16. A Light in Dark Days (Ruth)
The Book of Ruth156
Several years ago, I found myself in the middle of a theological dispute regarding tithing. A church many miles away was seeking to discern just how much its leaders should be required to tithe. Should a leader be required to tithe? How much? Should the tithe be of his “net” or “gross” income? When invited to give my opinion, I jumped right into the debate, fully convinced that I had the biblical answer. I thought I did have the right answer from a technical point of view, but then my attention was directed to the Book of Ruth. After considering the message of this great little book, and especially the example of Boaz, I realized that my whole approach to this debate was fundamentally flawed. I had to write one of the men with whom I had been communicating and tell him about my change of heart and mind.
Ruth is a most amazing book. It is a mere four chapters in length, but it tells a most heart-warming story about a Jewish widow, her Gentile daughter-in-law, and an older Jewish gentleman with a very big heart. Short though it may be, this is a very important story. It had implications for the Jews of old, and it continues to have a great deal to say to saints today as well. We should listen well to this book, asking the Holy Spirit to open our hearts and minds to its message for us.
The story of Ruth takes place during the dark days of the judges (1:1). The Book of Judges is a most disturbing book, for it describes the days when Israel had no king, and when men and women acted autonomously – they “did what was right in their own eyes.” They did not live according to the law, but according to their own impulses and inclinations. We read of an on-going cycle of sin, divine judgment, petitioning God for help, divine deliverance, and then a return to even greater sin. We read of weak men and strong women, of a Levite priest for hire to the highest bidder, and another who cuts his concubine into 12 pieces, which he sends to the tribes of Israel. In this dark hour in Israel’s history, there lived a Jewish widow, a Gentile woman named Ruth, and a gracious and godly Jew named Boaz. They have much to teach us.
Before we go any farther, I must say a word about the Moabites. Ruth, the heroine of our story, is a Moabite woman. The Moabites were the race that resulted from the union of Lot and his oldest daughter, as described in Genesis 19:30-38. The Moabites were not Canaanites. While the Moabites were forbidden from entering into the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23:3), the Israelites were not commanded to annihilate them, and they were not forbidden to marry them (Deuteronomy 20:10-15; 21:10-14; contrast 7:1-6; 20:16-20). You will recall that when David was being pursued by Saul, he took his parents to the king of Moab for protection (1 Samuel 22:3). At least some of the Moabites were David’s relatives.
My approach in this lesson will be to give a brief overview of the story of the Book of Ruth, and then to consider each of the three main characters. Finally, we shall seek to find the contribution of this book to the Bible, and explore its relevance and application to men and women today.
The Book of Ruth begins with a famine in the land of Israel. This famine prompted Elimelech to leave Israel with his family and to sojourn temporarily in Moab. Elimelech seems to have died relatively soon after they came to Moab. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, had two sons. Each son married a Moabite woman, and eventually, both sons died without having any children.
Naomi was left with only her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. She heard that God had visited His people and that there was once again grain in Israel. Naomi purposed to return, but she urged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab. She managed to persuade Orpah to return to her parents, but Ruth was determined to remain with Naomi, no matter what. She would not be persuaded otherwise, and so Naomi, along with Ruth, returned to Israel.
When they arrived in Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem, the people immediately recognized her and were excited that she had returned. Naomi was quick to tell them her woes, blaming her troubles on God, who seemed to have it out for her, or so she implied (1:20-22).
Ruth immediately set out to provide for Naomi’s needs. She began to glean in the nearby field of a man who “just happened” to be a near relative of Elimelech (2:3). Ruth quickly caught the eye of those laboring in the field because she worked diligently, hardly stopping to rest (2:7). Boaz noticed her as well and made sure that Ruth was protected and provided with grain to glean as she sought to care for her mother-in-law.
Naomi realized that Boaz was showing great kindness to Ruth, and so she acted as a matchmaker, seeking to arrange the marriage of Ruth and Boaz. Naomi devised a plan whereby Ruth could indicate her need for a husband and her desire to marry Boaz. The plan worked, and Boaz indicated that he would be delighted to marry Ruth, except that he was not the nearest kin. Boaz met with the nearest relative in the city gate, giving him the opportunity to purchase Elimelech’s land, and to acquire Ruth as a wife. The nearest kin was willing to purchase Elimelech’s land but did not want Ruth’s hand in marriage, and so Boaz acquired both the land and Ruth. They married, and the child Ruth bore to Boaz was named Obed. Obed was the grandfather of David.
The Three Main Characters of the Book of Ruth
I might as well confess to my readers that Naomi is not one of my favorite Bible characters. She is certainly not a heroine, like Ruth. I think of her as a kind of blend of Jacob, Job, Jonah, and Esther. Naomi could easily have merited the title as one of the “Bad Girls of the Bible.” I fear that many Christians have been misled by some of the popular propaganda that seeks to “sanctify” Naomi. Let me point out some of my concerns about Naomi.
In chapter 1, we are told that Naomi’s husband died, leaving Naomi and her two sons alone (1:3). I get the impression that Elimelech died fairly soon after they arrived in Moab. The boys seem to marry later on, after the death of their father. We are told that they married Moabite wives. I have concluded that they married after their father’s death, and at a time when Naomi would have functioned as the head of the family. Naomi either orchestrated these marriages to Moabite women, or she passively permitted and accepted them. Naomi and her sons lived in Moab about ten years (Ruth 1:4). In all this time, Naomi apparently made no effort to return to the land of Israel even though her husband’s intent was to merely sojourn in Moab until the famine ended.
When Naomi does finally decide to return to Israel, it is because she has heard that God has once again provided grain for His people. No mention is made that this famine was God’s discipline for Israel’s sin and idolatry. There is no apparent sense that leaving Israel was to leave the special place of God’s presence and blessing. There is no apparent eagerness to return to Israel. The only stated reason for Naomi’s return is that the land is now producing grain. Her reasons for returning to the land seem more pragmatic than noble.
What is distressing is that Naomi insists that her daughters remain in Moab, and that they find husbands there. Worse yet is the clear inference that they should stay in Moab as Moabites, worshipping the god(s) of Moab:
Then Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law back home!” (Ruth 1:15)157
One cannot know what Naomi’s motives were here, but if she understood the evils of idolatry, she would realize that urging her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and worship Moabite gods was damning.
Finally in chapter 1 Naomi blames God for her suffering:
“Would you wait until they were grown? Would you remain unmarried all that time? No, my daughters, you must not come with me. For you should not have to experience my intense suffering. After all, the Lord has attacked me” (1:13, emphasis mine).
20 Naomi 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 made me suffer?” (1:20-21, emphasis mine).
When Naomi returns to her hometown of Bethlehem, she is immediately recognized and joyfully welcomed back home. There is a mood of joyful celebration, but Naomi quickly “rains on their parade.” Naomi confesses no sin. She speaks of God as One who is all-powerful, but also One who is cruel and capricious. God is the source of her suffering, which has nothing to do with her sin, or with the sins of her people.
In chapter 2, we see Ruth working hard to provide for her mother-in-law and for herself, but we do not read of Naomi going out into the fields to glean. One has the impression that Elimelech and Naomi were fairly well to do before the famine (they “went out full” – 1:21). Did Naomi not work because she was elderly in infirmed? Perhaps. But is it not also possible that she did not do as Ruth did because she felt this was beneath her, because she was too proud? Many times in Taiwan and elsewhere I have marveled at how hard the elderly work to help support their families.
In chapter 3, Naomi’s actions raise a number of concerns. Naomi takes it upon herself to see to it that Ruth has a husband and a home. In and of itself, this doesn’t seem like such a bad thing. But her method of bringing this to pass is questionable, at best. First, while some have sought to show that the method Naomi proposed was a familiar custom of that day, I don’t believe this is the case at all. Consider the words of Leon Morris:
“We have very little knowledge of the customs prevalent in Israel in antiquity and the arrangements for marriage here outlined are not elsewhere attested.”158
“The context makes it clear that this describes a way whereby Ruth signified to Boaz her desire to marry him. Ordinary methods of approach were no doubt difficult and this provided a suitable medium. But why it should be done in this way we do not know. Nor do we know whether this was a widely practiced custom or not. It is not attested other than here.”159
Second, Boaz was not the nearest kin to Elimelech. I doubt very much that Ruth knew this until Boaz informed her of the fact (3:12); but surely Naomi knew. Why, then, did Naomi seek to arrange Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, rather than the nearest kin?
Third, it seems unusual that Ruth would have to be the one proposing marriage. Why didn’t Naomi ask Boaz if he would take Ruth as his wife?
Fourth, Naomi chose a time, place, and method of approach that appealed to sensual desires, rather than to a reasoned commitment. Naomi instructed Ruth to go to Boaz while they were threshing, a joyous time of celebration. It was at a similar occasion that Judah had a liaison with a woman that he thought was a cult prostitute, but who turned out to be his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38:11-30). Naomi told Ruth to go to Boaz at night, after he had eaten and drunk – in other words, to come to him after he had drunk enough for his “heart to become merry.”
“Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking” (Ruth 3:3, NIV, emphasis mine).
When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down (Ruth 3:7, NIV, emphasis mine).
Someone might suppose that I am reading too much between the lines. Not at all! You can see virtually the same expression (literally, “to have a good heart” – to be merry) in Judges 19:6, 9, where the concubine’s father extends great hospitality to his son-in-law. It is used of Nabal, when he became drunk (1 Samuel 25:36). We find it in 2 Samuel 22:11, 13, where David attempts to get Uriah drunk, so that he will go home and sleep with his wife, thereby coving David’s sin of adultery. Then there is 2 Samuel 13:28 where Absalom instructs his servants to get Amnon drunk and then to kill him. The expression is also found in Esther 1:10 where the king of Persia, in his drunken state, demands that the queen appear before him and his leaders.
Fifth, Naomi intended Ruth’s approach to Boaz to be one that would appeal to him on a physical level:
3 So bathe yourself, rub on some perfumed oil, and get dressed up. Then go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let the man know you’re there until he finishes his meal. 4 When he gets ready to go to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him. He will tell you what you should do” (Ruth 3:3-4).
Stop and think about this. Boaz has been working hard in the harvest, and it is a time of eating and drinking. His heart is merry, not only because of the festive occasion, but because of the wine he has been drinking. A beautiful young woman comes and lies near him, wearing perfume and her finest dress. Would you not agree that this is far from a platonic setting?
Sixth, Naomi tells Ruth that whatever Boaz tells her to do, she should do it (3:4).
Now if anyone finds my suspicions a bit overreaching, let me point out how Boaz responded. He tells Ruth no one must know that she has been to the threshing floor that night (3:14). If this were a standard method of proposing marriage, then why wouldn’t everyone understand Ruth’s presence and her actions? Why would Ruth’s being there threaten the reputation of Boaz, or of Ruth? No wonder Morris points out the dangers of the approach Naomi proposed:
The narrator uses the utmost delicacy, but it is clear that Naomi’s plan was not without its dangers. The fact that she was prepared to urge this course on Ruth is the measure of her trust in both the participants. All the more is this the case since in the Ancient Near East immoral practices at harvest-times were by no means uncommon, and indeed, appear to have been encouraged by the fertility rites practised by in some regions.160
I must conclude from all these facts that Naomi was seeking to bring about Ruth’s marriage in a provocative and manipulative way, rather than in a principled way. In my opinion, this does not speak well for Naomi.
I’m sure that when we read about the “wife of noble character” in Proverbs 31 that we tend to think of a Jewish woman. As I read the Book of Ruth, I think of her as a “wife of noble character,” as a “Proverbs 31 kind of woman.” Ruth is surely a woman of noble character, as we shall see.
In chapter 1, Ruth attaches herself to Naomi, in spite of the fact that her mother-in-law strongly urges her to return home to her parents, her homeland, and her pagan god(s):
15 Then Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has returned to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law back home!” 16 But Ruth replied, “Stop urging me to abandon you and to leave you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die and I will be buried there. The Lord will punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Nothing but death will separate you and me” (Ruth 1:15-17).
Naomi is a bitter old woman, who thinks that her God has treated her harshly. She urges Ruth to return to her own land of Moab, to her parents, and to her god. One would think that it would have been very tempting for Ruth to “obey” her mother-in-law and go home. Ruth’s commitment to Naomi is greater than some folks’ commitment to marriage. Indeed, Ruth’s words are sometimes used as marriage vows. By her oath Ruth binds herself to Naomi, to the land of Israel, and to the God of Israel. Her commitment is not short-term, until Naomi’s death. Ruth’s attachment to Israel and Israel’s God is life-long. Ruth tells Naomi that she will remain in Israel after her mother-in-law’s death. In fact, Ruth tells Naomi that she too will be buried with her mother-in-law in Israel. As I understand Ruth’s words, she is expressing her conversion and her lifelong commitment to worship Yahweh, the God of Israel. From these words of Boaz, I believe that he understood Ruth in the same way:
11 … “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, your mother, and your homeland and came to live among people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord reward your efforts! May your wages be paid in full by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to find shelter!” (Ruth 2:11-12, emphasis mine)
In chapter 2, it is Ruth who takes the initiative in seeking to support Naomi by gleaning in the fields. This is not only an evidence of the fact that she was a hard worker; it is also evidence of her faith. What she proposed to do was dangerous. A young, beautiful, single, foreign woman was vulnerable. There were those who would not hesitate to take advantage of her (remember the men of the city of Gibeah in Judges 19). The danger is evident by the way Boaz sought to protect her:
8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Don’t 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 along after the female workers. I will tell the servants to leave you alone. When you get thirsty, you may go to the water jars and drink some of the water the servants draw” (Ruth 2:8-9; see comments of Naomi in 2:22).
Boaz warned Ruth that she should work only in his field, and that she should work only alongside his female workers. In addition, Boaz warned his servants not to bother her; indeed, they were not even to raise their voice to her (2:16). In spite of the risks involved, Ruth was willing to work in the fields, so that she might provide for Naomi and herself.
When Ruth went into the field of Boaz to glean, she worked hard the entire day, hardly stopping to rest. The workers inform Boaz:
“She asked, ‘May I go behind the harvesters and gather grain among the bundles?’ She has stayed here since she arrived. From this morning until right now, she has taken only a brief rest” (2:7).
When she was invited to sit at the table with the Boaz and his servants, she kept some of the roasted grain for her mother-in-law, rather than eating it all herself (2:14, 18).
Although Ruth was an attractive young woman, she did not use her looks in a seductive way, but was humble and unassuming:
10 Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind to me and so attentive, even though I am a foreigner?” … 13 She said, “You really are being kind to me, my master, for you have reassured me and encouraged your servant, though I could never be equal to one of your servants” (Ruth 2:10, 13).
When we come to chapter 3, we see Ruth obediently following the instructions that Naomi had given her, acting in faith and with modesty and humility. She was no seductress. The response of Boaz is one that focuses on her godly character:
He said, “May you be rewarded by the Lord, my daughter! This latter act of devotion is greater than what you did before. You have not pursued one of the young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10).
Overall, Ruth was regarded as a noble and worthy woman:
“Now, my daughter, don’t worry! I intend to do for you everything you propose, for everyone in town knows that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11, emphasis mine).
14 The women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be praised because he has not left you without a guardian today! May he be 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!” (Ruth 4:14-15, emphasis mine)
Boaz is a most remarkable man. It would seem fairly self-evident that he was an older man (3:10), and that he was a man of considerable means. He was also a man of integrity and great character. There are some who would be inclined to think that Boaz showed favoritism toward Ruth primarily because of her beauty. I strongly disagree. In my opinion, Boaz was kind and gracious to everyone, and not just to Ruth. We can see that there is a mutual respect between Boaz and his workers:
Now Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you!” They replied, “May the Lord bless you!” (Ruth 2:4)
When he first takes note of Ruth, Boaz views her not as someone who is “available,” but as someone who is already taken:
Boaz asked his servant, the one in charge of the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?” (Ruth 2:5)
His concern for Ruth is a “fatherly” concern. At least twice (2:8; 3:10) Boaz refers to Ruth as “my daughter,” as opposed to “honey,” “sweet thing,” “dear,” and the like. Boaz recognizes that Ruth is a woman of character, and that she is seeking to provide for Naomi. Consequently, Boaz deals with Ruth generously. He lets her sit at his table and drink the water that was provided for his servants (2:9, 14). He takes extra measures to see to it that no one harms Ruth (2:8-9, 16). He instructs his servants to leave extra grain for her to glean (2:15-16). He delights in her godly character, her faithfulness to Naomi, and in the fact that she has entrusted herself to the God of Israel. He invokes God’s blessings upon her (2:11-12).
The godly character of Boaz is particularly evident in chapters 3 and 4. Boaz acts honorably toward Ruth when he discovers that she is lying near to him, symbolically asking him to marry her. He does not take advantage of her. He tells Ruth that he is not the nearest kinsman, so that he cannot take her as his wife until he has publicly resolved this matter. He protects her honor by sending her away before anyone sees her. In chapter 4, Boaz settles this matter publicly at the city gates. He does not in any way attempt to slant or distort the proceedings, so as to dissuade the nearest kinsman from purchasing Elimelech’s property and taking Ruth as his wife. Everything he does is honest and above board.
What a wonderful, heart-warming story the Book of Ruth is. It is not just a romantic story, however; it is a story with lessons for Israel and for us. As we conclude, let’s consider the meaning and message of this book.
First, the Book of Ruth provides us with a genealogy of David, one of the most famous Israelite kings of all time. Leon Morris writes:
It is an interesting fact that though David is the greatest king spoken of in the historical books, and though he is looked on by subsequent generations as the ideal king, there is no genealogy of him in I Samuel. There he is simply ‘the son of Jesse’. The book of Ruth closes with a genealogy running back to Pharez, the son of Judah. It is suggested that the book was written to supply the missing genealogy.161
Second, we see that no matter how dark the days may be, God always preserves a righteous remnant. Some years later, Elijah only thought “he alone was left” (1 Kings 19:10, 14). The fact was that God had preserved 7,000 who had not “bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18). It is in times of great darkness that the “light” of the gospel shines most brightly through the lives and testimonies of the saints:
You must actively help the hungry
and feed the oppressed.
Then your light will dispel the darkness,
and your darkness will be transformed into noonday (Isaiah 58:10).
The night has advanced toward dawn; the day is near. So then we must lay aside the works of darkness, and put on the weapons of light (Romans 13:12).
For you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light (Ephesians 5:8).
14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 16 by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain (Philippians 2:15-16).
Third, we are reminded by our text that our actions can impact future generations. The godly lives of Ruth and Boaz not only were a blessing to Naomi, they were a blessing to all subsequent generations. The child born to Ruth and Boaz would become the grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:18-22). Little do we realize how much our decisions and actions may impact those who come after us.
Fourth, Boaz is a wonderful illustration of “true religion.”
9 “‘When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You must not pick your vineyard bare, and you must not gather up the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God’” (Leviticus 19:9-10).
17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God and awesome warrior who is unbiased and takes no bribe, 18 who acts justly toward orphan and widow, and who loves resident foreigners, giving them food and clothing. 19 You, therefore, love the resident foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).
Whenever you reap your harvest in the field and leave some unraked grain there, you must not return to get it; it should go to the resident foreigner, orphan, and widow so that the Lord your God may bless every work you do (Deuteronomy 24:19).
Learn to do what is right!
Give the oppressed reason to celebrate!
Take up the cause of the orphan!
Defend the rights of the widow! (Isaiah 1:17)
He has told you, O man, what is proper,
and what the Lord really wants from you:
He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful,
and to live obediently before your God (Micah 6:8).
What a remarkable man Boaz is. The Law of Moses required him to leave the corners of his field uncut, and not to pick up any bundles of grain that fell by the wayside. Boaz instructed his servants to deliberately leave grain behind for Ruth to find. Boaz also provided Ruth with water and food. He treated her as one of his employees. He sought to protect her from those who would harm or abuse her. Boaz was not a brother to Ruth’s deceased husband, and thus as I see it, he was not legally obligated to take Ruth as his wife. Nevertheless, he did so, going the extra mile in almost every instance to care for Naomi, and for Ruth.
My point in all of this is that Boaz did not look at the law as a requirement that he must begrudgingly meet, somewhat the way we look at paying our income taxes (we don’t intend to give the government one penny more than the law requires). Boaz looked upon the law as the minimum standard. He looked upon even greater compassion and generosity as his privilege, and his pleasure. Here was a man who truly loved God’s law, and who lived his life in a spirit that delighted in serving God and others.
Fifth, the Book of Ruth is an excellent commentary on Christian charity. What a contrast the charity of Boaz is to the welfare of our own day. All too often, welfare programs actually discourage (or even penalize) hard work. Welfare programs also degrade people, rather than to provide them with an honorable means of providing for their own needs and the needs of their families. Ruth was not just given a handout; she was given the opportunity to work, and she gladly seized the opportunity. Her hard work earned her the respect of the entire community. That is the kind of charity we should strive to practice in our own time.
The question that I am personally wrestling with is this: “In this technological age, what constitutes the ‘corner of my fields’?” I am not a farmer, and neither are most of you. How, then, do we practice the principle of charity in a way that provides for the needs of the poor, yet in a way that maintains (and even promotes) their dignity? This is a real challenge, and the answer for each of us may be a little different. I realize that not everyone is capable of working, but these are the minority. For those who are able to work, we should facilitate their doing so. There are no quick and easy answers here, but the principles are clear, and I believe that the answers are there for those who would sincerely seek them.
Sixth, the Book of Ruth provides us with tremendous insight into the role of the Gentiles in God’s “unfolding drama of redemption.” Boaz was perceptive enough to realize that a Gentile woman who embraced the God of Israel by faith could enter into the blessings of the Jews. This is implied in the blessing he pronounced on Ruth in 2:11-12. It was for this reason that Boaz had no reservations about marrying Ruth and bearing children with her. Thanks to the insight and maturity of Boaz, the elevation of a Gentile saint is grasped, in some measure, by the people of the city:
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! Then you will accomplish great things in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 May your family, the descendants the Lord gives you through this young woman, be like the family of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah!” (Ruth 4:11-12, emphasis mine)
It took me a while to see this, but it is really quite obvious once you see it. In blessing Ruth, the people of Bethlehem referred to three women, all of whom were “foreigners” from an Israelite’s point of view. Rachel and Leah were relatives, but in order to obtain these women as his wives, Jacob had to leave Canaan and go to Paddan Aram, where he acquired Leah and her younger sister Rachel. Judah unknowingly fulfilled the duties of a levirate marriage when he had sexual relations with Tamar, his daughter-in-law (Genesis 38). The people of Bethlehem realized that God had blessed Israel through these “foreign” women, and thus it was not so difficult for them to believe that God would bless Israel through Ruth. And this God did, in a way that surpassed their wildest imaginations. Ruth would become the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:18-22).
We have now seen God “integrate” a number of Gentiles into the line of the promised “Messiah.” First of all, we saw Rahab embraced by Israel, because of her faith (Joshua 2:1ff.; 6:17-25). Indeed, Rahab was the wife of Salmon, and the mother of Boaz. Is this part of the reason why Boaz could so easily embrace Ruth as a member of the household of faith? If his mother were a Gentile, why not his wife as well? Besides Rahab and Ruth, there was also Tamar, Leah, and Rachel. God did not exclude Gentiles from His plan of redemption, but “integrated” them with the Jews as a part of His plan.
Seventh, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz each symbolize a particular person or group. Naomi personifies Israel in a less than flattering way. She portrays an attitude of entitlement, and she is bitter toward God for not pouring out His blessings on her. She does not seem to grasp God’s grace, and she certainly does not acknowledge any sin on her part. She seems oblivious to the wickedness of that period of time, and to the fact of God’s judgment. She left Israel with her husband, but did not return until years later, after her sons had married Moabite wives. Her reason for returning to Israel was that there was food there once again. Naomi had little regard for the spiritual well being of her daughters-in-law. She attempted to send them back to their families and to their heathen religion. In this regard, she seems to manifest some of Jonah’s spirit. She is also somewhat manipulative, as can be seen in the way she attempted to bring about Ruth’s marriage to Boaz. In this way, she seems to have some of Jacob in her blood. Even if my assessment of Naomi is unduly harsh, there is little to say in her favor. It was in spite of her failures and bitterness that God graciously poured out his blessings on her, and to a great degree, through a Gentile. Does Paul not speak of the salvation of the Gentiles as a part of God’s plan to save the Jews (see Romans 11:11-32)?
Ruth is a picture of those believing Gentiles that God grafts into the “vine” of His covenant blessings (John 10:16; Romans 11:17ff.). She makes no claim to these blessings, as though she deserved of them, but humbly accepts them as a manifestation of God’s grace. She is an example of one who is a true Israelite, not by virtue of her ancestry, but by virtue of her faith:
26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female—for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3:26-29; see also 3:7; 6:16; Romans 9:6; Philippians 3:3).
As God united Ruth (a Gentile) and Boaz (a Jew) in marriage, so God has united Jews and Gentiles in Christ:
11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh—who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed in the body by hands—12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, the one who turned both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, in his flesh, 15 when he nullified the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, 16 and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, 18 so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer foreigners and non-citizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, 20 because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Boaz is a picture of God, and more particularly of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is he who, like Christ, welcomed Gentiles into the family of faith (see, for example, Luke 4:16-30, especially verses 23-27). He is the kinsman redeemer, who “saves” Naomi and Ruth in their time of need. As Boaz became “one flesh” with Ruth, continuing the line of the promised Messiah, so our Lord Jesus took on human flesh, becoming one with us in our humanity, so that we might become one with Him by faith, and thus be saved. Boaz set aside his own self-interest (unlike the nearest kin), so that he might be a blessing to those in need.
Eighth, Ruth and Boaz exemplify the kind of loyal love that we should show toward the unlovely. I have made it quite clear that I view Naomi as a bitter old woman, who finds God to blame for her difficulties in life. This is not the kind of person that you or I would care to be around. The cheerful comments of Naomi’s friends and neighbors are “put down” by Naomi’s very negative response (1:19-21). If I were Ruth, I would have been tempted to obey her instructions to leave her and go to my own family. But Ruth persevered, not because Naomi was so lovely (as her name would normally suggest) or loveable, but because of her love for the unlovely. Ruth’s love for Naomi was not in response to Naomi’s loveliness, but in spite of her bitterness. Her love was prompted by Naomi’s need.
Ruth’s endurance and persistence is absolutely amazing, not only in her time, but in ours. How many husbands and wives have parted ways because of some irritation with their mate? Ruth had no legal obligation to Naomi, only the obligation of love. Because Ruth remained loyal and faithful to her mother-in-law, she was greatly admired and greatly rewarded by God.
I wonder if you, my reader friend, have been considering parting ways when you should be persevering? Who is your Naomi? It may be a friend, or a relative (a mother-in-law?), or even your spouse. What does the Book of Ruth have to say to you about persevering? I think it rebukes us for our selfish attitudes and our lack of servanthood and commitment to those around us. Let us learn to endure in our relations with others, just as God has persisted in His faithfulness to us, even when we are faithless (see 2 Timothy 2:13).
Ninth, we see that Naomi’s sins did not keep Ruth from trusting in the God of Israel. I know that many people have excused their unbelief by pointing to a professing Christian and accusing them of hypocrisy. Naomi was an example of an Israelite at their worst, but there were others, like Boaz, who were wonderful saints. None of us will be excused for being Naomi’s, but no unbeliever will be spared the eternal wrath of God because some saints were hypocrites. Naomi’s failures did not keep Ruth from faith. Don’t let a hypocrite become your excuse for going to hell. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only provision for your eternal salvation. His sinless life, sacrificial death, and supernatural resurrection are God’s provision for your salvation. Lesson 19 — Israel Gets A King162
156 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on March 4, 2001.
157 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.
158 Arthur E. Cundall, Judges, and Leon Morris, Ruth (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973 [reprint]), p. 284.
159 IBID, p. 287
160 Leon Morris, Ruth, p. 287.
161 Leon Morris, Ruth: An Introduction and Commentary; Judges Ruth (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973 [reprint]), p. 241.
162 This is the edited manuscript of a message delivered by Robert L. Deffinbaugh, teacher and elder at Community Bible Chapel, on March 11, 2001.
Related Topics: Law