The Bible tells us the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman who married into an Israelite family and eventually converted to Judaism. She is the great-grandmother of King David and hence an ancestor of the Messiah. But how exactly is Ruth related to Jesus, and what can we learn from her remarkable faith and loyalty?
The Genealogy of Jesus According to Matthew and Luke
The New Testament provides two accounts of the genealogy of Jesus, one in the Gospel of Matthew and another in the Gospel of Luke. Matthew starts with Abraham, while Luke begins with Adam. The lists are identical between Abraham and David, but differ radically from that point. Matthew has twenty-seven generations from David to Joseph, whereas Luke has forty-two, with almost no overlap between the names on the two lists. Notably, the two accounts also disagree on who Joseph’s father was: Matthew says he was Jacob, while Luke says he was Heli.
Traditional Christian scholars have put forward various theories that seek to explain why the lineages are so different, such as that Matthew’s account follows the lineage of Joseph, while Luke’s follows the lineage of Mary, although both start with Jesus and then go to Joseph, not Mary. Some modern critical scholars state that both genealogies are inventions, intended to bring the Messianic claims into conformity with Jewish criteria.
However, both genealogies agree on one thing: they both include Ruth as an ancestor of Jesus. Matthew mentions her as the mother of Obed, who was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David. Luke does not name her explicitly, but traces Jesus’ lineage through David’s son Nathan, who was also a descendant of Ruth. Therefore, according to both accounts, Ruth is a great-great-…-grandmother of Jesus.
The Story of Ruth and Naomi
Ruth’s story is told in the Book of Ruth, part of the biblical canon called Ketuvim, or Writings. Ruth’s story is celebrated during the Jewish festival of Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, 50 days after Passover.
Ruth was “of the women of Moab” but was related to Israel through Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Ruth lived in the period of the judges. She married the son of an Israelite family while they were living in Moab, but then her father-in-law, husband, and husband’s only brother all passed away. So Ruth had a choice whether to remain in her home of Moab or to go with Naomi, her mother-in-law, to Judah, a place she had never known.
Ruth adored her mother-in-law and had great sympathy for her, witnessing that she lost her husband and both of her sons. Ruth could not endure to part from Naomi or from the God of Israel that she had come to know. Ruth and Naomi made the voyage back to Judah to the city of Bethlehem. Ruth’s testimony spread, and Boaz heard of her faith.
Like Christ, Boaz blesses her with his favor and protection. Ruth is rewarded for her dedication by an invitation to eat with Boaz. The story of Ruth in the Bible illustrates a theme of redemption, a word that occurs 23 times in the book of Ruth. Boaz acts as a redeemer by buying back Naomi’s land, marrying Ruth, a Moabitess, and fathering a son to keep the family line alive. Such a “kinsman-redeemer” is symbolic of the mediating work of Christ.
The Significance of Ruth in God’s Plan
Ruth’s position as a Gentile in the ancestry of David (and thence of Christ) signifies that all nations will be represented in the Kingdom of God. As a Moabitess, Ruth was a descendant of Lot. Twice does Scripture record that Moab, situated east of the Dead Sea, and Israel warred against each other. During a time of famine in Israel, Naomi and her Israelite family moved to Moab as a matter of survival. After the death of her husband and with the famine past, she and Naomi return to Israel.
Ruth showed remarkable faith for such a young believer. Faith that there was still a purpose for her ahead. She demonstrated sacrificial love by choosing to leave behind everything familiar rather than abandon Naomi in her time of need. She displayed humble obedience by following Naomi’s instructions and Boaz’s commands. She exhibited loyal devotion by clinging to Naomi and pledging allegiance to God.
Ruth’s story reminds us that God can use anyone for His purposes, regardless of their background or circumstances. God can turn tragedy into triumph and sorrow into joy. God can bring blessing out of curse and life out of death. God can make all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Ruth is related to Jesus not only by blood, but also by faith. She is an example of a woman who trusted God and followed His will, even when it seemed risky or uncertain. She is a model of a woman who loved God and loved others, even when it meant giving up her own comfort or security. She is a picture of a woman who found grace and redemption in the midst of hardship and loss. She is a foretaste of the salvation that God would offer to all people through His Son, Jesus Christ.