Naomi and Ruth face agonizing hardship, but in God, hardship is not hopelessness. Although we encounter no obvious miraculous interventions in the Book of Ruth, the hand of God is by no means absent. On the contrary, God is at work at every moment, especially through the actions of faithful people in the book. Long ago God had promised Abraham, "I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you" (Genesis 17:6). The Lord made good his promise by restoring Israel’s agricultural productivity (Ruth 1:6), despite his people’s unfaithfulness. When Naomi heard of it, she determined to return home to Bethlehem to try to find food. Ruth, true to her word, went with her, intending to find work to support both herself and Naomi. As the story unfolds, God’s blessings pour out on the two of them—and ultimately on all humanity—through Ruth’s work and its results.
God’s faithfulness to us underlies all productivity
Overall, the Hebrew Scriptures portray God as the divine Worker, who provides a paradigm for human work. The Bible opens with a picture of God at work—speaking, creating, forming, building. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God not only appears as the subject of many “work” verbs, but people often refer to him metaphorically as “Worker.” Throughout the Hebrew Bible God not only engages in many kinds of work himself, he also commands the people of Israel to work according to the divine pattern (Exodus 20:9–11). That is, God works directly, and God works through people.
The main characters in the book of Ruth acknowledged God as the foundation for their work by the way they bless each other and through their repeated declarations of faith. Some of these expressions are praise for actions God has already taken (he has not withheld his kindness Ruth 1:20; he provided a kinsman redeemer Ruth 4:14). Others are pleas for divine blessing (Ruth 2:4, 19; 3:10), or presence (Ruth 2:4), or kindness (Ruth 1:8). A third group involves more specific requests for divine action. May God grant rest (Ruth 1:9). May God make Ruth an equal of Rachel and Leah (Ruth 4:11–12). The blessing in Ruth 2:12 is particularly significant: “May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” All of these blessings expressed the assurance that God is at work to provide for his people.
Ruth desired to receive God’s blessing of productivity, whether from God himself (Ruth 2:12) or through a human being “in whose sight I might find favor” (Ruth 2:2). Despite being a Moabite, she was wiser than many in Israel when it came to recognizing the Lord’s hand in her work.
For the action of the story, one of the most important blessings from God is that he had blessed Boaz with a productive farm (Ruth 2:3). Boaz was fully aware of God’s role in his labor, as shown in his repeated invoking of the Lord’s blessing (Ruth 2:4; 3:10).
God uses apparently chance events to empower people’s work
One of the ways God fulfills his promise of fruitfulness is his mastery of the world’s circumstances. The odd construction of “her chance chanced upon” (rendered, “as it happened” by the NRSV) in Ruth 2:3 is deliberate. In colloquial English, we would say, “As her luck would have it.” But the statement is ironic. The narrator intentionally uses an expression that forces the reader to sit up and ask how it could be that Ruth “happened” to land in the field of a man who was not only gracious (Ruth 2:2) but also a kinsman (Ruth 2:1). As the story unfolds, we see that Ruth’s arrival at Boaz’ field was evidence of God’s providential hand. The same can be said for the appearance of the next-of-kin just as Boaz sat down at the gate in Ruth 4:1–2.
What a dreary world it would be if we had to go to work every day expecting nothing except what we ourselves have the power to accomplish. We must depend on the work of others, the unexpected opportunity, the burst of creativity, the unforeseen blessing. Surely one of the most comforting blessings of following Christ is his promise that when we go to work, he goes to work alongside us and shoulders the load with us. “Take my yoke upon you…for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30). Ruth did not have the words of Jesus, but she lived in faith that under God’s wings, she would find all that she needed (Ruth 2:12).
Human productivity is an outgrowth of our faithfulness to God
God’s faithfulness to Israel was mirrored in Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi. Ruth had promised, “Where you go I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth’s promise was not a plea to stay on as a passive consumer in what remained of Elimelech’s household, but a commitment to provide her mother-in-law as much as she was able. Although not an Israelite herself, she seems to have been living according to the Law of Israel, as embodied in the 5th Commandment, “Honor your mother and father.” The restoration of productive work for her and her family began with her commitment to working in faithfulness to God’s law.
God creates (Genesis 1:1); builds (2 Samuel 7:27; 1 Sam. 2:35), makes (Genesis 2:4), forms (Genesis 2:7, 8, and fashions “ works of his hands” (Psalms 8:6). He is depicted as a creator (Genesis 1–2; Job 10:3–12; Psalms 139:13–16), builder, architect (Proverbs 8:27–31), musician/composer (Deuteronomy 31:19), metalworker (Isaiah. 1:24–26), tailor (Job 29:14; Isaiah 40:22), potter (Isaiah 31:9), farmer (Hosea 10:11), shepherd (Psalm 23; Ezekiel 34), tentmaker/camper (Job 9:8), temple designer and builder (Exodus 25, 35; 1 Chronicles 28:11–19), and scribe/writer (Exodus 24:12; 31:18; 34:34:28; etc.).
Ruth 1:8–9; 2:4a; 2:4b; 2:12; 2:19 [without naming the Lord]; 2:20; 3:10; 4:11–12; 4:14a; 4:14b–15.