Summary: God shatters dreams which leave us short of full joy even if fully satisfied.
In literature, a tragedy ends with a negative or sad outcome, a comedy with a happy one. Macbeth is a tragedy; Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy. From a literary view, Ruth is a comedy – the characters pass through difficulty (even heartbreak) to end with joy and hope. The book begins and ends with tears – at first Naomi weeps from the pain of loss; the tears at the end flow from joy. The joy is real, and I think she would say, “Enough,” but the weeping that endured the night was harsh and painful.
Ruth touches our deepest feelings and exposes some of our most terrible doubts. Rather than provide simplistic or pat answers, however, the book forces us to ask harder and deeper questions. And in the end, there are some answers. We are exposed to what it means to live as fallen people in a fallen world who follow Jehovah God. We see the Almighty unfold redemptive history through the lives of people just like you and me. We may not understand what happens to us or around us, but we see that God does great things in the lives of ordinary people, and we know, by faith, “that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” It’s like when people say, “It’s all good.” Yes, in the end, God makes it all good, but getting there sure hurts a lot.
The ESV Study Bible summarizes this book of the Bible by saying that it: “highlights how God’s people experience his sovereignty, wisdom, and covenant kindness. These often come disguised in hard circumstances and are mediated through the kindness of others.” Well said: sovereignty, wisdom, covenant kindness – disguised under hard circumstances. God does good, but it hurts; my how it hurts.
Part of what makes Ruth so powerful is its literary quality. One can tell a true story and not tell it very well. I can say, “Rebekah is excited that I am taking her to dinner at Orchids.” That is true. But it is truer to say, “Rebekah’s enthusiasm radiates out to bombard everyone when she squeals with delight while discussing dinner at Orchids. Clearly, this is no ordinary birthday celebration, but a culinary and relational delight of the highest order.”
Well-written stories help us experience the events, not simply intellectualize them. As such, they are truer truth than simple declarative statements. And in that, Ruth excels. One scholar calls it, “a prime example of the storyteller’s art…. He or she was a literary genius.” The German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe [guoh’ te] (you may know his work, Faust) called Ruth, “the loveliest, complete work on a small scale.” John MacArthur claims that “what Venus is to statuary and the Mona Lisa is to painting, Ruth is to literature.”
At the end of the first five verses we will not be at a warm and fuzzy place. Naomi stayed there for ten years; we will for one week. Rather than run too quickly through the hurt of God’s frowning providences, let us weep with Naomi and her shattered dreams.
[Read Ruth 1.1-5. Pray.]
It is a romantic drama, a comedy with four central characters.
First, a prostitute – unnamed, but well known.
Second, her son – wealthy, powerful, single. Is he a bachelor because his mother was a prostitute?
Character three is a foreigner, very young (twenties), yet already widowed, trying to survive while feeling desperately alone in a clannish culture. She speaks with an accent, looks different, and eats different food. The only person she knows is her mother-in-law, also a widow.
The mother-in-law is the fourth main character. She is too old to have children, maybe too old to remarry. When her husband and sons died, she was left alone, bereaved and abandoned, a foreigner in a strange country, with no friends, no family, no hope.
Four people, each rejected, each alone. Max Lucado calls them, “Four frazzled strings in the bottom of the knitting basket,” waiting to be tossed in the trash. But strangely, the owner does not discard them. He weaves them together into the redemption of the world. The son of the prostitute meets the young widow, alone in a strange country, and her mother-in-law urges her to make herself available. They marry. Now the bachelor has a wife, the widow a husband, the old mother-in-law a grandson, and in Bethlehem is born Obed, then Jesse, and David, and soon, in this “city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” It’s definitely a comedy, for it concludes with the happiest of all endings, Immanuel, God with us.
But Naomi’s story does not begin there. It starts with loss, and hurt, and despair, with shattered dreams.