The setting for Ruth is the time of the Judges. As we have seen, the book of Judges is one of the most disturbing narratives in Scripture, recording of some of most disturbing people who ever lived, who do some of the most disturbing things imaginable. It is the story of a faithful God’s mission to love an unfaithful people and save them from their sin.
Most of the story of Judges takes place on a humungous-gigantic-jumbo scale with major rebellion, powerful judgments, brutal oppressors with big armies, and over-the-top heroes. And with the death of each hero, a new cycle of rebellion, judgment, and deliverance occurs. Instead of becoming more faithful as a result of God’s faithfulness, the people get worse with every cycle and, by the end of the book (400 years), they are more unfaithful and more hopeless than when they started. But then we have what amounts to a love story, not just between a young woman and man, but between a God and His people.
The story of Ruth is a story within the story—a glimpse into what a sovereign and good God is doing to accomplish his mission, not despite the sinful choices of men, but in fact through them. The story is not big, it is small; the characters are not amazing, they are very ordinary. It is a story about one small family, and one young non-Israelite widow, serving as light of hope in all of the darkness of Judges who ultimately leads us to Jesus Christ the light of the world. When all things appear hapless and hopeless, God is faithful.
The book of Ruth is a story that reminds us not only that God works visibly through prophets and miracles, but that he is invisibly and mysteriously working all of the time, even within tragedy. It’s a story for those of us who have, are, and will suffer tragedy, loss, or pain. It’s a story for those wondering where God is in the midst of heartbreak upon heartbreak. It is a story for those who will doubt whether God is in control, whether God is good, and whether faithfulness to do what is right is worth it in hard times. And it’s a story for people who question whether all things, including suffering, are in fact purposed for good.