” (Genesis 12:3 NIV)
How is this illustrated in Ruth?
Ruth was a Moabite, the family whose roots are in the incestuous relationships of Abraham’s nephew, Lot, with his daughters after they escaped from Sodom just prior to its destruction by divine judgment. Though Lot was a thorn in Abraham’s side, nonetheless he is called “a righteous man” 2 Peter 2:7. But the same could not be said for his descendents, the Moabites, who worshiped the god Chemosh. Ruth was from a nation of idolators, not a likely candidate to be included in God’s promise to Abraham.
But in the providence of God, a famine in Israel in the time of the Judges led the family of Elimelech and Naomi with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, to seek food in Moab, where both sons eventually married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah (I believe Oprah Winfrey’s name comes from Orpah, two letters switched). Then the father and both sons died, leaving three widows with no means of support.
Logic demanded that the two young Moabite widows would make themselves available for marriage in their homeland while Naomi returned to Israel, hoping to survive with the aid of relatives. That would end Ruth’s chances to be included with God’s people as an heir of the promise to Abraham.
But not so fast! While Orpah stayed in Moab, Ruth declared her allegience to the LORD (Yahweh, the God of Israel), thus converting from the gods of Moab to the God of Abraham. And in the providence of God, she was married to Boaz, became the great grandmother of King David, and is one of four women in the genealogy of Jesus in Mattehew 1.
The significance of these four women in the line of Christ? All four were flawed by the standards of the Law. Tamar, mother of Perez by Judah in a combination of incest and prostitution; Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho who protected Israel’s spies; Bathsheba, simply called “Uriah’s wife” in Matthew’s genealogy, entering David’s life via adultery and murder; and Ruth, the least personally flawed of the quartet, but from idolatrous Moab.
How does this communicate the Gospel?
1. It is the Gospel of Grace! Ruth was shown grace by Boaz who provided for her and Naomi and then loved her by taking her as his wife. Everyone in Christ’s genealogy and everyone ever saved by Jesus receives that salvation by grace,never deserved by anyone. Ruth was no more lost than I am. We were/are both dependent on God’s grace.
2. It is the Gospel received by faith. Salvation for Abraham was received by faith as was Ruth when she declared to Naomi, “your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16
3. It is the Gospel for “all peoples on earth.” No one is qualified by pedigree nor disqualified by pedigree. God has determined that all “peoples,” that is all ethnicities, will be represented in his eternal family, “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Revelation 5:9
4. It is the Gospel of Redemption, an extension and further explanation of the means of grace. The root word for “redeem” is found 23 times in this short story. Naomi and Ruth were entirely helpless and dependent on the help of another. Boaz was that redeemer for them, rescuing them at his expense. So is our redemption in Christ. It is Jesus doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves, in this ultimate case, dying for our sins, paying our debt, taking God’s wrath in our place.
5. It is the Gospel of Transformation. The story starts in despair as Naomi, whose name means “pleasant” or “lovely” says, “Don’t call me Naomi…Call me Mara [meaning “bitter”], because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” Ruth 1:20 But the story ends with Ruth’s baby on Naomi’s lap, all the despair and bitterness now replaced by new joy. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17