Old Testament Walk Through: Ruth

Focus: Jesus, our Kinsman­-Redeemer!

I Introduction: The Book of Ruth can be understood on two levels:

● One, simply as a story of the life of a woman. If you read it like that, there is tragedy, a journey, romance, wedding, the birth of a child and finally a settled home in her life.

● On a deeper level, you find God in the thick of action. He is not openly intervening in the affairs of Ruth. But behind the scenes God is setting the stage in Bethlehem (which means “house of bread”). On this stage, Jesus, the Bread of Life (John 6:45) would be born 1100 years later from her family. This grand drama unfolds before our eyes in the Bible. Yet Ruth and other characters in the story are unaware that they are playing such an important and decisive role in God’s plan.

Perhaps the lesson for you is this. When you trust God and come under His wings for refuge (Ruth 2:12), His care for you might set the stage for greater events in His plan that will unfold later. It is not necessary that you know anything about God’s greater plan. So trust Him in the ordinary circumstances you find yourself in, each day.

II Life’s Choices
Each one of us is confronted by choices everyday. The decisions we take on these have greater consequences than we usually imagine them to have. If we trust God in our decision­-making process, we will find God’s help and care in our lives (see Proverbs 3:5, 6). This is because God is watching over us and He is working on the pieces that are a puzzle to us to bring out a beautiful picture out of it which will be far lovelier than we could ever dream of.

As the Book of Ruth opens we find Elimelech, his wife Naomi and two sons make a decision to go to live in the country of Moab when there was a famine in Bethlehem. But in a short span of ten years Naomi is left without her husband and two sons. Only her daughters-­in-­law are left. Then she decides to go back to Bethlehem because she heard in Moab that God had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them (Ruth 1:6).

A famine took the family away from Bethlehem. The news that God had provided food for His people takes them back to Bethlehem. But there was tragedy and loss in the family between these two turning points.

At the second turning point, on the road that would take them back to Bethlehem, Naomi gives both her daughters­–in­–law permission to go back to their homeland and find husbands and a home to live. Orpah soon takes that option and returns to her home.

When Naomi urged Ruth also to go back pointing out that her sister-­in­-law “is going back to her people and her gods” [emphasis added] (Ruth 1:15), she replies in words that have poetic depth, great theological insight and is an absolute gem of inspiration. She said:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16, 17 NIV).

Ruth’s decision was made out of her choice to follow the God of Israel, Yahweh, at all costs. She held on to her mother­-in­-law because that was the bridge that would take her from darkness to light, from serving idols to serving the living God, from the cruelty of her gods to the compassionate care of Yahweh.

But she had to pass the test. Because a comfortable existence could have been hers if she had stayed back in Moab. But with this decision she was stepping into the land of the Israelites not knowing whether they would accept her, a foreigner. Not only that, Moabites were passionately hated by the Jews. Therefore Ruth’s decision was indeed a giant leap of faith from her part.

For you also it is no different. Life will always present you with choices. The easy and comfortable decision may not always be the best or godly. On the other hand, trusting in God when you step into the unknown you will find God at work on your behalf working out in your life what is best for you.

III Naomi’s Sense of Despair
“Naomi” means “pleasant.” But when she came back to her people with Ruth and the whole town was stirred, she said: “Don’t call me Naomi . . . Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:20, 21 NIV).

A sense of despair is at times part of a believer’s life. There is nothing to be ashamed about it. The Bible has recorded faithfully moments of a sense of despair in the lives of great men and women of faith.

Let us look at the Bible at two other classic examples of great men of faith who also underwent a sense of despair. One, Jacob. He said, when news of Simeon’s imprisonment came to him, “Everything is against me!” (Genesis 42:36b). And David, when Saul was desperately trying to kill him, told Jonathan, “There is only a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3b).

Both these statements convey to us a great sense of despair. But the Bible also records what happened in their lives later. Their sense of despair came because they could not believe that God would still keep His promises to them in spite of all that had gone against them. Jacob lived to see his son Joseph and the honour that was accorded to him in Egypt. David went to become the King of Israel.

Therefore, it is too early to give in to a sense of despair and give up on the hopes and promises that God has given in your life. Your God is a God of exchange—He bestows on you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:3)!

IV God’s Sense of Timing
When God acts, He times things to perfection. Especially when you act in faith trusting God. Even though you may not know all that God is doing on your behalf, know that God’s time is best. One simple record of the return of Naomi with Ruth will underline this truth for you. They returned, “arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning” (Ruth 1:22b)!

What is so special about that? you might ask. That’s an excellent question. The answer is that the barley harvest was to play a major role in the life of Ruth and thereby in God’s plan of salvation for the world.

V Not Chance, but God’s Hand
Ruth was a woman who had certain personal qualities. One was that she was willing to try her best. She was not willing to sit at home and simply despair. She said to her mother-­in-­law that she would like to go and glean in the fields.

[One word about gleaning: God had commanded His people not to reap completely their fields. This was to make provision for poor people. Read Leviticus 19:9, 10 and 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19—22] So Ruth was willing to do some honest work by making use of this provision God had made for the poor by law.

As she did so, “she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3). Was this chance? Or is it a stunning example of God’s Providence? The answer is that God was directing the steps of Ruth without her knowing it. She was guided by God to the field of Boaz who was a close relative of her late father-­in-­law Elimelech.

You need not doubt God’s guiding hand in your life even when all things seem to have gone against you. When you trust Him, He will not only be controlling the timing of events but also the chances of you finding yourself at the right place at the right time in front of the right person too.

VI Boaz Falls in Love
God has recorded a few love stories in the Bible. And the story of Boaz and Ruth is one of them. But this love story has greater significance than meets the eye. It talks about two people from two different cultures being adopted into the family of God. Out of their union came David’s royal family of Israel and the greater Son of David, Jesus Christ.

Now who was Boaz? He was the son of Rahab the prostitute, of the people of Jericho. Rahab and her family was saved because of her faith in the God of Israel (Hebrews 11:31). And who was Ruth? She was from the people of Moab. Moab the father of Moabites was born of a wrong sexual union and was excluded from Israel by God’s law for their refusal to meet Israel with bread and water when they came out of Egypt (see Deuteronomy 23:3, 4).

And in this love story two people from two unlikely backgrounds were joined together, ultimately to bring the royal family of Israel and through them Jesus Christ to this world. What God is showing us through this is His unmatched sense of grace and preparation. Grace, because He was taking a prostitute’s son and a Moabitess to become part of the royal genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5).

Kindly note that Rahab and Ruth along with Tamar are the only women who are mentioned in that genealogy other than Mary the mother of Jesus. What a great privilege for them to be remembered thus from generation to generation.

More importantly, more than 1100 years before the time of Jesus, God was showing that someday people other than Israelites would also be part of His family (Read Ephesians 3:6), even as Christ would be the Messiah for all nations. And He was also setting the scene in Bethlehem where one day David and Jesus Christ would be born.

“About a mile east of Bethlehem is a field, called “Field of Boaz.” where tradition says, Ruth gleaned. Adjoining is “Shepherds’ Field”, where, tradition says, the angels announced the birth of Jesus. According to these traditions, the scene of Ruth’s romance with Boaz, which led to the formation of the Family that was to produce Christ, was chosen of God, 1100 years later, as the place for the Heavenly announcement of Christ’s Arrival”­­ — Halley’s Bible Handbook.

VII Boaz Commends Ruth
Boaz took note of a new young woman gleaning in his fields. His workers give a good report about her to him. Now Boaz speaks to her with loving concern (Ruth 2:8, 9). Ruth is surprised that she is shown such favour (Ruth 2:13). Then Boaz commends her:

● For her care for her mother-­in­-law (2:11) “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-­in­-law.” The story of Ruth and Naomi is an unusual story of love, respect, care and concern between daughter­-in-­law and mother-­in­-law. Naomi not only won the heart of Ruth but also won her for God!

● For her faith in the God of Israel (2:12)
“May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” The story of Ruth is recognized by Boaz as her journey from idolatry (their god Chemosh was worshipped by child sacrifice) to faith in the living God. Boaz also recognized the fact that those who come to God in faith, He will reward (Hebrews 11:6 and Psalm 91:4).

● For her request to fulfill his obligation as kinsman­-redeemer (3:10—13) “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.” The concept of kinsman-­redeemer was instituted by God Himself. Ruth obeys Naomi and thereby sets in motion a series of events which finally results in Boaz marrying Ruth [The method of attracting attention as described in Ruth 3 might have been a normal practice then. It had no wrong overtones as we might think in the modern context].

VIII Kinsman-­Redeemer
The whole concept of Kinsman­-Redeemer is based on God’s Law as found in Leviticus 25:25 which says, “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.” It is in this sense that primarily Boaz is approached by Ruth. His marriage to Ruth however should also be understood in the context of Deuteronomy 25:5—10. See also Ruth 4:5. This is known as “Levirate Marriage.” (The discussion with Jesus in Matthew 22:23—33 is based on this.). This English word originates from the Latin word “levir” which means brother-­in-­law.

Though the initial signals given to Boaz by Ruth to redeem her and the property were done in privacy (Ruth 3:7—9), the marriage itself was made public and legal and witnessed by the elders present (Ruth 4:9, 10). It was also accompanied by the best wishes and prayers of all present (Ruth 4:11, 12).

Whenever we attend a wedding we should pray for God’s blessings to come on the couple. In the case of Boaz and Ruth the blessings they pronounced had a prophetic fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The blessing, “May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem” was centuries later echoed by Prophet Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2 NIV), and was finally fulfilled when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the town of David (Luke 2:11).

“Under the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, there is a room in which, it is said, Jesus was born. An old tradition says that this was the same room that was part of the ancestral home of David, and before David, of Boaz and Ruth. Thus, according to this tradition, Boaz took Ruth to be his bride, and started the Family that was to bring Christ into the world, in the Very Same Room in which, 1100 years later, Christ himself was born.” — ­­ Halley’s Bible Handbook.

IX Jesus our Kinsman­-Redeemer
Boaz is a type of Jesus Christ. Why? “A redeemer in ancient Israel had to fulfill three conditions:
(1) he must be a close relative;
(2) he must be able to pay the redemption price;
(3) he must do it willingly. Pause for a few moments, and think how beautifully our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, meets these conditions as the Redeemer of the human race.”­­ [Character by Character, Bible Discovery Series by Selwyn Hughes & Trevor J. Partridge].

Jesus became our close relative by His birth and shared in our humanity (Hebrews 2:14). Because of this He calls us brothers (Hebrews 2:11). Thus He fulfilled the first condition. Then He lived sinlessly and the redemption price was His sinless blood which He shed for us (1 Peter 1:19). Thus He fulfilled the second condition. And Jesus Himself said that He was laying down His life on His own accord and not under compulsion (John 10:18). Thus He fulfilled the third condition too.

“One thing, and one thing only brought Ruth into the position of blessing she enjoyed—her redemption by Boaz. Remember that the next time you are tempted to think that you are accepted by God because of your own virtue. You are what you are because Jesus is what he is” ­­ [Character by Character, Bible Discovery Series by Selwyn Hughes & Trevor J. Partridge].

“What a moment it was when Boaz happily indicated that he wanted not only the field but Ruth as well. That is what true love is all about. Boaz was not just interested in a field he was interested in Ruth. God is not after us for what he can get from us, he loves us as individuals. You lose a sense of his love for you today and you will lose your balance and equilibrium in your Christian life. With all my heart and soul I remind you today that God loves you. Go out and live in the knowledge of that today.” ­­– Waiting For God by Derick Bingham.

X One Lovely Thought on Gleanings
Boaz gave orders to his men saying, “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up , and don’t rebuke her” (Ruth 2:15, 16 NIV). Isn’t it lovely to imagine Boaz encouraging Ruth here as type of God encouraging each one of us.

“Has there been a time when, deeply discouraged and about to give up, God has let drop some “handfuls on purpose” for you? Perhaps it was a word in a sermon, a smile, a gift of money arriving at the right time. Thank Him for the many encouragements He places across your path” ­­ [Character by Character, Bible Discovery Series by Selwyn Hughes & Trevor J. Partridge].

XI Waiting for God
Waiting for God is difficult. This is because we feel compelled to act. But there are times in life when we should wait prayerfully and in expectation. And do nothing. In Psalm 46:10 God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” We find Naomi who is more experienced in God’s ways counselling Ruth to wait after she comes back from meeting Boaz at night. Naomi told Ruth, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today” (Ruth 3:18 NIV).

“How often do our lives become tangled by precipitate and premature action. Naomi’s advice to “wait” (v. 18) may well be God’s Word for you today. “Wait” ­­ for a higher hand than yours is leading, and a purpose far more wonderful than you can ever conceive will open up in the days that lie ahead.” ­­ [Character by Character, Bible Discovery Series by Selwyn Hughes & Trevor J. Partridge].

XII Some Exciting Thoughts on Names in the Book of Ruth

[Advanced Reading]
The following excerpt is quoted from Waiting For God by Derick Bingham.

“What’s in a name? Before a great crowd Boaz gave a tremendous speech in Bethlehem. “You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s from the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon I have acquired as my wife . . .”

Think of all those names that Boaz mentions. Elimelech means `my God is King’. In that Hebrew name we have God’s purpose for man. We are born to let God have supremacy in all things. Elimelech married Naomi which means `pleasure’. Man in the garden did that very thing by obeying his own desires rather than God’s and it very quickly turned to Mara which means `bitterness’.

They had two sons whose names mean `sickness’ and `pining away’. Yet man was stiff-­necked because he went on stubbornly like Orpah which means ‘stiff­-necked’. Then came Ruth which means `beautiful’ who obeyed God and through Boaz, which means ‘strength’, we hear him redeeming all that was Elimelech’s, Mahlon’s, Chilion’s, Ruth’s, and Naomi’s. What a circle! But it is not complete yet.

Boaz married Ruth and they had a little son whose name was Obed. Some render the meaning of Obed as `servant’, others render it `worship’, but both give the idea of humility and obedience. The amazing fact is Obed had a son called Jesse and Jesse had a son called David. What is so amazing about that?

David was – the King! What a circle from the first tragedy of Elimelech, ‘My God is King’ in famine and death to David the King. As for God, His way is perfect, for in that very town centuries later David’s greater son came to redeem not only all that was Elimelech’s, Mahlon’s, Chilion’s, Naomi’s and Ruth’s but to you and me and all men, women, boys and girls who will put their trust in Him.

God always brings beauty out of ashes, something beautiful always comes out of the tragic, if God is trusted. Ruth had certainly been wise to say `Your God shall be my God’. She may have seemed peculiar to her friends, but better a thousand times effective peculiarity than uneffective ordinariness. Her complete subordination to a single aim was absolute. No person who goes for that aim with single heartedness can fail. God promises, repeat, promises, that `Those who honour me, I will honour’.

XII The Lasting Legacy of Ruth
One commentator has pointed out that the Book of Ruth is like a quiet, bubbling stream between the Book of Judges and the two Books of Samuel. Another person has said that the Book of Ruth—coming between two books which are full of wars and violence—is like a “beautiful valley full of flowers and fertile fields set between two rugged mountain ranges.” Yet another commentator says, “There can be little doubt that the story of Ruth brings to this part of the Old Testament a beauty and a fragrance which is greatly needed.”

So what does the life of Ruth teach us: “It proves you don’t have to live in quiet times to live a life effective for the Lord. Who would have ever thought that Ruth’s quiet and beautiful life would have been noted amid the fierce feuding and slaughter of war that marked the age in which she lived? Your life is also being noted. No life ever lived for the Lord is wasted. Be that `quiet stream’ in the midst of all the turbulence that is going on around you. May, as Jesus put it, your life be as `A well of water springing up into everlasting life’.” ­­ Waiting For God by Derick Bingham.

Sponsored Links for Christmas