1 During the time of the judges there was a famine in the land of Judah. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah went to live as a resident foreigner in the region of Moab, along with his wife and two sons. 2 (Now the man’s name was Elimelech, his wife was Naomi, and his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were of the clan of Ephrath from Bethlehem in Judah.) They entered the region of Moab and settled there. 3 Sometime later Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, so she and her two sons were left alone. 4 So her sons married Moabite women. (One was named Orpah and the other Ruth.) And they continued to live there about ten years. 5 Then Naomi’s two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, also died. So the woman was left all alone – bereaved of her two children as well as her husband! 6 So she decided to return home from the region of Moab, accompanied by her daughters-in-law, because while she was living in Moab she had heard that the Lord had shown concern for his people, reversing the famine by providing abundant crops.
7 Now as she and her two daughters-in-law began to leave the place where she had been living to return to the land of Judah, 8 Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Listen to me! Each of you should return to your mother’s home! May the Lord show you the same kind of devotion that you have shown to your deceased husbands and to me! 9 May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the home of a new husband!” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept loudly. 10 But they said to her, “No! We will return with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi replied, “Go back home, my daughters! There is no reason for you to return to Judah with me! I am no longer capable of giving birth to sons who might become your husbands! 12 Go back home, my daughters! For I am too old to get married again. Even if I thought that there was hope that I could get married tonight and conceive sons, 13 surely you would not want to wait until they were old enough to marry! Surely you would not remain unmarried all that time! No, my daughters, you must not return with me. For my intense suffering is too much for you to bear. For the Lord is afflicting me!”
14 Again they wept loudly. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung tightly to her. 15 So Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law back home!” 16 But Ruth replied,
“Stop urging me to abandon you!
For wherever you go, I will go.
Wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will become my people,
and your God will become my God.
17 Wherever you die, I will die – and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise!
Only death will be able to separate me from you!”
18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to dissuade her. 19 So the two of them journeyed together until they arrived in Bethlehem.
When they entered Bethlehem, the whole village was excited about their arrival. The women of the village said, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 But she replied to them, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi’! Call me ‘Mara’ because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly. 21 I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me ‘Naomi,’ seeing that the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer?” 22 So Naomi returned, accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law Ruth, who came back with her from the region of Moab. (Now they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.) (Ruth 1:1-22)2
It was a good number of years ago that I sat in on an excellent elective class taught by my friend, Tom Wright. The subject was the Book of Ruth. In the past, Naomi was always portrayed in a somewhat flattering way. And yet as the story of Ruth unfolded this time, it suddenly became obvious to me that Naomi was no role model. When I realized this, I blurted out, “What a witch!”, much to the surprise of the rest of the class. As the years have gone by, I may have mellowed in the terms I would use to portray Naomi, but my opinion of her has not really changed. In fact, my study for this sermon has caused me to think of Naomi in even less flattering terms. I’ll attempt to support my conclusions as we proceed in our study of this book.
Having started off on a rather negative note, let me hasten to say that the Book of Ruth is a breath of fresh air for those of us who have just come from the Book of Judges. You will note from the first verse of chapter 1 that the setting for the story of Ruth is the times of the judges. The closing chapters of the Book of Judges contain some of the most gruesome accounts in all of the Bible – homosexual Benjamites want to rape a guest in their city; a woman is brutally gang raped by these same men; her husband seems more than willing to sacrifice her to save his life, and then he chops her dead body into twelve pieces which he delivers to every part of Israel. And all of this resulted in the near annihilation of one of the twelve tribes (Benjamin) and a conspiracy to acquire wives for the remaining Benjamites in a way that was morally unacceptable.
What a relief it is to leave Judges behind and come to the Book of Ruth! In spite of the fact that Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and his two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) are living according to the spirit of their day (“doing what is right in their own eyes”), two people (Ruth and Boaz) stand out as examples of those who live by faith in the God of Israel, and whose lives exemplify living in accordance with God’s Word. And one of these two – Ruth – is a Moabite, not an Israelite. In the dark shadows of the days of the judges, we find two individuals whose lives are truly lights in the darkness. Here is a story that not only warms our hearts, it encourages our faith by unveiling the providential hand of God in bringing salvation and blessing during one of the darkest periods in history.
Some years ago I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely Christian in a hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. His name was Nate Mirza. When we met, I had no idea who he was, but he introduced himself something like this,
“Hi, Bob, I’m Nate Mirza. I’m an Assyrian – not a Syrian. We don’t have a very good reputation in the Bible.”
I remember responding to Nate, “Neither do the rest of us.” Well, if this is true of us, it is certainly true of the Moabites. It would do us well to review where the Moabites came from and how they related to Israel in the past.
We read of the origin of the Moabites in Genesis 19,3 just after the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As you will recall, Mrs. Lot was turned to salt because she looked back at the city. Lot fled with his daughters and was living in a cave. His oldest daughter concluded that their father would die without an heir. She persuaded her younger sister to help her get him drunk, and then for both of them to sleep with him to produce offspring for him. The oldest daughter went first, bearing a son whom she named Moab. The younger daughter then did likewise and bore a son named Ammon. The Moabites were the result of the initiative and immorality of Lot’s oldest daughter. No wonder they didn’t have a great reputation.
It was a bad start, and sadly things didn’t get any better over time. Many years later, the Israelites were camped on the plains of Moab, across the Jordan River from Jericho, poised to enter the Promised Land. Fearing they would be overrun by the Israelites, Balak (king of Moab)4 hired Balaam to curse Israel. We know that this backfired because Balaam could not curse those whom God had blessed.5 When this approach did not work, Balaam counseled Balak how to harm Israel in a very different way – by having the Moabite women seduce the Israelite men.6 One might easily infer from this that the Moabites, like the Canaanites, were a sexually immoral people (in a way that tempted the Israelites). From these events, we can easily see that the Moabites were no friend to Israel. No wonder God forbade Moabites from entering the assembly to the tenth generation.7
Moab’s hostility and opposition to Israel continued on into the period of the Judges. In Judges 3, we read that the Israelites were subject to Eglon, king of Moab, for 18 years.8 Since the Moabites were not Canaanites, marriage to a Moabite was not strictly forbidden.9 Nevertheless, Moabites were not only regarded as aliens or foreigners, but also as “second class citizens.” Marriage to a Moabite was not something one did to gain status in Israel.
A famine plagued Israel in the days of the judges. We are not told how wide-spread it was, but we do know that it affected Bethlehem (which ironically means “house of bread”). In an effort to escape the famine, a man named Elimelech took his family to Moab, where he intended for his family to sojourn until the famine ended.10 How could he have imagined how long his family would stay? Elimelech had a wife named Naomi and two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. While they were in Moab, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi and her two sons. It must have been on Naomi’s watch that these two sons married their Moabite wives – Orpah and Ruth. Naomi and her sons lived in Moab for ten years and then both Mahlon and Kilion died as well, childless. From Ruth 4:13, one might infer that God prevented both Orpah and Ruth from bearing children to their husbands. Naomi was now left without a husband, without sons, and without grandchildren.
Word had reached Naomi in Moab that God had visited His people by ending the famine and providing abundant crops back in Israel. This news prompted her to return to her people and to her land. Orpah and Ruth were committed to returning to Israel with their mother-in-law. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law had already set out for Israel11 when Naomi began to have second thoughts – not about her return, but about having two Moabite daughters-in-law in tow when she arrived at her home town of Bethlehem. In our text, Naomi’s conversation with her daughters-in-law is couched in language that gives the appearance that she is encouraging them to return to their families and their land because this would be in their best interest. In Naomi’s mind, it probably was in their best interest, but it also appeared to benefit her.
As they continue their journey toward Bethlehem, Naomi makes a three-fold attempt to persuade Orpah and Ruth to return to their homes, rather than to accompany her all the way back to Israel. It took two attempts to convince Orpah to turn back and three attempts to convince Naomi that her efforts to turn Ruth away were futile. Naomi’s first attempt is described in verses 8-10. She urged her daughters-in-law to return to their mother’s home, with the expectation that the LORD would bless them with security in a marriage to a new12 Moabite husband. She then kissed both of them, a very clear signal of dismissal. Many tears were shed, but in the end both women refused to leave Naomi and return to their mother’s home. They insisted on going on to Israel with Naomi.
Naomi’s second effort13 will be less subtle and more pointed and forceful. Humanly speaking, staying with Naomi does not offer much promise of a good life for these Moabite widows. Naomi doesn’t mention that these women would likely not find an Israelite husband. Neither does she mention the mistreatment they would likely receive because Moab is Israel’s enemy, but they could probably read between the lines. Who would want a Moabite wife, especially a widow? Who would want Naomi for a mother-in-law?
What Naomi does mention pertains to marriage and child bearing. The “security in the home of a new husband” referred to earlier is now spelled out in plainer terms. The only hope Naomi sees for Orpah and Ruth is the hope of finding a Moabite husband and bearing children. If Naomi had other sons, she could give them to these women in Levirate marriage, but she has no other sons. She has no husband to father sons, and she is too old to bear children anyway. Even if she were able to bear children, it would be unreasonable for these two widows to wait 20 years for “replacement husbands.” No, in Naomi’s mind there was no good reason to remain with her as she returned to her homeland.
Naomi adds one final argument in favor of Orpah and Ruth returning home to Moab. Not only is Naomi unable to provide these women with husbands (and thus with children), God is also dealing harshly with her. The inference is clear: to remain with Naomi has no promise of blessing and every reason to expect that they will share in her divinely-imposed affliction. If God has it in for Naomi, what woman in her right mind would want to be closely associated with her?
More tears are shed. This time it is Orpah who kisses Naomi goodbye. She has been convinced and turns back to her own country. One has to ponder the outcome of her decision. Surely it fell short of what Ruth’s experience will be. Who thinks of Orpah today? Who even remembers her name?
Naomi’s third appeal is to Ruth alone, based on Orpah’s decision to return home. As Orpah kisses Naomi goodbye and turns back toward home, Ruth clings all the more tightly to her mother-in-law. Naomi seems to be encouraging Ruth to accompany Orpah as she returns home. It certainly would be safer for the two women to travel together, but it is Orpah who will travel alone, not Ruth.
We should note several things about Naomi’s third attempt to persuade Ruth to join Orpah as she returned to Moab in verse 15. We should first note that Naomi’s words here are prompted by Orpah’s decision to return home. Now that Orpah has decided to turn back, Naomi appears to have more leverage. Shouldn’t Ruth follow her lead? Wouldn’t it be better for the two of them to travel together? But Ruth refuses to abandon Naomi and clings to her tightly. Second, Naomi’s words are even more forceful here,14 issuing Ruth a command to leave her. But the most dramatic new development in Naomi’s argument is her reference to Orpah’s “god”: 15 “So Naomi said, ‘Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law back home!’” (Ruth 1:15)
Without a doubt, this is the most amazing and distressing thing Naomi has said so far. How could any faithful Israelite encourage someone to return to their (false) god(s)? A godly Israelite would not only trust in the one true God, Yahweh, they would also know that there are no other gods. How could Naomi encourage Ruth (and, by inference, Orpah) to return to their god(s), when doing so would condemn them eternally? Serving the god(s) of Moab (or any others) was an abomination to God:
“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
“Pay attention to do everything I have told you, and do not even mention the names of other gods– do not let them be heard on your lips” (Exodus 23:13).
“You must not bow down to their gods; you must not serve them or do according to their practices. Instead you must completely overthrow them and smash their standing stones to pieces” (Exodus 23:24).
1 When Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to commit sexual immorality with the daughters of Moab. 2 These women invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods; then the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 When Israel joined themselves to Baal-peor, the anger of the LORD flared up against Israel. 4 The LORD said to Moses, “Arrest all the leaders of the people, and hang them up before the LORD in broad daylight, so that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.” 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you must execute those of his men who were joined to Baal-peor” (Numbers 25:1-5).
Once again I would suggest that Naomi’s strong urging for Ruth and Orpah to return was as much for her interests as for her daughters-in-law. They would be a reminder that Naomi’s sons – their husbands – had not married Israelite wives. They would be a reminder that Elimelech and Naomi had left Bethlehem when the going got tough. They would be (or so it may have seemed to Naomi) a liability to her when she returned. But when she urged Ruth to return to her pagan god(s), that was the worst unkindness of all. Their ultimate blessing would have been to leave their land, their people, their false religion, and to identify with the Israelites and with their God. How could Naomi point them in the wrong direction?
Ruth would have none of this foolish talk, and she made this abundantly clear to her mother-in-law. First, she insisted that Naomi must cease urging her to turn back. Then she firmly stated her commitment to Naomi, to Israel, and to Israel’s God as a covenant. She would go where Naomi went and live where she lived. Naomi’s people (Israel) would be her people, and Naomi’s God would be her God. Ruth would not only do this until death separated them, she would do so in death. She would be buried where Naomi was buried. Not even death would separate them. And in good covenant form, she pronounced a curse upon herself if she did otherwise. No wonder Naomi finally ceased trying to convince her to turn back (verse 18).
The two women, now forever bound together by Ruth’s covenant, continued on their way until they reached Bethlehem. As they entered Bethlehem, they became the talk of the town. It had been at least ten years since Naomi and her family had left them. Obviously, Naomi had changed. “Can this be Naomi?” they asked (verse 19). My impression is that Naomi had changed not only in her appearance (she may not have aged well in Moab), but also in spirit. Naomi told her friend not to call her “Naomi” (which means “pleasant”) any longer, but rather to call her “Mara” (which means “bitter”). Naomi also made it clear that this was because (in her mind) God had dealt harshly with her.16 Naomi measured God’s blessing only in terms of food and of family. She was “full” when she had a husband and two sons; now she was “empty,” for all she had was Ruth. How wrong Naomi was.
The chapter ends with the author’s assessment of where things stand, with a hint of what lies ahead. Naomi returned to her homeland accompanied by her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth. They arrived, in fact, just in time for the barley harvest. They came “empty” (at least according to Naomi’s assessment – see verse 21), but God would not let them go hungry (or childless). The barley harvest will play a significant role in moving this story forward in the next two chapters.
(1) There is no clear link to a particular time, to a particular judge, or to a particular event recorded in the Book of Judges. The genealogy provided in chapter 4 would incline us to believe that the events of Ruth took place later – rather than sooner – in the period of the judges, because Ruth is the great grandmother of David.17 But other than this, there do not appear to be any direct links to events or persons in the Book of Judges.
(2) There is no indication that other Israelites from Bethlehem (or elsewhere in Israel) accompanied Elimelech and his family to Moab. There may have been others who traveled to Moab with Elimelech and his family, but the author does not make a point of telling this to his readers. My sense is that most of the residents of Bethlehem stayed in Bethlehem, rather than leaving to sojourn in a foreign country during the days of the famine.
(3) One gets the impression that those who remained in Bethlehem fared reasonably well during the famine; certainly better than Naomi and her family did. When Naomi returns to Bethlehem, she finds most of the residents of the city still living there, and judging by what we are told about Boaz, they appear to have done fairly well.
(4) While the author does not make a point of it, it seems reasonable to assume that the famine (as well as the deaths of Elimelech and his two sons) was a manifestation of divine discipline. This is entirely consistent with Old Testament history and with the warnings recorded in Leviticus 26:18-20 and Deuteronomy 28:23-24. Perhaps one reason why the author does not make a major point out of the theme of divine judgment is because his purpose is to emphasize divine mercy, not only as God provided food for His people, but also in His providential provision of a family and a posterity for Naomi and Elimelech. It would also seem that Naomi’s barrenness was divinely imposed.18
(5) Moab was not the place of God’s promised blessings; Israel was.19
(6) Most (if not all) of Naomi’s actions, attitudes, and advice were misguided and downright wrong. Naomi felt that God was against her, and every indication is that she felt God had dealt with her in a harsh and severe way. She seems to have little or no conviction regarding her sins, the sins of her husband, or of the sins of the nation. And thus there is no evidence of repentance on her part at this point in time. There is really no evidence of faith (on Naomi’s part), either. Naomi thought of God’s blessings in terms of having food and a family. If her daughters-in-law could snag a good (Moabite) husband, bear some children, and have a bountiful harvest they were indeed blessed, at least as Naomi viewed it.
(7) Naomi does appear to have one thing right – humanly speaking, Naomi’s chances of perpetuating her husband’s line are between slim and none. It is no wonder that Naomi speaks to her daughters-in-law about husbands, marriage, and children, because this is what is on her mind. In her thinking, God had stripped her of all hope by taking her husband and her sons in death, and by preventing their wives from bearing children. But what she fails to see is that God is only increasing her problems to the level of human impossibility, so that He can demonstrate His power and grace through her weakness. The more Naomi protests her miserable state, the more we are being prepared for a great work of God.
(8) All of this leads me to conclude that Naomi is not an example of faith, but an excellent example of Israel’s poor spiritual health. Stated in the words of the author of Judges, “every man (and woman) was doing what was right in their own eyes.” Here is a woman who is not walking by faith, but by sight, who is not living according to the law, but in disregard for it. In short, Naomi is a picture of Israel’s spiritual condition at this point in their history.
(9) What we know (and Naomi does not) is that God is about to do a wonderful thing for her, solely on the basis of His grace. In the midst of her affliction and hopeless despair, God is at work preparing for the gracious things He is about to reveal to her – and to the reader.
I’d like to deal with our text by calling your attention to the contrasts the author has highlighted in the first chapter of Ruth. We find Ruth contrasted with Orpah, and then with Naomi. Let us reflect on these contrasts for a moment.
The contrast between Ruth and Orpah. One would have to begin by saying that these two women have a fair bit in common. They were both Moabite women, close to the same age. Both had married Israelite husbands, had borne no children, and were now widows. Both were related to Naomi in the same way. And both (at least initially) were committed to staying with Naomi, even if that meant immigrating to Israel. Both were traveling with Naomi as she made her way toward Israel. Both women initially refused to heed Naomi’s exhortation to leave her and return to Moab.
But here is where the similarity ends. Other than weeping, Orpah remains silent;20 Ruth’s words and actions are what the author has chosen to report. Orpah seems to have no great spiritual interest in Israel or in the God of Israel. Ruth has an uncanny grasp of Israel’s religion and has chosen to embrace it as her own. Orpah succumbed to Naomi’s reasoning and chose to pursue what appeared to be in her best interest. It would seem to be significant that Naomi told Ruth that Orpah had returned to her god. That strongly suggests that she was still a Moabite at heart, still an idolater at heart. Ruth rejected Naomi’s appeal to leave her and go back to Moab, choosing instead to believe and behave like a true Israelite. Ruth was determined to serve and care for her mother-in-law; Orpah chose to look out for herself.
The contrast between Ruth and Naomi. The benchmark by which we need to compare Ruth and Naomi is the Abrahamic Covenant:
1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father's household to the land that I will show you. 2 Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name” (Genesis 12:1-3, emphasis mine).
To walk in the steps of Abraham, one like Ruth would need to: (1) leave her relatives; (2) leave her homeland; and, (3) trust God to bless her as she sought to bless her mother-in-law. This is exactly what Boaz commended Ruth for doing:
10 Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind and so attentive to me, even though I am a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied to her, “I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband– how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. 12 May the LORD reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the LORD God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” (Ruth 2:10-12, emphasis mine)
The contrast between Naomi and Ruth is very clear when the two women’s words and actions are viewed from the vantage point of the Abrahamic Covenant. Naomi not only disregards the Abrahamic Covenant, she also urges Ruth (and Orpah) to do likewise. Think of it: Naomi and her husband leave the land where God promised to bless them. Instead of trusting God to preserve her husband’s line (indeed, the Messianic line), she at least passively (if not actively) approves of their marriage to non-Israelites. Now, Naomi urges both of her daughters-in-law to go back home to their own land21 and to their mothers’ homes22 and to find a new Moabite husband, so that they might have security.23 While God promised to bless all those who blessed Abraham and his offspring, Naomi told her daughters-in-law that to stay with her would be to share in the curse God had placed upon her.24 As the story of Ruth and Boaz unfolds, God promises are fulfilled, while Naomi’s warning and instructions are proven to be false.
Ruth becomes a “true Israelite” in spite of Naomi’s persistent encouragement to return to her Moabite roots. Ruth’s words are beautiful, and thus it is no wonder that some have chosen to employ them for their marriage vows. Ruth emphatically says “No” to Naomi, but with such wonderful words Naomi can hardly continue to stand in her way. Ruth’s words are her covenant with Naomi, with Israel, and with God, patterned after God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants:
16 But Ruth replied,
“Stop urging me to abandon you!
For wherever you go, I will go.
Wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will become my people,
and your God will become my God.
17 Wherever you die, I will die – and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise!
Only death will be able to separate me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Take note of the fact that Ruth’s covenant is not a short-term commitment; it is a lifetime commitment. She has chosen to permanently leave her homeland and family and to embrace Israel, the Israelites, and Israel’s God as her own, forever. Her commitment is not just to Naomi; it is a lifetime commitment to Israel and to her God. Naomi tended to focus only on herself, on her lack of sons to give in marriage, and on her lack of a child to carry on the family line. Ruth focused on Naomi and her need and on Naomi’s people and their God. She was willing to sacrifice family ties, marriage, and a family to do so. Ruth and Naomi are very different people. Ruth does not cling to Naomi as a kindred spirit, but as a very needy person.
I believe the opening words of A Tale of Two Cities go like this: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… .” Surely these words aptly describe Ruth in the period of the judges. The final chapters of the Book of Judges are certainly “the worst of times,” and yet the Book of Ruth describes the “best of times.” This suggests to me that godly character is not only evident in the good times, but even more dramatically in the bad times. Many, including me, are troubled by the times in which we live, but this is no excuse for ungodly behavior. These are the times of darkness when godliness should shine forth as a brilliant light. The story of Ruth and Boaz (yes, and even Naomi) should encourage us to live godly lives in dark days, days of unbelief, disobedience, and disregard for the Word of God.
The first chapter of Ruth is very important because our appraisal of Ruth, Naomi, and (soon) Boaz in the first chapters of Ruth will greatly shape our understanding of the rest of the book. There are those who attempt to “guild the lily” as they read the Book of Ruth, desperately seeking some basis for making a pious Israelite of Naomi. Such is not the case, my friend, and seeing her as some kind of heroine will distort our understanding of the message of this wonderful book. Naomi is not at all like Ruth or Boaz; she is, in fact, a backdrop against which Ruth and Boaz are contrasted.
As I was studying our text for this message, it occurred to me that the text which describes the origin of the Moabites in Genesis 19 is a key to understanding the story of Ruth, and especially Naomi’s role in this account. Look with me at these words from Genesis 19, taking up just after the account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s escape, along with his daughters:
30 Lot went up from Zoar with his two daughters and settled in the mountains because he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 Later the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man anywhere nearby to have sexual relations with us, according to the way of all the world. 32 Come, let’s make our father drunk with wine so we can have sexual relations with him and preserve our family line through our father.” 33 So that night they made their father drunk with wine, and the older daughter came and had sexual relations with her father. But he was not aware that she had sexual relations with him and then got up. 34 So in the morning the older daughter said to the younger, “Since I had sexual relations with my father last night, let’s make him drunk again tonight. Then you go and have sexual relations with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they made their father drunk that night as well, and the younger one came and had sexual relations with him. But he was not aware that she had sexual relations with him and then got up. 36 In this way both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter gave birth to a son and named him Moab. He is the ancestor of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also gave birth to a son and named him Ben-Ammi. He is the ancestor of the Ammonites of today (Genesis 19:30-38, emphasis mine).
God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their great sin. Lot and his family were spared, but his wife died (turned to salt) because she looked back. Lot and his two daughters are now living in a cave. The oldest daughter (who will become the mother of Moab) saw their situation as impossible. There were no men nearby to marry, she reasoned, so there was no conventional way25 for them to bear children and thus to preserve their father’s line. In such a declared “emergency,” she reasoned, they must take extraordinary measures. And so this older daughter persuaded her younger sister that both of them needed to get their father drunk, and then each should lie with him, so that they might produce offspring for their father. And so they did. The son of the oldest daughter was named Moab; the son of the younger daughter was named Ammon. This is the origin of the Moabites and the Ammonites.
In Judges 19-21, we find a similar situation. There we read of the Sodom-like immorality of some of the Benjamites in the city of Gibeah, which resulted in the near extinction of their tribe. Both the Benjamites’ sin and their judgment are similar to what happened in Genesis 19. Like Moab’s mother, the Israelites reasoned that due to their circumstances, an Israelite line might become extinct. And so they, like Lot’s daughters (the oldest one in particular), devised a scheme whereby the line would be preserved, albeit apart from faith and obedience to God’s Word. They produced offspring for the Benjamites by orchestrating the kidnapping and rape of 200 virgins.26 The Israelites were like Moab’s mother in that they were thinking and acting like Moabites.
The same is true for Naomi. I can imagine how it alarmed and frightened Naomi when Elimelech died while they were sojourning in Moab. Who would carry on his line? Was it at Naomi’s initiative that her sons took Moabite women for wives? And when both her sons died without bearing children, her situation seemed impossible. She had given up all hope. The best thing for her to do was to return to Bethlehem and live out the rest of her days, dying “empty” (i.e., childless). The best thing for Orpah and Ruth to do was to return to their people and their gods, Naomi concluded. But when Ruth refused to return to her people and accompanied her to Bethlehem, Boaz entered the picture, a close relative, a possible redeemer. And Naomi was now ready to arrange for a marriage and offspring in an “unconventional” way, just as Tamar, the mother of Moab, and the Israelites (more recently) did. We shall see more about this in chapter 3.
The danger of practicing pragmatism above principle. It was my friend Dave Austin who reminded me of the danger of pragmatism from this text. Lot’s daughters, the Israelites (on behalf of the Benjamites), and Naomi are inclined to resort to a pragmatic solution, rather than one that is faith-based and rooted in principle. A few years later, king Saul will offer the sacrifices, even though he was instructed to wait for Samuel, all because Saul felt this was a crisis that justified setting aside obedience in faith to God’s Word.27
Another label for pragmatism is “doing what seems right in our own eyes.” That was the spirit of the age during the days of the judges. We, too, live in very pragmatic times, and those who live by principle – especially the principles of God’s Word – are few and far between. Even professing Christians can fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent. The crises of life are God’s pop quizzes, times when He puts our faith to the test, times when He gives us an opportunity to put our faith on display. People of faith in God often stand out in times of crisis, so let us live by the principles of Scripture, rather than by pragmatism.
Naomi should teach us to be careful about accepting the counsel of those who seem to be well meaning. I hate to say this, but after being involved in ministry for many years, I would have to say that some of the worst counsel I have ever heard has come from well-meaning Christians. A Christian wife is having difficulties in her relationship with her husband, and she shares this with a Christian friend. Many are the times when friends counsel others to act in their own best interests, and all too seldom do they point their friends to the difficult principles and commands of Scripture. And they will do this because they believe they are doing their friend a favor. That is precisely what Naomi did with Orpah and Ruth. She gave them very pragmatic counsel, based upon what could be seen, rather than on God’s Word and the principle of faith.
I am reminded of Satan’s strategy in the Garden of Eden. He came alongside Eve as her friend, as someone who was doing her a favor. His counsel (even though it effectively called God a liar) was given as though it were in her best interest. The ultimate test is the Word of God and Naomi’s counsel, while it sometimes used God’s name, did not conform to God’s Word. Naomi counseled Orpah and Ruth to do what seemed right in their eyes. Beware of well-meaning advice that is not rooted in Scripture and that is supportive of what you would really like to do, rather than what God commands us to do.
Naomi instructs us to beware of Calvinism run amuck. Naomi did not doubt the existence of God nor did she doubt His power. The term she used to refer to Him – Shaddai – was a term that emphasized God’s great power. But she concluded that God was using His power against her, rather than for her. It led to a hopeless fatalism: “It doesn’t really matter what I say or do; God is against me, and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Now I should stop to say that I firmly believe in the sovereignty of God, that God is in absolute control of everything that takes place on this earth. It is not Naomi’s belief in the sovereignty of God that troubles me as much as how she applies it. She views God as harsh and uncaring, doling out affliction and trouble in a way that is completely unrelated to her attitudes and actions. She does not acknowledge sin on her part (and Elimelech’s), and she does not seek to repent. She believes in a God who is all powerful, but who is not merciful and compassionate. Such people are in misery, and honestly, they make those around them miserable as well. What a difference it makes to believe in a God who is in absolute control and who is also merciful and gracious, causing all things to work together for our good and for His glory, if we believe in Him.
Naomi was preoccupied with the here and now, rather than trusting in God’s covenant promises by faith. Naomi’s hope was in the physical rather than in the spiritual, in the present rather than in eternity. To her, God’s blessings should appear now, in the form of bread, an eligible bachelor (marriage), and babies. Naomi saw singleness (widowhood for her) and childlessness as a curse, while Paul taught that singleness could facilitate ministry to others and to God (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). At this point in time, one would not think that Naomi would be at the top of the list in the hall of faith:
13 These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth. 14 For those who speak in such a way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 In fact, if they had been thinking of the land that they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they aspire to a better land, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
We should learn from Naomi that if barrenness is one’s earthly fate, our heavenly fate is vastly different. Naomi, so to speak, put all of her eggs into one basket – marriage and bearing children. There is no doubt that this is a great honor and privilege for a woman. But it is not the essence of what our life in Christ is about. That is why some men and women will choose never to marry or to bear children. Those who place too much emphasis on marriage and child bearing should listen well to these words of Scripture:
5 Who can compare to the Lord our God,
who sits on a high throne?
6 He bends down to look at the sky and the earth.
7 He raises the poor from the dirt,
and lifts up the needy from the garbage pile,
8 that he might seat him with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He makes the barren woman of the family
a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 113:5-9)
20 Yet the children born during your time of bereavement will say within your hearing,
‘This place is too cramped for us,
make room for us so we can live here.’
21 Then you will think to yourself,
‘Who bore these children for me?
I was bereaved and barren, dismissed and divorced.
Who raised these children?
Look, I was left all alone;
where did these children come from?’” (Isaiah 49:20-21)
1 “Shout for joy, O barren one who has not given birth!
Give a joyful shout and cry out, you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one are more numerous
than the children of the married woman,” says the Lord.
2 Make your tent larger,
stretch your tent curtains farther out!
Spare no effort,
lengthen your ropes,
and pound your stakes deep.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your children will conquer nations and will resettle desolate cities (Isaiah 54:1-3).
12 For all who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous. 14 For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 15 They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, 16 on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus (Romans 2:12-16, emphasis mine).
This is a text that has always puzzled me. I think I understand generally what Paul is saying here, based upon the promise in Jeremiah:
33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
Just being Jewish and knowing the Law of Moses isn’t enough; one must also live by the law. A Jew who knows the law and doesn’t live by it is not really a true Jew. Conversely, one who is not a Jew and isn’t instructed by the Law may have the law written on his (her) heart, and thus do the things the law requires. That person is a true Jew at heart. The New Covenant promises that God will write the law on the hearts of those He has chosen for salvation, whether Jew or Gentile.
My problem with the text in Romans 2 was that I couldn’t think of an example of what Paul was saying. I am now inclined to believe that Ruth is an example of Romans 2:12-16. She was not a Jew, and she had not been raised by parents who taught her the law. I would be very reluctant to conclude that Ruth’s husband or his parents taught her the law. They did not seem to live by it, so why would they consider it important to teach it to a Moabite? Somehow God wrote His law on Ruth’s heart, not unlike Tamar and Rahab, her predecessors.
Ruth’s spiritual journey is similar to that of Abraham. She had to leave her family, her homeland, and her gods and go to the place of God’s blessing. This she must do by faith. She was one who received God’s blessings because she blessed one of Abraham’s offspring by remaining with her and committing to care for her.28 Ruth was a woman who committed herself for a lifetime, and she did so in spite of her national pride, her family affections, the example of her sister-in-law, and the urgings of her mother-in-law. What a marvelous woman of faith Ruth was.
We certainly are reminded of the sovereignty of God by our text, but unfortunately most of the emphasis on God’s sovereignty in chapter 1 comes from Naomi, and she is not seeing things as she should. Her God is all powerful, but not merciful and gracious. It is as though she has forgotten God’s description of Himself in Exodus 34:
6 The Lord passed by before him and proclaimed: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. But he by no means leaves the guilty unpunished, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children and children’s children, to the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7, emphasis mine).
It is also true (as God Himself says above) that God also punishes the guilty, but that is not the totality of who God is. God loves to show mercy and compassion. He is slow to anger, and He does forgive sin. He keeps loyal love; that is, He is a God who perseveres in His love, and thus He is a covenant-keeping God. If Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, and Kilion suffered because of their sins, they deserved it. The wonder is that God remained faithful to those who so easily abandoned Him.
We need to bear in mind that what is at stake here is the Messianic line, the line which will ultimately bring forth Messiah. The Messianic seed was often put at risk in the Old Testament. Abraham put the seed at risk when he represented his wife Sarah as his sister, and she ended up (temporarily) in Pharaoh’s29 (and later Abimelech’s)30 harem. Judah married a Canaanite woman, and two of his sons died because of their sin. Judah (through whom the messianic line would be traced) kept his third son from a Levirate marriage with the first son’s widow, and then had sex with a woman he thought was a cult prostitute.31 God not only preserved the messianic line, He was faithful to fulfill His (Abrahamic) covenant32 with Abraham. His faithfulness to His people and to His covenant is at a time when His people are not faithful to Him and when they are living in disregard for His law. In our text (as in Judges and everywhere else in Scripture), man looks bad, very bad, and God looks good, very good.
Someone reminded me that the Book of Ruth is a lot like the Book of Esther. In Esther, the people of God were supposed to return to the Promised Land, but they chose instead to dwell in the apparent peace and safety of Persia. As the story of Esther unfolds, it looks as though every Jew is doomed to annihilation, but for the providence of God, whereby God’s enemies are destroyed and His people are spared.
One manifestation of God’s mercy, expressed through His sovereignty, is His providential working at times when there appears to be no hope. The more Naomi moans on about how bad things are for her, and how hopeless it would be for Orpah or Ruth to stay with her, the more we see the mighty hand of God working all things for the good of His people, as well as for His glory. At the very times when outward appearances look to us as though God is against us, God is at work behind the scenes for us. The suffering of His people, whether for sins they have committed or for living righteously, is but the prelude to His glorious salvation. It is not only Ruth and Naomi who benefit from God’s work in the Book of Ruth, for everyone who has been saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ has been saved by the offspring of Ruth and Boaz.
There is something particularly encouraging about our text. God has chosen to save Gentiles as well as Jews. This should not come as news to us, but it is a truth that has not come easily to Jews, even some Jewish Christians.33 It is Naomi who fails to live up to the faith of her fathers, while Ruth is an example for all to follow, Jew or Gentile. Ruth is never dealt with as a second-class believer. Her faith and obedience was known by all. And she was honored to be a part of the messianic line.34
If our text tells us anything about God, it is that His ways are not our ways.
8 “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans, and my deeds are not like your deeds, 9 for just as the sky is higher than the earth, so my deeds are superior to your deeds and my plans superior to your plans. 10 The rain and snow fall from the sky and do not return, but instead water the earth and make it produce and yield crops, and provide seed for the planter and food for those who must eat. 11 In the same way, the promise that I make does not return to me, having accomplished nothing. No, it is realized as I desire and is fulfilled as I intend” (Isaiah 55:8-11).
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? 35 Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him? 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen (Romans 11:33-36).
What a mighty, magnificent, merciful, awesome God we serve! I pray that you, like Ruth, have forsaken all confidence in yourself and have cast yourself upon the one true God for salvation.
1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the series, Ruth: A Story of Redemption, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on January 10, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 Genesis 19:30-38.
4 Numbers 22:5.
5 Numbers 22:12.
6 Numbers 25:1ff.
7 Deuteronomy 23:3.
8 Judges 3:12-14.
9 See Deuteronomy 20:10-18; 21:10-14.
10 From what we learn from the Book of Ruth, one does wonder what role Naomi played in this decision.
11 The thought occurred to me that Naomi’s journey back to her homeland traced the steps of the Israelites when they first entered the Promised Land.
12 The word “new” is not in the original text. It has been supplied by the translators. Other translations have “another” – another husband. This, of course, is Naomi’s meaning. They no longer have their “old” or former husbands because they have died. They need new or different husbands to marry and to bear children.
13 Verses 11-14.
14 In her first attempt, Naomi issues a parting blessing, punctuated by a farewell kiss (verse 9). In her second effort, Naomi insists that her daughters-in-law must not return with her because it would only cause them to endure some of her affliction (verse 13). In her third attempt, she orders Ruth to follow her sister-in-law back home.
15 The translations differ here. The Hebrew term Elohim is plural, but some render it “god” here, and others “gods.” Chemosh appears to be the primary Moabite god, but there may well have been others.
16 The expression, the Sovereign One (rendered “the Almighty” by most translations) is the term Shaddai. If I have counted correctly, the term is used 48 times in the Old Testament; 9 times in the Pentateuch, 2 times in Ruth, 2 times in the Psalms, 1 time in Isaiah, 2 times in Ezekiel, 1 time in Joel, and 31 times in Job. In Job and in Ruth, this term seems to underscore God’s power, but in the context of suffering and adversity. The all-powerful God was making Naomi’s life miserable, so she thought and said. How wrong she was!
17 See Ruth 4:17, 21-22. There do not appear to be many generations between Boaz and David, but biblical genealogies don’t always include every genealogical link in such cases. Thus, we cannot say with certainty that the story of Ruth occurs late in the period of the judges, though this seems likely.
18 See Ruth 4:13.
19 See Genesis 12:1-3.
20 It could well be that Orpah had much to say, but the author did not wish to focus on her as she is not the heroine of this story. Put another way, the title of this book is Ruth, not Orpah.
21 Ruth 1:12.
22 Ruth 1:8.
23 Ruth 1:9.
24 Ruth 1:11-13.
25 Translations differ here, but I think that this daughter’s choice of words is very important to consider. In her mind, this was the normal, the customary, way to produce offspring. In this emergency, she was proposing an unconventional solution to their problem. This is completely secular thinking. She would have been very much at home in our Postmodern world. Bearing children was to be done God’s way. To do it any other way was to disobey God. Lot’s older daughter neatly avoided the moral implications of what she proposed.
26 The way they acquired the 400 wives by wiping out Jabesh Gilead is no more noble.
27 See 1 Samuel 13.
28 See Genesis 12:3.
29 Genesis 12:10-20.
30 Genesis 20:1-18.
31 Genesis 38.
32 Genesis 12:1-3.
33 See Acts 11:15-19; 15:1.
34 Ruth 4:13-22; Matthew 1:5.
1 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech. 2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so.” Naomi replied, “You may go, my daughter.” 3 So Ruth went and gathered grain in the fields behind the harvesters. Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
4 Now at that very moment, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!” 5 Boaz asked his servant in charge of the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?” 6 The servant in charge of the harvesters replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab. 7 She asked, ‘May I follow the harvesters and gather grain among the bundles?’ Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now – except for sitting in the resting hut a short time.” 8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my dear! Do not leave to gather grain in another field. You need not go beyond the limits of this field. You may go along beside my female workers. 9 Take note of the field where the men are harvesting and follow behind with the female workers. I will tell the men to leave you alone. When you are thirsty, you may go to the water jars and drink some of the water the servants draw.” 10 Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind and so attentive to me, even though I am a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied to her, “I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband – how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. 12 May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” 13 She said, “You really are being kind to me, sir, for you have reassured and encouraged me, your servant, even though I am not one of your servants!” 14 Later during the mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and have some food! Dip your bread in the vinegar!” So she sat down beside the harvesters. Then he handed her some roasted grain. She ate until she was full and saved the rest. 15 When she got up to gather grain, Boaz told his male servants, “Let her gather grain even among the bundles! Don’t chase her off! 16 Make sure you pull out ears of grain for her and drop them so she can gather them up. Don’t tell her not to!” 17 So she gathered grain in the field until evening.
When she threshed what she had gathered, it came to about thirty pounds of barley! 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much grain she had gathered. Then Ruth gave her the roasted grain she had saved from mealtime. 19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you gather grain today? Where did you work? May the one who took notice of you be rewarded!” So Ruth told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked. She said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be rewarded by the Lord because he has shown loyalty to the living on behalf of the dead!” Then Naomi said to her, “This man is a close relative of ours; he is our guardian.” 21 Ruth the Moabite replied, “He even told me, ‘You may go along beside my servants until they have finished gathering all my harvest!’” 22 Naomi then said to her daughter-in-law Ruth, “It is good, my daughter, that you should go out to work with his female servants. That way you will not be harmed, which could happen in another field.” 23 So Ruth worked beside Boaz’s female servants, gathering grain until the end of the barley harvest as well as the wheat harvest. After that she stayed home with her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:1-25).2
Before I begin, I’d better say something about my title. I don’t mean to categorically express disdain or disapproval of web sites such as eHarmony.com. I’d better not since some in my family have met their husbands-to-be through an Internet matchmaker service. But I will say that when God has purposed to bring a man and a woman together in marriage, it is going to happen, regardless of how hard we try to find a mate, or to avoid marriage.
A number of years ago I found myself engaged in a debate regarding tithing. Is one obligated to tithe today? If so, must the 10% be given to the church, or can some of it be given elsewhere? And, if one is required to tithe, is it to be based on one’s net or gross income? I eagerly jumped into the fray, gathering proof texts and building arguments. I then sent my conclusions on, convinced that others could not avoid the outcome of my logic. And then I happened upon our text in Ruth, and it completely changed my mind. I’ll share how and why at the end of this message.
My plan is to approach this text like one would peel an onion – not tearfully, but a layer at a time. We’ll begin with a brief review of the background (chapter 1), and then we’ll take a quick walk through our author’s account of Ruth’s and Boaz’s providential meeting in his field in chapter 2. I’ll then concentrate on some of the more important details contained in the story. After this, we’ll consider the character of the main players of the story, Ruth and Boaz. In conclusion, we’ll suggest some of the implications and applications for those who live in our time.
The story of Ruth takes place during the days of the judges (1:1). A famine in Israel prompted a man from the tribe of Judah to lead his family to Moab, where he intended to stay until the famine ended. The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. Things did not go well for Elimelech and his family. Elimelech died, leaving his wife and two sons. The sons married Moabite women, and then both men died without having children. That left Naomi and her two daughters-in-law.
Naomi heard that God had visited His people in Israel and that her home town, Bethlehem, really was the “house of bread.”3 Naomi determined to return to Bethlehem and her daughters-in-law were planning to go with her to Bethlehem. They were on their way to Bethlehem when Naomi commenced her efforts to persuade Orpah and Ruth to go back to Moab, rather than continue on with her. She convinced Orpah that she would be blessed by returning to Moab, marrying a Moabite husband, and worshipping her Moabite gods. Ruth, however, would not leave Naomi and return to her land and her people. She vowed to remain with Naomi, to leave her people, her country, and Moab’s gods, and to cling to the God of Israel, dwelling in His land, embracing His people, until her death, and then she would be buried in Israel, her new homeland.
And so they arrived in Bethlehem and were greeted by those who had known Naomi in the past. Naomi did not embrace her return in a celebratory manner. In her mind, she had gone out full (with a husband and two sons), but had returned empty (without a husband, sons, or grandchildren). No, they should not call her Naomi (“pleasant”); let them call her Mara (“bitter”).
The chapter ends with what might appear to be an insignificant statement: Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was about to begin. This would likely be sometime in the month of March. Does this sound like a coincidence? There are no coincidences in the Book of Ruth (or in the Christian life).
In a matter-of-fact way, the author introduces Boaz as a relative, related to Elimelech. This is for the reader’s benefit, but it is something of which Ruth is unaware. He does not play out the implications of this relationship, which only time will reveal (by the end of the chapter). Since the barley harvest was just beginning, Ruth asked Naomi if she might go into the fields and glean. With Naomi’s permission, Ruth set out to find a field in which to work. The reader is hardly surprised to hear that she ended up in a field owned by Boaz.
Ruth then asked permission of Boaz’s foreman, who was supervising those who were harvesting, and was told she was free to glean. She arrived early in the morning and had worked for some time when Boaz arrived at the field where she was gleaning. He saw her at work in the field and asked his foreman who she was. The field foreman told him that she was the Moabite woman who had returned with Naomi. He described how she had come early and worked hard, taking only a short break to rest.
Boaz approached Ruth, speaking to her as a father would to his daughter.4 He strongly encouraged her to remain in his field and not to go to any other. He urged her to stay close to his female workers. In addition to this, Boaz would instruct the young men not to touch her. When she got thirsty, she should drink from the water which his servants had drawn.
Ruth was amazed and humbled by the kindness Boaz had shown to her, a foreigner. She prostrated herself before him and asked why he had shown her such kindness. By his comments, Boaz revealed that although he had never seen her before, he knew a great deal about her. He knew she had cared well for her mother-in-law since the death of her husband. In addition, he knew that she had left her parents and her homeland to come with Naomi to a people she had not previously known. He pronounced a blessing upon Ruth, that God would reward her because she had sought His protection. Ruth expressed her appreciation for his kindness, knowing that she did not have the status of even his most lowly servant.
Ruth resumed her work, along with the others, until it was time to eat lunch. Boaz took this opportunity to show additional kindness to Ruth. He called her over to where his workers were eating and invited her to partake of their food. She dipped her bread in the vinegar and ate with the others until she was full. She was then handed some roasted grain. She had more than enough, so she set some aside to take home to Naomi. She then returned to her work in the fields until the end of the day.
When she finished threshing what she had gleaned, she ended up with about 30 pounds of grain. When Ruth returned home, it was apparent to Naomi that Ruth’s gleanings were much greater than what would normally have been attained from a day’s work. She questioned Ruth about where she had gleaned, pronouncing a blessing on the man who owned the field where she had labored. Ruth told Naomi that the name of the man who owned the field where she worked was Boaz. This prompted Naomi to pronounce another blessing, this time on Boaz specifically. She then told Ruth that Boaz was a relative who could serve as their redeemer.5
Ruth went on to tell Naomi how Boaz had instructed her to remain close to the harvesters until the end of the harvest, which was obviously preferential treatment – the kind of treatment not expected by a foreigner. Naomi confirmed that this was a good thing because it provided protection for her. And so Ruth continued to work in the fields of Boaz for the rest of the barley harvest and next the wheat harvest, all the while continuing to live with Naomi. Her gleaning would thus have lasted from March until June, and perhaps even early July.
Boaz as a gibbor chayil. When our author introduces us to Boaz in the first verse of chapter 2, he characterizes him as a gibbor chayil (transliterated Hebrew). Translations of this expression vary, but they tend to emphasize Boaz’s wealth, character, influence, and standing in the community. The second word of this expression (chayil) certainly has a range of meanings, depending upon the context.6 It seems to me that most translations have allowed the immediate context to dictate their translations. It is obvious that Boaz is a property owner, and it does not seem out of order to assume that he was reasonably successful. No doubt he had the respect of those in the community. But one important objection remains, one that pushes me to include something that all the major translations strangely avoid. The term in view is not one word, but two (gibbor chayil). When this expression is employed in the Old Testament, it has but one consistent sense – military prowess:
The Lord’s messenger appeared and said to him, “The Lord is with you, courageous warrior!” (Judges 6:12, emphasis mine)
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a brave warrior. His mother was a prostitute, but Gilead was his father (Judges 11:1, emphasis mine).7
Now, why would the author of the Book of Ruth (who is also most likely the author of the Book of Judges) use this expression in a different sense in Ruth 2:1 than everywhere else it is employed, especially when the events of this book took place in the days of the judges?8 Interestingly, the old King James Version comes the closest to this military sense:
And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz (Ruth 2:1, KJV; emphasis mine).
Here, the expression “mighty man” is linked with “wealth.” That’s not too bad, in my opinion. At least it conveys some of the military nuance of this expression.
It is easy to see how translators could get caught up with the idea of “wealth,” although it is not quite as clear to me as it is to some. But the military might theme makes a great deal of sense. Remember, we are in the days of the judges, a time when many of the Israelites fell far short of taking full possession of the land that God had promised to give them.9 In choosing to live among the Canaanites, rather than to destroy them and drive them out of the Promised Land, the Israelites were “doing what seemed right in their own eyes.”
From what I find of Bethlehem (Ephrath) in Judges and Ruth, it seems that Bethlehem was very often free from foreign domination.10 As a matter of fact, Ibzan of Bethlehem was one of Israel’s judges.11 If Boaz was a man who stood apart from and above the typical Israelite of his day (as the Book of Ruth indicates), then why would we be surprised to read that he was (in military terms) a “mighty man of valor” as well as a man of standing in the community?
So, here’s my take on Boaz. Boaz is now an older man. I’m not sure how old, but not young like Ruth is. I envision Boaz as a very stately older man who (if he chose to display them) could wear a very impressive collection of war medals. He may have been the one – more than any other – who summoned the men of Bethlehem to battle whenever any enemy troops drew near. He would have been a man of character and a man of standing in the community. And, if he was skilled in battle and other areas, we would not be surprised to learn that he was also a prosperous farmer. My point in all this is to broaden the description of Boaz so that we see him not only as a wealthy and respected farmer, but also as a war hero. No wonder folks listened when he spoke.
The thought occurred to me as I was thinking about Boaz that he is just about the opposite of Elimelech. Elimelech fled to Moab when times got tough; Boaz stayed in Bethlehem and stood firm in the hard times. Elimelech did not prosper; he died, along with his two sons. Boaz seems to have done reasonably well, even in the hard times.12 Elimelech seemed content to live among the Moabites, when we know that they were one of the nations who oppressed the Israelites.13 I’m quite confident that Boaz regarded Moab as an enemy and not as a safe haven (as Elimelech did).
Ruth’s initiative and Naomi’s passivity. Naomi seems to fade in prominence in chapter 2. The author’s spotlight is increasingly on Ruth and Boaz. Nevertheless, it probably should be noted that Ruth is the one who proposed that she go and glean in the barley harvest. Naomi granted Ruth permission, but that is about all we are told so far as the early verses of chapter 2 are concerned. Why didn’t Naomi take some initiative, rather than leaving it to Ruth? More than this, why didn’t Naomi go out to the fields, if not to glean, to provide Ruth with some companionship and a measure of security? It seems obvious that she realized the danger of a young widow going out alone into the fields to glean. Boaz certainly understood the risk.
We don’t really know the answer, but Naomi’s passivity does accomplish one thing here – it shows the reader that Ruth’s appearance at the field of Boaz was totally a “God thing,” purely the providential kindness of God in caring for His own. As we will see in chapter 3, Naomi doesn’t hesitate to “help things along” (aka, “meddle” or play the “matchmaker”), but there is none of that here in chapter 2, and I believe the author intends for us to see that.
Gleaning in Israelite fields posed dangers for a young Moabite widow. One of the reasons why God has a special concern for aliens (foreigners), orphans, widows, and the poor is that they are the most vulnerable people in any society. Ruth was a young Moabite widow, the perfect target for harassment (of various kinds) and assault. Knowing that Naomi was her mother-in-law would not have been a great deterrent either, since she was an elderly widow.
In this culture, it was expected that a woman would have a man (father, brother, husband) in her life to serve as her protector and provider. I believe this is why Boaz asks the question the way he does: “To whom does this young woman belong?” (verse 5, NET Bible). Or, “Whose young woman is this?” (NASB95, ESV, CSB). A woman was thought of as being under a man’s authority and care. Seeing her working in the fields, Boaz’s first thought concerned her “covering” or protection. When he learned who she was, Boaz stepped forward, taking the role of a father protecting his daughter (which is why he calls her, “my daughter” in verse 8). Having her glean only in his fields keeps her under the watchful eye of his protection. Having her closely follow his workers and stay close to his female servants offers her additional protection. Eating with his workers and not going off the property to obtain drinking water also keeps her safely on his property.
The first words which Boaz spoke to Ruth were all about her protection. I cannot help but wonder why Naomi had no words of caution like this when she gave Ruth permission to glean. Perhaps she did give some warning and safety instruction, but in the text we have in our hands, it is only after Ruth told Naomi about the protection that Boaz offered that Naomi agreed that this was good advice to follow.14
The point I am seeking to make here is that for a young foreign widow to go out into the fields of a stranger to glean involved a fair measure of danger. And remember, these are the days of the judges when women were not held in high esteem and were often mistreated!15 Ruth was not only a woman of faith; she was also a woman of great courage. But then, as Boaz said, she had come to this land to seek protection under the wings of the One True God, and protect her He did. The human instrument of that protection was Boaz, the mighty man of valor. I doubt that anyone gave serious thought to molesting this Moabite widow if it meant incurring the wrath of Boaz.
There is no romance to be found here. We are very much inclined to read the story of Ruth and Boaz (and their eventual marriage) in the light of our own culture. And so we are tempted to think that Boaz saw a good looking woman in his field and, with a gleam in his eye, set out to win her as his wife. We in America always put romance ahead of marriage, but in many parts of the world, marriage comes first. I believe that was the case in Bethlehem. In our text, Boaz speaks to Ruth as his daughter, not some good looking babe. What he highly regards about Ruth is her character and her trust in God, not her good looks. His motives are pure, and it seems clear that he never imagined that she would consider him as a possible husband (3:10). When Ruth chose to accompany Naomi and to immigrate to Israel, it seems that she was giving up any chance of marrying again and bearing children. Naomi certainly saw it this way.
Naomi. We need to be careful here because the author’s eyes are on the two leading characters of his narrative: Ruth and Boaz. Having said this, we should at least take note of the fact that while Ruth was praised for her hard work (2:7), which was Ruth’s honorable means to provide for her mother-in-law (2:11), nothing was said about Naomi doing any work. She did not accompany Ruth to the fields (at least to provide her with company and some measure of protection), nor did she do any of the gleaning. Was Naomi that infirmed, or did she just sit back and let Ruth serve her? While Ruth was praised for her hard work, Naomi was not.
Ruth. What was said of Ruth in chapter 2 provides the basis for what Boaz and the rest of the people of Bethlehem said of her:
“Now, my dear, don’t worry! I intend to do for you everything you propose, for everyone in the village knows that you are a worthy woman”16 (Ruth 3:11, emphasis mine).
The expression rendered “worthy woman” in Ruth 3:11 is found twice in Proverbs:
A noble wife is the crown of her husband,
but the wife who acts shamefully is like rottenness in his bones (Proverbs 12:4, emphasis mine).
Who can find a wife of noble character?
For her value is far more than rubies (Proverbs 31:10, emphasis mine).
Imagine that! Ruth is a rare jewel and a Proverbs 31 woman. It doesn’t get any better than that. As you read the description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31, Ruth really does fit the description on several points. She certain was an industrious woman who “extended her hand to the poor.”17
Ruth’s virtue goes far beyond getting up early and working late or extending her hand to the poor. Ruth’s great virtue is that she was a woman of great faith. She, like Abraham, left homeland and family to come to the land and the people God had promised to bless. She sought refuge and safety under God’s wings. What a marvelous woman she was.
Boaz. Boaz is a wonderful counterpart to Ruth, for he too is a man of faith and of compassion. Boaz remained in Israel, even in the midst of a famine. We can see the character of Boaz in the way he sought to protect and provide for Ruth, and also for Naomi. We will see further evidence of his character in chapters 3 and 4. We also see his character in what he commends and rewards in Ruth. He praises her compassion and ministry to Naomi. He praises her faith in God and her willingness to leave her people and land to identify with Israel. Boaz loved the things that delight God.
How Boaz changed my mind about tithing. For many years, I have argued that since we are now “under grace,” rather than “under law,”18 the Christian is not obligated to tithe. Having said this, I have never held that the Christian has no obligation to give. It seems to me that this responsibility is clearly taught in the New Testament.19 But where I had lost my way in the discussion (okay, debate) over tithing was that I had gotten caught up in the details of giving and lost sight of the heart of the giver. To put the matter in Jesus’ words, I had fallen into the trap of straining gnats while swallowing camels.20
Reading the account of Boaz’s generosity in Ruth 2 challenged me to consider giving in a new light. The Israelites of that day were “doing what seemed right in their own eyes,” which is but another way of saying that they disregarded the Word of God as it was revealed to them in the law.21 Boaz was a man who (like Paul in Romans 722) loved the law and who delighted (like the psalmist23) in doing it. Boaz, like Ruth, had the law written on his heart, a heart of flesh, not a heart of stone.24
The instructions of the law pertaining to giving (particularly to the poor) were not a burden to Boaz, but a delight. He did not strive to figure out how he could reduce his benevolence to the bare minimum, but instead he went far beyond what the law required of him. The law was just a base line for Boaz. This, my friend, is the kind of heart we should have toward giving to the poor and all those who are in need. No more debates for me about the “minimum requirements of the law,” or of the New Testament, for that matter. May God give me the heart of Boaz, who gave bountifully and joyfully.
The providence of God. From Naomi’s point of view, all hope (for a husband, and for a family to carry on her husband’s name) was gone. God somehow had it in for her, and there was nothing she could do but endure His powerful and unmerciful hand. Somehow, it was all about her – at least in her mind. But it was a much bigger matter than that. It was about the character of God, not just His power alone. It was about God’s covenant promises, not just Naomi’s happiness. It was about the continuation of the messianic line, not just about a grandson for Naomi.
The days of the judges (in which Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz lived) were some of the darkest days in Israel’s history. In Naomi’s mind, her life had not been pleasant (as her name suggested). Never mind that she and her husband had fled Israel to sojourn in Moab. Nevertheless God was at work behind the scenes. While Naomi’s immediate circumstances convinced her that God was dealing harshly with her, God was quietly at work behind the scenes to richly bless her with a marvelous daughter-in-law, with a godly husband for Ruth, and with a grandson through whom the Messiah would come.
It is amazing how appearances can be deceiving. God promised Abram and Sarai a son, and yet for 25 years they went childless. As the clock continued to tick and the pages of the calendar continued to turn, Abram and Sarai began to wonder if they would ever have a child. And so they took matters into their own hands by producing a son through Hagar – a foolish mistake for which we are all still paying. Jacob viewed the apparent loss of his favorite son Joseph and the imminent loss of his son Benjamin as being against him:
Their father Jacob said to them, “You are making me childless! Joseph is gone. Simeon is gone. And now you want to take Benjamin! Everything is against me” (Genesis 42:36, emphasis mine).
Jacob could not grasp what God was doing in the midst of his despair. God was bringing about the fulfillment of His Word.25 God would take Jacob and his family down to Egypt, where racial prejudice would protect them from intermarriage with the Canaanites26 (or the Egyptians27). God sent Joseph to Egypt ahead of his brothers so that he could serve Pharaoh, and in this position, he could save his family from the coming famine. On the surface, Joseph’s sufferings made no sense at all. How could God be in them? But when God’s providential hand is revealed, we can see that in the midst of Joseph’s suffering God was working to bring about the salvation of His people. And so it was that Joseph could say to his brothers:
5 “Now, do not be upset and do not be angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me ahead of you to preserve life! 6 For these past two years there has been famine in the land and for five more years there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God sent me ahead of you to preserve you on the earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. 8 So now, it is not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me an adviser to Pharaoh, lord over all his household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:5-8; see also 50:19-21).
The reasons for Job’s sufferings were not revealed to him during his lifetime, but only to the readers of the Book of Job. We know from the first two chapters that God was using Job’s sufferings in order to instruct Satan and, I assume,28 the angelic host. We should not view what God allowed Satan to bring against Job as being to his detriment. To the contrary, by means of Job’s afflictions, he grew in his faith and obedience, and in the end, he prospered even more than he had in the beginning.29
Nothing is more encouraging to the suffering saint than knowing his affliction has ultimately come from the hand of a loving God, a God who is absolutely sovereign (all powerful), who is also merciful and compassionate, and whose dealings are both for His glory and for the believer’s good.30 This was why Paul could rejoice because of his imprisonment.31
The issue of foreigners and immigration. I realize that this is a very emotional topic, especially for those of us who live in close proximity to the Mexican border. Without attempting to propose any simple solutions, I would only point out that the treatment Ruth receives from Boaz is that which is shown to an immigrant – a legal one, mind you – but a foreigner nonetheless. I realize that Old Testament texts cannot be applied directly to us today, or across the board, but let us not forget our text and the Old Testament law underlying it when we think about matters like immigration and our treatment of aliens.
Employer/employee relations – ministry in the marketplace. I must warn you that this is one of my passions. Foreign missionaries have been greatly used by God in the past, as I’m sure they will be in the future. But sometimes it is possible to get the impression that foreign missionaries are the “first class” citizens of this world, while “mere businessmen” (or “businesswomen”) are second class citizens. Some are tempted to believe that the best they can do is to make money and use it to support full-time missionaries. Sometimes this may be the case. But Boaz serves as an example of a man whose business (farming) has a profound impact on the lives of others. If he was a “mighty man of valor,” then he likely motivated a number of Israelites to possess their inheritance by going to war with the Canaanites. The way in which Boaz blessed his workers, and they in turn blessed him, shows that his faith and obedience profoundly impressed and impacted them. Businessmen and women can have a very significant impact for the gospel. These days, missionaries are not allowed in many countries, but businessmen are almost always welcomed with open arms. Boaz should be an encouragement to pursue business interests for the sake of the gospel.
God’s way of providing for the poor. I prefer not to use the term “welfare” here because of what this term means today. The term “benevolence” may serve us better in this regard. As I read chapter 2 of the Book of Ruth, it seems to me that we can discern some guiding principles. Let me list a few of them.
God provides food for the needy, not money.
God provides food for those who are willing to work for it.
God provides equally for all in need (orphans, widows, needy, foreigners).
God provides for those in need in a way that preserves and promotes human dignity.32
Recipients (gleaners) and donors (farmers) benefit from God’s blessings due to obedience, just as they both suffer when God punishes His people for their disobedience.33
God’s provision for Israel’s spiritual leaders was linked to Israel’s care of the poor.34
Boaz’s care for the poor included not only provisions for their physical needs (food), but also protection from those who might do harm to those who were rendered vulnerable by their poverty.
God did not forcibly take from the rich (those who had something to give) and redistribute it to the poor; He instructed those with means to care for the poor, and left the matter of generosity somewhat undefined, so that the Israelites were encouraged to give generously from the heart.
Seeking your life’s partner. So let’s talk about marriage for a moment as we prepare to bring this message to a close. I would begin by pointing out that in the Book of Ruth, God arranges an inter-racial marriage. I point this out because I am aware that some believe that such marriages are wrong, indeed that they are forbidden. I have performed the marriage ceremony for a number of inter-racial couples and have yet to regret one of them. I realize that some inter-racial couples may face additional stresses and difficulties, depending on various circumstances. But having said this, I can find no biblical basis for forbidding or discriminating against such marriages. Our church has been greatly blessed by the inter-racial marriages God has brought to us.
Would eHarmony have matched Boaz and Ruth if they had applied on-line? I doubt it. I do not know all of the areas of compatibility that serve as the basis for matching couples, but I can point out some that would probably not be in Ruth’s and Boaz’s favor. They came from very different racial, cultural, political, and social backgrounds. Boaz came from the top of the socio-economic scale; Ruth was now at the very bottom. In her own words, she was lower than one of Boaz’s servant girls. Their age was another strike against them. Boaz was quite obviously an older man; Ruth was much younger.35 Not only was Ruth of a different nationality, but as a Moabite, she would have been looked down upon, especially by Israelites.
If Ruth and Boaz were not “compatible” in the areas mentioned above, what was it that drew them together besides the fact that Boaz was a near relative? I believe that at the very deepest level of their being, Ruth and Boaz were kindred spirits. Both shared a common faith in the God of Israel. Both were committed to living according to God’s Word, rather than according to what seemed right in their own eyes. Both shared a deep compassion for the poor. Boaz helped the poor by leaving much to glean; Ruth helped her mother-in-law by laboring hard in the field as a gleaner. Both were committed to looking after Naomi. Both were people of godly character. Boaz would not take advantage of Ruth, but instead took it upon himself to protect and provide for her (and Naomi). Ruth was a “woman of excellence, of noble character.”36 It is at these deepest levels of spirituality and character that Ruth and Boaz were compatible, and that is the kind of compatibility that makes for the finest marriages.
Let me focus on godly character for just a moment. Boaz is introduced to the read as a gibbor chayil. In chapter 3, Ruth is called an ishshah chayil, a woman of excellence. In using the same term (chayil) to describe both Boaz and Ruth, I believe the author is underscoring the fact that both were people of great and noble character, his was manly (military and otherwise), hers was womanly. Who could be better matched than this? I don’t believe that Boaz or Ruth needed to see a picture of the other to be able to accept them as the one God had brought to them in marriage. I don’t believe that sex appeal or “romance” were the great drawing cards here. And I suspect (as is usually the case in the East) that romance came after marriage, rather than before it.
I believe that while God was in the process of bringing Ruth and Boaz together as husband and wife, neither was thinking of or seeking marriage in chapter 2. I believe that Ruth believed (as Naomi strongly indicated) that in leaving her people and her country, she would not expect to find a husband in Israel. Her goal was to devote herself to caring for Naomi until her death. Boaz was an older man, and for whatever reasons, it does not appear that he had a wife at the time Ruth arrived with Naomi in Bethlehem. His interest in Ruth is as a godly convert to Israel’s faith in God, and he is committed to protecting her and providing for her as he would a daughter. The passion of both was the will of God, and this is where they expended their efforts and energies. I believe a Christian is much more likely to find a wife or a husband by following the example of Ruth and Boaz than by spending a great deal of effort, energy, and time searching for a life’s mate.
So what advice do I believe Ruth or Boaz would give to those who are single and hoping for marriage? Let me suggest several things.
First, the decisions you make before marriage will make all the difference in who you do marry. Ruth decided that following God was the most important decision she could ever make. She was not willing to marry a Moabite man, for he would undoubtedly worship the Moabite gods. Her decision to accompany Naomi to Israel, and to embrace Israel’s God as her own, paved the way for her to meet (and later to marry) Boaz.
Second, an unhealthy obsession to get married will get you into trouble; a decision to follow after God will save you from much trouble. I believe that Ruth assumed that in order to serve Naomi she would need to stay single. In the light of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:29-35, she might have been right, except that God had other purposes in mind that Ruth did not know about at that moment in time. Setting your heart on serving God as a priority will help keep you from a sense of desperation concerning marriage. It will keep you content with being single, if need be for a lifetime. But it will also free you to serve others, and it may just be that in the midst of serving that you are led to someone who has a similar passion for serving God and others. I do not promise that serving God first and foremost will produce a life’s mate, but I am convinced that it will never keep you from the mate God has chosen for you.
Third, beware of shallow, superficial compatibility, and seek for the deepest levels of spiritual compatibility. Strive for godly character in God’s strength and then look for it in others. Seek to associate with those who share your passion for service.
Fourth, in those times when it may appear that there may never be a godly mate for you, dwell on the providential care which God has for His people. Naomi had given up all hope, but God was at work behind the scenes preparing great blessings for her.
Fifth, forsake the “it’s all about me” mindset, and recognize that it is all about God and the fulfillment of His purposes and promises. When we dwell on ourselves, we are destined for despair. When we dwell on God and on His purposes, we can be assured that He will do what He has promised.
Now a brief word to those who are already married. It may be that the “spark” has gone out of your marriage. That may be because your attraction was superficial or your focus was self-centered. The key to restoring a dying marriage is to develop the mindset we see in both Ruth and Boaz. It is a mindset of serving God through service to others. It is a mindset of living a godly life and maintaining godly character. As these qualities grow in your life, and hopefully in the life of your mate, you will be drawn close to each other for the most noble of reasons.
Finally, let me conclude by pointing out that Ruth and Boaz provide us with a picture of the relationship of Christ and His church as we see in Ephesians 5.37 Boaz is a picture of Christ as the provider and protector for His bride. And Ruth is an example of one who places herself under the protection and care of a gracious, sovereign God. If you have never trusted in the saving work of Jesus Christ on your behalf at Calvary, I urge you to trust Him today. He sacrificially bore the penalty for your sins, so that you might be declared righteous in Him, and then eternally enjoy fellowship with Him.
How does one go about trusting in Jesus for salvation? I would suggest that you follow Ruth’s example. First, you should recognize the folly of whatever religion you embrace that does not worship the one true God, the God of Israel, the God of the Bible. Ruth forsook her Moabite gods, knowing they could not save her. Ruth clung to the one true God, the God of the Bible. As Boaz noted, she sought refuge under God’s wings.38 That is to say she abandoned any trust in herself, in her own righteousness, in her national religion, and trusted in God alone.
Now that the Messiah has come (through the seed of Ruth and Boaz) and we have the revelation of the New Testament, we know that we must place our trust in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ in our place, knowing that He took the guilt and penalty of our sins upon Himself, and in its place, He offers us His righteousness, if we will receive it. And then you will notice that having trusted in God alone, Ruth chose to identify with the people of God. For New Testament Christians, that means joining the fellowship of a local church and becoming an active part of that body of believers. That is what the New Testament encourages us to do:
41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added. 42 They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Reverential awe came over everyone, and many wonders and miraculous signs came about by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and held everything in common, 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and distributing the proceeds to everyone, as anyone had need. 46 Every day they continued to gather together by common consent in the temple courts, breaking bread from house to house, sharing their food with glad and humble hearts (Acts 2:41-46).
23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25).
May God draw you to Himself as He drew Ruth so many years ago. And may you find fellowship and fruitfulness in your relationship with Him as Ruth did.
1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 2 in the series, Ruth: A Story of Redemption, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on January 24, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
3 Bethlehem means “house of bread.”
4 I strongly disagree with the translation of the NET Bible in verse 8 which renders the Hebrew expression, “my daughter,” “my dear.” It is the same expression that Naomi spoke to Ruth in verse 2 and again in verse 22, where it is rightly rendered “my daughter.” I am opposed to any rendering that has so much of a hint of romance, where only fatherly care is conveyed.
5 The term that is rendered “relative” in verse 1 is a more general term. The term that is rendered a “guardian” in verse 20 is a much more specific one, which might be transliterated gaal.
6 For example, it can refer to physical power or strength (Psalm 33:17; 1 Samuel 2:4), wealth or property (Genesis 34:29; Job 20:18), or courage/bravery (1 Samuel 14:52; 1 Kings 1:42).
7 See also 1 Samuel 9:1; 1 Kings 11:28; 2 Kings 5:1; 1 Chronicles 12:29; 28:1; 2 Chronicles 13:3; 17:16-17; 25:6; 32:21.
8 Ruth 1:1.
9 See Judges 1 and 2.
10 See Judges 17:7ff.; 19:1ff.
11 Judges 12:8.
12 I say this because Naomi and Ruth seem to have returned fairly soon after hearing that God had visited His people by reversing the famine and giving them crops and prosperity. When Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem, not only Boaz, but the entire city of Bethlehem appears to be doing fairly well, even though it has not been that long since the famine had plagued Israel as indicated in Ruth 1:1.
13 See Judges 3:12-14.
14 See verse 22.
15 The closing chapters (19-21) of Judges make this abundantly clear.
16 A “virtuous woman,” (KJV, NKJV); a “woman of excellence” (NASB95); a “woman of noble character” (CSB, NIV).
17 Proverbs 31:20.
18 See Romans 6:14-15.
19 See, for example, Matthew 6:19-34; Luke 16; Acts 2:41-45; 4:32—5:11; 6:1-6; 11:27-30; 1 Corinthians 9:1-11; 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8 & 9; Galatians 6:6, 10; Philippians 4:17-20; James 2.
20 Matthew 23:24.
21 See Deuteronomy 12, especially verses 8 and 28.
22 See Romans 7:12, 16; 8:4; 13:8-10.
23 See Psalm 119:97, 113, 163.
24 See Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 11:19; 2 Corinthians 3.
25 See Genesis 15:12-16.
26 See Genesis 38.
27 See Genesis 43:32; 46:34.
28 See Job 1:6-12; 1 Corinthians 11: 10; Ephesians 3:8-10; 1 Peter 1:10-12.
29 See Job 38-42.
30 See Romans 8:28.
31 See Philippians 1:12-26; 3:7-11.
32 Ruth’s character is evident in the way that she works hard in the field and in the way that she uses her labor to provide for her mother-in-law. My point is that people looked up to Ruth for her labor in the fields. God’s charity elevates men and women, or provides the opportunity for us to manifest godly character qualities.
33 In Deuteronomy 28, God promised to bless Israel’s crops and cattle when they were obedient to His law, and also warned that He would diminish or destroy Israel’s crops and cattle for their disobedience. Both the land owner and the poor suffered from Israel’s national disobedience, and profited from Israel’s obedience.
34 In Deuteronomy 14:28-29 and 26:12-15, there was a tithe that was to be paid every third year. This tithe was to be used to care for the poor (aliens, orphans, and widows) and to care for the Levites. If the Levites were to fail in their mission of teaching the Israelites their spiritual obligations, they would suffer for that, along with the poor. Would that it worked that way for our spiritual and political leaders today.
35 Boaz spoke to Ruth by calling her “my daughter” (2:2; 3:10-11). In 3:10, Boaz commends Ruth for not going after young men, but instead seeking him as her redeemer.
36 See Ruth 3:11.
37 See verses 22-33.
38 See Ruth 2:12.
1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 “Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 “Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 “It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.”
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” 10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 “Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 “Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.
16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?” And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today” (Ruth 3:1-18, NASB95).
As I was thinking about shortcuts (a.k.a. cutting corners), I decided to do a search on the Internet to see what kind of shortcuts I could find. I read about an older (well, 69, which isn’t that much older than me) man in Europe, who tried to take a shortcut home by cutting across an estuary and finding himself up to his knees in mud. Then there was a young man who took a shortcut when hiking in the mountains of Alaska and had to be rescued from a precarious position on the side of a mountain. I also read about a number of people who have taken shortcuts when participating in a marathon race. And finally, I read about concerns that some may have been cutting corners in the construction of the world’s largest dam in China.
In my opinion, the plan which Naomi proposed to Ruth in our text was a shortcut, but by the grace of God, the two principle characters – Ruth and Boaz – remained sterling examples of godly conduct. You will find that some scholars and Bible teachers tap dance all around the threshing floor, fervently trying to sanctify Naomi’s actions. In my opinion, it is a futile effort. But it is not difficult to see the godly manner in which Ruth and Boaz handled the risky situation into which they had been placed.
You might rightly ask why I hold confidently to my position, when others (some of whom are highly respected) see the text quite differently. It all comes down to one’s hermeneutics (the science of interpreting Scripture). I can boil the essence of my hermeneutics down to a couple of points. First, I believe that the text is to be understood as it appears. Second, I believe that the Scriptures provide me with all the supporting information I need to understand what I find in any biblical text. I do not believe that the interpretation of any text hangs upon information (alleged or true) that has been discovered outside the Bible. External information may supplement and illustrate biblical truth, but the interpretation of a biblical text does not hang on something outside of Scripture.
When it comes to our text, some interpreters wish to persuade the reader that there was a common cultural practice underlying the actions which Naomi directed and Ruth carried out. But the reality is that we see no such practice in the Bible – anywhere! Thus, I take the text at face value. I do not believe that there is some unique cultural interpretation here. Folks, when a woman bathes, puts on perfume and dons her best dress, and then secretively climbs under the covers with a man who has had his fill of food and wine, I don’t think anyone in any culture would read this in any way but what we all assume.
Now I say this to forewarn you that I do not believe that Naomi’s proposition meets muster. It falls short of moral high ground. But having said this, I would hasten to say that when the chapter ends, neither Ruth nor Boaz have compromised their character. Naomi’s proposition is the backdrop against which the moral purity of Ruth and Boaz is contrasted.
Let me say one more thing by way of introduction. Let us remember that the events of the Book of Ruth take place in the days of the judges (1:1). If we would appreciate the piety of Ruth and Boaz, then let us reread the story of Samson. Samson’s relationship with Delilah is a far cry from Ruth’s relationship with Boaz. This story of Ruth is one of the most beautiful accounts in all of the Bible of a man’s relationship with a woman. So let us read on and rejoice.
1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do” (Ruth 3:1-5, NASB95).
This episode begins with Naomi seeking to convince Ruth that, as her mother-in-law, she has the right to play matchmaker (that is, to meddle so as to bring Ruth and Boaz together as husband and wife). Naomi begins by asking two questions which are intended to persuade Ruth to take her advice and carry out her scheme. The first question, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?” does several things. It reminds Ruth that she is her mother-in-law, no insignificant fact in those days, and perhaps in ours as well. In Naomi’s mind, at least, it gives her some basis for taking the lead here. More than this, Naomi’s question implies that what she is about to propose is intended for Ruth’s good. By this, Naomi claims to be intervening in order to bring about what is best for Ruth. We know what this means from what Naomi has already said to Ruth in chapter 1:
“May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the home of a new husband!” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept loudly (Ruth 1:9, NET Bible).
So far as Naomi is concerned, “seeking security” for Ruth’s well being means getting her a husband. Naomi’s second question makes it very clear that Boaz is the one she has determined to secure for Ruth as her husband: “Now is not Boaz our kinsman,3 with whose maids you were?” So, Naomi must have been satisfied that she had vindicated her efforts to bring Ruth and Boaz together as husband and wife. It is hard to believe that she did not also realize that she would gain from this arrangement as well.
Naomi supplies one more detail. This is not set forth as a question, but as a statement: “Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight” (verse 2). The two questions Naomi asked seemed to justify her intervention (meddling/matchmaking). This statement is meant to justify her specific proposal and the plot she seeks to set in motion this very night. So what is the point of calling attention to the fact that Boaz will be at the threshing floor that evening? I believe it is reasonable to infer from Deuteronomy 16:13-15 and Hosea 9:1-2 that there was a certain amount of celebration associated with the threshing floor, because this threshing took place at the end of the grain harvest. We see similar celebration at the time of the sheering of the sheep in Genesis 38, and this “celebration” had the potential for turning into an occasion for immorality:
12 After some time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah was consoled, he left for Timnah to visit his sheepshearers, along with his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 Tamar was told, “Look, your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she removed her widow’s clothes and covered herself with a veil. She wrapped herself and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the way to Timnah. (She did this because she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.) 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute because she had covered her face (Genesis 38:12-15, NET Bible).
Tamar knew that when Judah, her father-in-law, went to Timnah to “shear his sheep” this would be a similar time of celebration, a time when Judah might be expected to use the services of a prostitute, and thus she dressed as a prostitute and was “hired” by Judah in this capacity. I am convinced that the same temptations were often associated with the threshing floor. This explains why Boaz will later insist that no one know that “a woman came to the threshing floor” (Ruth 3:14). I think this was a “male celebration,” with no women present. If women were present, it would be assumed that something immoral took place.
I find it hard not to assume that since Naomi knew that Boaz would be at the threshing floor that evening, she anticipated that this would likely be a more vulnerable time for Boaz. Naomi’s plan seems to assume his vulnerability and seeks to take advantage of it. As she reveals her plan, this assumption seems even more likely to be the case.
3 “Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 “It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do” (Ruth 3:3-4, NASB95).
The plan is really simple. Ruth is to bathe, put on perfume and a dress (presumably the best one she has), and then present herself to Boaz at just the right moment – that moment being after he has eaten and after he has had sufficient wine to be “cheerful” (for his heart to be merry), and after he has settled down in bed. Only then was Ruth to slip under the blanket at the feet of Boaz, waiting for him to tell her what to do next. As I read these words, I cannot help but think of these two texts in the Book of Esther:
10 On the seventh day, as King Ahasuerus was feeling the effects of the wine, he ordered Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven eunuchs who attended him, 11 to bring Queen Vashti into the king’s presence wearing her royal high turban. He wanted to show the people and the officials her beauty, for she was very attractive. 12 But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s bidding conveyed through the eunuchs. Then the king became extremely angry, and his rage consumed him (Esther 1:10-12, NET Bible; emphasis mine).
12 At the end of the twelve months that were required for the women, when the turn of each young woman arrived to go to King Ahasuerus – for in this way they had to fulfill their time of cosmetic treatment: six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfume and various ointments used by women – 13 the woman would go to the king in the following way: Whatever she asked for would be provided for her to take with her from the harem to the royal palace. 14 In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to a separate part of the harem, to the authority of Shaashgaz the king’s eunuch who was overseeing the concubines. She would not go back to the king unless the king was pleased with her and she was requested by name. 15 When it became the turn of Esther daughter of Abihail the uncle of Mordecai (who had raised her as if she were his own daughter) to go to the king, she did not request anything except what Hegai the king’s eunuch, who was overseer of the women, had recommended. Yet Esther met with the approval of all who saw her. 16 Then Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus at his royal residence in the tenth month (that is, the month of Tebeth) in the seventh year of his reign. 17 And the king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she met with his loving approval more than all the other young women. So he placed the royal high turban on her head and appointed her queen in place of Vashti (Esther 2:12-17, NET Bible).
Essentially, we find the same expression used in Esther 1:10 (“was feeling the effects of the wine”) that is also used in Ruth 3:7 (“and his heart was merry”). We cannot accept the “watered down” (pardon the pun) rendering of the NET Bible here: “When Boaz had finished his meal and was feeling satisfied.” It is just too obvious that Naomi was anticipating that the wine would have a dulling effect on Boaz’s judgment. Let us not forget Noah’s nakedness after his consumption of wine in Genesis 9, or the way in which Lot’s daughters employed wine to seduce their father so that he would impregnate them.4 Then there was Absalom’s use of wine in 2 Samuel 13:28 to dull Amnon’s senses so that he could be assassinated. No wonder King Lemuel was warned about the dangers of wine:
3 Do not give your strength to women,
nor your ways to that which ruins kings.
4 It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to crave strong drink,
5 lest they drink and forget what is decreed,
and remove from all the poor their legal rights.
6 Give strong drink to the one who is perishing,
and wine to those who are bitterly distressed;
7 let them drink and forget their poverty,
and remember their misery no more.
8 Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak,
for the legal rights of all the dying.
9 Open your mouth, judge in righteousness,
and plead the cause of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:3-9, NET Bible).5
Here is where the expository “tap dance” begins by some who would seek to convince us that what we assume is taking place here really isn’t. First, some seek to convince us that in that culture there was a commonly understood practice that made this a harmless symbolic request for marriage. The problem is that no one can demonstrate this from the Bible. Second, some students of Scripture try to convince us that all Naomi is asking is for Ruth to bathe and change her attire, replacing her garments of mourning with normal garments in order to indicate that her period of mourning has ended and that she is now ready to remarry.
The problems with this explanation are monumental. First, we are never told that she was still in mourning. We do not know how long it has been since her husband died, but it would appear to be long enough that her mourning had long since ended. Naomi had already encouraged Ruth to remain in Moab and to marry a Moabite. This may indicate that her mourning had already ended. Second, if her attire was that of a mourner, wouldn’t this have been evident as she worked in the field of Boaz? The subject of her being in mourning is not emphasized in the conversations that took place in chapter 2. Third, if her clothing symbolized that she was in mourning, I doubt that the danger of her being molested in some way would have been as great as Boaz feared. If she wore normal clothing (as I assume she did), then this would indicate her availability to marry, and that would have made her more vulnerable to sexual harassment. Fourth, if that was all her change of clothing was to indicate, why would Ruth’s change from a mourner to an available young woman not have been better conveyed in broad daylight? Why would her change of attire have been perceived more easily under a blanket and in the dark of night? Come on, that’s just trying too hard to avoid the obvious. Hollywood should be licking its chops to do this as a movie. But they would fail to appreciate the virtue of both Ruth and Boaz in their zeal to capitalize on the sexual nuances of Naomi’s plan.
Naomi’s arguments seem to have persuaded Ruth for she promised to do all that her mother-in-law had suggested. While she agreed to do all that Naomi said, she did not do everything exactly the way Naomi seems to have expected things to be done. Somehow Ruth and Boaz are able to navigate the moral minefields of this situation and come out unscathed. All of this takes place (in my opinion), no thanks to Naomi’s meddling.
Some will judge me unduly harsh here, and they may be right. But can you honestly read Naomi’s words to Ruth as the wise and principled counsel of a godly Israelite woman? When I think back on the origin of the Moabites in Genesis 19, the mother of Moab (Lot’s oldest daughter) sounds a lot like Naomi, and nothing like Ruth. I could say the same for Tamar in Genesis 38 and for Mordecai (Esther’s uncle) in the Book of Esther. Naomi’s proposition is pure pragmatism, and it is patently wrong for the following reasons:
(1) Naomi proposes to solve a problem in secret that should have been dealt with in public. Is the solution to Ruth’s situation best handled in the bed of Boaz in the middle of the night? Clearly not! Notice how the unwilling relative is dealt with at the gate of the city in Deuteronomy 25:7-10. No wonder Boaz will settle the matter of who will redeem Naomi’s property and become Ruth’s husband in broad daylight at the city gate in chapter 4.
(2) Naomi’s proposition is God-less. In her words of advice to Ruth, there is not one word of reference to God. This is not altogether shocking since Naomi’s first counsel on this matter was a recommendation to stay in Moab, marry a Moabite man, and continue to worship her Moabite gods.6 From Naomi’s words, we would conclude that Ruth’s “security” would be best attained by finding a husband, not by placing her trust in God. It would be best found in Moab, not in Israel.
(3) Naomi’s plan seeks to appeal to the baser instincts and impulses of Boaz, not his higher sense of duty. Why else would there need to be wine, the dark of night, and an “under cover” encounter? Naomi would have done well in modern day advertising, for she seeks to “sell” Ruth to Boaz the way Madison Avenue sells toothpaste or lingerie. That’s what the bathing, the perfume, and the clothing is all about, not to mention climbing into bed with Boaz after his heart has been made merry with wine.
Stated in a different way, Naomi’s proposition (as she coached Ruth to carry out her plan) did not appeal to one’s moral high ground. It did not encourage Boaz to do the right thing in the right way. It urged Ruth to seek a husband in a questionable and compromising manner. Fortunately, Boaz was committed to doing the right thing the right way. And this is why he refuses to become intimate with Ruth that night, and why he gave the nearest kin the opportunity to do the right thing the next day.
(4) Naomi’s plan does not call for thought and reflection, but rather for impulsive, irreversible action. I am reminded of these verses in Proverbs:
21 She persuaded him with persuasive words;
with her smooth talk she compelled him.
22 Suddenly he went after her like an ox that goes to the slaughter,
like a stag prancing into a trapper’s snare (Proverbs 7:21-22).
Remember that marriage was not consummated by the declaration of a preacher, or elder; marriage was consummated by the sexual union of a man and a woman. Once a marriage was consummated in the marriage bed, there was no easy way out. Ask Jacob about that.7 So, Naomi’s plan was to coax Boaz to become the family redeemer by having sex with Ruth (under the influence of wine). And once that union was consummated, there was no turning back.
(5) Naomi’s plan seems to deliberately bypass and exclude the nearest kin, giving preference to Boaz instead. It is inconceivable that Naomi would not have known who the nearest kin was.8 In addition to this, the word Naomi used in Ruth 3:2 to describe Boaz as a relative was not the term she should have used for the closest relative. I have no doubt that Naomi knew who the nearest kin was. Not surprisingly, Naomi preferred Boaz, and after all he was at the threshing floor, soon to be merry with good food and wine.
(6) Naomi’s scheme needlessly put the reputation of two godly people at risk. The words of Boaz in verse 14 indicate that had anyone seen him and Ruth together that night, they would have assumed the worst. Two godly people would have been the subject of gossip, as though they had acted improperly. It was Naomi’s plan that put Ruth and Boaz in the same place (even the same bed) in the middle of the night, with workers nearby.
(7) Naomi’s plan wrongly implied that Ruth needed to take the initiative in this matter of redemption and levirate marriage, as though Boaz would not have done so on his own. It seems clear to me that Boaz should have been granted the freedom to assume the leadership role in this matter, as he will do the next morning. Naomi’s plan strongly suggests that apart from her meddling and Ruth’s feminine wiles, this redemption would never have happened. If Boaz is a prototype of Christ, our Redeemer, then should he not have been trusted to assume a leadership role in redeeming the family property and marrying Ruth?
(8) Naomi’s plan seems to assume that the end justifies the means. The goal was a good one. Indeed, what Naomi hoped to achieve is what will ultimately happen in chapter 4. But her way of bringing this to pass is vastly different than the way Boaz chooses to accomplish this.
(9) Naomi’s plan only dealt with the matter of finding a husband for Ruth, and yet we shall see in chapter 4 that another pressing issue was the redemption of her property. Why is it that Boaz felt it was necessary to address the redemption of Naomi’s property first, and yet Naomi did not address this matter at all? Naomi seems to “pick and choose” the issues she will seek to address by orchestrating a solution. If Naomi had addressed the property purchase first, it would have eliminated the need for this “midnight madness.”
(10) The “transaction” for which Naomi wanted no witnesses (3:3-4) was set aside by Boaz for a “transaction” that had numerous witnesses (4:9-11).
(11) If the purpose of Naomi’s plot was not merely to see Ruth married to Boaz, but also the birth of a child, one has to wonder if this could have been achieved in a way that did not honor God. We are told in Ruth 4:13 that God enabled Ruth to conceive. This indicates that up until this point God had closed her womb. It would be foolish to assume that God would open Ruth’s womb if her marriage was brought about in a dishonorable way. Thus, it is very possible that even if Ruth and Boaz had consummated a physical union, no child would have resulted.
(12) Nowhere in the Book of Ruth is Naomi praised. Ruth is praised several times, and Boaz likewise is praised. The older women do not praise Naomi; they praise God for the way He has blessed Naomi, and thus corrected her distorted perspective that God was unduly harsh toward her in chapter 1.
(13) Naomi is “doing what seems right in her own eyes,” while Boaz and Ruth are committed to doing what is right in God’s eyes.
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” 10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence. 12 “Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 “Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city (Ruth 3:6-15, NASB95).
We should begin by noting the author’s choice of words in verse 6. Here, he tells the reader that when Ruth went down to the threshing floor, she did all that her mother-in-law had “commanded” her. Did Naomi present her plan to Ruth as the well-meaning advice of a concerned mother-in-law? We now see it for what it was – Naomi’s request was really a command. That is the way she perceived it.
I like the way the NASB, KJV, and NKJV translate verse 6, when it says that Ruth “did according to all that her mother-in-law commanded her.” The way I read these words, Ruth did not do everything exactly as Naomi had instructed, but she acted consistently with what she was commanded. When we get to Ruth’s actions and choice of words, we find that she obeyed Naomi’s command in a way that was completely honorable and consistent with her noble character.9 We should add that because Ruth responded in a godly and honorable way, Boaz could immediately recognize her piety and respond accordingly.
We are not told about Ruth’s compliance with the first part of Naomi’s instructions – the bathing, putting on of perfume, and a nice dress. The author lets the reader assume these things took place. One reason why I think the author does not call attention to these beautification efforts is because they were inconsequential. Naomi may have thought these things would tip the scales in Ruth’s favor, but Boaz was a man of principle. A little perfume and a nice dress (and, of course, the wine) were not going to influence his decision. He agreed to her request for marriage10 because Ruth was a woman of character, and his duty (under the law) was also his delight.
The author takes up his account at the point that Boaz lies down for the night after eating and drinking and being merry in heart. Providentially, Boaz lays down at “the end of the heap of grain.” In other words, Boaz lays down some distance removed from the workers, providing the kind of privacy that enabled Ruth to slip under the covers at his feet, unnoticed by anyone (even Boaz, for the time being). But sometime in the middle of the night, Boaz was suddenly startled out of his sleep. Someone else was there with him, lying at the end of his blanket (or covering). Sitting up and leaning forward, he asked who was there. Now it was up to Ruth to carry out her mission.
I’m not sure that things are going exactly the way Naomi planned. Boaz has not told Ruth to do anything; he has asked who she is. And so Ruth’s next move is not to do whatever Boaz would tell her, but to humbly and modestly ask him to fulfill his role as the family redeemer. Her response to the inquiry of Boaz is a masterpiece:
He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings11 over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9, ESV).
These are very carefully chosen words. When Ruth identifies herself as the servant or maid of Boaz, she chooses a different term than the one she employed in verse 13 of chapter 2. In chapter 2, the term for maid (or handmaid or maidservant) is one that speaks of a very lowly maid, which is exactly Ruth’s point. She considered herself totally unworthy of the kind of treatment she was receiving from Boaz. But now she uses a term which speaks of a maid who is higher in the social strata, a class of maid who would be considered eligible for marriage.12
Yes, in a general sense, she is asking Boaz to marry her, but more specifically she is asking him to be her kinsman redeemer (go’el). So why did she choose the words that she spoke to Boaz? Where do they come from? I believe she chooses these exact words because of what Boaz had recently said to her in chapter 2:
“The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12, ESV)
I must admit that I am puzzled why so many of the translations would render the same Hebrew word “wings” in Ruth 2:12 and something different in 3:9. I believe that when Boaz commended Ruth for seeking God’s protection (under His wings) in chapter 2, Ruth seized on his words when seeking his protection in chapter 3. In other words, Ruth is asking Boaz to be God’s answer to her prayers by redeeming her. I believe this was the noblest request ever made of Boaz, and he immediately regarded it as such.
Not only does Boaz commend Ruth for this request, I believe that God commends her as well, for He will use this same expression in Ezekiel 16 to describe His care and protection of the nation Israel:
1 Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 2 “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, 3 and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born. 6 “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ 7 I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare. 8 “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16:1-8, NKJV; emphasis mine).
I’m not sure that Ruth fully grasped the implications of what she was saying here, but then neither did the Old Testament prophets when they wrote under inspiration.13 When God delivered Israel from her Egyptian bondage, His actions are described as His spreading His wings over them in salvation and protection. And so we find that the imagery of finding shelter under God’s wings is common in the Old Testament:
4 “‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself’” (Exodus 19:4, NASB95).
11 “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions” (Deuteronomy 32:11, NASB95).
8 Keep me as the apple of the eye;
Hide me in the shadow of Your wings (Psalm 17:8, NASB95).
7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings (Psalm 36:7, NASB95).
1 For the choir director; set to Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave. Be gracious to me
O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by (Psalm 57:1, NASB95).
4 Let me dwell in Your tent forever;
Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Selah (Psalm 61:4, NASB95).
4 He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark (Psalm 91:4, NASB95).
I believe that just as Boaz had declared in chapter 2, Ruth had sought refuge under God’s wings, just as any true Israelite should do. I further believe Ruth understood that the provisions in the law for the poor, and for the widows (including redemption/levirate marriage), were a part of the protection God provided for those who sought protection under His wings. And so it seems natural for Ruth to look to Boaz for redemption and protection. He was (both in fact and in her mind) God’s provision, and thus she phrased her request with these most appropriate words.
Boaz seems to have immediately perceived this to be the case, as we see from his response to Ruth:
10 Then he said, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 “Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence” (Ruth 3:10-11, NASB95).
In the midst of such easily misunderstood actions, how was it that Boaz could so quickly conclude that Ruth was acting in a praiseworthy manner? Allow me to suggest several factors that may have influenced Boaz. First, we should not overlook what Boaz knew of Ruth from previous experience. Boaz had already indicated that he was well aware of Ruth’s conduct and character in the past, and he pronounced God’s blessings upon her (Ruth 2:11-12). Second, what Boaz personally observed of Ruth’s actions and words that night did not change his opinion of her. In spite of Naomi’s scheme, Boaz sees nothing in Ruth’s words or deeds which change his opinion of her. Indeed, he commends her as a “woman of excellence,” – the highest praise that could be awarded any woman. It is, in fact, the very same expression used to describe the noble woman in Proverbs 31:10.
Whatever it is that some might think Ruth did that night under the covers, Boaz does not see it that way, and we had better esteem her highly, as he did. He recognized that had she sought to merely satisfy her physical desires, she would have looked elsewhere – to someone younger. No, Ruth was not seeking her own interests; she was seeking the interests of her mother-in-law and her deceased husband (and father-in-law). Because of this, Boaz vowed to do everything in his power to honorably fulfill her request.
Third, I believe that Boaz acted in genuine (non-romantic, at this point in time) love. I am reminded of Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:7:
[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7, NET Bible; emphasis mine).
Fourth, the response of Boaz was a reflection of his personal purity.
All is pure to those who are pure. But to those who are corrupt and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their minds and consciences are corrupted (Titus 1:15, NET Bible; emphasis mine).
Impure people expect others to think and act as impurely as they do. They project their impurity onto others. Boaz was a “pure” man, and thus he was not predisposed to assume impurity on the part of Ruth. He believed the best of Ruth because he was pure in heart, and he and Ruth were kindred spirits.
Fifth, I believe that Boaz was a humble man, and that his humility enabled him to see things more clearly than others might. I believe there is a very close link between humility and wisdom.14 Arrogance clouds one’s ability to see things clearly, while humility enables one to see things as they are. Humility is, in fact, seeing things as they are. Boaz does not flatter himself. He is fully aware that he is (in my words) “an old coot.” He knows that young men would be far more attractive to a young widow like Ruth, and thus her request is but another evidence of her godliness.
As much as Boaz wanted to comply with Ruth’s petition, there was something that he could not overlook as a man of principle, as a man who was intent on obeying God’s law. The law specified the order in which the levirate marriage duty was to be fulfilled,15 and he was not the first in line:
12 “Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. 13 “Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives” (Ruth 3:12-13, NASB95).
Boaz would do everything he could for Ruth, but he would do so as God’s law prescribed. Thus, he would not become intimate with Ruth until this matter was resolved properly, in broad daylight, in the city gates, in the presence of the nearest kin and the elders of the city. How, then, would Boaz deal with his present circumstances?
Lie down until morning.” 14 So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 Again he said, “Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.” So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city (Ruth 3:13b-15, NASB95).
It was surely not safe to send Ruth back into the city unescorted in the middle of the night. He could not escort her home without raising all kinds of questions, nor could it be known that any woman was there on the threshing floor that night. It would have been assumed that immorality was the reason for such a liaison. And so Boaz instructed Ruth to lie down once again at his feet until morning. Before dawn and before anyone else was awake, Boaz warned Ruth not to let anyone know that a woman had been there. He then sent her away with all the grain she could carry.16 Anyone who works hard at finding some indication of “romance” in chapter 3 has a lot of explaining to do regarding this hefty load of grain. It was, indeed, a symbolic gesture, but it was hardly an engagement ring or even a bouquet of flowers. And so Ruth managed to return to the home of her mother-in-law undetected.
Upon her arrival, Ruth was met by her matchmaker mother-in-law, who questioned her about the events of the evening:
16 When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did it go, my daughter?”17 And she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 She said, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” 18 Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today” (Ruth 3:16-18, NASB95).
Ruth told her all that had transpired throughout the night and what Boaz had done for her. She made a point of calling attention to the barley that Boaz had sent with her, indicating that these were a gift from Boaz to Naomi. I’m probably stretching things here, but just as an engagement ring symbolizes a man’s intention to marry a woman, this barley seems to symbolize Boaz’s commitment to care for Naomi.
Naomi is now confident that Boaz will follow up on his commitment and see the matter through to the end. She knows Boaz well enough to assure Ruth that the matter will be settled before the day is over. And she is right, as we will soon see from chapter 4.
We come to the end of chapter 3 with a sigh of relief. Things might have ended differently, and that would not have been good. Both Ruth and Boaz were placed in compromising situations, but both responded in a godly way so that their character was evident, and the goal which Naomi sought to reach could be gained by a much higher road. There are many lessons to learn from our text, and I will conclude this message by pointing out a few of them.
(1) Godly character is evident in ungodly settings. The godly character of both Ruth and Boaz is dramatically displayed against the backdrop of chapter 3. Circumstances were far from ideal here, but that did not prevent these two people from living in a way that should command our respect. I think of the Corinthian church and the ungodliness of the culture in which those saints were called to live. Paul set a high standard for these early believers because he was confident that God is able to make His people stand.18 We often bemoan the fact that we live in dark days, but it is during such times that the light of the gospel should shine ever more brightly.19
(2) Men are called to be moral leaders in their relationship with the opposite sex. In our culture, it is sometimes assumed that men will be the aggressors and that it is the woman’s role to “put on the brakes.” This is often the case in dating. Many young men seem all too willing to go as far as the young woman will permit. This is not the way it happened in our story. In effect, Naomi instructed Ruth that she was to do whatever Boaz said (3:4). Had Boaz not been a man of character, things might have gone in a very different direction at this midnight meeting under the covers and in the cover of darkness. But it was Boaz who took the moral leadership so as to protect the purity and reputation of Ruth.
Young men, this is the standard for you. You (and I, and every man) should be the kind of moral leader who takes the moral high ground, protecting the purity and reputation of those women with whom we associate. This is what real manhood is about. Remember, Boaz was a “mighty man of valor.” He showed that not only on the battlefield, and in the barley field, but at the threshing floor as well.
(3) Beware of ungodly counsel that comes from people who appear to be pious and to have our best interest at heart. Naomi appears to be intent on seeking what is best for Ruth. Her counsel sets forth a plan which would seemingly provide Ruth with the security and blessings of a husband, a home, and an heir. In spite of how this counsel was presented, the reader should see through this and realize how wrong it was.
We should readily see that it is important for every Christian to discern the difference between sound counsel and ungodly counsel. But just how is one to discern the difference? I can think of several important clues from our text. First, one should evaluate the counsel given by another by considering their personal relationship with God. The indications we are given regarding Naomi’s spiritual condition in chapter 1 are far from encouraging. Naomi is not a woman who is walking close to God. By her own confession, she is bitter, accusing God of being unduly harsh with her. That should cause us to see all kinds of red flags (warnings).
We would do well in evaluating the counsel of others if we asked this question: Is the counsel I am being given coming directly from the Words of Scripture, or is it the opinion of the counselor? Is the counsel we are given a “Thus saith the Lord” that is found in the Bible, or is it a personal opinion? Finally, we can learn a great deal from the answer to this question: “Is the counsel being given challenging me to do the difficult (even humanly impossible) thing that is right, or is it justifying me doing the easy thing that I (in my sinful flesh) really want to do?” God’s will is almost never the “path of least resistance.” God’s will was expressed in the law, but we know from Romans 7 that we cannot do it by mere will power or fleshly effort. God’s will can only be accomplished when His Spirit gives life to our flesh which is dead with respect to righteousness.20
False teachers appeal to our fleshly desires to prompt us to act.21 Teachers of the truth hold forth God’s Word which commands us to mortify the flesh, not indulge it.22 When we are counseled to do that which appeals to our flesh, we can be reasonably sure that it is bad counsel. Our task as believers who are part of the body of Christ is to challenge our fellow believers to take the high ground and to do the hard (even impossible) things which God requires of us, through the power of His Spirit.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
but the kisses of an enemy are excessive (Proverbs 27:6, NET Bible).
15 “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector. 18 “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven. 19 Again, I tell you the truth, if two of you on earth agree about whatever you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are assembled in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:15-20, NET Bible).
14 But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another (Romans 15:14, NET Bible).
1 Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too (Galatians 6:1, NET Bible).
11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, just as you are in fact doing. 12 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labor among you and preside over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them most highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers and sisters, admonish the undisciplined, comfort the discouraged, help the weak, be patient toward all (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14, NET Bible).
23 And let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess, for the one who made the promise is trustworthy. 24 And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works, 25 not abandoning our own meetings, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and even more so because you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:23-25, NET Bible).
We are no friend when we encourage others to do “what feels right;” we are only a friend when we encourage them to trust and obey God. We live in a time like that of the judges, when everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. Let us encourage others to do what is right in God’s eyes by obeying His Word and encouraging others to do likewise.
(4) Be alert to the reality of the providence of God in the lives of His people. This text, though well known and often cited, is surely true:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28, NASB95).
The providence of God is often unseen until God chooses to lift the veil, so to speak, and reveal what He has been about. God was providentially preparing Naomi for the blessings He was about to bestow on her, and this at a time when she wrongly concluded that He was dealing harshly with her. In chapter 3, I believe that God providentially protected both Boaz and Ruth from rumors and accusations by preventing anyone from seeing the two of them together that night. More evidences of providential care are yet to come in the Book of Ruth.
(5) Our text should teach us to beware of taking shortcuts. It is my contention that Naomi is attempting to take a shortcut in her efforts to get Ruth married to Boaz. I believe that shortcuts are both unbiblical and unwise. But first let me define what I mean by a shortcut. A shortcut is an ungodly, faithless action that we take to avoid pain and suffering, hard work, trusting God, or waiting. In other words, we take shortcuts in order to solve a problem the easy way, as opposed to God’s way.
Let me give some examples of shortcuts that were taken by people in the Bible. Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a shortcut to that knowledge that would make them “like God.”23 Abram and Sarai grew weary of waiting for God to give them a son as He had promised, and so, at the prompting of Sarai, Abram slept with Hagar, resulting in the birth of Ishmael24 – a shortcut for which we are still paying the price. Judah was afraid to give his third son to Tamar, and so Tamar took the shortcut of dressing like a harlot and having sex with Judah.25 Fearing that they would not be able to marry and produce offspring, Lot’s two daughters got him drunk and had sexual relations with him, resulting in the births of Moab and Ammon.26 Seeing his fighting men scatter, Saul went ahead and offered the sacrifices himself, rather than to wait for Samuel as he had been instructed.27 Fearing that they would suffer persecution from the Jews, some who claimed to trust in Christ began to insist that Gentile converts must be circumcised.28 Wishing to appear more generous than they were, Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and gave some of the proceeds to the church, secretly keeping some for themselves, but declaring that they had given the entire purchase price.29
Thankfully, we also have examples of those in the Bible who refused to take a shortcut. When David sinned by numbering the Israelites, God brought a plague of pestilence on the people. In His mercy, God stopped short of destroying all. The prophet Gad instructed David to erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah. When David sought to purchase the property on which the threshing floor was located, Araunah offered to give it to David. David refused this shortcut, insisting that he could not offer a sacrifice that cost him nothing.30
The greatest example of refusing to take a shortcut is found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the outset of his public ministry, the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to fast and to be tested by the devil. On three occasions, the devil presented our Lord with three shortcuts, all of which our Lord refused, basing His decision on the Word of God. The essence of these shortcuts was for Jesus to satisfy, or please Himself, by acting independently of the Father (much as Adam and Eve had done in the Garden of Eden).
All of this was leading up to Satan’s effort to turn the Lord Jesus from the cross (whether or not Satan grasped it at the time). If Jesus would simply bow down and worship him, the devil offered to give Him authority over all the kingdoms of the world. Here was the biggest shortcut of all time, a shortcut around the cross. But our Lord refused the easy path and chose the path of shedding His blood as the payment for our sins. Every Christian can rejoice over the choice He made, and the price He paid.
My friend, because our Lord refused to take a shortcut around the cross of Calvary, there is no way that God will accept any shortcut to salvation that you may choose to avoid the cross. Jesus Christ is the only way to God,31 and the cross is the only basis for our salvation. Do not think that your sincere efforts at pleasing Him will suffice as the payment for your sins. Only Christ’s death in your behalf can pay the price for your sins, and only His righteousness bestowed upon you as a gift will meet God’s standards. Please, no shortcuts when it comes to your eternal destiny.
For the Christian, shortcuts deprive us of the opportunity of seeing the hand of God at work in our lives. There was no shortcut around the Red Sea. While the Israelites were terrified because the sea was before them and the Egyptian army was behind, they were blessed to see God’s hand at work in a powerful way, bringing about their salvation and the destruction of the entire Egyptian army. Had Naomi’s scheme produced the physical union of Ruth and Boaz, neither they nor we would be able to rejoice over the hand of God at work in Ruth 4. We seek to find shortcuts because of the level of difficulty we perceive, but it is God who raises the level of difficulty in order to demonstrate His power and His grace. Shortcuts are a way to bypass the blessing of seeing God powerfully at work in our lives.
Just what kind of shortcuts might I be talking about that you and I might face today? Let me suggest a few. Pragmatism is a lifestyle of taking shortcuts. Doing things in a way that seems to get the job done, but which falls short of the means God requires. Suicide is a shortcut, especially for the Christian. I have participated in the funeral service of at least one Christian who committed suicide as a shortcut. In this particular funeral, the fellow was reading the last chapters of the Book of Revelation as he killed himself. I know what he was thinking. He was thinking how wonderful heaven is, and how terrible his life on earth had become. Why not hasten the process and gain heaven now? As a believer in Jesus, I am convinced that he went to heaven, but he had a whole lot of explaining to do when he got there. And he lost the opportunity to see God work in his life to lead him through the dark valley in which he found himself. Suicide is a shortcut, my friend, and shortcuts are wrong.
Medication (both illegal drugs and prescription drugs) can be a shortcut. Listen very carefully to what I am saying. I am not saying that all prescription drugs are wrong. I said that drugs can be misused as a shortcut. We know that some people who need pain medication can become addicted to it. It can become a shortcut to avoid the emotional pains of life. We know that some people suffer from depression and need psychiatric drugs, at least for a time. But there are also those who would rather dull emotional pain than deal with it. Such people need to carefully consider whether their medication is truly a solution to their problems or a shortcut around them.
All right, I’m already in trouble with some people, so let me go a bit further. There are some children who suffer from conditions that may require medication to help them control their behavior. But there are also some children who just need parents who will insist that they sit down and behave. Some children need discipline more than they need a prescription. Others may need both. Medication should not be a substitute for discipline.
Illegal drugs are just a step removed. These are drugs that cannot be obtained legally, but may produce the same end result – taking away the pain in one’s life so that there is a momentary relief from it. While the cross of Christ may not be the solution to a broken arm, and it may not dull the pain of a dentist’s drill, no drug will solve the problem of man’s sin and guilt, for only the blood of Jesus can remedy sin.
Let me mention one final shortcut. It is not a shortcut for all, but it can be for some – the spiritual study of others. No generation has had as many opportunities to read good books and commentaries, or to listen to sermons on the radio, television, or your MP3 player. These are good things, but they should never be a shortcut for your own serious study of God’s Word.
1 My son, if you will receive my words
And treasure my commandments within you,
2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom,
Incline your heart to understanding;
3 For if you cry for discernment,
Lift your voice for understanding;
4 If you seek her as silver
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will discern the fear of the Lord
And discover the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:1-5).
We must study the Word of God for ourselves and not rely merely on the work of others. As these words from Proverbs tell us, we must seek for God’s wisdom as for hidden treasure. That means that we must do some mining on our own. No wonder we “do what is right in our own eyes.” I would suggest that you begin to do that by turning in your Bible to the Book of Ruth and seeking God’s wisdom for you there.
1 Copyright © 2010 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the series, Ruth: A Story of Redemption, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on January 31, 2010. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
2 I confess. I chose to use the expression, “cutting corners,” because it is a word play. On the one hand, it refers to a shortcut. On the other hand, Boaz showed compassion toward the poor by not cutting the corners of his field.
3 I believe it is significant that the word Naomi uses here is not the word (gaal) that is used in verses 9 and 12. It is a word that refers to a more distant relative. This suggests to me that Naomi, like Boaz (3:12), knew there was a closer relative.
4 See Genesis 19:32.
5 This is not an attempt to categorically condemn wine; it is merely an effort to show that wine can be misused to take advantage of another, or to dull one’s judgment or skills. See also Habakkuk 2:15.
6 See Ruth 1:8-15.
7 See Genesis 29.
8 See Leviticus 25:27-49.
9 Some scholars and translations leave us with the impression that Ruth uncovered more than the feet of Boaz, and that she lay beside him, rather than at his feet. This may be what Naomi had in mind, but I am convinced that it is not what Ruth did. She consistently took the moral high ground, as Boaz bears witness in 3:10-11.
10 This is assuming that the nearest kin declined his responsibility.
11 Other translations render this word differently (“covering,” “cloak,” “skirt,” “garment”). And yet, the vast majority of times it is translated, it pertains to “wings.” Thus, I prefer the rendering of the ESV here.
12 See the translator’s note in the NET Bible at verse 9.
13 1 Peter 1:10-12.
14 There are at least hints of this in the Book of Proverbs (see 15:33; 18:12; 22:4).
15 See, for example, Leviticus 25:47-49.
16 There is a good bit of discussion as to just what the quantity of grain was, but it seems fair to say that it was a generous gift, which would be as much as a woman could carry.
17 It is interesting that the Hebrew text literally reads, “Who are you, my daughter?” It is as though she was asking, “Are you Mrs. Boaz?” See the note in the NET Bible.
18 See Corinthians 10:13; Romans 14:4; Jude 1:24.
19 See Matthew 5:16; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 6:14; Ephesians 5:1-14; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; 1 Peter 2:9.
20 See Romans 8:1-11.
21 See 2 Peter 2; Jude.
22 See Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 10; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 3:5.
23 Genesis 3.
24 Genesis 16.
25 Genesis 38.
26 Genesis 19.
27 1 Samuel 13.
28 Galatians 6:12.
29 Acts 5:1-11.
30 2 Samuel 24.
31 John 1:12; 14:6; Acts 4:8-12.
1 Now Boaz went up to the village gate and sat there. Then along came the guardian whom Boaz had mentioned to Ruth! Boaz said, “Come here and sit down, ‘John Doe’!” So he came and sat down. 2 Boaz chose ten of the village leaders and said, “Sit down here!” So they sat down. 3 Then Boaz said to the guardian, “Naomi, who has returned from the region of Moab, is selling the portion of land that belongs to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I am legally informing you: Acquire it before those sitting here and before the leaders of my people! If you want to exercise your right to redeem it, then do so. But if not, then tell me so I will know. For you possess the first option to redeem it; I am next in line after you.” He replied, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the wife of our deceased relative, in order to preserve his family name by raising up a descendant who will inherit his property.” 6 The guardian said, “Then I am unable to redeem it, for I would ruin my own inheritance in that case. You may exercise my redemption option, for I am unable to redeem it.” 7 (Now this used to be the customary way to finalize a transaction involving redemption in Israel: A man would remove his sandal and give it to the other party. This was a legally binding act in Israel.) 8 So the guardian said to Boaz, “You may acquire it,” and he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the leaders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have acquired from Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife to raise up a descendant who will inherit his property so the name of the deceased might not disappear from among his relatives and from his village. You are witnesses today.” 11 All the people who were at the gate and the elders replied, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel! May you prosper in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 May your family become like the family of Perez – whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the descendants the Lord gives you by this young woman.” 13 So Boaz married Ruth and had sexual relations with her. The Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son. 14 The village women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be praised because he has not left you without a guardian today! May he become famous in Israel! 15 He will encourage you and provide for you when you are old, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has given him birth. She is better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the child and placed him on her lap; she became his caregiver. 17 The neighbor women named him, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. Now he became the father of Jesse – David’s father! 18 These are the descendants of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, 19 Hezron was the father of Ram, Ram was the father of Amminadab, 20 Amminadab was the father of Nachshon, Nachshon was the father of Salmah, 21 Salmon was the father of Boaz, Boaz was the father of Obed, 22 Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David (Ruth 4:1-22).1
As I prepare this lesson, in a week we will be celebrating Valentine’s Day. Already we’re seeing television commercials prompting men to buy their wives lovable little teddy bears or cozy pajamas, assuring us that the benefits we reap will outweigh the cost. Unlike some other cultures, Americans are predisposed to link romance with marriage. As the lyrics of one old song put it, “Love and marriage . . . go together like a horse and carriage.” Some might be disappointed because our text does not contain as much “romance” as we are used to finding in such circumstances. As we read in chapter 3 of Ruth, Naomi sought to orchestrate a marriage between Ruth and Boaz, based on “romance.” She convinced Ruth to bathe, put on perfume and her best dress, and then surreptitiously crawl under the covers with Boaz on the threshing floor once he had fallen asleep (after having his fill of food and wine until his heart was merry). A sexual union in these circumstances would have consummated a marriage, albeit not by the most honorable means. As we attempted to show in our last message, such a “marriage” would have been a “shortcut.”
Naomi’s scheme did not produce a “romantic evening,” nor did it result in a sexual union or a midnight marriage. However, it did give Ruth the opportunity to ask Boaz to become her husband so as to provide protection and security for her (and for Naomi), as well as to produce a child who would carry on the family line. Boaz regarded Ruth’s actions as honorable and merciful, and thus he assured Ruth that he would do as she asked if the nearest kin declined to assume this responsibility. They did spend the remainder of the night in close proximity, but it was far from a romantic interlude. Ruth slept at the feet of Boaz, and then she and Boaz arose before dawn so that no one would know she had been at the threshing floor during the night. Boaz loaded Ruth with grain to carry back to Naomi. When Ruth reported these things to Naomi, her mother-in-law assured her that Boaz would quickly bring this matter to a conclusion.
In stark contrast to the events of the previous night (as described in chapter 3), we come to the seemingly unromantic legal negotiations and commitments of chapter 4. Quite frankly, such “unromantic” dealings are a beautiful thing to behold, as we shall soon see. Chapter 4 is also a stark contrast to what we read in chapter 1. There, Naomi returned to Bethlehem accompanied by Ruth, refusing to be called “Naomi” (Pleasant), but insisting on being called “Mara” (Bitter) instead. She sought to justify this by claiming that God had dealt harshly with her. She claimed to have gone out to Moab “full,” while returning to Bethlehem “empty.” However, when chapter 4 draws to an end, Naomi’s arms are “filled” with the child that God has given her through Ruth and Boaz. Chapter 4 of the Book of Ruth puts all the previous events and responses into a proper perspective. Understanding this chapter as we should will enable us to understand the entire book, so we should listen well to what God has to say to us in this text.
There are several Old Testament passages which provide us with the biblical background necessary to understand our text in chapter 4 of Ruth. The first is found in Genesis 38. When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they broke their father’s heart.2 This may have been one of the reasons why Judah left his family to visit Hirah the Adullamite and then marry a Canaanite woman, who is introduced to us only as the “daughter of a man named Shua.”3 This woman bore Judah three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah acquired Tamar as a wife for his oldest son, but Er was wicked and the Lord took his life. Judah then instructed Onan to take Tamar as his wife, but he was not willing to make this sacrifice, and so he practiced a primitive form of birth control, resulting in his death:
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise up a descendant for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be considered his. So whenever he had sexual relations with his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely so as not to give his brother a descendant. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him too (Genesis 38:8-10).
As this chapter continues to unfold, we are told that Judah was reluctant to give his next (and final) son to Tamar, fearing that he, too, might die. This prompted Tamar to take more drastic measures to produce a son who would carry on the name of her husband. The importance of this will become even clearer to the reader when he or she gets to Genesis 49:8-12 and learns that it was Judah whom God chose to carry on the line from which Messiah would come. Dressed as a cult prostitute, Tamar stationed herself on the road to Timnah, and as she anticipated, Judah hired her for sex (without knowing who this woman was). Later, when it became known that Tamar had become pregnant, Judah self-righteously called for her to be stoned, until she produced undeniable evidence that he was the father of her twins. The firstborn was named Perez, and he is the son who will be referred to in Ruth 4.4
The point I am making here is that the obligation to raise up offspring to a deceased brother was a part of the culture of Judah’s day, long before the Law of Moses was given, and this became one’s duty under the Law. This is why Judah directed his second son to take Tamar as his wife, and why he should have done likewise with his third son, Shelah.
5 If brothers live together and one of them dies without having a son, the dead man’s wife must not remarry someone outside the family. Instead, her late husband’s brother must go to her, marry her, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law. 6 Then the first son she bears will continue the name of the dead brother, thus preventing his name from being blotted out of Israel. 7 But if the man does not want to marry his brother’s widow, then she must go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to preserve his brother’s name in Israel; he is unwilling to perform the duty of a brother-in-law to me!” 8 Then the elders of his city must summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I don’t want to marry her,” 9 then his sister-in-law must approach him in view of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, and spit in his face. She will then respond, “Thus may it be done to any man who does not maintain his brother’s family line!” 10 His family name will be referred to in Israel as “the family of the one whose sandal was removed” (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
What was assumed as normal practice in ancient Israel in Genesis 38 is now formalized in the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 25. You will quickly notice that the circumstances in Deuteronomy 25 are not identical with those in Genesis 38, or with those in the Book of Ruth for that matter. But they are close, close enough to give us helpful background information to better understand what Ruth requested in chapter 3 and what Boaz is doing in chapter 4.
In Deuteronomy 25, two brothers are living on the family inheritance when one of the brothers (not necessarily the oldest) dies. It is the duty of the other brother to marry the widow of his deceased brother and continue his name (lineage) by producing an heir on his behalf. We are not told whether this surviving brother is married or not, just that he is to marry his brother’s widow (his sister-in-law) and raise up offspring for him to continue his line.
In this text, it looks as though the widow (the sister-in-law) takes some (or perhaps much) of the initiative in producing an heir for her deceased husband. She may well have taken the initiative by asking her brother-in-law to marry her and thus to raise up seed for her husband. It is possible that the surviving brother may not be willing to perform this duty. If this is the case, the woman is to take the matter to the elders at the city gates and inform them that her brother-in-law is unwilling to fulfill his duty. It would appear that they do their best to persuade him to fulfill his duty. If he persists in refusing to perform his duty, then the widow is to remove the sandal (sandals?) of her brother-in-law and also spit in his face. This would serve as a stigma to the man and his family and would also be an example to anyone else who might be tempted to refuse their duty in this manner.
In these verses, God gives instructions regarding the redemption of land that has been sold due to the owner’s dire poverty. We should first note from verse 23 that the Israelites never really owned the Promised Land – it is God who owns the land. As the Land Owner, God could evict the Canaanites and bring in the Israelites to occupy the Promised Land. And if (and when) the Israelites became as corrupt as the Canaanites, God could (and would) evict His people from the land.5 God’s Law assured that the land He gave to each Israelite tribe and clan would remain the property of these families. One line of protection was the year of jubilee, when all lands that were sold would be returned to their original owners:
10 So you must consecrate the fiftieth year, and you must proclaim a release in the land for all its inhabitants. That year will be your jubilee; each one of you must return to his property and each one of you must return to his clan. 11 That fiftieth year will be your jubilee; you must not sow the land, harvest its aftergrowth, or pick the grapes of its unpruned vines. 12 Because that year is a jubilee, it will be holy to you – you may eat its produce from the field. 13 “‘In this year of jubilee you must each return to your property. 14 If you make a sale to your fellow citizen or buy from your fellow citizen, no one is to wrong his brother. 15 You may buy it from your fellow citizen according to the number of years since the last jubilee; he may sell it to you according to the years of produce that are left. 16 The more years there are, the more you may make its purchase price, and the fewer years there are, the less you must make its purchase price, because he is only selling to you a number of years of produce. 17 No one is to oppress his fellow citizen, but you must fear your God, because I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 25:10-17).
A second provision was made, whereby land sold by an impoverished Israelite could be redeemed at any time, either by the original owner, or by a near relative.
23 The land must not be sold without reclaim because the land belongs to me, for you are foreigners and residents with me. 24 In all your landed property you must provide for the right of redemption of the land. 25 “‘If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his property, his near redeemer is to come to you and redeem what his brother sold. 26 If a man has no redeemer, but he prospers and gains enough for its redemption, 27 he is to calculate the value of the years it was sold, refund the balance to the man to whom he had sold it, and return to his property. 28 If he has not prospered enough to refund a balance to him, then what he sold will belong to the one who bought it until the jubilee year, but it must revert in the jubilee and the original owner may return to his property (Leviticus 25:23-28).6
The Law also provided for the redemption of an Israelite who found it necessary to sell himself as a slave:
47 “‘If a resident foreigner who is with you prospers and your brother becomes impoverished with regard to him so that he sells himself to a resident foreigner who is with you or to a member of a foreigner’s family, 48 after he has sold himself he retains a right of redemption. One of his brothers may redeem him, 49 or his uncle or his cousin may redeem him, or anyone of the rest of his blood relatives – his family – may redeem him, or if he prospers he may redeem himself. 50 He must calculate with the one who bought him the number of years from the year he sold himself to him until the jubilee year, and the cost of his sale must correspond to the number of years, according to the rate of wages a hired worker would have earned while with him. 51 If there are still many years, in keeping with them he must refund most of the cost of his purchase for his redemption, 52 but if only a few years remain until the jubilee, he must calculate for himself in keeping with the remaining years and refund it for his redemption. 53 He must be with the one who bought him like a yearly hired worker. The one who bought him must not rule over him harshly in your sight. 54 If, however, he is not redeemed in these ways, he must go free in the jubilee year, he and his children with him, 55 because the Israelites are my own servants; they are my servants whom I brought out from the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God’” (Leviticus 25:47-55).
I realize that this text does not directly relate to what we find in the Book of Ruth. The thing I find particularly interesting in this text is a more specific definition of just who the near kinsman might be. It appears to me that there is an order of priority indicated as well. One could redeem himself, followed by one of his brothers (I’m assuming the order would be from the oldest to the youngest.) After that would be one’s uncle, then a cousin, and then more distant blood relatives. This does not tell us who the nearest kin of Elimelech was, but it at least suggests some options. Clearly the author did not wish to disclose such details, thereby keeping this man as anonymous as possible.
1 Now Boaz went up to the village gate and sat there. Then along came the guardian whom Boaz had mentioned to Ruth! Boaz said, “Come here and sit down, ‘John Doe’!” So he came and sat down. 2 Boaz chose ten of the village leaders and said, “Sit down here!” So they sat down. 3 Then Boaz said to the guardian, “Naomi, who has returned from the region of Moab, is selling the portion of land that belongs to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I am legally informing you: Acquire it before those sitting here and before the leaders of my people! If you want to exercise your right to redeem it, then do so. But if not, then tell me so I will know. For you possess the first option to redeem it; I am next in line after you.” He replied, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the wife of our deceased relative, in order to preserve his family name by raising up a descendant who will inherit his property.” 6 The guardian said, “Then I am unable to redeem it, for I would ruin my own inheritance in that case. You may exercise my redemption option, for I am unable to redeem it.” 7 (Now this used to be the customary way to finalize a transaction involving redemption in Israel: A man would remove his sandal and give it to the other party. This was a legally binding act in Israel.) 8 So the guardian said to Boaz, “You may acquire it,” and he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the leaders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have acquired from Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife to raise up a descendant who will inherit his property so the name of the deceased might not disappear from among his relatives and from his village. You are witnesses today” (Ruth 4:1-10).
As Naomi predicted, Boaz promptly set out to settle the issue of the redemption of Elimelech’s land as well as arranging a marriage to Ruth in order to raise up a descendant of the deceased to possess this land. Boaz went to the gate at the entrance of Bethlehem, and there (quite suddenly and unexpectedly, it would seem) he encountered the nearest kin. Boaz had the man sit down at the gate and then he gathered ten of the elders of Bethlehem to deal with this matter in a forthright, biblical, way. Boaz is clearly taking the leadership in this matter. (One can only wonder why the nearest kin had not done what Boaz is now doing at an earlier time.)
Boaz now brings up the matter of the land which belonged to Elimelech. It is almost impossible to believe that this is the first time the nearest kin has heard of Naomi’s plight, of her return to Bethlehem from Moab, or of the sale of her husband’s property. Perhaps Boaz is giving the nearest kin the benefit of the doubt here. If this kinsman had chosen to merely ignore Naomi’s plight, he no longer has that option. Boaz puts the matter of redeeming Elimelech’s property to this nearer kin in a way that requires him to redeem the property or publicly renounce his right to do so. Boaz makes it clear that if this fellow refuses to redeem the property he will do so.
The nearest kin agrees to redeem the land, and when he does, Boaz gets to the more difficult issue – marriage to Ruth in order to raise up descendants to her husband, Mahlon,7 and thus also to Elimelech and Naomi. This was a much more difficult matter for the nearest kin, because raising up descendants to Mahlon would appear to interfere with his own inheritance. Knowing that Boaz will marry Ruth if he declines to marry her, the nearest kin backs away from his obligations entirely. To make this matter legally binding, a sandal (or perhaps both sandals) was handed over. It would appear that the nearest kin handed one or two of his sandals over to Boaz, giving Boaz the legal authority to take his place with regard to the property of Elimelech and to Ruth, Mahlon’s widow.
If the passing of the sandal(s) was a symbol of what was taking place, the words of Boaz – spoken before the nearest kin, the ten elders, and those who stood by – declared the substance of this transaction. This was the equivalent of the signing and notarizing of a contract. That day Boaz redeemed all that belonged to Elimelech (primarily the land, I assume), and thus all that belonged to his heirs, Chilion and Mahlon.8
Marriage to Ruth was a closely related matter. Boaz publicly acquired Ruth as his wife with the express purpose of raising up a descendant who would grow up on the inheritance he was to possess. In this way, the name of Elimelech and also of Mahlon would not be forgotten, but would live on through the offspring of this marriage. All who looked on were witnesses to these legal proceedings.
Having reviewed the highlights of this legal transaction, let us pause to make a few observations regarding some of the details of what we have read in verses 1-10.
(1) Note the providence of God in the appearance of the nearest kin at the gate. I like the way the NASB renders verse 1:
Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, . . . (emphasis mine).
The author is signaling the reader that this was not the norm. Boaz might have waited for some time for this near kin to arrive, but here he suddenly and unexpectedly appears, preparing the way for what will follow. This is surely a “divine appointment” arranged by God to facilitate what is about to transpire. God is in this transaction!
(2) Note the public nature of this legal process, and how it contrasts with the “moonlight madness” which Naomi had sought to orchestrate the night before. Naomi’s plan was conducted in secrecy, under the covers, and under cover of darkness. Boaz handled the matter in broad daylight, in the town gate, before ten elders and numerous witnesses.
(3) The author carefully avoids naming the nearest kin or even giving us any significant details about him. While I don’t prefer the NET Bible’s choice of words (“John Doe” – this often designates the body of an unnamed corpse lying in a morgue), I do appreciate the attempt to convey the meaning of the original text (for which I would prefer something like “old so and so”). Here is a man who was worried about his inheritance, and yet we don’t even know his name.9 He simply (and by divine design) falls through the cracks of history.
(4) Boaz dealt honorably and kindly with the nearest kin. He presented the situation in a way that encouraged this fellow to do the right thing. He separated the two issues (redeeming the land and taking Ruth as a wife), dealing with the simplest matter first. While he made it easy for the nearest kin to do the right thing, he also made it clear that he would gladly handle this matter if the other fellow declined. How easy (and tempting) it would have been to have “soured” this deal, predisposing the nearest kin to back away from his responsibilities so that Boaz could marry Ruth.
(5) The nearest kin was willing to redeem the land when that would be to his advantage, but he was not willing to marry Ruth because it appeared to require a significant sacrifice on his part. If Elimelech and Naomi had no heirs, then the closest kin would inherit the property. But if old “so and so” married Ruth and produced a son, that son would inherit the land. The nearest kin would not gain the property permanently and he would assume whatever expenses were associated with raising the son he produced. (Would this son also inherit some of this man’s property? I’m not sure.) The nearest kin had quickly calculated a “profit and loss statement,” and marrying Ruth seemed to promise a loss, and so he declined.
(6) Boaz was careful to link the redemption of the land with marriage to Ruth. Twice in verses 1-10 the raising up of a son is for the purpose of him living “on his inheritance.”
Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5, NASB95; emphasis mine).
“Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today” (Ruth 4:10, NASB95; emphasis mine).10
Boaz understood that it was necessary to preserve the land for the house of Elimelech, but that also necessitated the preservation of a seed (an heir) for Elimelech. Boaz wanted to preserve the property of Elimelech so that his heir could grow up on that land. He understood that there was to be a strong connection between the Israelites and their inheritance in the land.
Strangely, Naomi’s plan seems to have focused only on the marriage of Ruth and Boaz. One can only speculate as to why this was the case. Did she assume that if she could orchestrate the consummation of a marriage at the threshing floor that everything else would, of necessity, fall into place? All I can say is that in her pragmatism, Naomi did not give sufficient attention to matters that the law had clearly addressed, matters of great importance to any true Israelite. Boaz was careful to attend to every aspect of need in the manner the law prescribed. This included giving the nearest kin the first chance at fulfilling his obligation.
(7) The author contrasts the character and actions of the nearest kin with that of Boaz. The nearest kin seemed to avoid his obligations to Naomi in her plight; Boaz was well informed of her plight and most eager to be of help to her, and to Ruth. The nearest kin was simply looking out for himself, while Boaz was seeking to serve Naomi and Ruth at his expense. All this started in his fields, but it comes to full bloom in the city gate.
(8) I must admit that I am still puzzling about the “sandal exchange” as presented in verses 7 and 8. If this was the only “sandal” text, I would simply read this as a parenthetical explanation of how legal transactions were formalized. But I cannot get these verses from Deuteronomy 25 out of my mind.
7 But if the man does not want to marry his brother’s widow, then she must go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to preserve his brother’s name in Israel; he is unwilling to perform the duty of a brother-in-law to me!” 8 Then the elders of his city must summon him and speak to him. If he persists, saying, “I don’t want to marry her,” 9 then his sister-in-law must approach him in view of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, and spit in his face. She will then respond, “Thus may it be done to any man who does not maintain his brother’s family line!” 10 His family name will be referred to in Israel as “the family of the one whose sandal was removed” (Deuteronomy 25:7-10, emphasis mine).
If I am reading Deuteronomy 25 correctly, to be referred to as “the family of the one whose sandal was removed” is to be publicly shamed. This text does not appear to say that every “transaction involving redemption” (see Ruth 4:7) was formalized by the removal of a sandal, but only in the case of a near kin who refused to fulfill his duty as a brother-in-law to his deceased brother.
My question is this: “Are we to understand Ruth 4:7-10 in the light of Deuteronomy 25:7-10, and if so, how?” Perhaps the two texts are related, but are not to be confused. I’m not sure how many would attempt to show any relationship between the two texts. Perhaps both texts are rooted in a common tradition – the sandal exchange. I see two possible ways to understand our text in Ruth 4. The first is to see the sandal exchange as the legal process of the time, and in this case, Boaz and the nearest kin are carrying out this legal matter “by the book.”
The second explanation is to see our text in Ruth as a commentary on the times, and especially a commentary regarding the nearest kin. In the light of Deuteronomy 25, if the nearest kin’s sandal was removed, shouldn’t someone (namely Ruth or Naomi) have spit in this fellow’s face? Some might excuse this nearest kin by pointing out that the circumstances in Ruth 4 are not the same as those described in Deuteronomy 25 – two brothers living together on their inheritance. Perhaps so, but this kin does not fulfill his responsibility, which if not a command was surely an obligation of some kind. Should there not be a measure of disgrace, something like what we see in Deuteronomy 25?
Here is what I am tempted to make of the reference to the sandal exchange in Ruth 4. The period of the judges was a time when men did what was right in their own eyes, meaning they did not living according to what was right in God’s eyes – as declared in the law.11 The law indicated that when a near kinsman (granted, a brother, living on the same inheritance in Deuteronomy 25) refused to carry out his obligation in levirate marriage, his sandal was exchanged, his face was spit upon, and his reputation was destroyed from that point on. But we are now in the days of the judges, and the nearest kin seems to be a product of his times. He exchanges his sandal(s), and thus feels relieved of all his responsibilities (and perhaps of his guilt). His exchange of sandal(s), when compared with the passage in Deuteronomy 25, should be seen as an indictment of his character and an indication that he did not really grasp the heart of the law. Thankfully, Boaz loved the law and acted accordingly.
11 All the people who were at the gate and the elders replied, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel! May you prosper in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 May your family become like the family of Perez – whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the descendants the Lord gives you by this young woman.” 13 So Boaz married Ruth and had sexual relations with her. The Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son. 14 The village women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be praised because he has not left you without a guardian today! May he become famous in Israel! 15 He will encourage you and provide for you when you are old, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, has given him birth. She is better to you than seven sons!” 16 Naomi took the child and placed him on her lap; she became his caregiver. 17 The neighbor women named him, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. Now he became the father of Jesse – David’s father! (Ruth 4:11-17)
Notice how the pronouncement of blessings dominates this portion of chapter 4. Verses 11-12 begin with the pronouncement of blessings by those who witnessed the legal transaction which took place at the town gate – which would include both the onlookers and the ten elders. They first bless Ruth in verse 12: “May the Lord make the woman who is entering your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built up the house of Israel!” In what way were the people of Bethlehem thinking God would bless Ruth “like Rachel and Leah”? The most obvious way is plainly stated. God’s blessing on Ruth would “build up the house of Israel.” But I believe that they see more than just the continuation of Elimelech’s family line. I believe they see God’s blessings on Ruth as building up the entire nation of Israel. We know that this will result in the Davidic dynasty and also the line from which the Messiah will come. That, my friend, is truly “building up the nation of Israel”!
Why do the townspeople pronounce a blessing on Ruth that would make her like Rachel and Leah? There is the sense which we have just noted – namely that these two women (with their handmaids) produced the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel. But I believe that there is also a more subtle blessing here – that of being enabled to conceive. First Rachel (Genesis 30:1), and then Leah (Genesis 30:9-13), were unable to conceive. In both instances, God (see Genesis 30:14-24) opened their wombs and enabled them to conceive. We know from the earlier chapters of Ruth that she had borne no children, and in Ruth 4:13, we are told that God “enabled her to conceive.” Thus, this blessing may have assumed that God would open Ruth’s womb so that she could bear children and thus build up the house of Israel.
The blessings of the people at the gate now focus upon Boaz: “May you prosper in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. May your family become like the family of Perez – whom Tamar bore to Judah – through the descendants the Lord gives you by this young woman” (Ruth 4:11b-12). The people perceive that Boaz has done what is honorable and praiseworthy. I believe they also are well aware of the sacrifices Boaz is making to fulfill his obligations. And so it is that they pronounce blessings on him. May (even greater) prosperity and fame come upon Boaz through Ruth and the offspring God will produce through her.
The townspeople likened the blessings on and through Ruth to God’s blessings on Rachel and Leah. They now liken God’s blessings on and through Boaz to those which came to Judah through Tamar. Through Tamar (a Gentile, like Ruth), God produced Perez,12 and through him, Judah’s line would be preserved until it results in the house of David, and ultimately in the birth of Messiah. This blessing assumed that God would produce an offspring to Boaz and Ruth.
Verse 13 is significant for it very briefly mentions the consummation of the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, and then informs us of Ruth’s divinely-enabled conception. Let us keep in mind the sequence of events described: the legal process of formalizing the marriage, their physical union, and finally Ruth’s childbearing. Somehow in our day and time, this sequence is all too quickly set aside, and some elements may simply be ignored.
The second set of blessings is recorded in verses 14-17. The women of the town who speak these words are a different group than those witnesses to the legal formalities described earlier. I believe these are likely the same women who are found in chapter 1:
19 So the two of them journeyed together until they arrived in Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole village was excited about their arrival. The women of the village said, “Can this be Naomi?” 20 But she replied to them, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi’! Call me ‘Mara’ because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly. 21 I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me ‘Naomi,’ seeing that the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer?” (Ruth 1:19-21, emphasis mine)
I am impressed with the spiritual perception of these “village women.” They have summed things up very well. They do not praise Naomi; instead, they praise God for what He has done. Now remember that Naomi’s attitudes and actions have not really been praiseworthy. She had blamed God for bringing her back to Bethlehem “empty-handed.” She refused to be called “Naomi” (pleasant) because she viewed her circumstances (dealt her by God) to be bitter. As these women praise God, they are also gently correcting Naomi. She was not “empty-handed,” for God “had not left her without a guardian.” They now pronounce a blessing on the child God has given to Ruth: “May he become famous in Israel!” It is this child who will encourage, protect, and provide for Naomi in her old age. They also lavished praise on Ruth, for her loyal love, for giving birth to this child, and for being better to Naomi than seven sons. How could Naomi possibly see herself as abandoned by God and empty-handed? She has been greatly blessed.
Verse 16 is particularly interesting to me. It appears that her actions here are in response to what the women have just spoken. She was blessed by God. This child was, in one sense, her child, her chance to preserve the line of her husband, her future. And so she takes the child and lays him on her lap (he was no doubt handed to her by Ruth). From that point on, Naomi maintained a very close relationship with this boy, a sort of blend of “grandmother,” “nurse maid,” and “nanny.”
This child is not only welcomed and embraced as Naomi’s child, this child is also embraced (adopted) by the women of the town. They are the ones who give this child his name – Obed (servant). He is the father of Jesse and of David, and thus ultimately of Him who is the “Servant of Israel” – the Messiah.
The book closes with a genealogy, beginning with Perez (one of the sons of Judah and Tamar – the one through whom Judah’s line will be traced). Perez had a son named Hezron,13 and Hezron’s offspring was Ram. Ram bore Amminadab; Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon was the father of Salmon, the father of Boaz. Boaz, as we know, was the father of Obed, Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s great king. The genealogy we find in Ruth spans from Judah to David, and in the New Testament, the genealogies will span all the way to Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah.
As we conclude this message, we also conclude our study of both Judges and Ruth. Thus, the conclusions and applications which follow will flow not only from chapter 4, but from our entire study of Judges and Ruth.
Our study should enhance our love for the law of God. The term “law” can be used in several ways in the New Testament. Here, I am not referring to the law as that legalistic system of rules which men strive (always unsuccessfully) to keep in order to merit God’s favor. I am speaking of the Old Testament law which sets forth God’s standard of righteousness. It is, of course, a standard which we cannot keep, which should turn us to Christ, the only One who has ever fully satisfied the requirements of the law.
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:19-26).
But as Paul said in Romans 7, the law is holy, righteous, and good (Romans 7:12). Here, Paul is speaking of the law as the psalmist saw it in Psalm 119. I believe that Boaz saw the law in the same way, and thus he was not content to merely meet the bare requirements of the law; he chose to go beyond the law in his generosity to the poor, particularly in his care for Naomi and Ruth. Viewed in this manner, the Old Testament law was not opposed to grace, but was a means of grace, if men delighted to do it and relied upon God to empower them to keep it. For us, as for Boaz and for the psalmist, our duty should be our delight. All that we read in the Book of Ruth was happening at a time when the Israelites (in general) were living in disregard for the law, doing what was right in their own eyes. We should not only do what the law requires; we should delight in doing it. And this we can do when we are empowered by the Holy Spirit, who writes the law on our hearts:
2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4, emphasis mine).
The books of Judges and Ruth teach us a great deal about men, and most of what we learn is not good. There are always those who are overly optimistic about the goodness of man, but the Bible consistently denies this:
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;
10 as it is written,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:9-18).
It is times like the days of the judges that dramatically portray the fallenness of man. In the Book of Judges, we find example after example of fallen humanity. In the Book of Ruth, it is Naomi who exemplifies those who do what is right in their own eyes. And in so doing, Naomi serves as the backdrop against which the faithfulness of Boaz and Ruth are displayed. But it should be clear to the reader that they are the exception, and even godly people like these two are godly because God has written His law on their hearts, and not because of their efforts to keep the law in their own strength. The Book of Ruth gives us cause for hope, not because men are good, but because God is setting the stage for the coming of His king – David (and ultimately the Son of David, the Messiah).
Even in the worst of times, God always preserves a remnant. The Book of Ruth also illustrates the marvelous truth that God assures the fulfillment of His purposes and promises by preserving a righteous remnant:
27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” 29 And just as Isaiah foretold, “Unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, We would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah” (Romans 9:27-29).
There was much wickedness in Israel during the dark days of the judges, but the Book of Ruth reminds us that God’s covenant promises are assured by the fact that He always preserves a remnant through which He will bring about His purposes and promises. Ruth and Boaz are a significant part of that remnant, because this remnant assures the preservation of the Messianic line.
The books of Judges and Ruth teach us much about God, and all of this is good. The books of Judges and Ruth are not written so that we can glory in the goodness of man. They are written to reveal the glories of our righteous God. The fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises depends upon the goodness and greatness of our God, not on the goodness of men. God is able to cause all things to work together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Even in the darkest of times, God is providentially at work, preparing the way for the fulfillment of His promises. Naomi does not see this through much of the Book of Ruth but the reader is prompted to see the unseen hand of God at work, even when it appears to Naomi that all hope is lost. What a wonderfully comforting and assuring truth this is: our eternal well being is dependent upon the perfections of our God, and not on our performance.
The Book of Ruth reveals the importance of our attitudes and actions. As I read the Book of Ruth, I am not only impressed with the godliness and faith of Boaz and Ruth, I am also struck by the impact their faith and godliness have upon those who knew them. The relationship between Boaz and his workers (see 2:4, for example) indicates that not only is Boaz a man who trusts in God, but also his workers have a similar spirit. In their pronouncements of blessing, the people of Bethlehem (see 4:11-17) speak as those who see what God is doing, and who trust Him to continue to bless His people. I believe that the city of Bethlehem stands out among all those cities named in Judges and Ruth as a city where its people trust God. It is my assumption that Boaz (and later Ruth) had much to do with this. On the other hand, one can only imagine the impact of a woman like Naomi, had she persisted in her bitterness (see 1:20-21).
The godliness of Boaz and Ruth resulted not only in the marriage of these two, and in the birth of Obed; their godliness resulted in the praise of the people of Bethlehem. That praise seems to come naturally after what Boaz does in the first half of chapter 4. One cannot envision the same kind of response had Ruth and Boaz consummated a kind of “midnight marriage” as Naomi seemed to be facilitating. Had the union of Boaz and Ruth happened as planned in chapter 3, the townspeople would have been whispering about it to one another. But when Boaz redeemed Elimelech’s land and took Ruth as his wife, the people of the town praised God and pronounced His blessings on those involved.
The crises we find in the books of Judges and Ruth are the same kinds of crises which we face today. The events in Judges and Ruth took place a very long time ago, and in a far away land, but the difficulties and challenges they faced are the same things which we face today. The ancient author of Ecclesiastes said this:
9 That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
The Apostle Paul put it this way:
13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Famines and economic times of distress are not unique to the ancient Israelites. These things are taking place before our very eyes. The threat of war and of enemy oppression is something that looms before us, just as it did before the people of God in Judges (and Ruth). Just as Naomi and her family chose to live among the Moabites, Christians are tempted to compromise by blending in with the godlessness of our pagan culture today. And just as God kept a remnant pure in those days, He is doing the same today. Death and childlessness were experienced by the ancients, and they are still being experienced today. Our trials and temptations are not unique. They are the same tests which men have faced throughout human history. And these tests and trials are the means God uses to strengthen His saints and to bring glory to Himself. Thus, while the events of Judges and Ruth are long ago and far away, they are instructive for Christians today.
Christians may either joyfully participate in the fulfillment of God’s purposes and promises, or we can protest the working of His hand in our lives, leading to bitterness in our souls. I believe that both Ruth and Boaz took great pleasure in doing God’s will, even in those times when this appeared to be contrary to their own best interests. Naomi, on the other hand, could only sit back and complain, and propose actions which were contrary to God’s will.
In our times, as in the days of the judges, God is at work providentially. That is, God’s hand is at work, but not in ways that are readily apparent to us. Circumstances (if viewed as Naomi saw them) would even appear to be the cruel hand of God in our lives. We have a choice to make. Either we can confidently trust that God is at work behind the scenes – even in the adversities we are experiencing – or we can protest and complain, doubting His goodness and power. The choice we make has everything to do with the joy we will experience in the midst of our trials and tribulations. Those who choose to joyfully participate in what God is doing find life a privilege and a pleasure.14 Those who choose to resist God’s hand and to become bitter will find life a very painful process. Let us choose joyful trust and obedience.
Our text helps us to put sex and marriage in their proper place. In our day and time, there are many who are unwilling to pay the price of marriage. They seek to enjoy the benefits and privileges of marriage without the “legal process” of marriage. They tell us that a marriage license is only a piece of paper, and they avoid making the covenant commitment that a biblical marriage requires.15 In our culture, marriage is about personal pleasure, rather than servanthood. Marriage is about me, about finding a mate who makes me feel good, who fulfills my desires and expectations.
Not so with Boaz, or with Ruth. Boaz rightly recognized that Ruth could have found a younger husband who would have been more desirable, but she chose him for all the right reasons. Boaz, too, knew that marrying Ruth would involve sacrifice (which is why the nearest kin backed out of his obligations). Each entered into marriage as their service to God and as a way of serving the other. The motivation for marriage should be more about sacrificial service than self-fulfillment.16
The Book of Ruth also teaches us some important truths about the bearing of children. On the one hand, the Book of Ruth exposes Naomi’s self-centered obsession with child bearing. I do not get the feeling that she is like Tamar before her, who saw the importance of bearing a child to preserve the name of her husband (and the Messianic line). Naomi seems to have concluded that her life was meaningless without children. There is a shallowness in Naomi’s feeling of emptiness. The essence of a woman’s life is not in the bearing of children, though this is a wonderful privilege given to many.
On the other side of the spectrum, we see the nearest kin looking upon the bearing of children (particularly a child born to Ruth) as a sacrifice at a price he was unwilling to pay. Frankly, I fear that there are some Christians who limit their child bearing for reasons similar to that of the nearest kin – selfishness. No wonder the birthrate of Christians is so low that we are being marginalized by groups who do value the bearing of children. I know that I’m treading on thin ice here, but I challenge the reader to think hard about their reasons for not having children. Likewise, I challenge those who seem obsessed with having children to consider their motivation as well. Naomi and the nearest kin may have something to teach us.
Judges and Ruth teach us that doing what is right in God’s eyes requires living by faith. The law was given to encourage faith, not to oppose it. A farmer had to exercise faith when he left a portion of his field for the poor. Likewise, he had to exercise faith by leaving the land fallow every seven years, and by refusing to labor on the Sabbath (even if a storm was coming). Ruth exercised great faith in leaving her family and homeland to dwell in Israel and placing herself under the protective wings of God.17 Boaz exercised faith when he gave the nearest kin the first option to carry out his obligations. He exercised faith by fathering a son who would be the heir of a kinsman. Doing what is right in our own eyes is living by sight. Doing what is right in God’s eyes requires faith, for we often cannot see how doing the right thing will produce what God has promised.
So let me end by asking you these questions, my friend: “Who do you trust?” “Are you living your life by doing what is right in your own eyes?” That is the spirit of our Postmodern world, and it is dead wrong. We must see things as God does, and it is only God’s Word that presents God’s perspective on man, on right and wrong, and on man’s eternal destiny. You will never get into God’s heaven by doing what is right in your own eyes. From Judges and Ruth, we should see ourselves as unworthy sinners who need salvation from a source outside of ourselves – from God. That salvation has been provided by God in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. It is only by acknowledging your sin, and recognizing that you deserve God’s eternal wrath, and then by trusting in the death of Jesus Christ in bearing your eternal punishment that you will ever get to heaven. He bore the penalty of our sin, and He alone provides the righteousness which God requires to enter into heaven. Do not trust yourself when it comes to your eternal destiny. Trust in Him, who alone can save.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Genesis 37:34-35.
3 Genesis 38:1-2.
4 Ruth 4:12, 18.
5 See Leviticus 18:24-30; 20:22-26; Deuteronomy 4:25-31; 1 Kings 9:4-9; 2 Kings 17:19-23; 2 Chronicles 7:17-22; Jeremiah 7:3-15; 24:8-10.
6 An example of redeeming the land can be seen in Jeremiah 32:6-15.
7 See Ruth 4:10, where it is clearly stated that Mahlon was Ruth’s husband.
8 We should not forget that both of Elimelech’s sons died. Together, these two sons would have inherited what had belonged to their father, Elimelech. Boaz did not redeem only Mahlon’s portion, but also Chilion’s portion of the inheritance, thus redeeming all of the possessions of Elimelech.
9 The Hebrew term usually rendered “name” is found seven times in this chapter of Ruth (“name” is found six times in the English translation), but the “name” of the nearest kin is never revealed to the reader. As important as prolonging one’s name was, this man’s name was lost for all of recorded history.
10 I prefer the more literal translation of the NASB here, which emphasizes the link between Elimelech’s heir and Elimelech’s inheritance (land). Contrary to the rendering of the NET Bible, I do not think that the emphasis is merely on the fact that this son will someday inherit this land, but that he will grow up on the land he is to inherit. As a “country boy” at heart, I can appreciate what the author is saying. From the earliest days of his life, this heir should feel a bond with the land God is giving him.
11 See Deuteronomy 12:8, 28.
12 We know (as did the townspeople) that Tamar had twins – Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38:27-30), but it was through Perez that Judah’s line would be traced.
13 As we know, biblical genealogies sometimes list key links in a genetic line, but not necessarily every link. Thus, a “son” may well be a grandson, or even a great grandson. For example, in Ruth 4:19 Ram is listed as the “father” of Amminadab, yet in Luke 3:33, Ram’s son is said to be Admin, and Admin’s son is Amminadab. Admin is thus an extra link in the chain, a link not mentioned in either Ruth or Matthew 1:4.
14 See Paul’s response to adversity in the Book of Philippians.
15 See Malachi 2:13-16.
16 See Ephesians 5:25-27; Philippians 2:1-8. Sometimes sacrificial service is a reason not to marry (see 1 Corinthians 7:32-35.
17 Ruth 2:12.