The Themes in Ruth

The divine providence in Ruth resolves the three common human needs which hang menacingly above the story like a dark, foreboding sky: food, marriage, and children. Against that tragic background emerge several themes that the author interweaves to serve his purposes.

The first theme is YHVH’s gracious rescue of Elimelech’s family from extinction. The story records how famine sent Elimelech’s family into exile in Mo’av, and how death threatened their very existence. Graciously, however, ADONAI rescued the family in two stages. First, He preserved Elimelech’s survivors from starvation through the determination of Ruth and the generosity of Bo’az. That ensured them of some relief but no long-term solution. Finally, however, God provided an heir for Elimelech and care for Na’omi, again through Ruth and Bo’az. The LORD was in control all the way.

Elimelech was not the only beneficiary of God’s gracious providence. Within the fabric of that theme, the author carefully interwove threads of two others. The first concerned the reversal of Naomi's fortunes from emptiness to fullness. The word return (shuwb) in 1:6 signaled her destiny, initially tragic, but then headed for blessing. Na’omi herself clearly voiced this theme in 1:21 saying that she left Beit-Lechem full, but YHVH has caused me to return (shuwb) empty. While the mention of Shavuot (1:22b) hinted at the hope of fullness, its completed fulfillment took some time. Ruth’s industriousness filled her stomach, but as for the problem of an heir, the reappearance of the word empty, this time on the lips of Bo’az (3:17), signaled that the fullness of a grandson was just around the corner. Finally, in the climax of the story (see Bc – Epilogue: Na’omi’s Satisfaction and Fullness), Na’omi has a [grandson] Obed (4:17a)! At one time she thought YHVH was her enemy (1:21), but now she praises Him (4:14b). The newborn child (Hebrew: yeled) had replaced Na’omi's lost sons (Hebrew: yeled).

The other thread traces the reversal of Ruth’s fortunes. Surprisingly, the author also speaks of Ruth’s return (shuwb) to the land of Isra’el (1:7, 16, 22 and 2:6), even though she is a Moabitess. Na’omi first mentioned Ruth returning (albeit to Mo’av) to find rest in the home of another husband (1:8-9), and then schemed (albeit through the providence of YHVH) to make the wish of finding Ruth rest in the home of another husband (3:1-2) a reality. Na’omi’s acts executed God’s plans. But when Ruth proposed a marriage in Bo’az’s role as her kinsman-redeemer (3:9), he reminded her that another kinsman had a prior right to be her go’el (3:12). Finally, after Bo’az had cleverly maneuvered the marriage (again through the providence of YHVH), Ruth got her home and husband (4:13). ADONAI hadsupplied her lack of a husband and a home.

Ruth’s return also sounded the story’s other important minor theme, the acceptance of Gentiles into Isra’el. Ruth’s dramatic, determined declaration to embrace both YHVH and Isra’el (1:16-17), started her acceptance by the Israelites (4:11). Subtly, gradually, the narrator pursued the point along two lines. On the one hand, he stressed Ruth’s worthiness by reporting both her actions of devotion and courage (2:2, 3:6-10) and her high public esteem (2:11, 3:11). That she found favor in the eyes of Bo’az (2:10, 13), implies that she also found favor in the eyes of YHVH Himself. That she enjoyed refuge under the wings of the God of Isra’el (2:12), also hinted possible membership in the community of Isra’el. On the other hand, the narrator described her rise in status from Moabite daughter-in-law (1:22) to servant (2:13), possible marriage partner (3:9), welcomed woman (4:11), and finally wife (4:13). The word play between wings of refuge (kanap) in 2:12 and corner of your garment (kanap), may also imply a connection between Ruth’s marriage to Bo’az and membership in the community of Isra’el. In any case, Ruth’s marriage to Bo’az ended her two tragedies, the fact that she was a widow and a foreigner (4:9-10). The blessings at the gate (4:11-12) testified to Ruth’s popular acceptance by her community as a full-fledged Israelite, thereby implying that others like her will also be welcomed.

The second theme is, the triumph of Elimelech’s family gave Isra’el King David. The book’s surprise ending gave the story a much larger perspective, and the genealogy confirmed it. The triumph of Elimelech’s family over tragedy gave Isra’el King David, the Davidic Covenant and the Messiah. That outcome was not totally unexpected, however, for the storyteller hinted at it all along because the providence of God was at work. The fact that it was utterly impossible for Na’omi to have an heir left divine intervention as the only solution to her childlessness. But if that were to happen it implied that the child must be destined to be great. Though ambiguous on the surface, when YHVH lifted the drought (1:6), it seemed to point to divine intervention. Ruth’s choice of Bo’az’s field for gleaning was no accident, but the providence of the LORD to bring them both together. And the unexpected unnamed kinsman-redeemer with prior rights to her, again reminds us that only God’s help could make the marriage possible.

Once Bo’az had the rights of marriage to Ruth, the author proceeds to the larger story. The good wishes for the couple (4:11-12) and of the women for the child (4:15b) suggested it. Finally, with a short genealogy (4:17b), he revealed it: YHVH’s preservation of Elimelech’s family line resulted in King David. It is that event that the story’s great destiny is aimed. YHVH’s care for Na’omi’s family reflected His care of all Isra’el.6


< previous page
next page >

Genesis | Exodus | Isaiah | Ruth | Esther | Jeremiah
Life of David | Jonah | Jude | Life of Christ | Hebrews | Revelation
Acts | Ezra-Nehemiah
News & Updates | Links & Resources | Testimonials | About Us | Statement of Faith
Home | Español | Our FAQ