Well, we’ve been studying one of the dark times in the history of the nation of Israel – the time of the Judges. And tonight we’re going to finish our study of this period on a positive note by studying the book of Ruth. These events probably take place in the mid-to-late 1100’s BC, which would mean that she lived either during or between one of the last few judges we studied.
Let’s go ahead and start reading.
1:1 In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land.
So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him.
It doesn’t say why this famine came upon the land. But I think it’s very plausible that this famine was sent by God for the same reason God allowed his people to be conquered periodically throughout the book of Judges: to get their attention and try to get them to turn back to him before they completely destroyed themselves.
So a certain man from Bethlehem decides that he’s sick of waiting around for God to provide food and he makes the journey next door to the country of Moab to see if their gods can do any better. And he takes his whole family with him. This man, like so many people, evaluates the situation from a purely human perspective that leaves God out of the picture. He leads his family away from the people of God, away from the place God told his people to stay, and into a situation where they are almost certain to adopt the religious practices and values of the people around them. He isn’t just leaving his homeland. He is rejecting God and putting his hope in other gods to provide for him.
2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.
They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.
His name is Elimelech, which means “My God is King.” Unfortunately he wasn’t acting like Yahweh is king. His wife’s name was Naomi, which means “sweetheart.” Their kids’ names were Mahlon and Kilion, which sound like they should be extras in an episode of Star Trek. But before you rush off and name your firstborn Mahlon, you should know his name literally means “sick,” and Kilion means “dying.” Pretty strange names for your kids. “These are my two boys, Swine Flu and SAARS (West Nile Virus? Dysentery?).”
So, there is a famine, and Elimilech takes his family out of Israel to keep them from dying. And what happens?
3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons.
Elimelech dies! And, spiritually speaking, it gets even worse.
4a The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth.
These women almost certainly would have been worshippers of Chemosh, a cruel pagan God who required child sacrifice and whose worship services involved sex with temple priestesses.
Things continue to deteriorate from there:
4b But about ten years later,
5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.
So Elimelech’s plan to save his family has completely failed. Now his wife is left all alone as a widow in a foreign country.
6 Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again.
So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland.
7 With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.
8 But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me.
9 May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.”
Naomi says, “I know how hard it is to be a widow and a foreigner. I don’t wish that on anyone. Go home. I pray that God will reward you for your kindness to me. I pray that God will bless you with another husband.”
Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.
10 “No,” they said. “We want to go with you to your people.”
So they felt a strong attachment to Naomi. Strong enough that they wanted to stay with her instead of returning to their own people.
11 But Naomi replied, “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands?
Typically if a man died childless his brother was responsible to marry and care for his widow and try to produce an heir.
12 No, my daughters, return to your parents’ homes, for I am too old to marry again.
And even if it were possible, and I were to get married tonight and bear sons, then what?
13 Would you wait for them to grow up and refuse to marry someone else?
No, of course not, my daughters! Things are far more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord himself has raised his fist against me.”
Naomi is blaming God here for her problems. She’s conveniently forgotten whose decision it was to flee to Moab. This is all too common: we ignore God, bad things happen, and then we blame God for the consequences. But she tells her daughters-in-law: it’s my bitter life and I don’t want to drag you into it. This is the end of the line. You’ll be much better off if you get away from me and my cursed existence.
14 And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye.
Orpah realizes Naomi is right. She is a widow. She is not a virgin. She is a destable Moabite. She was 10 years past the age when people normally got married. She is probably barren, since 10 years of marriage had failed to produce an heir. She has no money, no dowry and no reason for any Israelite guy to pay attention to her. She is likely destined to become a beggar or a prostitute, and realizes she’d probably be better off among her own people. By almost every rationale it made sense to return to Moab. So she kisses Naomi goodbye, packs up and heads back home.
Now Ruth is left between a rock and a hard place. As she watches Orpah head off down the road and over the horizon she is faced with the same decision. Will she go back to her base of security: the people, the land, and the gods she has always known? Or will she do something radical, something foolish, and break with her former way of life?
That’s exactly what Ruth chooses to do. Once again she refuses to leave Naomi’s side.
But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi.
15 “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.”
Both women realize this isn’t just about friendship. This is about Ruth’s spiritual loyalties. Will she put her trust in Chemosh and the gods of her childhood? Or will she leave those behind and place her trust in Yahweh, the God of Israel?
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”
What we are witnessing here is Ruth’s conversion experience. She says, “I’m not going back to my old life. I’m throwing in with you, Naomi. The people of God are now my people. Yahweh is now my God. And I swear to God I am serious!”
This didn’t make any sense. It went against everything she had been taught her entire life. She had just as many strikes against her as did Orpah: her sexual past, her marital history, her nationality, her poverty, her age, her barrenness. Her life was every bit as bitter as Naomi’s. But she decided to follow God against all common sense and start a new life. And maybe, just maybe, this new God would be able to make something of her broken, shattered life.
18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
19 So the two of them continued on their journey.
When they came to Bethlehem, the entire town was excited by their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked.
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara [which means bitter], for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me.
21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty…
Everyone’s like: “Hey, it’s Naomi. Naomi’s back. Have you seen Naomi? Hi Naomi. How ya doing? You look… not so good.”
And Naomi says: “Yeah it’s me. Yeah I’m back. And my life SUCKS! God has made my life BITTER: my husband is dead, my boys are dead, and all I’ve got left is this Moabite widow. In fact, I don’t want anyone to call me Naomi, or sweetheart, anymore. My new name is ‘bitter old hag’!”
So at the end of chapter 1 Ruth’s husband and extended family is dead, she is in a foreign country, and the only friend she has is her bitter mother-in-law. And you’re probably thinking: “I thought you said this was a happy story.” Well, let’s keep reading. It gets a lot better from this point forward.
2:1 Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.
So we meet another character: Boaz. It says that he is a wealthy and influential man, and that he is a relative of Naomi’s late husband.
2 One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.”
So Ruth decides to go out into the fields to try to pick up the leftover pieces of grain that the harvesters missed when they harvested the fields. It would have been a risk for a helpless foreign woman like her to go out in public but they were hungry and she felt like they had no other choice.
What is referred to here was actually a practice that God had prescribed in the Law. The landowners were not allowed to make a second pass over a field after harvesting it to catch the parts they missed or dropped. They were supposed to leave that part for the poor, the foreigner, the orphan, the widow – the people like Naomi and Ruth who had no other means of survival. This was no way to make a living, but it at least kept you from starving.
So we see God begin to provide for Ruth and Naomi. It’s not bread magically appearing before them or water gushing out of a rock. But it is just as much the hand of God in their lives.
Naomi replied, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.”
3 So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters.
And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.
I love the way the narrator puts this. As it happened… By some stroke of good luck… Wouldn’t you know it? Of all the fields in the area Ruth just so happened to find herself working in the field of their wealthy, single, godly, distant relative named Boaz. His point is clear: from Ruth’s perspective she had no idea what was going on here. She was just trying to survive, to trust God and be faithful where she was at. But God was mightily at work, putting together a brilliant plan to provide for Ruth, for Naomi, for Boaz, and as we’ll see, for the entire human race.
4 While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. “The Lord be with you!” he said.
“The Lord bless you!” the harvesters replied.
Wow! Wouldn’t you know it? While she was there Boaz just happened to arrive from Bethlehem and greeted his people. Sounds like a godly man. A good boss.
5 Then Boaz asked his foreman, “Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?”
6 And the foreman replied, “She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi.
7 She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.”
Oh, she’s that Moabite girl with Naomi. I told her she could work over on the edge of the field – in the part we harvested last week. Hard worker, boss. She’s been working non-stop except for that one break she took earlier today.
He’s intrigued by this. So Bo decides to meander over to talk to Ruth…
8 Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field.
9 See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly.
And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”
Boaz says to Ruth: You’re safe here. Stick close to the other girls. I told the young men not to harass you or make advances toward you. If anyone tries to put the moves on you just let me know. Also, you can help yourself to our water.
And once again we see God’s provision in Ruth’s life. He has provided a godly landowner who is concerned for Ruth, who is protecting her, providing water for her, going above and beyond what the Law required and showering generosity on her.
10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”
“Why are you doing this? I don’t deserve this at all?”
11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband.
I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers.
I hope you’re taking notes on this. What was it that drew Boaz to Ruth? What intrigued him about her?
I can tell you what it wasn’t.
- Her looks. Was she looking her best out there in that field? Her hair perfectly done, her nails manicured, wearing a cute summer dress with brand new sandals? No way! She was dirty, sweaty, exhausted, hair matted to her face with pieces of grain stuck in it, wearing her old barley clothes.
- Her wealth and fertility. She had no money and there was no evidence that she even had the ability to produce an heir, which was directly related to the financial well-being of the family.
- Her sexual past. She had been married once already and had probably been into some pretty freaky stuff given the pagan culture she came from with their immoral religious practices.
- Her family and spiritual background. She had not grown up in a good family as a follower of God. She never even came into contact with God before she met Elimelech’s family. She had been into God knows what for most of her life. All the family she had left was a bitter mother-in-law, which any guy who married her was going to have to deal with. Talk about baggage!
But in spite of all of Ruth’s baggage, she passed four important tests with flying colors.
- The faith test – she had transferred her loyalties from the gods of her culture to worship the one true God: Yahweh.
- The suffering test – She had made painful, sacrificial choices to follow God, giving up her security and control and trusting God instead. Boaz had heard of all of this suffering, and he saw that she came through those experiences even more committed to God.
- The character test– low maintenance, hard-working. She was working harder than any of the other harvesters in that field.
- The love test – She had loved Naomi in a way that everyone was talking about. The gossip mill was abuzz about what a choice woman this was.
12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”
Boaz then utters a prayer for Ruth: that God would fully reward her for placing her faith in Him. He doesn’t have any hidden agenda here. He’s just being kind and respectful toward her. In fact, even though both Ruth and Boaz have an obvious respect and fondness for each other, we know that neither one thought there was a remote possibility that the two of them might one day end up together. He’s just praying that God would take care of her, that He would provide for her a husband, a family, a new redeemed life.
Boaz had no idea that in the not too distant future God was going to ask him to answer his own prayer.
And I know things don’t typically work this way, and I know that there’s no template for how a marriage has to come together, but this story is particularly meaningful to me because God did this same thing in my life. We knew each other, were friends with one another, and respected one another long before there was ever any romantic interest on either part. We can both look back at our prayers and journals and see that we were both praying that God would provide a godly spouse for the other person, praying that the other person would make a wise marriage choice. And I’m sure God was just sitting there thinking, “These people have no idea what I’ve got cooking up here. Wait until they see what I am going to do in their lives.”
Well, Ruth heads back home at the end of her first day of work with her head spinning from the events of the day. And Naomi is amazed by the amount of grain she comes back with – thanks to Boaz instructing the harvesters to accidentally drop a lot of grain in Ruth’s part of the field.
19a “Where did you gather all this grain today?” Naomi asked. “Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!”
19b So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, “The man I worked with today is named Boaz.”
20 “May the Lord bless him!” Naomi told her daughter-in-law. “He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband.
That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.”
What does Naomi mean when she refers to their “family redeemer?” It refers to a system that God had set up where the nearest male relative was responsible for the well-being of vulnerable family members who couldn’t care for themselves – such as the death of a husband or father or some other disaster bringing about extreme poverty. This would certainly apply to Ruth and Naomi’s situation.
Now, the redeemer didn’t have to do this, and in this situation Boaz wasn’t required to do anything for Ruth. It was a great sacrifice to the person and if they didn’t do it then the job would fall to whoever was next in line. Naomi realizes that Boaz is a guy who could legally do something about their situation. She is excited about this and starts to realize that perhaps God will use this situation to provide for their plight. It gives you the anticipation that something good is about to happen. But here the story slows down for a little while. Day 2 on the job comes and goes with nothing significant to report. So does day 3. And day 4. I’m sure each day Naomi was standing on the porch waiting for Ruth to get home. “So, how did it go? Did you talk to Bo today?” “No, bitter old hag. Same as yesterday.”
23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest.
Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.
This whole time Naomi has been hoping that Boaz would take the initiative, but typically in this culture the woman’s father would be the one to arrange a marriage for their daughter. Unfortunately Ruth didn’t have her dad around, and her father-in-law was dead as well. Plus, Boaz may have thought she was still in mourning for her dead husband. So Naomi takes things into her own hands.
3:1 One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for.
2 Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor.
3 Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes.
OK Ruth. The clock’s ticking here. It’s time you tried to make yourself a little more presentable before old Bo. He’s only ever seen field hand Ruth. The word translated “nicest clothes” actually just means clothes – probably some clean clothes. Now, you don’t need to be senior prom Ruth. But you need to give him a little more than what he’s seen so far. She’s calling on Ruth to look nicer than she’s ever looked in front of Boaz. She’s saying take a bath, get your hair done, break out the makeup, wear that perfume you know he likes, put on some of those Lee Press-On nails, and for heaven’s sake girl, shave your armpits. You look like you’ve got Samson in a headlock.
Boaz needs to see that her period of mourning is over and she’s ready to move on.
Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking.
Ladies, are you taking notes here? She doesn’t show up and interrupt his feast and go all emotional on him. “Boaz I’m scared about our future and I need to know where this relationship is going.” Naomi says: “Let the man finish his dinner and drink his beer first. Then you can talk to him. He’ll be in a lot better mood to hear what you have to say at that point.”
Is Naomi proposing that Ruth be a man-chaser? No. But she is suggesting that she look nice and try to get in his way.
4 Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”
- Now, at first glance this is pretty questionable advice from Naomi. I don’t think I’d ever advise a woman to do this. “Go find a guy who’s had a little too much to drink, lie at his feet, and then when he wakes up do whatever he tells you to do.” What is she telling Ruth to do here? Whatever it is, it sure seems risky – not just a risk that they might fall into sexual sin, but even if nothing happens the stellar reputations of both Ruth and Boaz are being put into jeopardy. But as we’ll see, nothing in their own lives or in the following narrative suggests that they engage in any sort of sexual contact.
7 After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep.
Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.
8 Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet!
9 “Who are you?” he asked.
Maybe thinking she was a prostitute. It was dark, and that’s where the prostitutes would commonly go to try to drum up business.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she replied. “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.”
To cover a woman with the corner of your garment was the equivalent of proposing marriage – like getting down on one knee and producing an engagement ring.
This is a direct reference to Boaz’s prayer back in chapter two. Remember where he prayed that God would bless Ruth – and he calls Him the God who had her under the protection of his wing or his garment? Ruth is saying, “Hey Boaz, I would love it if you would go ahead and answer your own prayer.” Now, Ruth isn’t proposing here. But she is proposing that Boaz propose. Or at least that he do something about her situation. She says, “The ball is in your court, big guy. Are you interested, or do I need to move on?”
Now for the moment of truth. How will Boaz respond? Will he be grossed out and tell her to get out? Will he try to take advantage of Ruth? Will he mock her advances as a pathetic attempt to climb the social ladder? Or will he agree to be her redeemer?
10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter!” Boaz exclaimed.
“You are showing even more family loyalty [chesed = is the main OT word for God’s loving kindness – he says “Ruth you are showing me the love of God”] now than you did before, for you have not gone after a younger man, whether rich or poor.
11 Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman.
12 But while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am.
13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him…
There’s one more obstacle to their love: another guy has first dibs on her. But Boaz is a man of action. He’s going to get this situation straightened out. He’s not one of those guys that says, “Sure we’ll get married, honey. How does three summers from now look for you?” (OR “We’re going to get married as soon as I finish my PhD program.” “Umm… dude… you’re in high school”) He’s going to take care of this ASAP. Like today.
4:1 Boaz went to the town gate and took a seat there. Just then the family redeemer he had mentioned came by,
Wow. Another coincidence. As soon as Boaz got to the town gate, the family redeemer – the guy who was supposed to do something about Ruth and Naomi’s situation – just happened to walk by.
so Boaz called out to him, “Come over here and sit down, friend. I want to talk to you.” So they sat down together.
We never actually learn this guy’s name. And it really doesn’t matter because he’s a massive loser. He’s done nothing so far about the plight of Elimelech’s family. He’s really just the guy Boaz has to get rid of to marry his girl.
2 Then Boaz called ten leaders from the town and asked them to sit as witnesses.
He’s going to perform a legal transaction here. And he needs witnesses. So he takes charge and grabs ten guys and sits them down for the negotiations.
3 And Boaz said to the family redeemer, “You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech.
4a I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish.
If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses.
4b But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.”
I love Boaz’s approach here. Do you want to take on this responsibility? Because if not, then I will.
The man replied, “All right, I’ll redeem it.”
Hmmm… problem. Lesser men would turn away at this point. “Oh well, must not be God’s will.” But Boaz doesn’t take no for an answer. He knows that Mr. What’s-his-face is a fool. I mean, the guy doesn’t ask any questions about the deal. “Do you want to buy some land?” “Sure, I like land.”
Boaz goes into negotiator mode.
5 Then Boaz told him, “Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow.
That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.”
Remember, the land comes with a little bit of baggage. For one, there’s a bitter mother-in-law. Do you like bitter mother-in-laws? It also comes with a Moabite widow, who of course you’d have to marry. How’s the rest of your family going to feel about that? Do you want another wife? Ah, and that means you’d need to try to make babies with the Moabite widow. Do you like babies?
6 “Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied,
“because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.”
Well done, Bo. Of course Boaz was never interested in the land. He wanted Ruth, not her huge tract of land. And he was willing to spend whatever amount of money necessary to marry her.
7 Now in those days it was the custom in Israel for anyone transferring a right of purchase to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly validated the transaction.
8 So the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, “You buy the land.”
13 So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son.
Once again, God provides. A husband for Ruth. And a son. For Boaz, Ruth and Naomi. And they named him Obed, which means, “Servant.”
14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel.
17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!”
And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.
God’s blessing goes far beyond the lives of Ruth and Boaz and Naomi. In the final verses of the book we see signposts pointing to God’s ultimate provision – the redemption of the entire human race. Obed went on to become the father of Jesse, who would become the father of King David. And it was out of King David’s line God chose to send the ultimate king, Jesus Christ, to earth – a servant king who would suffer to redeem the human race at great cost to himself.
Before we conclude let’s take a look at some of the family resemblance between Jesus and his distant ancestor Boaz.
|Boaz’s Redemption||Jesus’ Redemption|
|Had to be related to Ruth||Heb 2:14-15 – Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only … in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
|Ruth was helpless||Rom 5:6 When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.
|Chose to redeem her because he loved her||Rom 5:7-8
7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good.
8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
|Generously gave much more than she was entitled to receive||Eph 1:5 – God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.