The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe called the book of Ruth “the loveliest complete work on a small scale,” and indeed it is dense with arching themes, like the sovereignty of God, the Lord’s care for Gentiles, and the beauty of loyalty.
Another thing I like about this tale in four short chapters is the way it illustrates that good deeds cannot be hidden. We know this from elsewhere in Paul’s words to Timothy:
“So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden” (1 Timothy 5:25).
To call good works “conspicuous” does not mean, of course, that we should do them conspicuously! We have another verse to cover that:
“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4).
Still, God sees to it that if we love other people in secret, word gets around. When Ruth shows up in Israel—a stranger from Moab accompanying her mother-in-law, Naomi—the news of her selfless devotion to her deceased husband’s mom has made it through the grapevine before she has. Here is what happens in Ruth’s first encounter with the wealthy man whose field she receives permission to glean in. First the owner Boaz speaks:
“… And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink. …’ Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’ But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done …” (Ruth 2:9-12).
Do you ever worry that your good deeds go unnoticed? Do not worry, as we learn from the verses from Matthew above, for God sees. He rewards, too, both in eternity and sometimes in this life (see the ending of Ruth). This means that you never have to make sure someone is watching when you bring over a meal to a shut-in. Someone usually finds out.