Exploring the Bible : Ruth
The book of Ruth is one of my favorite books in the Bible. It’s a beautiful story, often recognized as exquisite literature, about a woman from a foreign land. What is fantastically interesting about the historical record is that there are no major miracles or huge works of God. It’s a story of one woman’s faithfulness and God’s working in and through her life. His fingerprints are all over her story.
The story takes place in the times of Judges, not long before Israel moves towards a kingship. It is often believed Samuel wrote the book and it’s not too far to imagine as Samuel knew Ruth’s grandson very well. But we’ll get to her family in a bit.
A FAMILY HITS HARD TIMES IN MOAB (CH. 1)
The book opens up by introducing us to a family: Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons. The family was living in Bethlehem when a famine hit. Without inquiring what the Lord would have, the family decided to move to Moab to escape the food drought.
The danger of moving to Moab was that the land was full of idols and false worship. it was a wicked land and a place far from their religious traditions. Furthermore, the sons did something that was off limits—they married Moabite women.
Fortunately, God used their poor decisions for good! But that’s a breakdown for later in the book. In the meantime, Elimilech and both of his sons somehow die, leaving three women as widows. Naomi had no one left—her family and friends were back in Bethlehem. So, she decided to return to her homeland. Ruth, one of her Moabite daughter-in-laws decided to go with her. Ruth, right then and there, made a declaration to follow God.
“Your God will be my God.” Ruth 1: 16
Ruth had a conversion and it was just the beginning of how God was going to work in her life!
RUTH AND NAOMI START A LIFE IN BETHLEHEM (CH. 2)
Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem (the house of bread) at the beginning of barley harvest. Coincidence? I think not. An unseen force was moving and these two women were about to see God do great and wonderful things that were invisible to them at the time.
In the beginning of chapter 2, Ruth took the initiative to go to a field and glean in order to put food on the table. According to Levitical law (Leviticus 19), harvesters were commanded not to glean the entire field, but to leave the corners for the poor. This provision in the Word was God's way of taking care of those in need. It was a humbling task but one that required great effort. Not only did Ruth step out to do the hard labor of gathering scraps, but she humbly did it in the field of a wealthy man.
Enter Boaz, the redeemer! Boaz very much symbolized throughout out the book Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. A beautiful picture of Jesus taking in the sinner into his loving arms. However, we will look more closely at that later. Right now, Ruth "just so happens" to make her way into the field of Boaz. I absolutely love that the Bible says it like this, almost like God is chuckling because He knows it's not by chance.
Who is this man named Boaz? We know he was related by marriage to Naomi. Some scholars believe he could have been as close as Elimelech’s brother but we certainly know he was a descendant of Rahab from the book of Judges. We know that he was a man of standing in the community. He was wealthy. He was older. His name literally means "strength." We know he treated his employees well and treated strangers kindly. Most importantly, we know he was a man of God.
After Boaz spotted Ruth in his field and inquired about her, he went to go speak with her. He told her to stay in his field and he would be sure she was taken care of and provided for. Ruth literally dropped to the ground and asked why Boaz had shown her such kindness. Remember, Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner. However, Boaz went above and beyond the call to leave scraps for the poor to care for Ruth.
God desires to take all of us: the foreigner, the poor, the needy, the lonely, the hurting, the scarred, the broken, the bitter, the people with a past...all of us. He desires to take us under His wings. He desires to protect YOU. To shelter you. To bring you comfort and joy. To sustain you. Boaz's desire for Ruth is a picture of God's desire for us. That we would all find rest and shelter under His wing. I love that! Just as a mother bird protects her young, God wants to protect you and allow you to grow into the person He has designed you to be.
When Ruth returned home to Naomi, she returned with more food than she could have imagined. Some scholars believe Ruth walked away with enough food for a year! Today you may be looking for some scrap of hope or healing, but God wants to give you so much more! Anticipate God to provide for you above and beyond what you could hope for or imagine!
RUTH AND BOAZ (CH. 3-4)
Ruth was a woman of faith, no doubt. She had a genuine conversion on the road to Bethlehem and continued her journey to the new land. She believed that God would provide for her and Naomi (Ruth 2.2) as she went out to glean. She believed and she trusted in the midst of difficulty. If there's one thing we can be sure of it's that no matter how difficult our season may be, we must believe and trust God to provide and be who He is...good. As difficult as some times may be, if we can't allow our faith to be stretched to a place of firmly trusting God, our faith will never grow. We will never see the fullness of what God wants to do in our lives.
Ruth was also a woman of great humility. When Naomi instructed her to go to the feet of Boaz and essentially propose a proposal, she willingly submitted to such a bizarre request. She didn't fight Naomi, or tell her it's a crazy idea, or suggest another route. She quickly and willingly submitted.
She also was a woman of hesed, or loving kindness. She showed great kindness to Naomi and Boaz, as he indicated in verse 10.
" You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich."
Ruth showed hesed, the characteristic most attributed to God in the Bible. A characteristic that we are called to show to the people around us.
Ruth was a virtuous woman, and so is the man whose feet she laid at. Boaz and Ruth were a great match in that way. Two people of great virtue brought together through God's providence and goodness.
As Ruth walked in kindness, faith and humility, she was commended by the man that she loved. HE noticed her excellence and virtue and honored her for it by answering his own prayer in chapter 2 for her. But more than that, God noticed her excellence and virtue.
I have heard the saying, "character is who you are when no one is watching." Ruth certainly had no idea that her life would be highlighted to such an extent, but millions look to her as an example. Imagine what God wants to do through His people that have great character. It's in the moments when we think no one is watching or there is no reward for our actions that character is noticed by God.
After the threshing floor proposal, Boaz went to the city gate, which would have been the center of the town. He went here because he wanted to marry Ruth and was looking for the appropriate kinsmen redeemer of Ruth, which he did find. The nearest living relative to Ruth and Naomi was a man we do not know, however we can learn quite a bit about his character just by this short passage. We know that this man was obligated to take care of the two women, but not once had he stepped in to offer them any help since they had returned to Bethlehem. Beyond that, when Boaz asked the man if he wanted to redeem Ruth, he declined to do so. This was a man who lacked integrity and character, especially in comparison to Boaz. Boaz was a man who treated Ruth with kindness when she was a stranger in a new land. He took care of her and Naomi. He treated her with respect at the threshing floor. Even here, when he wanted to marry Ruth, he didn't try to deceitfully do so, but took the appropriate actions to redeem her.
Boaz made a legal transaction with the relative to have the redeeming rights to Ruth so that he could marry her. He had no legal obligation to do anything for Ruth, however, he did nothing but care for her throughout the book. Boaz extended grace to the woman just as Jesus extends grace to us. Let me be clear so as to paint the picture vividly for you; Jesus has no obligation to do anything for us. He didn't have to give up Heaven and come to Earth to die for us. But he did. He gave up the glory of Heaven and humbled himself to death on a cross so that we might live.
Now as Jesus redeems his bride (the Church), Boaz redeemed his bride (Ruth). He married her and she conceived.
Interestingly, Ruth had not conceived in her previous marriage, which lasted ten years. We assume she had been barren during this time, however, God now opened her womb in order to give birth. She did so to a little boy named Obed, who became the grandfather of the great King David.
I want to paint one more picture of God's grace and sovereignty through the birth of this child. Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner who had no rights. However, through grace and redemption she became a part of the genealogy of Christ.
It wasn't an easy life for Ruth. She grew up in a wicked nation. She suffered the loss of her husband. She followed Naomi to a foreign land. She was poor and needy. All very difficult circumstances to say the least. However, as I pointed out in the beginning, we see Gods fingerprints all over Ruth's story and there is no doubt He was at work the entire time. It was a long and difficult journey, but it ended with redemption. Ruth started out empty, but she ended full!
WHAT WE CAN LEARN
God is at work in your life, even if you don’t see it. One day you’ll look back and see His fingerprints all over your life! Remain faithful to God and walk in obedience. He will honor you and protect you.
“Under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” Ruth 2:12