Titles of a book or event usually represent or summarize the content or theme. For instance, sometimes people will refer to the Bible as “the Good Book.” The “Superbowl” is super because it’s the championship game and final stop of the NFL playoffs. “Top Gun” is a movie about Top Gun naval aviators. We get it.
So, when I read the book of Ruth, I’m confused as to why it’s so titled. For many reasons, the book of Ruth shouldn’t be called “The book of Ruth.” It makes more sense to call it “The book of Naomi” or “The book of Boaz.” Let me explain.
First off, nationality belongs to Naomi and Boaz. Ruth was a foreigner. She’s called “RUTH THE MOABITE” five times in this short book. This intentional emphasis is the equivalent of TEXTING IN ALL CAPS (don’t be one of those people).
Second, the dialogue belongs to Naomi and Boaz. It’s mildly ironic that in the book named after Ruth, Ruth is not the main character. Over half of the book is dialogue and Naomi speeches are more frequent and longer than Ruth’s.
Third, character development belongs to Naomi. It’s not Ruth, but Naomi who is redeemed and undergoes the most character transformation the book moving from fullness to emptiness, then back to fullness.
Fourth, the book is not about Ruth’s barrenness, but Naomi’s. The book starts with Naomi’s barrenness and concludes with Naomi’s fruitfulness. In the closing verses, it’s not to Ruth that the women of Bethlehem say; “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! (4:14), it’s to Naomi!
Fifth, the plot belongs to Boaz. He’s the hero of the story and the one that pulls the pieces of this domestic disaster together under the banner of hesed – God’s lovingkindness.
Based on these five observations, the book could have been named “The book of Naomi,” or “the book of Boaz.”
But, it’s not. Why?
The answer is hesed. Hesed is one of the most unique and significant among Hebrew words. It can’t be translated into just one or two English words. It’s frequently used in the context of a covenant relationship and carries the meaning of unfailing love, lovingkindness, loyal love, devotion, kindness, mercy. This word shows up in the book of Ruth as “kindness” and is only applied to God and to Ruth (2:20; 3:10 ESV).
The book of Ruth is so named because it champion’s God’s lovingkindness, His faithful love for, and inclusion of the foreigner. This is the only book in the Old Testament named after a non-Israelite.
Through experiencing God’s lovingkindness, Ruth learned that her future, rest, hope and success were not determined by where she came from, who or what she had worshipped in the past, but from but how she respond to God’s lovingkindness in the present. She responded in faithfulness, unlike Israel who found cyclical oppression and discipline “In the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). She found a future, rest, and hope in Israel, and even ended up in King David’s genealogy!
Every day, we have a choice to respond to God in several ways; bitterness (like Naomi), or in submissive faithfulness (like Ruth) or in sacrificial service (like Boaz). And the sum total of many such responses, over many average days shapes our character.
Who are you becoming today?