Unlike Tamar and Rahab, Ruth is a woman of exceptional character. Her story is one of love and redemption.Traditionally, the book of Ruth is thought to have been written by Samuel, the last judge of Israel but scholars place the writing long after the time of the judges. Ruth is part of a collection of five scrolls read by Jews during their celebration of the Feast of Weeks which corresponds to the Christian celebration of Pentecost. I could write reams about all that the book of Ruth has to teach but for the purposes of this lesson, I will stick to her story. If you’d like to read about the first two women listed in the genealogy of Jesus, click here and here.
“A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, 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. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife, …and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” Matthew 1:1-6, 16 [highlight mine]
The time of the judges was characterized by a continuous sin cycle. God’s people would fall into sin and disobedience, then God would allow one of Israel’s enemies to oppress them, Israel would then repent and cry out to God for a deliverer and finally, they would be redeemed and delivered only to repeat the pattern anew. In fact, the book of Judges records the time period this way; “Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 21:25) Scholars place the setting of Ruth’s story during the time of Gideon around 1130 BCE when Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites. ( Judges 6-8) The book of Ruth begins with a famine ravaging the land and Elimelech along with his wife Naomi and their two sons have left their home in Bethlehem in Judah to move to the country of Moab.
Moab was located in a fertile but dry plateau east of the Jordan River. The Moabites were descendants of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter (Genesis 19:30-38) that most likely intermarried with the local population in the area. The Israelites had strained relations with the Moabites. They were not to seek a friendship treaty with them as mandated by God because when the Israelites left Egypt and became wanderers in the desert, the Moabites offered them no assistance. (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) They also refused Israel passage through their land on the King’s Highway. (Judges 11:17) Prior to Israel invading Jericho, Moabite women also deliberately seduced Israelite men to idolatry which angered God. (Numbers 25) They primarily worshipped Chemosh and would even invoke his help by offering human sacrifices. (2 Kings 3:26,27)Despite this type of environment, Elimelech moves his family to Moab hoping for a better life away from the famine but unfortunately, life offered heartbreak.
“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 Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.” Ruth 1:3-5
Left widowed with no support system or family to care for them, these women were living unprotected and without means of provision. They faced great hardship and adversity. The flame of hope, however, is rekindled when Naomi hears that the famine has ended and that the Lord has come to the aid of his people. They prepare to leave Moab and return to Naomi’s home in Judah.
“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. 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. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” 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;” … Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.” Ruth 1:7-11,14
Most scholars agree that Ruth’s name means friend or friendship. She was married to the eldest son, Mahlon, and they had no children.(Ruth 4:10) Scripture is unclear as to the length of their marriage but most likely, they had not been married long. Naomi must have displayed a strong testament to faith in God and love towards her daughter-in-law for Ruth to make this decision.
“”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.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.” Ruth 1:16-18
These brave women traveled on a dangerous path towards Bethlehem. The road was unsafe, long, and arduous. They battled climate, geography, wild animals, and people who would do them harm for the promise of what home offered. Naomi battled bitterness and grief due to affliction and misfortune. Given Ruth’s choice to accompany Naomi, I think we can assume that she tried to help love Naomi back to emotional health as well as dealing with her own misfortune. The women finally arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest in the springtime.
“Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz. 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.” Ruth 2:1,2
Gleaning was a means for the poor to secure food. God had given provision for them through instruction to His people.
“”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. I am the LORD your God.”” Leviticus 19:9,10
Providentially, Ruth gleans the field of Boaz and catches his eye. Boaz inquires about her and receives a favorable report concerning her from his foreman in addition to the information he has also been told about how she left her homeland and her family. Because of her humility, hard work, and loyalty towards Naomi, he was sympathetic to her situation and chooses to speak with her privately and gives her instruction to glean only from his field. He also ordered his men to treat Ruth with respect and provide her with water. Boaz shows great sensitivity and compassion for her destitute state. Ruth appreciates his kindness and finds comfort in his words to her. (Ruth 2:11-13)
“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.” So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah … Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” … “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. “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.”” Ruth 2:15-20
Acting in his role as a close relative, Boaz provides her with a full half bushel which amounted to approximately five or more days of food for the two women. The amount was very generous and more than a gleaner could ever hope to gather in a day. Ruth continues to glean throughout the barley and wheat harvest. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, “the kinsman-redeemer was responsible for preserving the integrity, life, property, and family name of his close relative or for executing justice upon his murderer.” One of the aspects of a kinsman-redeemer was also to engage in a levirate marriage which I talked about previously in the lesson on Tamar. When Ruth told Naomi that she was acquainted with Boaz and was gleaning in his fields, a plan of redemption for them must’ve begun formulating in Naomi’s mind.
“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? 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.”” Ruth 3:1-4
Ruth followed the bold instructions of Naomi and quietly lay at Boaz’s feet. In the middle of the night, he awakens and discovers her at his feet.
“”Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” “The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “ This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 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. Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. 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.” So 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.” Ruth 3:9-14
Boaz treats Ruth with great honor and respect. Perhaps his heart was tendered by this young foreign woman in a unique way because of Tamar’s background. Boaz gives Ruth six measures of barley to bring back home to Naomi. Boaz might have only been providing above and beyond the law’s requirement to help the poor by sending the six measures of barley by Ruth but perhaps, he was offering a bride price to Naomi for Ruth. Naomi couldn’t legally negotiate a marriage contract with someone for Ruth but given Boaz’s character, I believe the possibility exists that he honored Naomi as head of the family by sending her this gift as pledge for Ruth. Boaz doesn’t waste time but goes to the town gate where the elders of the town gathered and discussed town affairs. He sat and waited for the closer relative to appear and when the man arrives, Boaz requests him to sit beside him.
“Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 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.” “I will redeem it,” he said. 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.” 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.” (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.) 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, Chilion, 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!”” Ruth 4:2-10
I wonder if Naomi and Ruth were somewhere nearby in order to learn of their fates. Scripture gives no indication that they were in the vicinity. Ruth had every legal right to shame the relative who refused to redeem her by spitting in his face but scripture doesn’t record any interaction between them. (Deuteronomy 25:9) The removal of the shoe, consequently, gave Boaz the right to stand in the other relative’s stead in order to redeem the land and Ruth. The elders along with others at the gate give Boaz a blessing for his new bride and they include an unusual statement to end their blessing.
““Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”” Ruth 4:12
How fitting that they refer to Tamar, a young woman who resorted to inappropriate means to achieve justice and continue the lineage of her dead husband’s line. They gave this blessing based on the value of levirate marriage and how a kinsman-redeemer can bring forth a strong and prosperous line. The tribe of Judah grew strong and prominent under Perez and they wished the same for Boaz.
“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 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! 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.” … And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” Ruth 4:13-17
Through this redemptive love story, Ruth becomes the grandmother of the great Israelite king, David, a man after God’s own heart and ultimately, Jesus our true Kinsman-Redeemer.
For the full story, read Ruth 1-4.
Questions to Consider
- How do I handle bitter circumstances? What do these difficult situations reveal about my character?
- What made Ruth a woman of noble character? Which character traits that she possessed would I like to emulate?
- Can I learn any insights about building and fostering relationships with in-laws based on Ruth’s example?
- Do I see any connection between the story of Ruth and its reading during Pentecost?
- Do I learn and understand more about God’s sovereignty from this story?
- Do I see a picture of my own love story with God in the story of Ruth?
- How do I treat or encourage the less fortunate? Do I treat them with dignity?