Above all else, the story of Ruth is a story of hesed. This Hebrew concept, which is frequently translated in the book of Ruth with terms such as “kindness” or “kindly” (Ruth 1:8; 2:20; 3:10), is rich indeed. It goes far beyond our notions of kindness. Even a stranger may show kindness, but a stranger does not show hesed. That is because hesed is a covenantal concept, and covenants are not made between strangers. Hesed is enduring covenant loyalty and love. It refers to an unwavering commitment and often is used of God’s permanent, unchanging love (“steadfast love”) for Israel and for David (Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 17:13).
In the story of Ruth, the key characters demonstrate hesed. Ruth showed unwavering covenant loyalty and love to Naomi by remaining with her mother-in-law when she returned to Bethlehem and by seeking to marry Boaz in order to carry on the line of Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband (Ruth 1; 3). Boaz showed hesed by caring more about Elimelech’s name and line than his own, marrying Ruth in order to give Elimelech an heir (4:1–12). And Naomi testified to the hesed of the Lord, recognizing the hidden hand of divine providence in bringing Ruth to Boaz (2:20), one of the family’s redeemers. Indeed, the hesed of the Lord is evident throughout. In the history of God’s people, these key individuals just “happened” to come together and to show loyal love and commitment to each other and to the Lord. And as we see in today’s passage, the result was the royal line of King David, the greatest ruler in ancient Israel and model for the Messiah.
Boaz married Ruth and together they conceived a son, who according to the levirate marriage laws (Deut. 25:5–10) should have actually been reckoned as the son of Elimelech, thus keeping the property within Elimelech’s family. That this happened with respect to the property is evident in Ruth 4:13–17, for the son of Ruth and Boaz, Obed, was presented to Naomi as if he were Naomi’s own child.
However, the purpose of levirate marriage was not only to keep property in a family but to perpetuate the name of the man who died. This did happen, for even today the book of Ruth tells us who Elimelech was. His name was not forgotten. Yet, Boaz’s name was not forgotten either when it came to the heir whom he sired for the sake of Elimelech. For it is Boaz who appears in the royal genealogy of David as David’s great-grandfather and, even better, in the genealogy of David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (Matt. 1:1–17).