Series Theme: Meditations in Ruth
Meditations in Ruth : 1. Escape from Famine?
Ruth 1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
In some ways the book of Ruth reminds me of Job. No, there is no arguing going on and relatively little dialogue and mostly historical action, but the fact that it is largely (at least in the first part) dark and everything appears to go wrong, has similar echoes to Job. With Job resolution comes in the knowledge of the background revealed in the first two chapters and then the encounter with Almighty God in the closing chapters. With Ruth, the resolution comes in a completely different way.
In Jesus' family tree in Matthew's Gospel we find something quite remarkable in what is largely a male listing: “ Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” (Mt 1:5,6) Two women mentioned! One, Rahab, an innkeeper, possibly a prostitute from Canaan, and Ruth, a Moabite, both women from nations that opposed Israel . What an incredible message: Jesus does not mind being associated with hostile peoples, for even from within such nations can come those who will join the divine family. Incredible. Ruth is thus a signpost for us towards salvation and redemption.
But before we can see this we have to see some difficult things first of all. The story starts with an Israelite from the tribe of Judah who lived in the days following the Exodus, conquest and occupation of Canaan , during which judges led the people. From a reading of Judges we see it was a tumultuous time when again and again a cycle is observed: God blesses the people, the people eventually become complacent and drift away from Him, surrounding nations invade and Israel cry out to God and He sends a deliverer. So much of the time it was summarised by the closing words of Judges, “ In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Jud 21:25) Putting it in today's language, it was a time when Israel were not in a spiritually clever position! Understatement!
So we are told that there comes a famine in the land. Now we are not told that the Lord specifically brought this famine but famine was one of the ‘curses' of Deuteronomy 28, one of the ways life would ‘go wrong' when the nation turned away from God. Whether it is specifically brought by God or whether the Lord withholds His hand of blessing (see Rom 1 for this principle) is a moot point. Famine is clearly a characteristic of life in the absence of God. Abundant blessing and provision is the characteristic of the blessings of Deuteronomy 28:1-14. So much for the origins of famines.
But the crucial issue we must consider is our response to a famine. This man that we are about to read about flees the land and goes somewhere that does not seem to be suffering famine, Moab . When there was a famine in Canaan in Abram's day, we find he takes his wife etc. down to Egypt – where he gets into trouble! (Gen 12:10-20). When a famine came to the land in Isaac's time he similarly starting heading south but only got as far as the land of the Philistines in the south before the Lord told him to stay there and not to go to Egypt (Gen 26:1-6). Of course it was a widespread famine that was at the heart of Joseph's story and which ended with Jacob and the whole family settling in Egypt (Gen 41-47) and it was because of this that some four hundred years later the Exodus occurred.
Consider this more generally (we'll go on to the detail of who and what in the next meditation). A famine is a time of trial in the form of shortage of resources which God either directly brings or allows to come when He withholds His hand of blessing. A trial is a time of disciplining where the Lord tests us to see how we will respond. The response of faith is to seek the Lord and repent for the state of the Land that has ultimately brought this about. The response of godless unbelief is to do a runner! We've already noted how Abram and Isaac went to flee a famine and how a famine forced Jacob into Egypt and now we find that the motivation behind all that follows is a desire to escape unpleasant circumstances by fleeing to an enemy nation. In David's remarkable story, in the time of his life when he was fleeing from Saul, at one point he found his only refuge was with the Philistines, another enemy nation. Eventually he had to get out of that and here in the present situation we are going to see that here at least, the Lord does NOT deliver this family from bad circumstances. In fact we might say that it will be a case of out of the frying pan into the fire, as far as the outcome is concerned.
What is going to be incredible about this story is the ultimate outcome that we have already referred to – that a Moabite woman is going to end up becoming part of the nation of Israel and, even more incredibly, that she will become part of the family tree of the most famous king in Israel's history, David, and that of the Messiah. Pure chance? There are no signs of the hand of the Lord recorded as working in this book, it is just a record of circumstances and therefore it becomes a book that challenges us to see that the hidden hand of God must be there working in our circumstances.
Dictionary Definition: “ Providence – God as prescient guide and guardian of human beings.” ‘Prescient'? Having foreknowledge. This is a story of God (who is not mentioned) who knows what is going to happen and who, behind the scenes so that He cannot be seen, guards and guides to bring a good outcome. Is this important? Absolutely, because this is what is so often happening with each of us. Yes, we have, as Christians, the Holy Spirit working within us, cooperating with us and teaching and guiding us, but at the same time God is working in the background to bring good into our lives (Rom 8:28) but so much of the time we don't see Him doing it, only the outworking. Watch this space! Oh, a warning: we need to co-operate in it all. We have a part to play as we'll see in this story.
Meditations in Ruth : 2. Know who you are
Ruth 1:2 The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem , Judah . And they went to Moab and lived there.
So we have considered the fact that the players in this little story have been motivated to leave Israel and flee to Moab because of a famine in the land. We considered that a famine is a trial that tests the people of God, as well as being an indication of the removal of the Lord's hand of blessing from the land. We also suggested that spiritually this was a barren time for Israel , these early days of the judges.
But let's consider who these people are. Now names were very important in the Hebrew culture and a parent would give a child a name in the light of the present circumstances or of what they hoped for the child. Now Elimelech means "(My) God is King". Now that is a powerful statement of testimony which suggests that years earlier when this man was born his parents wanted to make this bold affirmation of faith and belief in God's sovereignty. With a name like that this man should have turned to the Lord and declared, “You are king, you are ruler of all things so, Lord, what are you doing? Why is this happening to us?” Instead he simply fled the land and there is no record of him having sought the Lord.
Naomi's name simply means ‘pleasant' (see v.20 and footnote). That is nice but someone neutral. No high expectations in her parents perhaps. In what follows we will see the man with the name declaring God's sovereignty forgetting that, and the woman who is pleasant getting swept along by circumstances and yet winning the affection of another woman. She must indeed have been pleasant.
Now Mahlon simply means sick or sickly which suggests that the boy born to this couple already had a weak disposition. Kilion (or Chilion) appears to mean ‘pining' again a somewhat negative meaning that could possibly be stretched to wonder if it meant the mother or father pined for something better for the land. Whatever the meaning, neither of these boys had been given names of faith; that had been the state of the parents some years earlier at least. (So from one generation that declared “God is king” the wheel has turned and the nation drifted so that weak names or names of little faith are given in the next generation.)
Now there is one more irony in the names in this verse. The land around Bethlehem was known as Ephrathah, and hence they are called Ephrathites, but the crucial information is that the name Bethlehem means ‘house of bread'. So here they are, the chosen people of God with a heritage that says God is king, and they live in a place that speaks of provision – and there is none, there is only famine. Now of course it is quite possible that they felt similarly to Gideon who lived in this same period of the judges and who, when challenged by an angel, asked, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt ?' But now the LORD has abandoned us.” (Jud 6:13)
But there is a problem to that supposition, because they fled to Moab . It had been “Balak son of Zippor, who was king of Moab at that time”, who had “sent messengers to summon Balaam son of Beor.” (Num 22:4,5) in order to call down curses on Israel and had eventually led them astray by their women. No, Moab was no friend of Israel . Admittedly it had been the place where Moses died (Deut 34:5) but that in itself speaks of it as a place of death and discipline. No Moab is not a good place to go to!
So ultimately why did this family go there? They went because there was a famine in Judah . No, it is more than that! They went because they did not believe who they were. They were the people of God and God had promised blessings on them if they followed him. This family, even if the rest didn't, could have turned to God and sought Him, but they didn't.
For a classic example of someone who, by contrast, did know who he was, we have to go a few generations on from this family to David who, when he heard about a Philistine giant frightening the army of God, asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) Observe the langue: “this uncircumcised Philistine.” That is David's way of saying, this man who has no relationship with the living God. Everything about David in that episode indicates that he knew who he was and because of who he was, the Lord would be with him and the Lord would defeat this giant.
Now this man and his family face another sort of ‘giant', something that threatens their very lives, a famine. Yes, there is a genuine threat, but we the people of God must learn what Abraham learnt, that God will be our Provider (Gen 22;14) and if He isn't (as Gideon pointed out) then there is a reason and the remedy almost certainly is in our hands – and it is repentance. Is the Lord providing for His church today? Are we able to stand with David's certainty, or will we turn away to the world's provision and find it is an empty cistern (Jer 2:13)
Meditations in Ruth : 3. Living in a Fallen World
Ruth 1:3-5 Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
We have an expression don't we, that “everything went pear shaped”. Well that certainly applies in this story. This family settle in Moab . There seem to be no suggestion of it being a temporary stay, ‘Just until the famine passes'. No, they settle and the sons marry Moabite women and ten years later they are still there. (Perhaps ten years is not a long period when you are waiting for the economy to pick up and a famine to be overcome.).
Part of this is down to Naomi. Whether she went there at her husbands behest or she was the one who instigated it, we don't know but we are simply told that after they settle in Moab her husband dies and it is then that her sons marry Moabite women and that they then live on there some ten years. The moment her husband died she could have said to the boys, “We must go home. If you are going to be married you ought to have good women from Israel .”
No there may not have been a specific prohibition against marrying Moabite women but the Law was certainly very negative against Moab : “ No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.” (Deut 23:3,4) They were clearly prohibited from coming into the godly assembly (which is maybe something we should remind ourselves of later in this story), and so if you married one you would always be an outsider. However that does not seem a consideration when they are in exile because of a famine. They have lost their roots and they do just what seems expedient.
Beware doing what seems expedient in the circumstances! It was what Sarai urged Abram to do when she appeared not to be able to conceive, to go and take her maidservant and have a child through her. The whole Israel-Arab conflict has resulted from that foolish action. Expediency ignores the will of God and fails to seek the Lord. ‘What seems right' should always be measured in the light of the word of God and the will of God and should be subject to the Holy Spirit's direction.
Saul was another one who did what he considered was expedient. He offered sacrifices when Samuel appeared to be late in turning up but he wasn't of the priestly family and had no right to do such a thing (see 1 Sam 13:8-14). Years later after Samuel had died, again Saul did what seemed expedient, he sought out a medium when there seemed no one else to bring God's guidance, despite the Law prohibiting (Lev 20:27, Deut 18:9-13) this sort of thing (see 1 Sam 28:4-)
Ignoring the will and word of God and doing ‘what seems expedient' always causes problems. Within ten years these two couples (who remain childless) are reduced to two widows. Naomi is now in this foreign land with no husband, no sons, and just two daughters in law who are foreign women, coming from families that will have their own ‘gods'. It is not good!
Now our temptation at this point is to try to see who is to blame and whether it was God who brought these misfortunes (we have already done the first thing). We see the same thing in Jesus' disciples: “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:1,2). In the book of Job we find a similar thing in respect of Job's comforters who declared, ‘when things go wrong it is a sign of God's judgment on sin. Things have gone wrong for you, so it must be that you are a sinner.'
Well, things go wrong because people sin – yes, sometimes, but sometimes it is because others sin or it's just living in a fallen world. There is no doubt that since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, and they fell from the perfection and purity that they exhibited as God's perfect beings, that ongoing sin in mankind seems to have a variety of effects so that the world simply, ‘goes wrong', and there are upheavals in ‘nature', sickness strikes randomly, accidents happen and things go wrong in relationships and there are wars, family upsets, etc. etc. Of course there is also Satan working in the background to bring destruction and promote sin.
Does God bring judgment? Yes, He does. Does God bring discipline? Yes, He does. Was what happened here specifically the act of God? We are not told. What we can surmise is that at the very least the protective hand of God was no longer over this family. In the same way that we find in Romans 1 Paul declaring that in three instances “God gave them over to…” (Rom 1:24,26,28) and we see that God lifts off His restraining hand from society so that sin runs rampant and acts as a form of discipline. So, according to the Law of curses and blessings (Deut 28), behaviour does provoke the activity of God that may involve His specifically declaring good – blessings for obedience – and also there appears His activity that brings bad – curses for disobedience – and that may come as specific acts of God or at the very least God removing His hand of protection or blessing.
The uncomfortable truth is that God has given us free will and where we exercise that negatively we have to live with the consequences that flow out of it: “ A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) But is that the end? No, God will still be working to bring us back and bring good out of it, as we will see in the coming verses and chapters of this book.
Meditations in Ruth : 4. Returning Home
Ruth 1:6,7 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah .
Naomi is an Israelite and she is away from home. The thing about that physical people of God was that they were supposed to be in the Promised Land, the land that had been Canaan and is now what we simply call Israel . The promises to Abram, Isaac and Jacob, the Patriarchs, had been in respect of that land. That is where the Lord would bless them, that is where the Lord would make them a light to the nations (Isa 49:6). It was, in fact, living in that land in relationship with the Lord, following Him and receiving all of His blessings, that they would become that light – that was God's plan and, although it was Isaiah who coined the phrase, that was what He had spoken to the Patriarchs. And that included every single Israelite. Collectively they would be that light to the Gentiles. They could only be that when they were together in the land. We so often forget that or take it for granted, and Naomi and her husband either didn't realise that or had forgotten it.
Naomi is in an alien place, where the blessing of God has not been pronounced over the nation, and as a result she has suffered the loss of her husband and her two sons. She alone is the survivor of this expedition. A nd then the word filters out of Israel and reaches Moab , that the famine has come to an end. It had obviously been the end of the cycle that we noted in the first meditation. Israel have returned to the Lord and He steps in again and blesses their harvest and declares good over it, and it flourishes and the famine comes to an end.
When Jesus fed the five thousand and the four thousand, he was subtly reminding the people that he was the one who could provide for them. The blessings of Deut 28 provided abundant provision from the Lord when the people stayed close to Him. As they returned to Him, He declared His blessing over the land and the famine comes to an end – and Naomi eventually hears about it in Moab .
She is living in an alien land and a land now full of bad memories of the loss of her family. It doesn't take much intelligence to realise where the best place to live now is. She needs to get back to Israel . They have food and that is where home is. I think I have seen signs that say, “Home is where your heart is.” Well, actually in spiritual matters, your heart should be where your home is. Home is where God has established you and when your heart comes in line with His will, then you are in line for His blessing.
The parable of the prodigal son is the classic instance of this (Lk 15:11-24). The son leaves the home of the affluent father, a father who is willing to give him everything, and the son goes to ‘a distant country' where he spends all he has. there is a famine there and he falls on very hard times and it is only when he ‘came to his senses' that he realises that back home is where he should be.
Naomi's experience is similar. She has lost everything in this distant land and she comes to her senses and realises that she should be back home. She doesn't know what it will hold but it must be better than being here.
How many people, I wonder, find echoes of reality in this story, having gone away from God, gone away from a loving godly home and now find themselves in a place of dissatisfaction, a place of anxiety, a place of discomfort. This place does not ‘fit', it is not where you were supposed to be. The London City Missionary, George Dempster in his books such as “Finding Men for Christ” often told of those he found living dissolute lives who had come from good backgrounds but who left home and fell on hard times.
But of course there may be those who say, “But you don't know my home. I had to escape from it, it was so bad,” and that may be true and therefore we move away from talking about our physical home to the spiritual home that awaits you. This doesn't just apply to heaven at the end of our lives, as wonderful as that will be, but ‘home' is the place of peace and security knowing Christ, being known by God, a place of goodness and love in God's presence – now! How many have walked away from childhood experiences of God, feeling they were inadequate foundations for life. True, they might well have been, but the only true foundation for life is ‘at home' with God, made possible by what Jesus did on the Cross. That is the ‘home' that will be calling some.
Naomi faced up to the realities of life where she was and what it was back home and wisely concluded home was indeed where he heart was and where she should be. As we will see, home was also the place where things could yet happen that brought her a place in The Book.
Meditations in Ruth : 5. Maternal Care
Ruth 1:8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.
Naomi has decided to return home to Israel , but she now has two daughters-in-law who, through adversity and through her sons, have become attached to her and her to them, no doubt. But her concern for them prevails over any personal desires and she wishes to release them from their ties with her so that they may go back to their own people and, no doubt, find new partners and marry and have children in their own land. Her starting point is “ Go back, each of you, to your mother's home.” (v.8) and she explains that wish was, “May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (v.9a) Now the ties that bind them are revealed as, “she kissed them and they wept aloud.” (v.9b)
Indeed those ties are revealed even more in their responses to her. They “said to her, "We will go back with you to your people." (v.10) Their initial response to her is one of loyalty, a declaration that they will stay with her and return to her home, to her people, but it is her people.
And Naomi's response is to press them further to remain here in this land with their people for the reality is that there is no way she can be a further mother-in-law to them. She puts it in rather Eastern language: “But Naomi said, "Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me--even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons-- would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!" (v.11-13) No, there is no future hope for them through Naomi and so it would be far better for them to remain in their own land and hope for a husband from their own people. Now that is just plain common sense and it is good advice.
With these words, the girls again weep: “At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.” (v.14) One of the girls is moved by this logic and decides to stay – for indeed that is the sensible thing to do, but the other one clings to Naomi. Something has happened in Ruth and we'll have to wait to the next meditation to consider it.
Now there is something happening here that has echoes in Scripture. It is the principle that the Lord never drags people after him; indeed sometimes He actively seeks to put them off. Perhaps the first example of the Lord putting a good but wrong alternative before someone is the case of Moses up Mount Sinai . This is not quite the same but it is the similar principle of the Lord putting options before us for us to choose what we really want. Aaron has created the golden calf for the people to worship while Moses is up the Mountain with the Lord. The Lord sees and responds: “I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Ex 32:9,10) Some of us would say, “Well, if God says it, let's go for it!” but the Lord is testing Moses' heart: “But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. "O LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, `It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel , to whom you swore by your own self: `I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.' " Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.” (Ex 32:11-14) No, says Moses, that will damage your name and it goes against the promises you made to the Patriarchs. Well done, Moses, you passed!
When Elijah called Elisha, he did it in such a way as to challenge Elisha's commitment: “So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. "Let me kiss my father and mother good-by," he said, "and then I will come with you." "Go back," Elijah replied. "What have I done to you?" So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.” (1 Kings 19:19-21) He puts his cloak on Elisha and when Elisha asks to go back and say goodbye to the family, he asks him, “What have I done to you?” He's called him to total commitment and so Elisha demonstrates that by destroying his past means of provision.
Jesus similarly taught his disciples to think carefully if they were about to make casual professions of faith: “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:31-33). Jesus almost puts obstacles in their way. Think about your commitment carefully is what he says, and that is what is happening in this dialogue with Naomi. More in the next mediation.
Meditations in Ruth : 6. Facing the Options
Ruth 1:15, 16, Ruth clung to her. "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her."
Naomi has decided to go home and has encouraged the two daughters-in-law to return to their own people and find husbands there. They initially refuse to leave but when she spells out the impossibility of her helping them have another husband, one of them does the common sense thing and decides to stay. It is Ruth who will not be deterred; she will stay with Naomi - whatever!
After Ruth had “clung to her” she still sought to deter her: “ Look,” said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” Which is when we then find Ruth making this all-important declaration which is so significant in the story. But before we look at that, notice the two aspects of life that Naomi puts before her to try to put her off. First there was, “ your sister-in-law is going back to her people .” There is the social dimension that Ruth is going to have to get over. Different people groups have different customs and familiarity with the customs of ‘your people' makes for a feeling of security. If Ruth leaves her people and goes and joins herself with another people, there is a whole new life to be learned, an unfamiliar life, and unfamiliar people with different customs and different ways. Fitting in with a new and different society is always an effort and often trying, if not downright difficult. If Ruth is to go with Naomi she will have to learn to fit in with Naomi's people and that may be difficult.
But then there is the spiritual dimension which is equally important: “your sister-in-law is going back to …. her gods .” This land and this people have their ‘gods'. Back in Israel there is only ‘The Lord', Yahweh. There is an immense difference between the two cultures. In this one ‘gods' are an add-on, a useful addition to life, but back in Israel the Lord is the central feature of life, everything hinges on Him and the laws of the people are the laws that Yahweh has conveyed through Moses; the whole of life is focused on Him. If Ruth goes back with Naomi to her land she is going to have to change her allegiance from an idol worshipping culture, to submit to the one True God, Yahweh, the I AM of Israel . That is the key issue of Ruth going with Naomi.
Now this, to come to our own lives and our own time, is true as much today of people considering whether to become a Christian, as it was then. Listen to how the apostle Paul describes our old life, the same life that all non-believers follow: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:1-3) Previously we were locked into Sin, that godless, self-centred tendency and as a result of that we were dead spiritually and God seemed a million miles away. Moreover, although we did not realise it at the time we were being led by Satan who encouraged our disobedience and our lives were motivated by and driven by our personal desires. That was the world (of Moab ?) in which we once lived. Coming to God meant not trying to turn over a new leaf and try hard at being good; it meant leaving this dominion of darkness (Col 1:13) and going to live by the enabling of the Holy Spirit in God's kingdom under His rule, a kingdom where love and goodness prevail in us in a godly relationship with the Lord. That is the measure of the transformation; it is actually a change in ‘country' or ‘land' or ‘kingdom'.
In this kingdom we find ourselves united with other believers and we find a new social life. It is not that we want to escape our old friends, simply that we find we have more things common with the people of God. Moreover, we leave behind the worship of all the little gods in our lives, the gods of fame and selfishness and materialism, and we go to live in a land where there is only one God, the Lord. He alone now claims our allegiance and He alone is worthy of our worship. These are the things confronting Ruth and they are the same things that confront any person today who is being challenged over the direction of their life.
Meditations in Ruth : 7. Commitment
Ruth 1:16,17 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
So Ruth has been confronted with the two big stumbling blocks to her going with Naomi: first the fact of having to leave her own people and become part of a completely different culture and all that that meant and then, second, that she would have to leave behind the idols and superstitious worship of her own land and declare allegiance to Yahweh, the one true, almighty, creator God who has revealed Himself to Israel.
Ruth's response to Naomi faces just these issues but it goes beyond that and, in fact, starts with her allegiance to Naomi herself. The bond that she has formed with Naomi over the years as her daughter-in-law is sufficiently strong that it means that whatever Naomi goes for in the future, so will she, Ruth, go for it. Note the personal nature of her initial affirmation: “ But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you . Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.” (v.16a) The motivation for her commitment to God and to Israel is first of all founded in her relationship with Naomi.
In the New Testament the apostle Peter was to counsel Christian women married to unbelieving husbands (presumably after the woman had come to Christ while married), “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” (1 Pet 3:1,2) It was the quality of their lives and their relationship that should impress, challenge and eventually convict their unbelieving husbands. Later in that same chapter Peter gives some more general counsel to all of us, based on the same idea: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) Note it is an answer in response to what people first see in us that provokes them to ask questions about us. The same idea is there that the quality of our lives should be so convincing that it leads people towards a relationship with the One with whom we have a relationship. When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane , “May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me,” (Jn 17:21) the same idea is there, that the world will see our unity with the Godhead and the reality of it will convince people.
That is the starting place of Ruth's declaration of allegiance or declaration of commitment, it is her commitment to Naomi. But that commitment then takes in the things we considered in the previous meditation, first of all a willingness to become apart of the nation of Israel with its unique culture – “Your people will be my people” – and then to the God of Israel, Yahweh – “and your God my God.”
But this isn't a short moment commitment, not something I may try for a short while, this is a whole-hearted life-long commitment: “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” THAT is commitment and that is what the Lord expects of those becoming Christians, those giving themselves to Him – it is a “for ever” commitment!
Now Ruth concludes this affirmation by making it into a vow and it is a vow made in the sight of the Lord: “May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." The fact that the covenant name is used (in capital letters in your Bible referring back to Exodus 3) implies at the very least that Naomi had spoken about the Lord and that Ruth now understood the implications of what she was saying.
This commitment of Ruth's must come as a challenge to many in the church in the twenty first century where professions of commitment are often more emotional than intellectual and are thus made on the spur of the moment with little real understanding and a lack of opportunity to carefully reflect on just what we are saying and doing.
The end result of this is that we have two women united in their anguish for lost loved ones and united in purpose to return to Israel with all that that implied. When we come to Christ, we are united with all other believers now in the body of Christ, in that we all have the same background that we have left behind (a selfish, self-centred, godless and unrighteous life) and the same future – unknown by us but known by God. Yes, there are many similarities with what is happening to Naomi and Ruth.
Meditations in Ruth : 8. Return to the Starting Place
Ruth 1:18,19 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem .
Naomi has determined to return to her old home town and after failing to deter Ruth with talk about having to change her people and her God, the two return to Bethlehem . Returning to the original point of a journey into failure, delusion or heartache is never easy but sometimes essential. As far as family upsets go, most of us would prefer to leave the past in the past and not go to places that revive memories of hurt. When Naomi returns to Bethlehem she must have had memories of how she had married there and born two sons, but now she is alone but for a Moabite daughter-in-law, and how will people receive her?
But if Naomi is to have any life it has got to be back with her own people. She is becoming an elderly lady and with no husband or sons to support her, the future looks bleak, and if she is going to survive anywhere it had better be with her own people. There is little other option. Often we need to go back to start again. If we have left the past with unresolved disputes we can never carry on a full and righteous life if we do not, at least, try to do something to resolve those past conflicts. Sometimes it requires us to face what happened in the past with open honesty, accepting out part in what went wrong, perhaps seeking forgiveness and perhaps confronting others with their failures in respect of you. How they respond is up to them. Biblically forgiveness is only granted with acknowledgement of having been in the wrong and asking for that forgiveness (God only forgives the repentant sinner). Sometimes there may need to be restitution, whatever it takes for us to do all we can to put right past wrongs. Oh yes, in God's kingdom we cannot sweep the dirt under the carpet and hope it will go away.
But the thing is that it can't be the same as before. If we walked out on our family, if there was relational upset, if wrong was done to us, the reality is that we cannot expect the clock to be put back and pretend everything is now all right. If we are the father of the returning prodigal (Lk 15) with the grace of God, we can welcome back with open arms, but not everyone may welcome them back in the same way (e.g. the ‘elder brother') and there may need to be work to regain trust.
The other thing, of course, is that if we are the one returning, we have history between the time we left and now, and that history, as in Naomi' case, may be very painful. The truth is that we are not the same person. It may well be that the painful events have refined us and we return with a larger measure of grace than we had before. However we may have memories (and habits and behaviors) that we need help in being released from. Time is a healer but so is the truth and then the grace of God.
If we are ‘returning' we can ask ourselves, ‘What have I learnt from what I have been through?' We can learn from what we've been through; it doesn't have to have been a wasted time of our life. Maybe we came to understand the realities of this fallen world, maybe we came to appropriate the grace of God more fully.
So Naomi and Ruth return: “So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem . When they arrived in Bethlehem , the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?" (v.19) Years have passed but people who knew her in the past, see the arrival in this relatively small town and think, “I have seen this woman before. I know this woman. Surely it is Naomi who left with her husband, Elimelech, and their two sons.”
But when they greet her Naomi doesn't try to put a gloss on it; she is open and honest about what has happened: “Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." (v.20,21) Now Israel knew that when God afflicted someone they deserved it, so this is her way of confessing, “I blew it, we got it wrong, and it all went badly. I am not the woman I was.”
And thus we read, “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” (v.22) Not Ruth the new Israelite, but Ruth the Moabitess; that is significant as we'll consider in the future. And it's barley harvest. Coincidence? We'll see, but whatever else it is, it is significant as we'll see as the story unfolds. Naomi is home again. The whole town was “stirred because of them”, because of their obvious plight. The gossips certainly had something to talk about – and what about this Moabite woman Naomi's brought back with her????
Meditations in Ruth : 9. Coincidences
Ruth 2:3 So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
We concluded chapter 1 noting that when Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem , they returned “ as the barley harvest was beginning.” (1:22) and we commented then on coincidences. The process of the harvest and, having been told the famine was over, we may assume it was plentiful this year, was as follows: a) cutting the ripened standing grain with hand sickles (usually done by men), b) binding the grain into sheaves (usually done by women), c) gleaning, i.e., gathering stalks of grain left behind, d) transporting the sheaves to the threshing floor--often by donkey, sometimes by cart e) threshing, i.e., loosening the grain from the straw, f) winnowing--done by tossing the grain into the air with winnowing forks (Jer 15:7) so that the wind, which usually came up for a few hours in the afternoon, blew away the straw and chaff, g) sifting the grain to remove any residual foreign matter; and h) bagging it for transportation and storage. It is as well to know that to understand what follows.
Today we have ‘benefits', financial handouts to help the poor. In those days there were no such things but in Israel it was the duty of the family to care for poorer members and the general duty of society to make life easier for them. When it came to harvest, the Law made provision for the poor of the society: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien,” (Lev 19:9,10) and this was expanded in Deuteronomy: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.” (Deut 24:19-21) That was the principle that operated to make some provision at least for the poorer members of society, and of course Naomi and Ruth now fall into that category.
We are then told something else which at first sight has no relevance but soon becomes a key piece of information: “Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.” (2:1) Boaz, we are going to see shortly, was a farmer who owned fields to be harvested. Ruth has a good heart and has presumably learned the ways of this culture and so we find, “ And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor." (2:2) Note she is still called ‘the Moabitess'. She proposes that she will go and do what the poor do and make some provision for her and Naomi. Naomi approves of this: “ Naomi said to her , "Go ahead, my daughter."
So it is that we then find, “So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out , she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” (v.3) Look at those words we've underlined: “As it turned out.” Coincidence? She goes to collect the left-overs in a field being harvested only find that the field she has been doing it in, belongs to a relative of Naomi's. This in turn is going to have implications.
So consider the factors bringing this together:
1. Timing: they just happen to arrive back at harvest.
2. Law: the provision is for the poor at harvest
3. Good heart: Ruth is willing to go out on behalf of Naomi.
4. Chance? She finds herself working in a field of a relative.
Now, as we said, in what follows, the fact that Boaz is a relative of Naomi's is highly significant because we will see, and as we've hinted at already, families had responsibilities in respect of their poorer members. Purely by chance (????) as she conforms to the Law and provides for her mother-in-law, Ruth will find she has put herself before one of Naomi's relatives and will be drawn to his attention. If this hadn't happened he might never have actually met her.
So the obvious question must be, was this pure coincidence or was God guiding her? Well the answer has to be, we don't know because it doesn't say. But isn't this how it so often is with life. In Christian teaching we so often speak about God's guidance (and the Bible is full of it) but when it comes down to every day living, things happen that leave us wondering, “Was that Him?” It seems so often things happen and the sceptic will shout, “Coincidence!” However, I used to have a friend who said, “People say to me answers to prayer are pure coincidence, but all I know is when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening.”
I am sure God does intervene on our behalf in the circumstances of life and sometimes the coincidences seem so big you just have to attribute them to Him. Could He have prompted Naomi to return to Israel so it coincided with harvest? Could He have prompted Ruth to look out gleaning? Could He have guided her to the right field? Yes to all these. Yes, He could. The cynic says, “Yes, well, maybe, but maybe not,” but the man or woman of faith says, “Whether or not it was God, the outcome was good. Lord thank you for the outcome, and doubly so if you had a hand in it. Thank you that you do that sort of thing!”
Meditations in Ruth : 10. A Good Man
Ruth 2:4,5 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, "The LORD be with you!" "The LORD bless you!" they called back. Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, "Whose young woman is that?"
When we find a verse starting, “just then” it indicates a closeness to what has gone before. Ruth has “ found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz” and he is “from the clan of Elimelech,” a relative of Naomi's by marriage. Near the end of the day (as we will see later) “Boaz arrived from Bethlehem .” Timing? Coincidence? This all seems to happen very quickly.
We find he greets his men, “The Lord be with you.” It is the blessing of a spiritual man and a desire for their good. We are seeing a good employer. Do we realise that the blessing, “The Lord bless you,” is a statement of desire for God's goodness to be poured out on the life of the person we are blessing, and it is a blessing in line with the general will of God; that is what His general intent is towards all men. But it is a mutual thing here: “The Lord bless you, they called back.” Now don't take this for granted for some employers would arrive and immediately badger their employees to work harder. Speaking on industrial relations, author and radio and TV presenter Clive James once said, “I think it's up to management and always has been. If the managers can't manage to sort it out, preferably in advance, they should not be managing.” Boaz comes over as an employer-manager who has a good attitude towards his workers and subsequently, they towards him.
But then Boaz looks around what is going on in his field and spots Ruth gleaning there, so he has a quiet word with his foreman, “Whose young woman is that?” Now we might enquire in the same way today, but in their society, family relationships were all important. So often, in respect of men, a man's name would be directly linked to his father's name, for instance “James son of Zebedee” (Mk 1:19) and “Simon son of Jonah,” (Mt 16:17). When it was a girl she was identified as the daughter or wife of another. This wasn't to diminish them but to exalt the family head, so we find, “Anna, the daughter of Phanuel,” (Lk 2:36), “Mary the wife of Clopas,” (Jn 19:25) and “Joanna the wife of Cuza,” (Lk 8:3) So when Boaz now enquires, “Whose young woman is that?” he is enquiring of her family background, no doubt wondering how she came to be there, because it would only have been the poor who would be there gleaning like that.
Note the reply: “The foreman replied, "She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi.” (2:6) The story of Naomi's misfortunes has obviously spread and is well-known and likewise Ruth and her origins are clearly well known. But note the emphasis, “the Moabitess who came back from Moab .” Because of their historical background Israel were always very conscious of who they were and who others were (or weren't!) Ruth is not an Israelite. No, we need to examine the Law of Moses to see what an appropriate attitude towards foreigners might have been.
Right from the outset, before entering the Promised Land, the Lord had warned, “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices. And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” (Ex 34:15,16) Getting ready to take the land, Moses reiterated this: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods.” (Deut 7:3,4) This was not a racial issue so much as an issue about spiritual purity.
To balance this, though, there are often references to ‘the alien' living in their midst, e.g. Ex 12:48,49 - being able to partake in the Passover, Ex 20:10 - keeping the Sabbath applying to the alien in their midst, Ex 22:21 – not mistreating the alien. Thus there are laws providing for ‘the alien' or ‘the foreigner' who has come to be part of Israel . Earlier in Joshua of course, Rahab eventually joined and became part of Israel and indeed of the Messianic tree! That bears looking at: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” (Mt 1:5,6) Boaz' mother had been Rahab and she is one of the four women included in this male family tree – to make a point!
So Boaz is quite a remarkable man. He is a good and godly employer, he is someone whose father married a Canaanite who transferred to Israel (and therefore ceased to be part of the prohibition against such people) and also indicates awareness and concern as he enquires after Ruth. Perhaps because of who his mother is, he is more open to receive this Moabite woman, or perhaps it was simply that he knew the Law and knew it made provision for such people. Whatever it is, he is open to become part of this ongoing story.
Now before we finish this particular meditation we perhaps need to observe more fully that Boaz was a good and godly man and able to fit into the will of God. No doubt God will work in our circumstances regardless of us, but the New Testament does indicate that He wants us to co-operate with Him and work with Him in bringing about His will. That is far more preferable. So here is the question: are we like Boaz, open, good, and godly and available to bless others around us, whether they come from our family (the church) or are aliens (seeking unbelievers) or, for that matter, those who have not yet shown that they are seeking? If we can say yes to this, then we are those who can co-operate and work with the Lord to bring about His will on earth. When we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” ( Mt 6:10) are we available to be those who will participate in bringing it about?
Meditations in Ruth : 11. A Good Worker
Ruth 2:6,7 The foreman replied, "She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, `Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.' She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter."
Boaz has enquired of Ruth and the foreman tells him she is the Moabitess who came back with Naomi and then goes on to recount how she approached him earlier in the day and asked to be allowed to glean behind the harvesters. Moreover she went out into the field earlier in the morning and apart from a short rest period (possibly noon) she has worked solidly until now. The implication is that she is a good worker.
With this information, Boaz goes out into the field and across to where Ruth was: “ So Boaz said to Ruth, "My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” (v.8,9) So let's look at what we find in these verses.
He approaches her in a very fatherly way – “My daughter” – and speaks words of reassurance. Carry on working along with my servant girls while they are bundling the cut crop and glean as you can. That's a nice start, simple encouragement, but he goes further: “I have told the men not to touch you.” That is added security and protection from the boss! But he hasn't finished: “ And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” That is additional caring provision; feel at home here and use the resources that we have.
Now why should Boaz respond like this? I suspect there are three reasons. First, he is a good man who is also caring and so we find care, compassion and sensitivity to Ruth in these verses. Second, having heard that she is with a relative of his, he feels a certain measure of responsibility under the Law to care for her in this manner. The third reason is all to do with Ruth herself: she has won his approval by her diligent and hard work, largely on behalf of Naomi, as she creates provision for them both by working in this field.
That latter thing, I think we often take for granted, but it wins hearts and we see it in the life of Joseph in the Old Testament after he has been sold into slavery: “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” (Gen 39:2-4) Now although this emphasises the Lord being with Joseph, Joseph wouldn't have had ‘success' unless he had worked hard and wisely. We find the same thing when Joseph was unfairly put in prison: “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Gen 39:20-23) Joseph was not only a good worker, but he was also trustworthy and this won over those over him, both in Potiphar's house and then in prison. He may have started off a spoilt brat but adversity worked grace in him and that grace was seen in his ability to apply himself to his work.
We can take this for granted but often Christians are not good examples of diligent and trustworthy workers. Listen to how Paul taught his two younger workers: “ set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity,” (1 Tim 4:12) and “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:7,8) Ruth won approval about how she cared for Naomi and her hard work. Paul taught Timothy and Titus to similarly be examples to others. When Jesus taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven,” (Mt 5:16) that indicates a life that speaks to those around it by the things it does. We can move people's hearts by being people of grace and goodness and who are examples to others by our diligence, our integrity, our hardworking willingness to be there for others. Ruth moved the heart of Boaz; whose heart will I move today?
Meditations in Ruth : 12. History Rewarded
Ruth 2:10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, "Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me--a foreigner?"
Boaz has shown great kindness in his approach to Ruth and this evokes the response in the verse above. There are times in our own histories where we go through life thinking it is not very significant and yet it is laying the ground for something that may happen even years later. That ‘groundwork' can be either negative or positive. If we treat someone badly or have a bad break-up in a relationship, that can so often come back to haunt us later in life. On the other hand, on a positive note, if we treat someone well and build a good relationship, that may come back to bless us in later years.
What is now happening to Ruth, we are about to see, is built on her behaviour in the years before now. But Ruth is amazed at how nice Boaz is being to her, especially as she is not part of the community of Israel , she is a foreigner. Perhaps back in her own country this would have been unusual behaviour. We do sometimes take for granted things that are culturally good in our own country assuming it is so worldwide, but it isn't necessarily so; in fact it is often very different in other parts of the world. So Ruth wonders.
And so Boaz explains: “ Boaz replied, "I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband--how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” (v.11) It is easy when casually reading a story to fail to realise the significance of things happening. We did note earlier on in these studies that common sense suggested that the two daughters-in-law returned to their own people, their own culture and their own familiar gods, but if they had done that it would have left now elderly Naomi entirely on her own and defenceless and prey to goodness knows what on the journey back. Ruth had given up her past and committed herself to going with Naomi together with all that that might entail. That was no cheap commitment, and Boaz understands that. He recognizes that she had cared for Naomi – “what you have done for your mother-in-law” and that she had given up her old life to go with her – “ you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.” Those two things counted in his value system, and he appreciated her for it.
But he's also a godly man and therefore he invokes a godly blessing over her: “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel , under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (v.12) i.e. may God do you good for the good you have done (to Naomi), and may coming to live in this land bring all of His goodness on you.
When invoking a blessing, it is always important that we comply with the revealed will of God or spiritual principles that operate. Right from the outset in the Ten Commandments we find, “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Ex 20:12) The apostle Paul takes this command into New Testament Christianity: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honour your father and mother"--which is the first commandment with a promise-- "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” (Eph 6:1-3) Note how he refers to it as the first command that comes with a promise which he reiterates in a wider world context. Honouring parents may include honouring parents-in-law and Ruth has certainly done that.
Thus Boaz emphasises the principle that if you honour, protect, and care for your parents, you will receive God's blessing, God's goodness. Note also in passing the strong emphasis that Boaz is making. This is not just a rule or principle of life, it is something that God Himself specifically does to reward or honour those who comply with and conform to His will. It points to the Lord and emphasises to Ruth that because she is now in Israel and has been acting righteously, she can expect the One True God to cover her with His blessings or His goodness. It is easy to miss this but living in God's kingdom isn't just about us conforming to His will and following His leading, it is also about Him specifically acting into our lives to bring goodness. It is not chance and it is not some mechanical rule, it is God expressing His love in practical ways to us. He delights to do good for us and when we are living in accordance with His will, then opens the way for Him to come with His goodness and do and bring good to us.
For Ruth this started back in Moab when she chose to go with Naomi. That was a good starting point, but it continues when she comes into the land and goes out into the field to find provision for Naomi and herself. These are righteous acts and they will be rewarded by the Lord. This ongoing story about Ruth, is not just random chance, it is built upon her righteous responses to the circumstances before her. we should remember that the same applies to us: whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, will we act righteously? Remember, those circumstances may appear quite negative, as they certainly were for Ruth, but the Lord looks to see if we will respond righteously in them whatever they are. As we look to Him and commit ourselves to Him, we will never be disappointed, for He will always bless us, He will always bring His goodness to our lives. Hallelujah!
Meditations in Ruth : 13. Humility and Grace
Ruth 2:13 "May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord," she said. "You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant--though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls."
It is the characters of the various players in this story which are remarkable and go to make it what it is and bring it to the conclusion that comes. Ruth, we have seen already has been caring (for Naomi) and diligent (as she has worked). Now in her response to Boaz I suggest we see both humility and grace. The description of Boaz as “my Lord,” is a gracious way of an inferior addressing a superior. Ruth knows she is simply a foreigner in a strange land and has no claims on anyone or anything. As she has found herself in the field of Boaz, who turns out to be a close relative, and who responds graciously to her, she realises perhaps that here is a source of provision that needs to be cultivated and thus she simply asks, “May I continue to find favour in your eyes.” We might put it today, “May you continue to be able to think well of me.”
Relationships rarely happen or come into being instantly, they are built up in stages. Boaz has been the one who has initiated this relationship, simply by being caring and understanding. She acknowledges the goodness of it: “ You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant.” A relationship is born and grows through conversation, expressions of care and acknowledgements – and humility. She acknowledges, “I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.” i.e. I am a nobody, a mere alien in your land and even your servant girls have greater claims in this society than I do.
With the often brash and even coarse relationship building that goes on between couples in our culture, where they so often end up in bed even before finding out anything about one another, this slow and gradual building of this relationship must seem strange, but looking at the end fruits one has to challenge, who got it right?
So far all Boaz has offered was protection and water (v.9) Now he draws her into the family/workers circle: “At mealtime Boaz said to her, "Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar." When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.” (v.14) Bread, vine vinegar, and grain are now offered to her, the provisions for the paid workers. The owner is offering her care and acceptance and the workers will recognize that. In this Boaz goes a step beyond the basics of what the Law required – just to allow the poor to glean in the wake of the harvesters. No, now he has added to that his own provisions, the same as he gave to his workers.
But then as Ruth gets up to continue working, Boaz has a quiet word with his men: “As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, "Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don't embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don't rebuke her." (v.15,16) In other words, if in her naivety she doesn't just glean among the stalks but goes to take grain from the fallen stalks, don't say anything, let her do it and in fact even pull some more stalks out of the gathered bundles so that she has more from which to collect. This is extending his care and provision just one little step further. This is a man of grace. Not for him keeping to the letter of the Law and not going a step further. No, he sees the need and goes beyond the Law in meeting it.
So Ruth works throughout the day strengthening that opinion in respect of her diligence. She takes the corn head that she has collected and thresh them to knock out the grain and separate it from the husks and she collects it and gathers it to take home to Naomi: “So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered.” (v.17,18) There might have been some who just collected the bare essential but Ruth is not like that. She takes the opportunity given to her and works right into the evening and fully prepares the grain so she can take home the finished product. She has worked hard and well. The end product is an unusually large amount for one day's gleaning. She even brings the left-overs from the meal that she had had courtesy of Boaz: “Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.” (v.18b) In every way Ruth is whole-hearted in what she has been doing and her mind is clearly on returning to Naomi in the evening with the provision she has obtained in the day. It has been a good day's work – helped by the generosity and grace of Boaz.
Ruth stands out here as an example to us of a woman who is full of grace and humility, who is a whole-hearted worker and who is going all out to provide for her aging mother-in-law. We make the comment about Naomi aging because if she wasn't she might have been out in the field as well, but instead she remains back at home and it is left to Ruth to provide for them both. But what Naomi lacks in physical strength perhaps, she makes up for in wisdom and knowledge of her culture, as we shall see as we progress. In the meantime, am I a diligent worker? Am I someone employers, manager and fellow workers like to have around because they know I will pull my weight? Is that the sort of Christian I am, or am I someone who dives off the moment we get to the end of the working day, looking to do the bare minimum. Many spoil their testimony in such a way.
Meditations in Ruth : 14. Naomi's Wisdom
Ruth 2:19 Her mother-in-law asked her, "Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!" Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. "The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz," she said.
When Ruth arrives home in the late evening with all the grain, it is obvious to Naomi that she has been favoured. One does not normally manage to glean this amount of grain in one day. Something must have happened here, some man must have helped her in some way, hence her questions: “ Her mother-in-law asked her, "Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” (v.19a) There is clearly a story to be told here and she wants to hear it, so Ruth tells her where she had found herself and who whose field it was: “Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. "The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz," she said.” (v.19b)
The moment Naomi hears the name she marvels at what has happened, who it was that Ruth found as her protector-provider: “The LORD bless him!" Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. "He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead." She added, "That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (v.20) Now we often say when teaching about how to go about Bible Studies that with the Bible it is important to understand the culture and Naomi has just used a phrase that needs explaining: “He is one of our kinsman-redeemers”
In the law of Moses we find, “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband's brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel,” (Deut 25:5,6) and we also find, “ If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.” (Lev 25:25) It is from these that we get the concept of the ‘kinsman-redeemer', and this is going to become very significant in this story. The idea is to provide protection for the family or an individual who finds themselves in a poor situation. It not only involves land (as the second quote shows) but also includes widows (as the first quote shows). We may find this strange in the light of modern culture but the idea was to protect the widow by any unmarried brother of the dead husband offering to marry her. That is what we have here in the background of this story.
So Ruth continues telling Naomi what had happened to her (so far she's only told that she ended up in the field of Boaz): “Then Ruth the Moabitess said, "He even said to me, `Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.' " (v.21) Note the story-teller still describes her as “Ruth the Moabitess ” , almost to emphasize the wonder of what is taking place, this alien being absorbed into Israel . Naomi is very much aware that as two women on their own they are very vulnerable and especially the younger Ruth when she is out working: “Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, "It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else's field you might be harmed." (v.22) Naomi realises that Ruth is likely to find special care being in the field of a relative. And thus the result of the story summarized is, “So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.” (v.23)
It is very easy to take for granted the small details of this story and thus fail to realise all the components of it, if you like, that go to bring the end result. We've had Ruth's desire to care for Naomi and herself by going out gleaning (v.2) and then we had what seems chance (or providence) – “As it turned out,” (v.4), then comes this godly employer (v.4) who it turns out is related to Naomi (v.1), who is obviously mindful of the law of caring for the poor (v.8) and is graciously protective of her (v.9), we have Ruth's industry, working hard all day (v.7,17) and we have more of Boaz's care drawing her into the family-workers group and providing for her (v.14-16) and now we have Naomi's understanding and wisdom confirming Ruth in what she is doing. They may all be small things in themselves but they go to bringing about the end result of this story.
But isn't that exactly how it is with ordinary, everyday life. Small things happen, so small we don't even notice them probably, but one thing builds on another and another until a big result occurs. Many years ago I felt a need for a word processor and prayed for one and the money came. I started learning ‘Basic' language to develop simple teaching programs and one day my older son, who was about 9 or 10, came in and I asked him would he like me to teach him Basic. He said yes and six months later I couldn't understand the language he used. Years later he did a computing degree and runs his own web-design business. Talking with me he offered me a website and from that came all these studies which go to form a very large website resource. One small thing after another building up. Check out your own life and marvel at such things and thank the Lord for His hidden hand of guidance.
Meditations in Ruth : 15. A Need Faced
Ruth 3:1 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?
A little time has passed – but not much as circumstances will show it is still harvest – and wise Naomi faces a problem as she sees it. It is all very well for Ruth to go into the fields gleaning but harvest will not carry on for ever, and when it comes to an end, Ruth will still be on her own, a widow. Yet she is still young enough to be remarried. In that culture a woman was settled when she was married and so marriage was both expected and desired.
You may find a note in your Bible that an alternative to “find a home” could be “find rest”. Back in the days before they had left Moab , Naomi had said to here two daughter-in-law, “ May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (1:9) Marriage was seen as completion for the woman, coming to rest in a role where she could become a mother and where there was no more wondering and speculation about her future. As much as many younger women today espouse a free lifestyle where they have freedom to go from partner to partner, yet hidden in most is that desire to settle with one. The uncertainties of godless, self-centred lifestyles of the twenty-first century in the West make many doubt whether there can ever be a settled permanent relationship, but that was not how it was in Israel . Divorce, although possible according to the Law, was relatively rare.
So Naomi recognizes that getting married would be the ideal for Ruth, but she is a foreigner and not every Israelite man would want a foreign wife as the Law generally did not look in favour on that. Then of course there was the law of the kinsman-redeemer and that, surely, should be the path to tread. But how to bring it about? Boaz has indeed shown kindness and favour to Ruth and he is a kinsman redeemer but would he want to do this? This needs treating carefully and gently. But there is still an opportunity because the harvest is still going on and Ruth can legitimately be in his presence.
Naomi thinks it through and then counsels her daughter-in-law: “Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” What is all this about?
Point One: “Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours?” That is the starting point. If you are to be redeemed according to the laws of our culture, it has to be by one who is in that position – and Boaz is in that position.
Point Two: “Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor . ” i.e. we know where he will be and so all we have to do it arrange for a suitable meeting between the two of you where you can show him your intentions and he can respond accordingly. It's got to be tonight down at the threshing floor.
Point Three: “ Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes.” When you do meet him you've got to be presentable, sufficiently so that he thinks you are good enough to have for a wife.
Point Four: “Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.” That is a public place and it is improper for you to push yourself on him so keep in the background until all the eating and drinking has been finished and he feels so tired he will sleep down there (which is probably what often happened).
Point Five: “When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” After he has gone to sleep – and it will probably be in a corner or behind a shelter with some privacy, go and slip under his cover. In this way you will be offering yourself to him but you will be doing it in private and that allows him to make whatever response he wants without pressure. If the thought of redeeming you is not favourable to him, then he will send you home. If, on the other hand, his heart is moved and he wants to redeem you and take you as his wife, he will tell you and will tell you what steps he will take to bring that about.
In what might appear to us as strange behaviour (no asking him outright but acting it out) it allows Boaz to respond as his heart is moved without creating any gossip and he can, if he wishes, back away, and this won't have caused him embarrassment. It is a strategy of grace and it allows Boaz free choice without embarrassment. It reminds me of young Jonathan's call to his servant, “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” (1 Sam 14:6) He was basically saying to his servant, “let's give this a try. Who knows what the Lord might bring out of it.” There's a little of that in Naomi's strategy: let's try this approach. It doesn't bring shame to either you or Boaz but it does let him know what you feel and it does give him opportunity to walk away or redeem you as his wife, and that out of the public gaze. As we said, it is a strategy of grace.
If we feel we need to move things ahead, do we do it with grace, in ways that don't put pressure on others, that doesn't force others to act? Do we seek God for His wisdom to do it in ways that leave doors open for others to act? May it be so.
Meditations in Ruth : 16. Playing it Out
Ruth 3:5,6 "I will do whatever you say," Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
It is one thing to talk a risky strategy through, it is another to bring it to fruition. With a casual approach we may think this no big thing but in fact it was fraught with possibilities she would not wish to consider. Ruth was, after all, in a foreign land and this course of action could have meant that Boaz took advantage of her and then cast her out, or he could have utterly rejected her, or others could see what was happening and she could get a name for being a whore.
Yet, nevertheless, she says, “ I will do whatever you say.” (v.5) She trusts Naomi and she trusts the signs of Boaz's behaviour towards her so far, and “So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.” (v.6) By today's standards and the behaviour you expect to see on TV and films she is being circumspect to the nth degree, and as anticipated, “When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile.” (v.7a) So, “Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down.” (v.7b) So far all has gone as planned but this is just the part initiated by Ruth. The important thing is how Boaz will respond.
So the story unfolds: “In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet.” (v.8) It is dark and so he realises it is a woman but he doesn't know who she is: “Who are you?" he asked.” (v.9a) She replies, “I am your servant Ruth.” So far so good, but now comes the tricky part: “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” How sweet is that? What a gentle was of saying in the way of their culture, “Receive me under your covering and redeem me and make me your wife.” Yes, that is exactly what she means – and he knows it, for that is that the culture was like.
Thus he responds: “The LORD bless you, my daughter. This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.” (v.10) i.e. although you could have come to this land and made eyes at young men, you did not. For the sake of your mother-in-law you did not, and now you offer yourself to me, an older man! Those are noises of appreciation but she needs more than that. She needs more than nice words, she needs actions. She needs to hear from him that he is willing to take those actions.
And she gets the wish: “And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.” (v.11) Wow! Yes! How wonderful! He will redeem her and make her his wife. But hold on, there is a problem! “Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I.” (v.12) Apparently there is another man who is a closer relative and the law requires the closest relative to take the action, so they will have to act accordingly: “Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.” (v.13) i.e. OK, stay here until the morning and remain safe (don't try going home in the dark in the middle of the night; that would not be safe). Then in the morning I will approach this other man and I will see if he wants to redeem you. If he does, I must let him, but if he won't then I will.
Thus we find, “she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, "Don't let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” (v.14) Obviously there were some others of his men sleeping there as well who stirred at daybreak and saw what had happened and were told by the boss, “Tell no one!” But before she leaves, he sends her off with a gift: “He also said, "Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out." When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went back to town.” (v.15) She returns home with hope and further supplies. It has been a good night!
Everything that has happened has been done within the rules of strictest propriety. In it's simplest sense she has acted out, “I am available. Will you take me as your wife?” and he has responded with gentleness and propriety. There is the matter of the other potential redeemer to be sorted out and he will have to go along with that, but if she is refused he will be honoured to take her as his wife. An amazing example of righteous behaviour from all angles. Will we be as circumspect and righteous in all our dealings in life?
Meditations in Ruth : 17. Rest in it
Ruth 3:18 Then Naomi said, "Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today
I have a very strong sense that the message of these verses is for particular people. Let's note, first of all what happened. Ruth has returned home after her ‘night out', (v.15) and Naomi questions her about it and she tells: “ When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, "How did it go, my daughter?" Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her and added, "He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, `Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.' “ (v.16,17) That is the context for what follows, that Boaz has said he will take action and he blesses her with further provision when she leaves.
Now our verse above is very simple but I believe it conveys a simple but important message: “Then Naomi said, " Wait , my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.” (v.18) Indeed it is so simple we might almost despise it for its simplicity. It may be summed up as follows: when you have felt the Lord's guidance and you have taken a course of action, be at peace, wait and let Him do what He now wants to do in it. If He has shown you further things to do, that is one thing, but otherwise, if you have simply taken the action He led you believe was the right action to take, then rest in it.
It may be that you have been anxious about something in life and you have prayed and prayed, and there seems nothing more to pray. Very well, rest in it that your heavenly Father has heard and knows and will act on your behalf.
It is the heart that is not confident in God that feels it has to keep on doing something, keep on doing further things to bring about what it is sure is right. When we are not sure of God's love, we feel we have to make the running, someone has to act and if it won't be Him then it had better be us. We'd never express it as honesty as that, but that is ultimately what we feel deep down.
No, there are times when having done all we can and having committed it all to Him, we need to simply sit back and rest and wait for Him to move. In fact we can confirm out trust in Him by praising Him that He is going to act on our behalf – that is an act of faith. See how it was with David: “Many are asking, "Who can show us any good?” (Psa 3:6a) People about him were questioning their circumstances, so he calls on the Lord: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.” (v.6b) The circumstances have not changed but he is then able to declare, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” (v.7) As he has prayed he has had that confidence that God will move. The outcome? “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (v.8)
Do you remember Paul's instructions about anxiety and prayer? “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6) Notice that one word that almost seems out of place – “thanksgiving”. How can you give thanks for the thing that is causing you anxiety? You can't but you can express your trust in the Lord that He will deal with the cause of your anxiety by thanking Him that He WILL deal with it.
So there it is, learning to rest in the Lord, learning not to keep on and on trying to improve the situation after you have acted according to the guidance. Naomi has given Ruth the guidance. In this Naomi has typified the Holy Spirit. Ruth has followed her instructions and the thing seems to have worked out well – but there is still a glitch to be overcome, the closer redeemer. Yes, OK, he is there and he has rights, but let's seek to act righteously throughout this, and in so doing , now let's be at peace and rest in it, waiting to see how it will all work out. Amen? Amen!
Meditations in Ruth : 18. Boaz acts righteously
Ruth 4:1 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, "Come over here, my friend, and sit down." So he went over and sat down.
We are about to come to verses that are strange to modern eyes but make us realise we are dealing with a very different culture. So often we read of life in Israel in Old and New Testaments and fail to focus our eyes through the culture of the days and places which are so very different from today and here where I live in the West.
Ruth has been told by Naomi to wait. Now it is up to Boaz to check out the situation. He is related and therefore he can be a redeemer-kinsman but there is yet one who is a closer relative, and the closest has to be given first option. It is facing this that shows Boaz to be a righteous man; he is willing to abide by the outcome but it has to be according to the Law. So watch the procedure: “ Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, "Sit here," and they did so.” (4:2) It is probable that Boaz is well-known and influential and so he calls together leading elders of the town to a public place where they would normally meet. Obviously he also calls the other relative to come: “Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, "Naomi, who has come back from Moab , is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” (4:3,4) Elimelech had some land and, as we saw previously, the Law required that when he died the nearest relative redeemed it. The relative is happy to buy the land: “"I will redeem it," he said.”
Ah, but there is a problem. If you follow the Law you must also take Ruth as well: “Then Boaz said, "On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man's widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (4:5) That is what the Law requires, so of you take the land, you must also take the widow. At this the other balks: “At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, "Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (4:6) It is possible that he fears that, if he has a son by her and that son is his only surviving heir, his own property will transfer to the family of Elimelech. That seems to have been the practice. But if that was his fear, then it must be true of Boaz as well, but he clearly isn't fearful of his own name, just of caring for Ruth. That is what the rejection by the other relative would have been about, the fear of losing family prestige in the next generation. Boaz is not so concerned.
Then we go through an even stranger cultural practice: “(Now in earlier times in Israel , for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel .)” (4:7) It was a simple ritual that signified the passing of property from one person to another and when the elders would have seen it, they would be witnesses to a legal transaction. “So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, "Buy it yourself." And he removed his sandal. Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, "Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon's widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!” (4:8-10) Notice twice, “Today you are witnesses.” It was important for the Law to be followed and seen to be followed and that the transaction had been worked through completely amicably.
Thus we see: “Then the elders and all those at the gate said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel . May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem .” (4:11) They affirm they are witnesses to this transaction and they acknowledged that in reality Ruth was very much in keeping with what had gone on earlier in history. Rachel and Leah had been the two daughters of Laban who Jacob had married, girls from outside the close family and from another land (although they were distantly related, as intriguingly was Ruth for Moab came from Lot's family tree originally, nephew of Abraham from whom Israel eventually came). And with this they invoke a blessing upon him as a sign of their approval. It has all been done well!
Meditations in Ruth : 19. Completion
Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.
The story comes to a simple end – the couple get married and live happily ever after. Well that's how fairy tales end but this isn't a fairy tale; it is factual history. In our verse above we are given a simple shorthand version of what follows: they are married and Ruth has a son. If that is all we knew it would not be remarkable but when we follow it through we see something so very significant.
The neighbours bless Naomi with a prophetic blessing: “ The women said to Naomi: "Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel !” (v.14) Yes, indeed this kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, will become famous in Israel for we have been reading about his graciousness all the while in this book. They continue, “He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (v.15) This birth that has ultimately been brought about through the grace and righteousness of all the parties concerned will bless Naomi and bring new joy and meaning to her in her old age. Suddenly she is a grandmother!
The story is brought to a conclusion: “Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (v.16,17) The emphasis here is on Naomi for a reason we will consider in a moment. The final significance of all this of all this is noted by the historians in verse 17. This baby will become the grandfather of King David and as such will be part of the Messianic family tree which we find in Matthew: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” (Mt 1:5,6) So what does all this say to us?
First of all, Naomi. Here we have a picture of redemption, of a woman, a wife and a mother who follows her man into a foreign land and loses everything. To all intents and purposes her future is gone but then, by the end of the story, she is a full member of her community, a grandmother with all of the honour that goes with that in that sort of culture and community. She has been gloriously restored.
Next, of course, there is Boaz. What a picture of grace, a good employer, a sensitive, caring and righteous man who is willing to act according to the Law to care even for this foreign woman who has so shown her true colours by returning to Israel with her mother-in-law.
Finally and in many ways, most importantly, Ruth. Of herself she wins our hearts by her touching concern and loyalty for her mother-in-law, willing to leave the familiarity of her own people and her own gods, and go and become part of a totally different culture and follow the One True God. She follows that up with her obedience to her mother-in-law's suggestions, works hard and does what is considered right in this new culture and takes as a husband an older man, and becomes in every way a member of this community.
But it is not so much her personal attributes that makes Ruth stand out; it is who she is in the divine economy. As we see she becomes a part of the Messianic family tree and, almost in the same breath, with that other foreign woman, Rahab. There, in that male dominated family tree in Matthew's Gospel, for every male-orientated Jew to see, are two foreign women. When you consider the murky backgrounds of the other two women mentioned in that family tree – Tamar (v.3) and Bathsheba (by implication v.6) we realise there are interesting messages being conveyed by God.
The first message must surely be that although for obvious reasons historically men have been the more dominant, in God's eyes woman are equally significant.
The second message must be that, because in the case of each of these women their backgrounds have had serious question marks over them, John shows us through them that God is in the redemption business and that He delights in taking bad situations and bringing good through them.
The third message, in the light of the fact that three of these four women were Gentiles, must be that God looks to draw people from all people groups around the world to Himself. Indeed with Ruth that must surely be The main message. Again and again we are reminded that she is a Moabite, she is a foreigner – but God is interested in all the world, not just Israel .
The fourth and final message, a more personalised form of the second one, is that background does not debar anyone from the kingdom of God . Past history, past failures, dubious family or whatever, none of these things can keep you from God's love in God's kingdom. The Moabites were constantly enemies of Israel and yet this Moabite woman is now in the Messianic family tree. Knowing that Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not by Joseph, even more this family tree is there to convey messages from heaven. This is the Lord putting up a banner, if you like, across the book of Ruth that declares boldly, strongly and clearly, “All-comers Welcome!” Hallelujah!