Chapter 9 of “The Story” is about outsiders. Have you ever been an outsider, someone who didn’t quite fit in with the crowd? I think Ruth is the story for you.

Ruth is one of only two books in the Bible named after a woman, and the only book in the Old Testament named after a non-Israelite.  Clearly the book is named for this woman of stellar character and strong faith.  However, she is really not the main character.  Naomi is the main character and her family crisis drives the plot.  Ironically, Bethlehem means “house of bread,” and there was a famine there that drove this family to Moab.  Once again, the future of God’s chosen people was in danger and therefore His agenda to bless the whole world through this family seems threatened. Elimelek, whose name ironically means “my king is God,” should know that this was a judgment from God for covenant disobedience; and you’d think Moab would be the last place any self-respecting Israelite would go.  Moabites were the descendents of an incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew Lot and his daughters.  Just before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moabite King Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel.  Then Israelite men cavorted with Moabite women and their idolatrous practices which led to a devastating divine judgment.  Because of these events, Moabites were expressly forbidden to ever enter the assembly of God.  Israel should have repented and returned to covenant relationship with the LORD, which would have alleviated the famine conditions.

It is easy to read this story as a stand-alone episode.  However, its message will never be fully appreciated without remembering that it is set during the times of the judges.  Since Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, who began his rule in 1010 BC, the events in the story probably took place during the time of Gideon.  Those years were gruesome and dark.  Although “The Story” did not include the two epilogues of the book of Judges, there are two episodes that illustrate the depth of depravity in Israel during that time.  They include a story of a Levite who should have served as a faithful priest but instead worshiped idols, and a second story of a Levite who gave his concubine to be raped and murdered by fellow Israelites in order to protect himself from sodomy. That triggered a very bloody civil war.

Both of these stories are out of Bethlehem, along with the book of Ruth.  Together they have sometimes been referred to as the “Bethlehem trilogy.”  The violence of the first two stories from Boaz’ hometown might explain why he told Ruth to glean close to his women and in his field only, because “in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”  It also sheds light on why he had Ruth stay with him at the threshing floor instead of returning home in the darkness of night.  By stark contrast to the times, these characters testify to the presence of a genuine faith during this period of widespread apostasy.  What a great reminder to readers today that we do not have to yield to the sin of our culture, but we can shine as people of faith in the darkness!

As a descendant of non-Israelite women, Boaz may have had a particularly tender heart for Ruth the Moabite—an outsider.  The text explicitly notes that Boaz came from the line of Perez, one of the twins born to Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar.  He was also a descendent of Rahab the harlot as noted by gospel writer Matthew.  Any number of births—or lack thereof—could have threatened the line of Messiah.  But with each miraculous birth, I am astonished by combination of both divine providence and human choices.  And those outsiders keep showing up!

Has your faith ever been the thing that made you an outsider? How did you feel? What did you do? What does the presence of the outsiders mean to you?