Sunday, February 17, 2019


In the Old Testament book of Ruth we have the story of two widows. Like the book of Judges, we do not know for certain who wrote this book, but also like the book of Judges, it is widely believed that it was the prophet Samuel.

Whoever the true author of the book of Ruth was, and if it was indeed the same person that wrote Judges, I am sure it was a pleasure for him to close that book and move on to the story of Ruth.

As I wrote in my post regarding the final chapters of Judges, as the author finished the writing of that book, he did so with apologies, seemingly even regretting that he had been given the task to describe activities that demonstrate the most depraved of human natures. After writing about those, it must have been a great pleasure to tell a story in which the main character, a young woman named Ruth, acts in manners so noble as to be a righteous example to everyone.

The events in the book of Ruth take place during those same times as the Judges. After finishing reading the stories in the book of Judges, and especially those of the final chapters, the reader is tempted to hang his head in despair, wondering if anything at all that was good could take place during those wicked years.

The book of Ruth is more optimistic. It shows us that even within those overtly wicked times, good people did indeed exist, even those from the most unexpected of places and in the most unexpected of circumstances. 


As I said, there are actually two women in the story of Ruth. The first of these is the widow named Naomi. When Naomi and her husband were younger, there had been a very severe famine in their homeland of Judah. They left their home area to see if they could find better conditions in another place. That is how they came to live in the distant land of Moab. They lived there as refugees. With them they brought their two, yet unmarried sons.

After some time in that foreign land, Naomi’s husband died, leaving her with only her two sons. When the two boys were grown, they each married young women from that country. Alas, after some years, these two men also died, apparently before having any children of their own.

Thus, with the deaths of the three men in her life, Naomi was left alone and living in a land far from her home. With no husband and no sons, she considered that her life would come to a bitter end.

In fact she said, “Do not call me Naomi (which means pleasant), but call me Mara, (bitterness) for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me… and has brought calamity upon me.”

In that culture and especially at that time, a woman alone was defenseless. The same was true in the days of Jesus. That is why Jesus repeatedly said that any follower of his was to have special consideration for widows. That is also why Paul tells us that we are to honor widows (1 Timothy 5:3). 

Enter: Ruth

However, despite the condition that had come upon the widow Naomi, in her bitterness she had forgotten that she was not really alone. She still did have two daughters-in-law. When Naomi decided to return to her homeland, these wives of her sons planned on going with her. It is clear that they both loved their mother-in-law.

Naomi objected. She told the two young women to stay with their own people. They were not from the people of Israel, but were Moabites, a race of people generally despised in Israel. Besides that, Noemi felt that to stay with her would mean only continued bad fortune for her daughters-in-law. She said to them, “It is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

When she told her daughters-in-law to return and to stay with their own people, one of them did. The other one however, Ruth, insisted upon going with her.

Ruth told her mother-in-law, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV).

It was an unconditional commitment.

Realizing that it would do no good to try further to dissuade Ruth, Naomi said no more. The two widows set off together to return to the homeland of Naomi from which she had long been absent. This home was in Bethlehem of the land of Judea. Although it seemed at the moment to Naomi that the Lord was against her, she did not realize how he intended to care for her. 

Ruth Meets Boaz

It does not seem that Naomi had any hopes or actual plans when she and Ruth returned to the homeland. We do not read of anything that would indicate that she initially did a lot to get her and her daughter-in-law established. It was Ruth who took the first action to obtain some reserves of food. Since it was harvesting time, Ruth set out to the fields to glean some barley grain that had been passed over by the men who were doing the harvest.

As it happened, the field in which Ruth chose to glean was owned by a relative of Naomi’s husband, of the clan of Elimelech. This relative was a man by the name of Boaz. When Boaz found out who Ruth was, that she was the young widow that had come to help Naomi, he took a special interest in her. Everyone in Bethlehem had heard the story of Naomi and her daughter-in-law, and the entire town had been “stirred” by their story.

Knowing now that the young woman reaping the heads of grain in his field was the young widow and daughter-in-law of Naomi, Boaz told Ruth that she should not go to the fields of other men, because he had instructed his harvesters not to mistreat her. She could feel safe while she gleaned in his fields. More than that, he told his workers to pull some stems of barley out of the bundles that they had already gathered and leave them for Ruth to pick up.

Boaz, as we discover when we read the story, eventually falls in love with Ruth, and the two become married. Initially however, it does not appear that infatuation was the reason that Boaz began to show favoritism toward Ruth. It was not because it was “love at first sight.” Rather, it was the reputation that Ruth had gained among the people of Bethlehem that impressed Boaz. Ruth had given up her own life in order to devote herself to the care of Naomi.

When Boaz first gave Ruth permission to glean in his fields, she asked him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 

It Is All in the Perspective

It is interesting to see the difference in perspective between the two widows, the elder Naomi and the younger Ruth. Whereas Naomi at this time was viewing her life as one plagued by “calamity,” as she called it, and had become bitter because of her circumstances, Ruth instead acknowledged the blessing that was given to her by a perfect stranger.

Boaz recognized this trait in Ruth, and responded to her question as to why he was being kind to her. “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12 NAS).

Beautiful words.

Under His Wings

It is interesting that Boaz uses this imagery of seeking refuge under the wings of God. It immediately makes me think of the lament that Jesus made over the city of Jerusalem when he said, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37 NAS).

This image of God spreading his wings of protection over his people is seen several times in the Bible. David cried to the Lord, “Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8 NAS). In another place he also said, “The children of men take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 36:7).

David uses this phrase at other times to illustrate the security that we have in the Lord. I found four more times in the Psalms, and there may be others (57:1; 61:4; 63:7). For instance: “It is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge. His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark” (Psalm 91:3-4 NAS). 

Spread Your Cloak Over Me

When Naomi returned to Judah, she was seeking security—not only for herself, but also for her daughter-in-law. When Ruth came back from the fields and told Naomi that she had been gleaning in the field of Boaz, and what the man had told her and how he had treated her, Naomi became encouraged.

She said to Ruth, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you that it may be well with you? Now is not Boaz our kinsman?… Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.”

This is what Ruth did. She took the cover off the feet of Boaz and laid down there. When Boaz woke and discovered her, he asked who she was. He could not really see her. It was dark. “I am Ruth, your maid,” was the answer. She continued, “So spread you covering over your maid for you are a close relative” (Ruth 3:6, 9 NAS).

Today and in our own culture, when we read about this nocturnal encounter while Boaz lie sleeping, many minds will immediately jump to sexual connotations. But Ruth was not “coming on” to Boaz and we should not read that into the passage. What she was doing in this action of hers was asking Boaz for security, just as Naomi told her.

However, to be fair, Ruth was not simply and only asking that she might be able to continue to reap the grain of Boaz. She was, in fact, asking Boaz to redeem her. That redemption would include having her for his wife.

Beyond the image of protection in the spreading of the cloak, there is the insinuation of commitment and even possession. There is an allusion in this action to marriage. This is the also image invoked by God, when he spoke of his people: 

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8 ESV) 

From Bitterness to Blessing

In the story, Boaz not only eventually marries Ruth, but also included in that act, he redeems both her and Naomi by buying the field that Naomi still owned. By doing this, he pledges to care for the needs of Naomi as well as Ruth. Later, Ruth and Boaz have a child, a baby boy.

The widow Naomi, who earlier seemed always to be speaking of her life being filled with bitterness, now instead sees her life as one of blessing. The now aged widow Naomi is able to hold her grandson on her lap. Her bitterness was turned to blessing.

The neighboring women of Bethlehem perhaps said it best when they said to Naomi:  “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:14-15 ESV). 

The Significance of the Story of Ruth

The story of Ruth is one of the most beautiful of love stories in the Bible, perhaps in any literature. It has historical and messianic significances as well, since the baby boy that was born to Boaz and Ruth would be named Obed. Obed would become the father of Jesse and the grandfather of King David. It is a family line that would eventually be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, also born in Bethlehem.

The story of Ruth is an illustration of how an initial bitterness was turned into blessing. Naomi and Ruth were both redeemed by the kinsman Boaz. In some very significant ways, Ruth also had a part in bringing this redemption to Naomi. Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi, despite extremely difficult circumstances that seemed to have no bright future, turned into redemption for both of them. In addition, Ruth’s equally difficult decision to look for blessing instead of becoming bitter lifted Naomi herself from out of the depths of her own bitterness.

And there is something else in this story that is interesting. It concerns the concept that in the law of Israel of that day, there was a principle called the kinsman redeemer. When a woman became widowed, it was the responsibility of one unmarried man of the family to take her as his bride. Normally this would be an unmarried brother of the deceased.

This is what was called levirate marriage, or the kinsman marriage. It is was when the nearest unmarried man would take the widow for his own bride so that she might not be left destitute. One of the thoughts behind this practice was to demonstrate the importance of a family taking care of the needs of their own family members.

In the case of Ruth, her deceased husband had no brothers. Boaz was the nearest kinsman who was willing to redeem her. Boaz was, as I have already mentioned, a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband. 

Our Kinsman/Redeemer

In the second chapter of the book of Luke, we read of the occasion when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to the temple. While there, the infant Jesus attracted the attention of those who were, as it says in the text, “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” They were looking for the one who would be the redeemer for their people.

Upon seeing Jesus, the aged man Simeon praised God, saying, “Lord, now you may let me depart in peace according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer, the one who is willing to redeem us. According to the Bible, the payment that he made for our redemption was not merely something out of his wealth. He paid for us with his very life. The price of our redemption was his blood.

If you have looked to Jesus for your abiding hope, what the women of Bethlehem said of Naomi can also be said of you. “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher for your entire life!”

Focused on Blessing

But it is Ruth, the young Moabitess who refused to let herself to be overcome by present difficult circumstances who provides for us the most important lesson in this story.

It was by her own act of will that, despite what outwardly would only seem like hardships, she still decided to remain faithful. More than that, instead of focusing on the misfortunes that had come to her in her life, she instead looked at the blessings that came to her. 

God Knows the Plans that He has for Us

The prophet Jeremiah, many years after the days of Naomi and Ruth, wrote to the Israelites during a particularly dark period of their history. They were captives in the land of Babylon and could see nothing in their lives that they would consider blessing. They believed God had abandoned them.

But Jeremiah wrote these words of God to them: 

When Babylon’s seventy years are complete, I will attend to you and confirm My promise to restore you. For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you a future and a hope. 

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore you from captivity and gather you from all the nations and places to which I have banished you. I will restore you to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:10-14) 

As Jeremiah told the people of his day, as dark as the situation seemed for them at the time, their redemption had never been forgotten. In the proper time, God would bring it about. It would come about in a way that they would not have expected.

Neither is our redemption forgotten. Despite whatever difficult circumstances any follower of Jesus may be experiencing in the present, our Kinsman/Redeemer is even now preparing to bless us in ways that we would never expect. 

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).

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