The books of Joshua and Judges detail what happens when people are unfaithful to the covenant of Yahweh. The book of Ruth shows that when people are faithful, God is faithful. The book portrays the main character, Ruth, acting out of covenant fidelity towards Yahweh and others.
Scholars have been unable to identify an author for the book of Ruth. The reader can imply that the times of the judges have passed, and would also be familiar with the person of David. Ruth, a Moabite, is part of a people who trace their lineage back to Abraham’s nephew, Lot. The book is partial in setting, portraying a common people and lacking a villain. Scholars believe the work to be an idyll, though it is non-fiction.
Many have thought the purpose of the book of Ruth to either be about the king or to discourage intermarriage with foreign countries. However, the true purpose of the work is to identify how faith can survive in the midst of such blatant idolatry and apostasy. The message of Ruth is that God preserved families of faith and that from one such family King David came.
Two main theological themes resound throughout the book of Ruth. The first is the idea of a kinsman-redeemer. Old Testament law provided that if a man died without having a son, his brother would have a son with the widow. This allowed for jeopardized covenant blessings to be redeemed. Ultimately, it is a profound metaphor for the grace of God. Second, the concept of hesed is vitally important to the book of Ruth. Hesed is often defined as ‘mercy’ or ‘lovingkindness’. All characters in Ruth act in covenant fidelity. Thus, it exemplifies hesed on both the human and divine levels. The concept provides for a dichotomy between the books of Joshua and Judges and the book of Ruth.
A modern reader of the book of Ruth should seek to understand the faith that Ruth possesses. Ruth clung to Naomi, both physically and spiritually, claiming in chapter 1 verse sixteen, “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.” Ruth was willing to abandon the pagan deities and wholly follow Yahweh. Likewise, modern Christians have many distractions in their lives, whether it be work, relationships, cell phones, etc., that keep them from experiencing the hesed of God. Ruth was willing to abandon everything that she had grown accustomed to in order to follow the god of Naomi. The modern Christian should be able to do the same. As Luke 9:23 says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”