A cursory reading of the Book of Ruth may lead you to conclude that it is a love story between Boaz and Ruth. Ruth comes to town after the death of her husband, and she happens to work in the field of a generous and godly single man named Boaz. They are both in a tough situation: she is an outsider (a Moabite) and a widow; he is older and probably not on the radar of younger women. But, lo and behold, they fall in love, get married, have a baby, and live happily ever after!
We might be tempted to read the book of Ruth in this way. (I have even heard Ruth taught as a Christian’s guide to dating/courting!) But that is that not what Ruth is primarily about. It is a love story, but as Christopher Ash argues in his commentary, it is more of a love story between a Moabite daughter-in-law (Ruth) and her bitter and distressed Israelite mother-in-law (Naomi). It is not primarily about the romantic love of Boaz and Ruth, but about the beautiful and sacrificial love of Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi. And above this, it is the love story of God for His people. God loves Naomi and providentially works to bring about good for her, Ruth, Israel and even the whole world through the birth of a baby boy who happens to be in the royal line of David, from whom comes Jesus the Messiah, the savior of the world!
One pivotal clue that Ruth is not primarily about the love between Boaz and Ruth, but of Ruth for Naomi, is that the only time the Hebrew verb “to love” (ahav) is used is 4:15, which speaks of Ruth’s love for Naomi. And in the other places where the narrator uses the Hebrew the noun for “love/faithfulness” (chessed), it either refers to the LORD’s love for His people (2:20), or Naomi’s love for Ruth (1:8; 3:10). Nowhere is “love” spoken of for Ruth and Boaz—though I’m sure they did love each other; the point is that this is a clue that the focus of the book is not their romantic love for each other.
Another clue that the book is about the sacrificial love of Ruth for Naomi, and not about the romantic love of Boaz for Ruth, is how the narrator draws our attention to the INCREDIBLE lengths that Ruth goes to show love for Naomi. Ruth abandoned her homeland and the prospect of marrying a Moabite in order to move to a foreign country and serve her mother-in law Naomi (1:8-18); this was a HUGE sacrifice! After arriving, Ruth worked hard to provide for Naomi and brought back even the extra food she received to Naomi (ch 2). Then, she humbly followed Naomi’s advice and went on a daring middle of the night excursion to boldly propose to Boaz (ch 3); her decision to pursue a kinsman redeemer instead of a younger man is the “later kindness” Boaz speaks about in 3:10 (the kindness is Ruth’s kindness to Naomi). [I think because we tend to think of the book of Ruth as a romance story between Boaz and Ruth, we view this “latter kindness” as the kindness of Ruth to Boaz (her going for him, an older man, instead of a younger fellow.) But I believe Ash and others are right in concluding that the “latter kindness” is Ruth being willing to marry a kinsman redeemer, instead of someone else; and thus is not so much a kindness to Boaz, but actually a kindness to Naomi, because this would mean the marriage would provide for Naomi through a kinsman redeemer). As the book reaches a close, we see Ruth give birth to a son who is ‘restorer of life and nourisher in old age’ (4:15) to Naomi; this again highlights the beautiful and sacrificial love of Ruth for Naomi.
In the end, even the townswomen recognize the amazing love of Ruth for Naomi and her worth. They celebrate Ruth’s love for Naomi and how she is worth more to her than seven sons (4:15). And in the end, the baby of Ruth sits on Naomi’s lap (4:16).
Thus, the focus of our attention in the book of Ruth is the beautiful, sacrificial love of Ruth for her mother-in-law Naomi. This is the love story we are to celebrate. It is a love story only possible because of God’s providence over-ruling and guiding things for the good of His people and His glory. And it is a love story that ends better than they could have imagined: the baby born is the grandfather of king David!
In some ways the book of Ruth reminds me of movie Frozen I. When I first watched the movie, I was sure that it would be about the romantic love of Hanz for Anna. Anna is in a desperate situation and needs an “act of true love” to save her. As the narrative moves along, we are sure it will be Hanz; but it turns out that Hanz is a scoundrel and cares nothing for Anna. Then we think it might be Kristoff for who will give Anna a kiss of true love, but we are mistaken again. In the end, the act of true that brings salvation is the love of Anna for her sister Elsa as she saves her life from murderous Hanz. What is celebrated is the sacrificial love between two sisters! Sure, there is romantic love in the end between Kristoff and Anna, but that is not the focus! Just as in the book of Ruth, there is a romantic love between Boaz and Ruth, but that is the focus!