What is a key theme in the book of Ruth?

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An important theme of the book of Ruth is loyalty, which is shown in abundance by Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi, in the aftermath of her husband's death. Loyalty is about remaining at somebody's side through everything, and Ruth provides a perfect example of this.

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I would argue that loyalty is the most important theme of the book of Ruth. Loyalty is about sticking with someone even when doing so is not the logical course of action. This is exactly the kind of dedication that Ruth showed to her mother-in-law, Naomi.

After the death of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, one of her sons married Ruth, who was a native of Moab, to which Naomi and her family had moved as a result of a drought around their home in Bethlehem. Some years later, further tragedy befell the family, and her sons were killed. After this, Naomi urged her daughters-in-law to return to the comfort of their respective mothers’ home. This is where we see Ruth’s unwavering loyalty: While her sister-in-law Orpah eventually agrees to return to her family, Ruth stays with Naomi.

As Naomi points out, there are compelling reasons for Ruth to not stay with her. It wasn’t as though she was going to have more sons who Ruth could marry. In spite of this, Ruth swears her lifelong allegiance to Naomi, inviting God’s harshest punishment should she ever renege on this promise.

As it turns out, Naomi’s close relative, Boaz, takes notice of Ruth when the two arrive in Bethlehem, and her loyalty is rewarded when she becomes Boaz’s wife and bears a son. Boaz shows her nothing but kindness, generosity and respect, which is a due reward for the loyalty she has shown to Naomi throughout her time of loss and hardship.

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One of the most inspiring messages of the book of Ruth is that a person who displays selfless compassion will be rewarded in the end. At the beginning of the book, readers are introduced to Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. After a sequence of tragedies leave all three women as widows, Naomi decides to return to the land of Israel. But Naomi offers to let the young women stay in Moab, their own land. Both women protest, but Orpah eventually concedes and kisses her mother-in-law goodbye. Ruth, however, proclaims her undying loyalty to Naomi, so the two travel to Israel.

Ruth offers to work in the fields as a gleaner to support her mother-in-law and herself. As it turned out, she unwittingly chose the field of Boaz, one of Naomi's close relatives, to work in. Boaz takes notice of her immediately, and after finding out who she is, he praises her for her kindness to Naomi. He says, "May the Lord repay you richly for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."

On Naomi's advice, Ruth presents herself to Boaz for marriage, and he considers her offer a great "kindness" since he is older than she. He goes through the necessary legal maneuvers to claim her as his wife and thereby redeem all Naomi's lost property. The town elders approve the match and shower them with blessings. Those blessings are realized when Ruth bears a son, who later will become the father of King David, putting Ruth, a foreigner, in the genealogical line of Jesus himself.

Ruth's happy ending is due to her loyalty to Naomi, the great kindness she showed her mother-in-law in giving up her own comfort to support her, and the kindness she showed Boaz in seeing past his age and agreeing to take him as her husband. The strong theme that comes through in this book is that kindness will be rewarded.

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There are many important themes in the book of Ruth. The two main themes are: God's providence, and the idea of a kinsman redeemer. 

The book starts off in the time of the Judges. It is a wretched time where people are doing what is right in their own eyes. All you need to do is read Judges to know how terrible the times are. In this context, it seems like God has abandoned his people. But God is silently working in amazing ways. After Naomi loses her husband and two sons, one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth decided to go with her. One of the most famous passages is:

"But Ruth replied, "Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.'"

When Naomi and Ruth come to Bethlehem, by chance, Ruth collects grain in the field of Boaz, who happens to be a kinsman, who also happens to take notice of Ruth, and who also happens to marry her in time. All of this seems like chance, but it is under the providence of God. This is important, because Ruth bears a son Obed. Obed bears Jessie, and Jessie will be the father of David, Israel's great king. To go back to the original context, the way out of the time of the Judges is through a great king. 

Finally, Boaz through Jewish law is able to redeem Ruth and so he does. In Jewish tradition this is called a kinsman redeemer, and this was done, so that the deceased would not lose all of their land. This union, then, leads to a new epoch in Israel's history, the kings. 

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What is the main theme in the book of Ruth?

One of the central themes of the book of Ruth is faithfulness, which is displayed through Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, Boaz's response to Naomi's plight, and God's attitude toward those who suffer.

Naomi and her family are enduring a famine as chapter 1 opens; they are therefore forced to travel to Moab. Soon afterward, her husband dies, leaving Naomi with two sons. Both sons both marry women from Moab: Ruth and Orpah. After living in Moab for ten years, both of Naomi's sons die, and all three women are forced to exist as widows in a society which was not structured to support the financial independence of women.

Naomi releases her daughters-in-law from their obligations to her, instructing them to go back to their mothers and build a new life for themselves. Orpah kisses her goodbye and leaves, but Ruth proves faithful, refusing to leave Naomi. She professes this loyalty with sincerity, and her words are often quoted today as a testament of true devotion:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. (1:16–17)

Later Boaz, who is a guardian-redeemer (or a close relative whom extended family can turn to for help), is impressed with Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi. When he sees her attempting to scavenge in his fields, he confronts her—yet not in the way she expects:

Boaz replied, "I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."
(2:11–12)

Ruth finds favor with Boaz, a man of influence, because she demonstrates incredible loyalty. He tells Ruth that she has demonstrated "noble character," which is known throughout the town. Boaz is so impressed by Ruth that she becomes his wife and the mother of Obed, who is the grandfather of David. This is significant because Jesus is a descendant of the line of David.

God therefore demonstrates loyalty to those who love him through this story. Naomi was not left alone even though she lost her husband and both sons. Instead, God gave Naomi the gift of Ruth, a faithful companion and friend. Ruth was not left destitute when she chose to remain faithful to Naomi. It would have been much easier for Ruth to marry again, moving on with a new husband. Instead, she refuses to abandon Naomi, even though there were precious few opportunities for widowed women during this historical context. God was faithful to bless Ruth for her loyalty, making her part of the story of Jesus. Although circumstances may seem hopeless at times, the book of Ruth demonstrates that God can redeem suffering for those who are faithful to his commandments.

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