Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: Studies in Ruth|
Introduction to Ruth
The opening verse of this book tells us that this occurs in the days of the judges. This was not a time of strong faith for Israel and so the accounts of the key players in this little drama stand out favourably in an otherwise somewhat dark time.
One of the key players, Boaz is a descendent of Abraham through the tribe of Judah , through the inclusion of his great (?great, great) grandmother who was Rahab (Mt 1:5 & Josh 2. NB. Family trees didn't include every person, merely sufficient to show the general direction of the line.) Another of the key players, Naomi, is married to a relative of Boaz.
The Significance of the Book
Why is the book of Ruth in the Canon of Scripture? Because it tells of the family link from the past ( Abraham , Judah etc ) through to David and, of course, through to Joseph, father of Jesus. Ruth is a Gentile and so we see the Lord giving us sign posts of acceptance of people from the whole world into His family. Whether this was the express plan of God, or it was simply God accepting the Gentiles into His family according to the circumstances that were working out by human free-will is not made clear. It is probable that it was a combination of the two.
The Events of Ruth
Because it is a short book with a limited number of studies therefore, we will not divide it into Parts as we usually do, but run straight through it. We will see:
Customs to be Observed.
This book is very Jewish! It involves a number of customs and Laws that were applicable to this people at that period of time and which may appear quite strange to us today. Each of those customs plays a real part in the affairs of this drama. It is a beautiful story of how two righteous people came together, a Jew and a Gentile, to become part of the Messiah's family tree. Pray that you may catch the sense of wonder in all this.
Chapter: Ruth 1
Passage: Ruth 1:1,2
A. Find Out:
1. Who was ruling at this time? v.1a
2. What occurred? v.1b
3. Where did the man live? v.1c
4. Where did he go to live? v.1d
5. Who did he take with him? v.1d,2
In these two opening verses we have some poignant truths. The time of the judges was not a glorious time in Israel 's history, but a time of constantly going away from God and then being restored by Him through judges that He raised up.
Let's consider first the details behind these verses. We are simply told that there was a famine in the land. In the Law of Moses, God had said He would bring famine when there was disobedience and it is ironic that this family flees from the town known as a house of bread, or place of supply. Elimelech means “My God is king” so he was obviously born, and named, in a time when faith was high. However Mahlon means “sickness”, and Chilion means “consumption” which indicates that when they were born they seemed to be weakly children where the blessing of God was missing, a time of low faith in other words! This seems to be confirmed by the action of this man and his family: they flee from the Promised Land to a land of idol worshippers who had no relationship with God.
So let's consider the implications of all this: our circumstances can sometimes indicate the displeasure of God. The state of our western society indicates the withdrawal of the blessing of God (read Romans 1:24 -32 and note that those things which are so seen in our society are in fact the judgement of God on the society!) But running away from it is no answer, as we will soon see!
Chapter: Ruth 1
Passage: Ruth 1:3-7
A. Find Out:
1. Who died? v.3
2. What did the sons do? v.4
3. What period of time passed? v.4c
4. What happened to them? v.5
5. What did Naomi hear? v.6
6. What did she do? v.6b,7
This is a grim picture. This family has fled from the land of covenant with God to a godless neighbouring land because the circumstances at home didn't seem good. Now the husband dies. For this family that would be disastrous with the main breadwinner being removed. There is no indication of any thought of returning home to the security of their own village or town, and so they continue life in this foreign land and actually become more and more integrated in it as the two sons eventually marry local girls.
Time passes, in fact ten whole years, but no children appear on the scene which also speaks of barrenness or unfruitfulness. This land is a curse on this family! After ten years both sons die. This seems more than a coincidence! Is the removal of all the men from this family the judgement of God on them? After all, God holds the men responsible in families. Should these sons have made moves to return home, after all they are Jews!
Finally Naomi hears that the famine in Israel has ended, so she decides at last to return home. A bit late really! Her entire family has been devastated and all she is left with is two foreign daughters-in-law. A pretty miserable picture! Oh yes, miserable by human standards but with God no situation is beyond His redemption. That is what this book is all about. Watch this space!!!!
Chapter: Ruth 1
Passage: Ruth 1:8-18
A. Find Out:
1. What did Naomi now suggest to the two daughters-in-law? v.8,9
2. How did they respond at first? v.9c,10
3. What did she say wouldn't happen? v.11-13
4. What response did this get? v.14
5. So what did Naomi try to do one final time? v.15
6. But what was Ruth's response? v.16-18
Naomi is just about to start the journey to go back to her land. Initially the two daughters-in-law go to go with her. Here is an indication of the closeness of this little group that has come about over the last ten years or so. But as she is about to go, Naomi realises that this isn't really a good option for these two girls. They would do better to stay in their own familiar land and find new husbands, than come back to a land that is completely foreign to them. In this she exhibits care and compassion.
After further persuading, one of them, Orphah, agrees to stay. The call of home overcomes anything else, but with Ruth it's completely different. We're not told what it is that makes Ruth come with Naomi. It may be just the bond she has formed with Naomi over the years, it may be the Lord prompting her, we don't know. When we consider her words it is a case of complete commitment to Naomi.
Verses 16 and 17 are perhaps the classic example in the Bible of commitment, which has three elements to it. First it is a commitment to a place: wherever you go, I'll go. Second it was a commitment to people: whoever are your people, they will be my people. Finally it is a commitment to God: whoever is your God will be mine. Somehow Ruth had found such security with Naomi that she was able to make such a wholehearted commitment. When we come to Christ, this is the same level of commitment he requires of us.
Chapter: Ruth 1
Passage: Ruth 1:19-22
A. Find Out:
1. Where did they come to, and what was asked? v.19
2. What did Naomi say about herself? v.20
3. What did she say had happened to her? v.21
4. What time was it when they got back? v.22
Naomi and Ruth eventually arrive back at their home town of Bethlehem . It is not a big town and so very soon the word has spread throughout the town that she is back – back without her husband or her family, back only with a foreign girl who is her daughter-in-law. The town is buzzing with this. Questions must be getting asked: what happened?
Naomi's answer is intriguing. She is an understanding and very self aware woman. She says she ought to have a change name for the old Naomi (which meant ‘pleasant') is gone and the new Naomi ought to be called Mara (which means ‘bitter), because that is what she now is. Today we would call someone bitter who is acid, unpleasant, resentful, and angry, yet from all that follows I'm not sure that is what she feels. Yes, she is someone in deep anguish because she has lost her sons and her husband, that is certainly true, and that is real. The reality is that she is in deep distress.
But note her awareness of the Lord. She first of all refers to Him (twice) as the Almighty – the one who is sovereign over the affairs of men and women – and twice she declares that her state has been caused by the Lord. Let's not try and duck that – perhaps she is exactly right, perhaps their deaths were the hand of the Lord. If that is so, understand that the Lord does not delight in such deaths (Ezek 18:23 ,32) yet there are times when He does bring death. If there was no other way to bring this chosen vessel back to Bethlehem and bring about what is going to happen, then perhaps that had to be the way. The end result is going to be amazing.
Chapter: Ruth 2
Passage: Ruth 2:1-9
A. Find Out:
1. To whom are we next introduced? v.1
2. What does Ruth suggest? v.2
3. Where does she ‘happen' to find herself? v.3
4. Who comes and what does he ask? v.4,5
5. What does the foreman testify about Ruth? v.6,7
6. So what does Boaz say to Ruth? v.8,9
First we are introduced to Boaz by description, then later by action. By description we are told that he is of the same clan as Naomi's husband and that he is a man of some standing in the community, i.e. he is probably well off. We are later told he owns fields and the harvest in them, and employs workers. He is also shown to us as a godly man who has a good relationship with his workers. His response to finding Ruth in his field is to guard and protect and provide for her. This is a good man!
But now look at Ruth's actions. Having come into her mother-in-law's country, she doesn't sit back and do nothing, but she recognises that they have a problem of daily provision and so she takes advantage of the Jewish law that allowed others to follow behind the harvesters and pick up what was left over (Lev 19:9,10, Deut 24:19).
However, it did tend to be something that was done only with the permission of the field owner. Ruth had approached the foreman and obtained permission and had worked solidly through the day. This girl was industrious on behalf of her aging mother-in-law who now largely depended on her. Coincidence that she chose Boaz's field? No, this is what we call providence, the unseen guiding hand of God. We see it again and again in Scripture. God's guidance is not mentioned but the coincidences are too great. God has a plan! The outcome is way beyond coincidence!
Chapter: Ruth 2
Passage: Ruth 2:10-18
A. Find Out:
1. What did Ruth ask of Boaz? v.10
2. What was his response? v.11,12
3. How did she respond to this? v.13
4. How did he subsequently care for her? v.14
5. What did he later tell his men? v.15,16
6. How did Ruth get on? v.17,18
Boaz has just spoken to Ruth for the first time and encouraged her to stay collecting in his field, telling her he has assured her protection and she should feel free to use their water. This is indeed a kindness, and so Ruth asks why he should do such a thing. He responds that he has heard of her loyalty to Naomi, and blesses her in the name of the Lord. This is the second time in a short passage that we have seen his references to the Lord. This is a man with a relationship with the Lord, a godly and righteous man, a good man! This goodness comes out in his concern for Ruth.
He shows it even more when it's time for a break and he invites her to join them and partake of their food and drink. She is provided with more than she can eat. This is abundant provision (v.14). When she goes back to work Boaz quietly instructs his men to make it easy for her to collect even more of the harvest (v.15,16). Ruth is a hard worker and so she works on until evening and collects a good supply which she takes back to Naomi.
Ruth's apparent ‘chance' choice of this field has paid off abundantly. Her first encounter with Boaz has only found friendship, care and concern. She has been well looked after. He has provided encouragement, protection and provision in abundance, but it has still been up to her to receive it, she's still had to work for it. He provides but she has to take. That's how it is with us and the Lord.
A. Find Out:
1. What did Naomi ask of Ruth? v.19a
2. What did Naomi say about Ruth's answer? v.20
3. What more did Ruth share and what was Naomi's response? v.21,22
4. So what did Ruth continue doing for how long? v.23
5. What was Naomi's concern? v.1
Returning home from her day in the fields, Ruth brings a large quantity of grain with her, which prompts Naomi to comment how well she has done and how good the owner has been to her. When Ruth tells her it is Boaz, Naomi is thrilled because Boaz is a close relative.
It is here that we are introduced to the concept of a “kinsman redeemer” for the first time which is so vital to this story. The Law (Lev 25:25) declared that if a person became poor and had to sell their land to survive, then their nearest relative is to be the one to buy it, so that he will hold it until they have recovered and can buy it back.
Naomi therefore has it in her mind that because of their poor state they may well have to sell the land and Boaz may be the one in the family (though not the closest) who might buy it. The fact that he has acted so favourably towards Ruth, is a possible indication that he would act well towards them in respect of the land.
However, the possibility of having to sell off the land to survive can be put off for a while because there is clearly food coming in from Ruth's activity in the harvest. The fact that it is the field of a close and kindly relative greatly reassures Naomi. So it is that Ruth continues going to the fields of Boaz and collecting after the harvesters. It is only a temporary solution and Naomi is very much aware of that. A better long-term solution would be for Ruth to be married. Watch this space!
A. Find Out:
1. What concern does Naomi have & who does she speak about? v.1,2
2. How does she instruct Ruth to prepare? v.3a
3. What does she tell her to do? v.3b,4
4. What was Ruth's response? v.5,6
5. What actually happened? v.7,8
Collecting leftovers from the harvest as a means of provision can only go on for a limited time. Having come back to Bethlehem without a husband and now a lot older, Naomi has a problem – she has no means of support and no one in the (extended) family seems to be suggesting help.
The answer that comes to this Jewish mother is perfectly natural - her daughter-in-law needs a husband. She herself is too old for anyone to show interest in her, but Ruth isn't. More than this, the recent circumstances seem to indicate hope. Ruth has been working in the fields of Boaz and he is an unmarried man, and one who may feel the responsibility of the wider family to look after them.
Naomi's instructions to Ruth suggest no impropriety, simply a way for Ruth to present herself to Boaz in a favourable manner that shows her intentions and allows him to respond. Placing your coat or cloak over someone, in those days, was an indication of your desire to protect or cover them, to look after them, i.e. an offer of committed relationship – marriage. For Ruth to take the initiative rather than the man, was a little unorthodox and so should be done in a way that is pleasing to the man – done in private, so he will not be embarrassed by others seeing, but at the same time yet public so there is no impropriety. The plan is that she will do it, therefore, after the end-of-harvest feast, when Boaz is feeling good and after everyone has laid down to rest. Smart mother-in-law!
A. Find Out:
1. What did Ruth ask when Boaz woke in the middle of the night? v.9
2. Why did this touch Boaz? v.10
3. How did he respond? v.11
4. What problem was there and how would he deal with it? v.12,13
5. So what happened? v.14
6. How did he bless her before she left? v.15
It is the middle of the night and dark. There may be some light from a fire probably and Boaz is aware of the presence of a woman (by her perfume?) and quietly asks who it is. Ruth tells him and asks him to become her husband using the language and custom of the day. Boaz is touched by this because he is an older man and Ruth is a very eligible young woman. He will gladly take her for a wife because she is well known for her goodness.
Yet there is a problem. According to custom and the Law (Deut 25:5), when a husband died and the wife was still young, it was the duty of the nearest unmarried brother in law to marry her and look after her, and Boaz is aware that there is another who is more closely related than he. Because he is a righteous man he wants to strictly abide by the Law and give that man an opportunity to marry Ruth, but if that man doesn't want to do that, and marry a foreigner (not said but reasonably implied), then Boaz will gladly marry Ruth and care for her.
Although all of this may appear strange to our understanding today, yet there was a gentle, respectful caring and honouring in all of this which in no way demeaned Ruth. The Law was there to provide guidance for right actions to ensure the care of those who were vulnerable and every righteous person would submit their own will to it. These two people indicate by their behaviour they are both honourable and righteous people.
A. Find Out:
1. What did Ruth then do? v.16,17
2. What did Naomi counsel to do now? v.18
3. What did Boaz do? v.1,2
4. How did he present the subject and with what response? v.3,4
5. What did he also remind the man, and with what response? v.5,6
6. So how did they confirm that? v.7,8
As Naomi had forecast, Boaz wouldn't rest until the matter was settled. He went later in the morning to the town gate which, in those days, was the place where the elders of the town gathered and did the business of the town. When the other relative passed by (?coincidence???) Boaz calls him to sit down because there is some business to be attended to. Boaz calls the town elders to witness the transaction and thus puts it on a legal footing.
He explains that Naomi wants to sell off (some of?) her land and so this man had the right of first purchase. The man thinks that is a good opportunity and so leaps at it. Boaz reminds him that it also involves the responsibility towards Ruth as the widow. Suddenly the man is not so keen. His reason seems to be that he was concerned that somehow this would threaten the future of his own existing property.
He backs off and leaves the way open for Boaz. That was quite legitimate if the next in line was willing – and Boaz was! The means of confirming such a transaction, in those days, was to take off your sandal and hand it over to the other party in the presence of the elders. This was purely a custom and not prescribed in the Law. Perhaps a shoe suggested he was giving up his right to walk over that piece of land and thus give up all rights to it. Done formally before the elders it was the sure confirmation of what had been agreed. The way is now open for Boaz to go ahead and marry Ruth.
A. Find Out:
1. How did Boaz clarify what he had done? v.9
2. What also did he say he had done and why? v.10
3. How did the elders bless this? v.11
4. What further blessing did they add? v.12
5. What was the outcome of this? v.13,17
6. How was this significant? v.22
The nearest relative has stood back and so the way is open for Boaz to proceed to marry Ruth. (In such a way he also acquires the land without paying for it!!). He does it to ensure that the name of Ruth's prior father-in-law will not disappear from the town's records. The name of a person or family was considered very significant. Their name recorded in history reminded the world of their part in history. We may think we are insignificant but Scripture challenges that belief!
The elders, in their blessing, refer to Rachel and Leah who were distant relatives of Jacob in a foreign land, who became the main mothers of the family and nation of Israel . Their names were well remembered. Then there was also Tamar who acted to ensure that the family name was continued. (To see more of this go to the first two studies in Matthew's Gospel to see the ‘natural' genealogy of Jesus).
Ruth and Boaz are married and soon there is the sound of tiny feet and Obed is born. With the passing of years Obed became the father of Jesse who became the father of king David, so often referred to by Jesus. Ruth thus becomes a figure mentioned in the natural genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:5). A Gentile foreigner has become a part of the family of God. The Lord is concerned for ALL peoples. Thank goodness, thank the Lord that He includes Jew AND Gentile in His family.
In this short book we have seen the following drama unfolding:
Having completed these few studies, the following may be some of the things we may wish to consider further:
The Providence of God
Providence is usually taken to mean the unceasing activity of God behind the scenes of human history, that brings His blessing to mankind. In the book of Ruth there are hints of that in a series of things that happen that seem beyond coincidence:
The text indicates that at least two of those things are considered specifically to be the hand of the Lord (1:6 & 1;21). Accepting the text as it is, we are thus called to believe that God brings both good and (apparently) bad things as He works out His purposes for our blessing.
Faith to Understand and Accept the Unseen
The reality is that these things are often not clear to us when we are in the circumstances and going through difficulties. It takes faith therefore to believe that God will be working in the circumstances for our good. The apostle Paul touched on this when he said (Rom 8:28 ) “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The indication is clearly there – in ALL things God will be working for our good. This doesn't mean that He will purposefully bring all things (though He may indeed brings we think are bad news at the time!), but it does mean that he will be working to bring good out of the events that surround and make up our lives. That needs faith to accept.
People are Important
If this story tells us nothing else it tells us that people are important. The circumstances were there but how people responded to them was up to them. The men of Naomi's family didn't seem to have responded well to the difficult circumstances. However the other main players, Ruth and Boaz seem to shine. Did God choose them because of their obvious righteousness or did he enable them to be like that. Both probably.
We always have to ask how the Scripture applies to us when we're studying it. So at the end of these studies, perhaps two questions stand out for us: can we rest in the knowledge that God is working out His plans and purposes for our good in whatever is happening, and can we, therefore, ensure we live godly and righteous lives in the face of the pressures that came on us in life in this fallen world?