I have to admit, I love a good Hallmark movie.
You know the plot: Ms. Sweet-now-Single leaves loss behind and moves back home, where working hard to make a new life, she meets Mr. Everything-You-Could-Ever-Want, who pledges true love and becomes her happily ever after.
What is it about these movies that keeps us coming back? The rescue? The perfect man? Or maybe it’s the true love.
These are the elements in the story of Ruth, the third unlikely woman named in Jesus’ family tree.
But Ruth’s story is so much more than a great romance. Why is Ruth in the genealogy of Jesus? The greatest love story ever.
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Ruth’s story starts in the little village of Bethlehem. Yep, that Bethlehem.
Famine had hit hard and a Bethlehemite named Elimelech moved his wife, Naomi, and two sons to Moab to better their chances.
The Moabites were long-time enemies and oppressors of Israel and cursed by God. A pagan nation descended from the incestuous relationship of Lot and his oldest daughter, they worshipped the deity Chemosh and practiced child sacrifice. Not the kind of place you want to raise your family.
Yet here God chose to weave the story of a young Moabite girl into the story of His Son.
Elimelech’s two sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, but in the space of ten years, Elimelech died and then both his sons.
One loss would be crushing but all three together must have been unbearable. Naomi, Orpah and Ruth – all childless, all widows. Three shattered hearts, left utterly desolate by life. The pain and loss touched every part of their lives, their hopes, their dreams. To be widowed and childless in our world is unimaginable anguish; in their world it meant unmitigated vulnerability and poverty.
Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. She had nothing for Orpah and Ruth and urged them to go back to their pagan families. Orpah left, but Ruth refused to abandon Naomi.
In a stunning declaration, Ruth professed, “Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”
Your God is my God.
In the cursed darkness, Ruth had seen the light of God and in the bleakest circumstances, she trusted the love of God.
And so Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem, just as the barley harvest started. Ruth went out to glean barley, and providentially happened into the field of Boaz, a gracious, generous businessman and relative of Elimelech. Boaz, learning this new gleaner was Ruth the Moabitess, promised protection as she gleaned throughout the harvest.
“May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
But Boaz was more than a distant relative. Boaz was kinsman-redeemer — the Goel. Under Jewish law, the Goel was a close relative responsible for rescuing and restoring a childless widow through marriage.
As a sign, the Goel would spread his cloak over the woman to show his promise to take her under his wing of protection.
Naomi instructed Ruth: go to the threshing floor, uncover Boaz’s feet and wait for his instruction. Ruth did and when Boaz awoke there was Ruth with this request: Spread your cloak over me, since you are Goel of our family.
Boaz, qualified to redeem, willing to redeem and able to pay the price of redemption became Goel for a young Moabite widow.
Ruth, once an outsider and alien to God, became not only part of Israel but part of the lineage of Christ.
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And here’s where we cue the Hallmark music: a rescue, a perfect man and true love.
But what at first blush looks like a story of blissful romance points us to the greatest love story ever. It’s the greatest Remption story ever.
Ruth is each of us — walking out the curse of this world, unable to rescue ourselves and desperate for love.
But we have a Goel who stepped in to rescue and restore us.
All along God has declared Himself our Goel. In Exodus: “‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem (Goel) you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.”
In Isaiah: “For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer (Goel); he is called the God of all the earth.”
And in Malachi, some of the last words of the Old Testament prophesied One who would rise “with healing in his wings.”
Four hundred years later, Bethlehem held a greater Redeemer — Jesus, the only one qualified to redeem us, the only one willing to redeem us and only one who could pay the price to redeem us.
We were once outsiders, alienated from God with no hope like Ruth; yet God redeemed us and brought us into His family.
“You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9)
Why is Ruth in the genealogy of Jesus? The greatest love story ever written.
That first Noel, God came as our Goel to rescue and take us His beloved bride.