Themes of Ruth, Part 1: Covenant Loyalty

An important part of Ruth is hesed, covenant loyalty, or loyal love...

Themes of Ruth, Part 1: Covenant Loyalty

Originally published in Issue #14 on July 2, 2021

In a recent group Bible study, we have been working through the book of Ruth. As we go, I’ve been using Judges, Ruth: Revised Edition (The NIV Application Commentary) | K. Lawson Younger 📚 for extra personal study. I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections with you as I’ve been traveling through Ruth. If you have not read the book recently, these reflections will make more sense if you spend 10 minutes and read the book first.

An important part of Ruth is hesed, covenant loyalty, or loyal love, often translated as “kindness” (for example, in the NASB ’95, CSB, ESV, etc.). This key word is found three times in the book, but it remains a major theme as we see the main characters display this trait and be blessed for it, while other characters ignore their obligations and do not receive a blessing.

Ruth’s Loyalty to Naomi

In Chapter 1, Ruth’s loyal love for Naomi is contrasted with Orpah’s. Both Moabite widows leave their home to travel with Naomi, but only Orpah listens to Naomi’s impassioned reasons that they should return home. Ruth, meanwhile, clings to her mother-in-law against reason.

Throughout the book, Ruth displays her passionate loyalty to Naomi. She enters into possible danger to gather food for them. She listens to Naomi’s instructions to gain Boaz as a husband to redeem them.

Boaz’s Loyalty to Ruth

In chapter 3, Boaz agrees to marry Ruth, but there is an obstacle. There is a closer kinsman-redeemer who has the option to redeem Ruth and Naomi’s land and marry Ruth before Boaz has the option.

This other, unnamed kinsman lacks the loyal love that Boaz displays. He lacks it to such an extent that while the author of Ruth believed that Orpah was worth naming, this man isn’t even worth a name.

While most translations have Boaz call this man “friend” (Ruth 4:1), the actual Hebrew term used is something akin to “Joe Schmo,” or “Mr. So-and-So.” This is a clear indicator that whether the author of Ruth knew this man’s name or not, he doesn’t believe this man is worthy of being named in the story. One reason for this might be that while the man wasn’t required to redeem Ruth, he was obligated to do so. Deuteronomy 25:10 tells us that a kinsman who refuses to redeem loses the right to his name.

Boaz, meanwhile, doesn’t share such qualms about redeeming Ruth. We must remember that she is a Moabitess, a hated people-group who had a long history of abuse and attempted abuse of the Israelite people. Boaz has recognized Ruth’s hesed, and displays hesed to her in return by agreeing to redeem her. Scripture does not say if Boaz already has an eldest son, but if he does not, his inheritance would pass to their eldest son Obed, who is also the inheritor of Ruth’s first husband, and therefore may have been “tainted” according to some Israelites. This is the exact reason that “Joe Schmo” refused to redeem Ruth.

God’s Loyal Love

Why is loyal love important? Because it’s a defining attribute of how God deals with those he is in covenant with.

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness
— Exodus 34:6b (ESV)

This phrase “steadfast love” is hesed, an expression of God’s covenant loyalty. When humans display loyalty borne of love for God and neighbor, we are displaying God’s kind of love to us.

As Christians living in the power of the Spirit, we should display this kind of loyal love for one another. As Jesus himself said:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
— John 13:35 (ESV)