Countless commentaries and Internet articles see the ultimate significance of Ruth in the comparison of Boaz, as kinsman-redeemer, to Jesus, as our redeemer.
As we examine the role of Boaz as the goel, or kinsman-redeemer, we can easily see how he, in some ways, pre-figures our own kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ. Through his act of redemption, Boaz returns Naomi (Israel) to her land, and also takes Ruth (a Gentile) as his bride. This suggests a parallel with the Church as the Gentile bride of Christ.
I don’t buy the argument that Boaz and Ruth are prototypes of Jesus and the church as groom and bride. That’s not the point of the text, except in the sense that every marriage helps to demonstrate the meaning of Jesus’ marriage to the church.
Yes, Jesus is the “redeemer” of the church, but the analogy to Boaz breaks down pretty quickly. Boaz was second-choice kinsman-redeemer, a term that actually refers to the redemption of land, not widows.
Boaz acquired new land for himself and his heirs, but Ruth received no inheritance. Women do not inherit land under the Law of Moses except under very unusual circumstances. Jesus died to provide the church — his bride — an inheritance.
Even more so, it’s just not true that the land was returned to Naomi. It appears that Boaz bought the land and owned it. In accordance with custom, as the family patriarch, he surely supported Naomi from the land, but it didn’t become hers.
Many note that Boaz, a Jew, married Ruth, a Gentile, and so they argue for a parallel with Jesus and the church. But the Jews were invited into the Kingdom first and the Gentiles second. To see Ruth, because she was a Gentile, as symbolic of the church is to deny the Jewish roots of the church and the “to the Jew first” doctrine repeatedly taught by Paul in Romans.
Ruth would not have been married to Boaz had she not adopted Judaism as her religion. That’s not really a good analogy to the church either.
Boaz married Ruth gladly, but this is not a love story in the modern sense. Nothing is said about Boaz or Ruth being in love. Boaz clearly was kindly disposed toward Ruth, but they lived in an age when marriages were arranged for the sake of finances and honor. Marriage was rarely about love, soul mates, and romance. Hence, it’s really hard to argue that Boaz’s intense love for Ruth symbolizes Jesus’ love for the church. It’s just not in the text.
Ruth stands very well as a part of the story of Jesus on its own two feet, without our having to impose a false set of analogies on it. And this is a very important point.
You see, it’s certainly true that all of scripture points to Jesus. Amen. But when we only see value in an Old Testament book by imposing a metaphor about Jesus on it, we subtly but effectively deny the value of the book’s original importance and place in God’s story.
Indeed, we Christians have a sad tendency to ignore the Jewishness of the story, as though the Law of Moses and the story of David have no continuing meaning to us, as though we can’t see the hand of God anywhere but on Golgotha — confusing the climax of the story with the entirety of the story.
Ruth is a marvelous story, as a piece of literature, as a window into the ancient world, and as a view of God’s hand moving through history to bring about the reign of David — which led to the reign of Jesus as Messiah.
There’s just no need to argue that Boaz is a Messianic type and that Ruth represents the Gentile church etc. etc. to imbue the story with Christological value. Rather, the story marvelously shows us God revealing himself through his movement in history to bring about the Kingdom of Jesus.
And I would caution us all not to impose Jesus-analogies on Old Testament stories just to make the stories “relevant.” After all, if the real value in Ruth is that the story illustrates Jesus’ love for the church and his redemption of the church, then we don’t need Ruth at all. We learn much about Jesus’ love and redemptive work in the New Testament. And so Ruth has nothing new to teach us.
Imposing these strained analogies on Old Testament stories is a subtle way of making the Old Testament utterly irrelevant. We should not do this.