The Book of Ruth
The Book of Ruth provides a historical picture of the plan of redemption. The events in the book transpired between 1375 and 1050 B.C., and the placement of the book in the Bible causes it to bridge the time between the period of the judges and when God granted the Children of Israel their request for a king. Although the author is unknown, a court historian probably wrote or completed it in Jerusalem during the reign of either David or Solomon.
This account is a romantic yet historic view of a Moabite woman who became an important part in the lineage of Christ. The events of the book began when an Israelite family moved to the land of Moab to escape a famine in Israel. After a period of time, the father died. The two sons married Moabite wives. Then the sons died, leaving the mother, Naomi, and the two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi longed to return to her roots, so she decided to go back to her homeland in Israel in spite of her love for Ruth and Orpah. She understood what it was like to live in a foreign land and discouraged them from returning with her. At Naomi’s urging, Orpah stayed in Moab. Ruth, on the other hand, had bonded with Naomi and her God, and determined that she would accompany her mother-in-law back to Israel. This decision set the stage for a beautiful story of faithfulness, love, and marriage. Eventually, the Messiah would come from the line of Ruth the Moabitess and her Israelite second husband, Boaz.
The account of Ruth provides a marvelous illustration of redemption. The Old Testament Law made provision for women who, due to the death of their husbands, were left without heirs and faced the loss of their property. Both heirs (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) and property (Leviticus 25:25-28) were to be secured by a “close relative,” or “kinsman redeemer.” This law sanctioned the ancient custom of “brother-in-law” marriage, and the account of Ruth illustrates its proper application.
The kinsman redeemer had to meet three qualifications: he must be a blood relative, he must be willing to redeem, and he must be able to pay the redemption price. This illustration of the kinsman redeemer is a beautiful picture of Christ, who met all these qualifications to redeem us.
Because of a famine in Israel, Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons moved to Moab from Bethlehem. Moab was east of Israel, and its people (who were descendants of Lot) often troubled the Children of Israel. In Moab, the two sons married Gentile women, but in time, the father and both sons died. Widows were dependent upon their families to sustain them, and the situation for these three women looked bleak because opportunities for women to support themselves in that era and culture were almost non-existent.
The Bible does not say whether or not this family had made a poor decision in leaving Israel initially. However, Naomi’s comments suggest that she felt her hardships were God’s chastisement because they had gone to Moab. She said, “The hand of the Lord is gone out against me” (1:13) and “the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me” (1:20).
For consideration: It is important for us to earnestly seek the Lord before making any life-altering decisions. The Lord’s will and clear direction can be found by praying and reading the Bible, and by heeding godly counsel and the Holy Spirit’s leading to our hearts. To obtain God’s direction, it will be necessary to be fully submitted to Him and willing to do whatever He wants. Once we know God’s will, even if circumstances are not completely ideal from our personal perspective, we will have peace and confidence when we pray.
After being in Moab for about ten years, Naomi learned that God had graciously visited His people and had brought an end to the famine in Israel, and she desired to return there. Her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, intended to go with her, but she urged them to return to their families in Moab. Orpah did so, but Ruth spoke the beautiful, well-known words: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
The life that this family had lived had made an impact on Ruth, whether it was particularly the life of Naomi herself or of all of them. Ruth’s heart had caught a glimpse of something special. She had come to the realization that their God was the true God, and she determined to accompany Naomi as she left Moab for Israel.
For consideration: Many people have been born again because someone witnessed to them at school, on the job, in the home, or at a place of business. We want to evaluate our own lives. Does association with us enrich the lives of others? What are some character traits or virtues we could exemplify that would cause people to make life-changing decisions to serve God? We want to live so our lives draw others to the Savior.
Back in Israel, Naomi and Ruth trusted in God for their well-being. By looking for a field in which she could glean, Ruth demonstrated willingness to do her part and work as hard as she could. Gleaning was picking up the loose stalks from the fields after the wheat and barley had been cut and tied in bundles. Israel’s law provided for gleaning as a method of helping the poor (see Leviticus 19:9-10).
Ruth had to take a chance when she started gleaning because, as a stranger, she did not know who owned the various parcels of ground that made up the fields. Also, being an outsider as well as a woman, she was vulnerable. Only the poorest people gleaned, so she was working among the lowest class socially.
For consideration: Ruth showed a desire to do God’s will by leaving her extended family, her country, and her Moabite religious teachings to embrace Naomi, Israel, and the God of Israel. She was willing to glean in the fields for sustenance and to follow the instructions of Naomi concerning Boaz. While the consecrations we are called to make will be different from Ruth’s, we also need a willing attitude in order to serve God effectively. What are some areas in our current circumstances where willingness is a necessity?
Ruth 2:3 says, “. . . and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz.” The word hap means something that came about by chance. However, it is clear that God was directing the events and taking care of Ruth and Naomi. Boaz took an immediate interest in this stranger, and promised her protection and provision if she would glean only in his fields. He instructed his servants regarding where she should glean and even told them to let some extra grain fall for her to pick up. She was allowed to eat and drink with his workers, where Boaz himself ate with her and handed her food. She “bowed herself to the ground” in response to his kindness. At the end of the day, she had collected an ephah of grain—approximately half a bushel, which was enough food for the two women for about five days.
Upon hearing Ruth’s good news, Naomi took heart because of who Boaz was, and the kindness he had shown to Ruth. “Next kinsman” (verse 20) indicates that Boaz was one of Elimelech’s closest relatives, and therefore, he was eligible to redeem Elimelech’s inheritance. The order of next kinsmen was brothers, uncles, and then male cousins. The kinsman’s responsibility was to be sure the property stayed in the family. Included in this responsibility was marrying the widow if a man died childless, and raising up children for his name. No wonder Naomi was excited and thanked God! On her first day in the fields, Ruth had become acquainted with a man who could redeem both of them. Nothing was “chance” about these events; God’s hand was in it all.
For consideration: Nothing that happens to us takes God by surprise. Often He is working in our lives and we do not even realize it. This is where trust comes in. If we are purposed to follow God, He will lead us and work for us. Think back to a time when God arranged circumstances for you that He later used to His glory.
Naomi began the process of notifying Boaz that he was in the legal position to perform the part of a kinsman on their behalf. Israelite parents arranged their children’s marriages, so Naomi was acting as Ruth’s mother. She told Ruth to wash and anoint herself, change her clothes, and go to the threshing floor. The instructions that Naomi gave Ruth were specific and appropriate according to the customs of that time. Ruth’s actions would let Boaz know that as her kinsman redeemer, he should find someone to marry her or do so himself. Ruth may not have understood why Naomi gave these instructions, but she promised to do as she was told.
At the threshing floor, the kernels of grain were separated from the outside shell (chaff). To accomplish this, the harvested stalks were crushed by oxen or by beating on them, and then the grain was winnowed (thrown up so the chaff blew away and the grain fell to the ground). By threshing at night, the workers took advantage of the evening breezes and also were then free to harvest during the day. Owners spent the night on the threshing floor to ensure honesty and also to be there when their turns came to use the floor.
The uncovering of the feet of Boaz was a morally acceptable custom that alerted Ruth’s kinsman to the fact that she sought his protection. The word “skirt” (Ruth 3:9) is the translation of the same Hebrew word that refers to the “wings” of God.
Boaz was the son of Rahab, the harlot from Jericho whose life had been spared when Jericho fell because she had helped the Israelite spies escape from Jericho (see Joshua 6:17 and Matthew 1:5). He was from the tribe of Judah, a wealthy farmer and an honorable man. He was a man of his word, sensitive to those in need, and cared for his workers. He was also surprised to find a woman at his feet!
Verse 10 of chapter 3 indicates that Boaz was a number of years older than Ruth, and verse 11 shows that she had a reputation of being virtuous. Boaz’s response could indicate that he had given some thought to the kinsman matter, because he already knew that there was someone with a closer relationship to Ruth than himself. He promised to take immediate action, and sent Ruth home with a large gift.
By diligently following Naomi’s instructions and laying herself at Boaz’ feet, Ruth presented herself as a humble petitioner. As a result, he acted as the kinsman redeemer, and she found rest and protection.
Boaz’s redemption of Ruth is a picture of the redemption price Jesus paid for us, since we cannot pay it ourselves. The word redeem means “to buy back; to free from what distresses or harms: as to free from captivity by payment of ransom, to release from blame or debt, or to free from the consequences of sin.”
For consideration: Similar to Ruth, we are to follow the instructions of the Holy Spirit. By faith, we should lay ourselves at the feet of Jesus Christ. The Spirit invites us to this position of protection and rest when He says, “Come.” We, too, are to turn away from anything or anyone that would hinder us from fully following God. Through Jesus we find a new life and great reward, for He is the One who redeems us—saves us from the old path of sin. What are some of the benefits of the true rest that is found only at the feet of the Redeemer?
As Naomi predicted, when Ruth returned from her visit to the threshing floor, Boaz lost no time in fulfilling his promise. He went to the city gate, which was the business center where merchants sold goods, and transacted official business. Since those entering or exiting the city came through the city gate, it was easy to find ten witnesses. On this particular day, the other kinsman himself came by, and Boaz called to him to discuss the redemption business before the elders, thus opening the way for his own offer of redemption to Ruth and Naomi.
The Hebrew word ga’al is translated as kinsman in most of the account. Some translators have used the phrase kinsman redeemer to show the fullness of the Hebrew meaning. Others have simply used the word redeemer in places. This act of redemption could take several forms: marrying a kinsman’s widow, freeing family members from bondage, purchasing a mortgaged piece of family property, and/or avenging the loss of family. It is interesting to note in this chapter that the nearest kinsman is not named, while Boaz, Ruth, Naomi, and Obed are all named, thus honoring them for their faithfulness in following God’s plan.
In chapter 4, verse 11, the elders’ blessing equating Ruth with Rachel and Leah alludes to her inclusion in the lineage of Jacob/Israel. Their mention of the children of Tamar (who was also a Gentile) was a warning of the ridicule and curse which would follow the failure to raise children to maintain the inheritance of a family unit within Israel.
Redemption is the key theme of the Book of Ruth, specifically in the fourth chapter. The words “redeem,” “buy,” and “purchase” are used at least fifteen times. Boaz paid the price to redeem, publicly announcing his intention to remove any financial hindrances from the inheritance of Naomi and her offspring (Mahlon and Chilion) and to take Ruth as his own wife. He was obliged to raise children in the name of Ruth’s deceased husband, his near relative. This assured that the lineage would be continued and the inheritance would not be lost.
For consideration: Jesus Christ came to be the Redeemer of all humankind. While salvation is offered freely, it was very costly from God’s perspective. Heaven’s brightest Jewel willingly offered His own life to satisfy the requirements for the redemption of humanity. No greater price could be offered.
The last five verses of the Book of Ruth give the generations from Pharez (son of Judah, grandson of Jacob) to King David. Because of Ruth’s choice to identify with Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God, she was rewarded not only with a godly husband and a son, but also with the privilege of being the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s greatest king. Ultimately she was included in the lineage of the Savior of all humanity, Jesus Christ.
The Book of Ruth provides a beautiful parallel to how we come to faith in God. We begin as outsiders with no part in His Kingdom. Then, as we forsake our own plans and put our faith in Christ, God forgives us, saves us, rebuilds our lives, and gives us blessings that reach forward into eternity.