Today I would like to explore why Jews (and some Christians, myself included) read the Book of Ruth around the time of Shavuot (translated Feast of Weeks or Pentecost in English). Let us discover some of these reasons, which might give us reasons ourselves to study the book of Ruth more closely in this time of year (and at other times of year when we feel free).
The first link between the Feast of Weeks and the Book of Ruth is the timing. The story of the Book of Ruth starts at the beginning of the barley harvest (Ruth 1:22) and the marriage proposal that serves as its happy ending occurs at the beginning of the wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23). As the whole harvest of the Feast of Weeks is covered in Ruth, the themes of harvest make a big importance, both literal (as Ruth and Naomi are poor widows and Boaz is a wealthy landowner), and metaphorical (Ruth becoming part of the community of believers by placing herself under the Shekaniah of God and Boaz as a full covert to God’s law, Boaz serving as the go’el, or kinsmen redeemer, for his widowed relatives). For Christians, Boaz serves as a type of Christ, as a fulfillment of the role of our spiritual redeemer from death and slavery to sin, and Ruth serves as a type of the Israel of God formed of both Israelite (Naomi) and Gentile (Ruth) elements.
Another important aspect of the Book of Ruth to this season is the fact that the law concerning the Feast of Weeks touches on specific concerns of the Book of Ruth. The most notable example of this occurs in Leviticus 23:22, which under the heading for the Feast of Weeks commands landowners to leave the corners of their land for the poor and the stranger (Ruth meets both counts). We find the fulfillment of this law in Ruth 2:3, where Ruth gleans in the fields of Boaz, and we find Boaz exceeding the legal standard in Ruth 2:15-16 when Boaz tells his workers to let Ruth glean in the sheaves and to purposefully leave grain fall for her, giving her a far greater amount of food than she would be able to glean by her own effort alone without shaming her. And what was Boaz’s reward for his going above and beyond the minimum standards of the law–a beautiful and godly wife, and a family of his own, instead of the solitude of bachelorhood. God blessed both Ruth and Boaz for their obedience by providing them with godly mates–each other. Indirectly, God blessed Naomi by providing her with a grandson of sorts and a godly family to respect her also.
In a more general sense, the Book of Ruth also reflects other concerns that are related to the Feast of Weeks as a whole. It is worthwhile to examine them at least briefly. For one, Ruth is very much concerned with the continuation of generations of faithfulness (Ruth 4:18-22), a subject of Peter’s Pentecost Sermon (Acts 2:39), and also a concern of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4-6). Additionally, the book of Ruth’s concern with adherence to the law (including the law of gleaning, already covered, as well as the phenomenon of levirate marriage, see Ruth 4:1-12, Deuteronomy 25:5-10) dovetails with the law of God being given to Israel at Sinai during the time of the Feast of Weeks. Likewise, the giving of the Holy Spirit (bringing people into community with God) and the gift of tongues to allow people to hear the truth of God in their own languages (symbolic of the tearing down of ethnic rivalries within the community of faith) also relate to the concerns of Ruth, about bringing a godly woman into the community of faith by putting her into the line of David and ultimately that of our Savior and Messiah. Both Jews and Christians have very valid reasons to read the Book of Ruth during the season of the Feast of Weeks, as its connections with the Torah and the Renewed Covenant Scriptures are both profound and numerous.