As Bill Giovannetti pointed out in his recent seminar “How to Write Like Ruth” at the West Coast Christian Writers conference, the Book of Ruth is a love story. It’s not about Ruth and Boaz, Bill said. It’s about the love between Ruth and Naomi, two widows who have only each other. Ruth seals her love for Naomi with a covenant in the first chapter of their story, overriding Naomi’s insistence that Ruth leave her as her sister-in-law Orpah had done:
“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. 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.” (Ruth 1:16-17.)
This love covenant, this promise before God to stay with Naomi no matter what, found its fruition in the declaration of the people of Bethlehem by the end of the book:
The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
A clear distinction jumps out from that passage: as important as Boaz is to the story, he is not the guardian-redeemer spoken of here. Obed, the son born to Ruth, the baby who is also Naomi’s grandchild, is the one identified by the women of Bethlehem as the guardian-redeemer who will renew Naomi’s life and sustain her in her old age.
God Gives Bread Once and Again
Bill pointed out that there are two places where the narrator says that God gave something. The first is when Naomi, from her famine-induced exile in Moab, learns that Israel’s famine has ended and she can return to Bethlehem.
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread. (Ruth 1:6.)
The second is at the end of the story, when Naomi’s widowed daughter-in-law Ruth marries Boaz.
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. (Ruth 4:13.)
Another aspect to note, though not one explored by Bill, is how wordplay in chapter one leads to Jesus over one thousand years later. It’s all about bread.
Bethlehem is a Hebrew place-name that translates to House of Bread. Naomi could return to her home town, the House (beth) of Bread (lehem), because God gave them bread.
When God later gave Ruth conception, she gave birth to a son. This son, Obed, in turn had a son, Jesse, who in turn had a son who would become king of all Israel, David. This is where the Bible takes the wordplay of the Book of Ruth and turns it into a fulfillment of prophecy as you continue reading through David’s life, then into the prophets, and eventually reach the life of Jesus.
Jesus is a descendant of David. (Matthew 1:5-16, Luke 3:23-32.) He is a descendant, therefore, of Obed, the child God gave Ruth to conceive. And just as God gave bread to his people, through this child he gave Ruth he also eventually gives his people Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, … it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:32-35.)
This bread, Jesus the Bread of Life and the Bread from Heaven, Jesus who is also a baby born in Bethlehem, is given to end the spiritual famine of separation from God.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” (John 6:51.)
As he told his listeners moments before, life with him is simple.
“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29.)
Taking what God has given, this Bread of Life, means you believe in the one God has sent. That is how you eat the heavenly bread that sustains, nourishes, and satisfies you even better than any fresh-baked loaf hot out of the oven.
You partake by believing, which is itself an expression of your faith and of your hope. As one of Jesus’ closest friends wrote:
Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21.)
Remember the words found in Ruth: “the Lord gave.” He gave you Jesus.