RUTH’S STORY Ruth 1–4
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).
The simple, appealing story of this “woman of noble character” reminds us that however corrupt a society seems, godly individuals can still be found.
Definition of Key Terms
The Hebrew word is ga’al. Its root means to “act as a kinsman” or to fulfill one’s family obligations. In Old Testament Law this included (1) redeeming land sold by a poor relative, to keep it in the family (Lev. 25:25–28), (2) redeeming a relation from slavery (vv. 48–55), (3) avenging murder (Num. 35:10–28), and (4) marrying a childless relation’s widow, in which case the first son would be considered that of the dead husband (Deut. 25:5–10). The Hebrew word powerfully expresses the sense of one’s obligation to help family members whenever this is possible, and has great theological implications. In becoming true Man, a member of the human family, Jesus became our Kinsman-redeemer, accepting the responsibility of paying the price for our redemption. Hebrews 2:14–15 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might destroy him who holds the power of death . . . and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
A famine drove Naomi’s family to Moab, where the men died (1:1–5). One daughter-in-law, Ruth, returned to Bethlehem with Naomi (vv. 6–22). Ruth gleaned in the field of Boaz, a close relative of Naomi’s. His kindness (2:1–23) encouraged Naomi to have Ruth seek a kinsman-redeemer marriage (3:1–18). Boaz married Ruth, and their first son, Obed, became the grandfather of David, Israel’s greatest king (4:1–22).
Understanding the Text
“Return home, my daughters” Ruth 1:1–15. In Moab the husband and two sons of Naomi all died, leaving her and her two daughters-in-law alone. The normal course in such a situation would be for the younger widows to remarry. According to custom, if there were a younger son in the husband’s family he might take the widow as a wife. In this case the aged Naomi had no more sons, and thus no future to offer either of her daughters-in-law. Sending them away was intended as a kindness. It’s tragic when, like Naomi, we feel our best years are past, and that we have nothing left to offer to others. In her bereavement Naomi honestly felt this way. But one of her daughters-in-law disagreed. “Don’t urge me to leave you” Ruth 1:16–22. One daughter-in-law, Ruth, saw more in Naomi than did Naomi herself. Perhaps Ruth sensed a faith in Naomi that Naomi herself had lost sight of. At any rate, Ruth made a commitment—to Naomi, and to Naomi’s God. This reflects the process by which men and women today often find their personal relationship with God. Individuals are drawn to a Christian or to Christians, and through them come to know Christ. Barbara, a young mother, explained how she became a Christian. She’d heard me speak at a church, and found it interesting. So she came to our small group Bible study, and “found people who really loved me.” At first Barbara felt a little strange, realizing she wasn’t “a real Christian.” But she was accepted and loved anyway, and within a few months she welcomed Christ as her personal Saviour. When we share our lives with others, even when we’re having troubles as Naomi was, something about the reality of our relationship with God shines through and draws others to the Lord. “Don’t go and glean in another field” Ruth 2:1–23. Mosaic Law commanded landowners to leave that part of the harvest which dropped to the ground or was not yet ripe for the poor to gather. The name given to working in another’s field to gather the leftovers was “gleaning.” As Naomi and Ruth had no other means of support, Ruth went out to glean in a field near Bethlehem. The owner was Boaz, who had heard of Ruth and her loyalty to Naomi. He not only welcomed her to his fields, but even told his workers to leave extra on the ground for her. Boaz’s kindness and his obvious trust in God (v. 12) suggest that he was the kind of person God intended every Israelite to become when He gave Israel the Law. Boaz, more than any other in this story, reminds us that godly individuals can be found in even sinful societies. But was Boaz unusual for this time? His warning to his workers not to touch (rape) Ruth, and his warning to her not to go and glean in another field, remind us that the story is set in the time of the judges when “everyone did as he saw fit” (Jdg. 21:25). Boaz was an exception, a godly man, in a time when ungodliness was the rule. How encouraging to us. No matter what others around us may do, you and I can still follow the Lord. We do not have to surrender to the evil influences in our society. And neither do our children! “Is not Boaz . . . a kinsman of ours?” Ruth 3:1–18 The kind treatment Boaz extended to Ruth excited Naomi. As a relative, Boaz was in a position to play the role of kinsman-redeemer. This would involve marrying Ruth, working the family land which would have been inherited by Naomi’s dead son, and giving Ruth a son who would carry on Naomi’s husband’s line. Suddenly it appeared to Naomi that she might have a future after all! Naomi then instructed Ruth to go to Boaz’s threshing floor at night, and to “uncover his feet and lie down.” Ruth did as instructed. When Boaz awoke, she asked him to “spread the corner of your garment over me.” The exact meaning of this expression, and the meaning of uncovering Boaz’s feet, are lost in antiquity. Some have thought the feet were uncovered so they might become cold and awaken Boaz. Boaz understood the request to be covered by his garment as a proposal of marriage. There is no suggestion of immorality in this part of the story, though in pagan religions threshing was possibly associated with fertility rites. “I have also acquired Ruth . . . as my wife” Ruth 4:1–11. Because there was a closer relative in town, Boaz had to offer him the first chance to serve as kinsman-redeemer. Leviticus 25:48–55 suggests that the order of relationship moved from brothers, to uncles, to uncles’ sons. It is impossible to tell the exact relationship of either Boaz or the other candidate. When the other man heard that redeeming the family land involved marriage to Ruth, he refused. Taking both the land and Ruth would mean first paying off any debts on the land, supporting Ruth as his wife, and then giving the land away to any son she might bear. The cost seems to have been more than the other relative was willing to pay. But Boaz, who admired Ruth and wanted her as his wife, was willing to pay whatever it cost to have her. Boaz’s public announcement that he was exercising the right of the kinsman-redeemer and taking Ruth as his wife was all that was required in that day to constitute marriage. The story proper concludes here, with congratulations and best wishes offered by the city elders and other townsmen (Ruth 4:11–12). “He will renew your life” Ruth 4:13–18. In time Ruth had a son, and in that son Naomi found comfort and hope. In a sense, because the child was considered the offspring of Naomi’s own son, he was her grandson; an indication that life would go on and that Naomi would not be forgotten. Yet most touching is the praise the women of Bethlehem heaped on Ruth. In an age where having sons was the most important thing in most women’s lives, the women of Bethelem could praise “your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons.” It was Ruth’s love, as much as the child held tightly in Naomi’s arms, that had renewed her life. How great a gift we give others when we love them. Love is still able to lift a despondent person like Naomi and to renew her life.
The Right Choice (Ruth 2–3)
“It scared me,” Carrie told the counselor. “I realized the guys I was dating were just like my first husband, who drank too much and beat me.” Counselors recognize the problem. Both guys and girls find themselves attracted to unhealthy relationships. They don’t stop to analyze what they really want in marriage, or why they find the wrong kind of person so attractive. Yet there is probably no more significant choice any person can make than that of a mate. And there may be no more helpful book on choosing a spouse than Ruth. Ruth’s first impression of Boaz was his kindness. Even a cursory reading of Ruth 2 shows that Boaz was kind in word and action. He was generous, godly, and sensitive to Ruth’s feelings (cf. vv. 15–16). While Naomi was impressed by Boaz’s ability to provide a home and security, undoubtedly Boaz’s personal qualities appealed to Ruth. Boaz blessed Ruth for her interest in him, even though he was older than she. Ruth showed family loyalty in seeking out a kinsman-redeemer, and family loyalty was greatly valued in Israel. Boaz also knew Ruth was “a woman of noble character.” The word “noble” here is a strong one, suggesting more than good character. Ruth was viewed as an ideal woman by the whole community, which had been impressed with her many qualities. So Ruth was attractive to Boaz not only for her youth and beauty but for the kind of person she was. In this case both persons chose wisely—and the wisdom of their choice is reflected in the character of their great-grandson, David. How much we Christians today need to pattern our choice of a mate on criterion like those used by Ruth and Boaz. The superficial things emphasized in modern romance—looks, style, wealth, and social skills—are no foundation for the lifelong commitment of marriage.
We need to be careful in establishing any long-term relationship.