“Into the Promised Land”: Ruth and Boaz
I loved watching World War II movies as a kid. A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, Patton, Tora! Tora! Tora!, and Midway were among my favorites. But there always seemed to be a part of these movies I didn’t care for that much, and that part always seemed to come early on.
I wanted these movies to start with the action—get right to it!—but they always seemed to start in England to provide the back story. While I could tolerate some General explaining the strategy of what was to come, what I really struggled with was the romantic back story of a key character or two. That was just brutal for me; a complete waste of time. The only redeeming value of these romantic story intrusions was the insight they provided on who would likely not survive the battle I anxiously waited. True, a little morbid on my part, but it didn’t take me long to figure out that movie trope.
As an adult I can still struggle with being so utilitarian. I still just want to get to “the good stuff.” I want the “meat” and can quickly pass over the “sides.” My wife and I have had to learn to communicate in light of this. There are times when she will start to tell me a story of something that happened, and I will ask her to cut to the chase—give me the big idea first, then circle back around and provide the details. Conversely, I am still trying to learn to provide her with the “little” details and not just give her the big idea.
It’s not hard to see how my wiring works against reading, understanding, and appreciating a book like Ruth. The redeeming part of Ruth is not just the plot resolution near the end, but it is the entire story—including the love and romance that course throughout the book from the very start. If we carry over a utilitarian preference to the Scriptures, we will miss so much of the gospel, because the beauty of the gospel is not just found in what God did, but why He did it as well: love.
Love Drove Ruth to Stay with Naomi
The stage is set for the theme of love to be the star in this book in chapter 1. We are introduced to Ruth along with her mother-in-law Naomi and sister-in-law Orpah and the tragedy that befell them all: each of their husbands died leaving them widows. To make matters worse, they were widows during a famine. Women often were unable to provide for themselves as it was, but being a widow during a shortage made it even more unlikely.
When Naomi decided to return to her home land, she instructed each of her daughters-in-law to return to their respective families where they would have a higher probability of being cared for. Orpah obliged; Ruth refused. While the word “love” is not present in this section (Ruth 1:6-18), it is quite apparent. Love is what seemed to drive Naomi to send her daughters-in-law away—she cared for them, shown in how she kissed them and wept loudly (v. 9,14). And love also seemed to be what drove Ruth to stay with Naomi—to literally cling to her in fact (v. 14). We rightly celebrate Ruth’s loyalty depicted in her monologue in v. 16-17, but we should not miss that it was likely love that fueled that loyalty (which is why it is fitting that these verses be used in wedding ceremonies).
Love Drove Boaz Toward Ruth
When Naomi returned to her homeland, she told people to call her Mara instead because she was filled with bitterness. While we cannot excuse Naomi’s bitterness, we can understand it. She had lost her husband and two sons and was destitute. But not for long.
Ruth, demonstrating amazing character, went out to collect food for the two widows and “happened” to a field owned by a man named Boaz. Notice I put that word in quotes because we know it was not a coincidence; God was providentially at work. When Boaz arrived to check on his harvest, he noticed Ruth and asked about her. Now, here is where we need to be careful because we are tempted to read this through the lens of Hollywood. We might want to read this as if Boaz catches a glimpse of some beautiful woman in his fields and is immediately smitten. Ruth very well may have been beautiful, but read more closely to see that any external beauty she may have had was not what drew Boaz to her. It was her character. Boaz saw her working hard in the fields and he had heard of her loyalty to Naomi (2:11-12). That seems to have been what drew him to her.
External beauty can be fleeting and does not provide the foundation for a lasting relationship. Nor is it the appropriate motivator of love. We don’t know if Boaz loved Ruth from the start, but the seeds of love were certainly present from the beginning.
And It Was Love that Drove Jesus Toward the Cross
While marriages in the Old Testament period were not driven by love (they were more a matter of practicality, arranged by parents with the goal of advancing a lineage, not for providing fulfillment), neither were they always devoid of love. This is apparent in the story of Ruth and Boaz. Love saturated this relationship, one which God would use to bring about a son named Obed, who would father a son named Jesse, who would father a son named David.
Yes, this relationship between Boaz and Ruth had a much greater purpose than just the fulfillment of a man and a woman—through it the Savior of the world’s line would continue. But don’t miss how the Holy Spirit inspired this book to give us the vital back story of that event. Because through the love on display in this relationship, we are reminded of the love that God has for us. A love that drove Him to provide Jesus. And a love that drove Jesus to glorify His father and pay the price of His life to rescue us, His bride, from sin and death.
Love isn’t an aside to the story of the gospel, it is at its very center.
When we fully believe in our Savior’s love, then our own hearts respond with perfect love to God and our neighbor.” – Martin Luther (1483-1546) 
Preschool Tip: In many ways, the Book of Ruth is ideal for preschoolers. It is a narrative that is pretty easy to tell with a theme we love to share with preschoolers: love. Two words of caution though. First, be sensitive to your preschoolers’ family situations. Not all are coming from homes where two parents love each other; many may not have two parents at all. Celebrate God’s ideal of marriage, but if your situation warrants it, be sure to explain that families might not look like this one but that God still loves those families and will use them. Second, don’t miss Jesus in this story! Make sure you get to the Christ Connection and leave time to show your preschoolers how this story is ultimately not about Boaz and Ruth, but Jesus.
Kids Tip: Some of your kids, your boys especially, may be like me when I was a kid: “Can’t we skip this ‘love stuff’ and get back to the action?” Prepare yourself for that, especially having just completed several sessions full of action in the Book of Judges. To help reduce this, be sure to talk about the difficult situation Ruth was in—hungry, poor, living in a foreign land. It’s vital we talk about this because we want kids to understand that God provided more than a husband for Ruth; He gave her life—quite literally—too through him. This will help when you turn the corner to talk about the Christ Connection as well. Just as God met Ruth’s needs through Boaz, in a greater way, He has met our needs in Christ.
 Martin Luther, “Second Sunday After Trinity,” in Luther’s Epistle Sermons: Trinity Sunday to Advent, trans. John Nicholas Lenker (Minneapolis, MN: The Luther Press, 1909), 51.