Old Testament narratives, while illustrating God’s character and revealing wisdom and truth, are also full of literary genius and beauty. One of the best examples of exquisite storytelling in the Bible is the book of Ruth. In this narrative, the reader is taken on a journey from despair to hope, which provides a glimpse of the beauty of God’s redemptive acts.
The book of Ruth really centers on Naomi- her losses and restoration. It begins in Bethlehem- the house of bread- which, ironically, was experiencing famine. The emptiness of the house of bread parallels the emptiness of Naomi who has lost her husband and her two sons, both of whom died without having any children. These events set the stage for the true reversal that God ordained for Naomi, and ultimately for all of Israel.
Chapter one indicates that Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest, which hints that the famine was ending; it is therefore an appropriate setting for the beginning of Naomi’s personal journey from emptiness to fullness. The entire plot revolves around this theme which unveils several reversals woven into the story.
A key reversal of events is revealed in the names of the characters. Because of the affliction she had suffered and from which it seemed she would never recover, Naomi, whose name means “pleasant,” requested that her neighbors call her Mara, meaning “bitter." However the name did not stick, and at the conclusion of the book she is still called Naomi. Additionally, Mahlon, Ruth’s first husband, is a variation of the term “weakling” but Boaz, who redeemed her, means, “In him is strength.” This wordplay flows right into the strong current of redemption that runs through the story.
God orchestrated events so that Ruth found protection under Boaz and provision for Naomi and herself as she gleaned in his fields. Furthermore, this initial protection Boaz provided came to fruition when he claimed her, married her and fathered a child by her. In marrying Ruth, he was agreeing to provide an heir on behalf of her first husband and was willing to forfeit the opportunity to produce his own heir. Now to Naomi, who had been widowed and childless, Ruth provided a grandson and was "better than seven sons" (Ruth 4:15).
The fulfillment of the main theme comes at the very end of the book when the reader discovers that Ruth’s child, Obed, becomes the grandfather of King David. Thus Naomi, who had lost everything, was restored and immortalized in the ancestry of King David. Her fullness was greater at the end of the story than it had been even before she lost her husband and her sons.
The book of Ruth can be seen as a microcosm of the fall and redemption of mankind. Substantial hope is embedded in this story, hinting that we too are headed for fullness and restoration and that our own ultimate redemption will be greater even than the fullness of Eden.