If you were to name some classic love stories you might suggest Helen of Troy & Paris (igniting the Trojan War dramatized in the Iliad), Cleopatra and Mark Antony (whose love entwined Rome in a civil war with Julius Caesar), Romeo & Juliet, Beauty & the Beast, or perhaps Cinderella & Prince Charming. In such stories, history, pop culture and romantic fiction come together in offering passionate love stories that captivate our hearts, emotions and imaginations.
Amazingly, the love that sparked between Ruth & Boaz has proved far more enduring and noble than any of these love affairs, and in fact, still affects the lives of all the billions of us living today – more than three thousand years after these lovers met. Their romance is also a picture of a mystical and spiritual love offered to you and me. The story of Ruth and Boaz deals with cross-cultural & forbidden love, immigration and the relationship between a powerful man and a vulnerable woman – applicable in today’s #MeToo era. By any of these measures the love story of Ruth & Boaz is worth knowing.
Their love is recorded in the Book of Ruth in the Bible. It is a short book – only 2400 words long – and is well worth reading in its entirety (here). It is set about 1150 BCE, making this the oldest of all recorded love stories. It has been made into several films.
Hollywood movie depicting the Ruth Love story
The Love Story of Ruth
Naomi and her husband with their two sons leave Israel to escape drought and settle in the nearby country of Moab (today’s Jordan). After marrying local women the two sons die, as does Naomi’s husband, leaving her alone with her two daughters-in-law. Naomi decides to return to her native Israel and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, chooses to accompany her. After a long absence, Naomi is back in her native Bethlehem as a destitute widow accompanied by Ruth, a young and vulnerable Moabite immigrant.
Ruth & Boaz meet
Bereft of income, Ruth goes out to gather grain left behind the local harvest crews in the fields. The Law of Moses, as a social safety net, had ordained harvesters to leave some grains behind in their fields, allowing the impoverished to gather food for themselves. Randomly it would seem, Ruth finds herself picking grains in the fields of a wealthy landowner named Boaz. Boaz notices Ruth among the others working hard to gather up the grains left behind by his work crews. He instructs his foremen to leave extra grain behind in the field so that she could gather more.
Because she can gather plentifully in his fields, Ruth comes back to Boaz’s fields every day to gather left-over grain. Boaz, the protector ensures that Ruth is not harassed or molested by any of his crews. Ruth and Boaz are interested in each other, but because of differences in age, social status, and nationality, neither makes a move. Here Naomi steps in as match-maker. She instructs Ruth to boldly lay down by Boaz’s side at night after he has celebrated the harvest gathering. Boaz understands this as a marriage proposal and decides to marry her.
But the situation is more complicated than simply love between them. Naomi is a relative of Boaz, and since Ruth is her daughter-in-law, Boaz and Ruth are kin by marriage. Boaz must marry her as a ‘kinsmen redeemer’. This meant that under the Law of Moses he would marry her ‘in the name’ of her first husband (Naomi’s son) and so provide for her. This would entail that Boaz purchase Naomi’s family fields. Though that would prove costly to Boaz it was not the biggest obstacle. There was another closer relative that had first rights to buy Naomi’s family’s fields (and also then marry Ruth). So the marriage of Ruth to Boaz hung on whether another man wanted the responsibility to care for Naomi and Ruth. At a public meeting of the city elders this first-in-line declined the marriage since it put his own estate at risk. Boaz was thus free to purchase and redeem Naomi’s family estate and marry Ruth.
Legacy of Ruth & Boaz
In their union they had a child, Obed, who in turn became the grandfather of King David. David was promised that ‘a Christ’ would come from his family. Further prophecies were given and finally Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, the same town that Ruth and Boaz had met in long beforehand. Their romance, marriage and family resulted in offspring that today is the basis for our modern calendar, and global holidays like Christmas & Easter – not bad for a romance in a dusty village over 3000 years ago.
Picturing a Greater Love Story
The chivalry and respect with which the rich and powerful Boaz treated Ruth, the destitute foreign woman, is a model contrasting the harassments and exploitations now common in our #MeToo day. The historical impact of the family line which this romance and marriage produced, detectible every time we note the date on our devices, gives this love story an enduring legacy. But the Ruth & Boaz love story is also a picture of an even greater love – one you and I are invited into.
The Bible describes us in a manner that evokes Ruth when it says:
I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ (Hosea 2:23)
The Old Testament prophet Hosea (ca 750 BC) used the reconciliation in his own fractured marriage to picture God as reaching out to us with His love. Like Ruth who entered the land as one unloved, but then was shown love by Boaz, He desires to show His love even to those of us who feel far from His love. This verse is quoted in the New Testament (Romans 9:25) to show how God reaches wide to love those far from Him.
How is His love shown? Jesus, that descendant offspring from Boaz & Ruth, is God come-in-the-flesh and is thus our ‘kinsman’, just as Boaz was to Ruth. Jesus paid our debt of sin to God when he was crucified on the cross, and thus he
gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:14)
As Boaz was a ‘kinsman-redeemer’ who paid a price to redeem Ruth, Jesus is our ‘kinsman-redeemer’ who paid (with his life) to redeem us.
As in all good love stories, the Bible concludes with a wedding. Just as the price that Boaz paid to redeem Ruth paved the way for their wedding, the price that Jesus paid has paved the way for our wedding. That wedding is not figurative but real, and those accepting his wedding invitation are called ‘The Bride of Christ’. As it says:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Revelation 19:7)
Those who receive Jesus’ offer of redemption become his ‘bride’. This heavenly wedding is offered to all of us. The Bible ends with this invitation for you and me to come to His wedding
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)
The relationship between Ruth & Boaz is a model of love that is still making itself felt today. It is a picture of the heavenly romance of God who loves us. He will make into His Bride those who accept His marriage proposal. As with all proposals, His offer should be weighed to see if you should give your life to it. Start here with the ‘plan’ laid out in the beginning, here to check if it is serious, here if the redeemer paid the price, and here to see how it was predicted long beforehand so we can know it really is God’s proposal.
Another adaptation of the Book of Ruth in film