Restorer of Life.

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women 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.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. – Ruth 4:13-22 ESV

The book of Ruth ends on an extremely happy note. Chapter one opened up with three funerals, but chapter four closes with a wedding and the birth of a son. And it is interesting to note that Naomi adopted the son as her own, which stands in stark contrast to her comment to daughter-in-laws back in chapter one: “Go back home, my daughters! There is no reason for you to return to Judah with me! I am no longer capable of giving birth to sons who might become your husbands!” (Ruth 1:11 NLT). Naomi’s misery had been turned into joy. Her pessimism about the future had been transformed into a renewed hope made possible by the birth of a grandson. But this would not be just any grandson. His name was Obed and he would be the progenitor of David, the greatest king Israel would ever have. And as the genealogical record in Matthew 1 discloses, David would be the father of Solomon and from his line would come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The genealogy of Jesus ends with these words:

…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. – Matthew 1:16 ESV

From the unlikely union of Boaz, a Jew, and Ruth, a Moabite, God would bring into the world the ultimate redeemer, the restorer of life. The birth of Obed brought life and joy to Naomi in her old age. He helped alleviate her despair and restored her confidence in God.

But the marriage of Boaz and Ruth is not the only unlikely union that made possible the coming of the Messiah. In the short genealogy that closes the book of Ruth, there are several names mentioned that would have been highly familiar to the original Jewish audience. The first is Perez. He was the illegitimate son born to Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar. The story is a sad and somewhat sordid one. Judah had three sons, Er, Onan and Shelah, all born to him by a Canaanite woman. Er, the firstborn, married a woman named Tamar. But Er was wicked and God put him to death, so Judah commanded Onan, the second-born to take Tamar as his wife in order to preserve the name of Er. Onan, in disobedience, would repeatedly refuse to inseminate Tamar, leaving her without a child, so God took his life as well. The third son, Shelah, was too young to marry, so Judah insisted that Tamar remain a widow until Shelah came of age. But in time, Tamar became impatient and, disguising herself as a prostitute, enticed Judah to have sex with her. The result of this illicit union was Perez.

Another key union was that of the parents of Boaz himself. The genealogical record found in Matthew 1 reads: “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab” (Matthew 1:5 ESV). Rahab was the prostitute who harbored the two spies who had been sent by Joshua to scope out the city of Jericho before the Israelites attempted to take it. She was a God-follower and hid the spies, helping them to escape in exchange for her life and those of her family members when the Israelites attacked the city. Eventually, Rahab married Salmon, one of the two spies, and she gave birth to Boaz, the husband of Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite. Rahab was a Canaanite. Tamar deceived and seduced her father-in-law to have sex with her. The family tree of Jesus was far from perfect. It contained more than a few bad apples. And yet, God, in His providence, was able to produce from this less-than-ideal lineage a Savior, the restorer of life. Even David was the youngest son of Jesse and the least likely to receive the blessing and anointing of Samuel, the prophet, as the future king of Israel. And yet, God chose David over all the others. God chose to work through Tamar, even in spite of her immorality. He chose to use Rahab, regardless of her profession. He chose to utilize Ruth, even though she was from Moab. God’s ways are not our ways.  His methods may appear maddening to us, but He always knows what He is doing.

The story of Ruth is the story of God as He operates within the everyday lives of normal, yet flawed men and women like you and me. Ruth, while presented as a loving, compassionate and selfless individual, was far from perfect. She was a foreigner, a Moabite and an enemy of Israel. But God still used her. Boaz, while a good and godly man, would marry a Moabite, breaking the Mosaic law to do so, but was used by God to bring about the eventual kinsman-redeemer of all mankind. Naomi, the finger-pointing, blame-casting main character of the opening chapter would eventually become the primary caregiver for her own grandson, graciously given to her by God. What is fascinating when considering God’s plan of redemption for sinful mankind is that He could have simply sent Jesus to earth in the form of a man, and not required Him to be born into a flawed human lineage. But there was a method to God’s seeming madness.

Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. – Hebrews 2:17 NLT

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. – Hebrews 4:15 NLT

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT

And he is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. – Hebrews 5:2 NLT

Jesus was born as a man. He took on human flesh and lived among sinful men and women, yet never sinned Himself. He did what no other human being had ever been able to do: live sinslessly and righteously, in complete obedience to His Father, which made Him the perfect, spotless sacrifice for the sins of mankind. He became the restorer of life, the redeemer of the lost, the sinless Savior of the world.

The Reluctant Redeemer.

Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”

Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.” – Ruth 4:1-12 ESV

Boaz wasted no time in settling the matter regarding the redemption of Naomi and Ruth. Because there was a closer relative who, by law, had the responsibility and right to act as the kinsman-redeemer, Boaz went out of his way to make the matter known to this individual. He met him at the gate of the city, the place where official business was done. Finding the man for whom he was looking, Boaz enlisted ten elders of the city to act as witnesses, then proceeded to inform the man of the situation. Interestingly, Boaz began by telling the man that Naomi, as the widow of Elimelech, had property to sell that had belonged to her deceased husband. Since her two sons were also dead, Naomi was legally free to sell it. Boaz informed the kinsman-redeemer about the availability of the land and the man readily agreed to buy it. Then Boaz seemed to surprise the man by revealing a second “opportunity” available to him. As the kinsman-redeemer, he not only had the right to buy Naomi’s property, he also had the responsibility to take on Naomi and Ruth. More specifically, he was obligated to marry Ruth and perpetuate her deceased husband’s lineage. Boaz told the man, “When you acquire the field from Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the wife of our deceased relative, in order to preserve his family name by raising up a descendant who will inherit his property” (Ruth 4:5 NLT). In other words, the man who bought the land must also marry Ruth, and any son they had as a result of their marriage would become the rightful heir of the property. Once this part of the transaction was made known, the potential kinsman-redeemer had a quick change of heart. “Then I am unable to redeem it, for I would ruin my own inheritance in that case. You may exercise my redemption option, for I am unable to redeem it” (Ruth 4:6 NLT).

The man forfeits his right to the land because he fears the future financial costs of having to marry Ruth and any son they have becoming the rightful heir to the property. He saw the whole deal as a bad investment. It would seem that he had no feelings of obligation toward Naomi or Ruth. While the land had interested him, the thought of having to redeem two widows and marry one of them was not something he found appealing. So he refused and opened up the door for Boaz, as the next in line to act as the kinsman-redeemer, to take his place. What is fascinating about this part of the story is that the Mosaic law had a clause for dealing with anyone who refused to redeem a widow and perpetuate her deceased husband’s name.

And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, “My husband's brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.” Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, “I do not wish to take her,” then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, “So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother's house.” And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, “The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.” – Deuteronomy 25:7-10 ESV

While this situation was avoided in the case of Ruth because Boaz readily stepped in and took on the role of kinsman-redeemer, it reveals just how significant the redemption process was to God. It was not to be taken lightly. And Boaz knew full well what he was doing. He told the elders, “Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place” (Ruth 4:10 ESV). The property was a secondary issue for Boaz. His primary goal was to marry Ruth and to honor the name of her deceased husband. Boaz took the role of kinsman-redeemer seriously. He probably didn’t need more land. There was no indication that he had been looking for a wife. But from the first moment he had laid eyes on Ruth that day in his field, he had been intrigued by her character, as well as the consequences of her life. She was a woman of integrity and honor. She was selfless and sacrificial, putting her mother-in-laws needs ahead of her own. And Boaz was committed to doing whatever was necessary to care and provide for Ruth.

It would seem that the main emphasis of these verses is the contrast provided between Boaz and the other kinsman-redeemer. Both had a legal right and responsibility to rescue Naomi and Ruth from their predicament, but one refused. He counted the cost and cut his losses. He weighed the benefits and found them to be not in his favor. On the other hand, Boaz knew going in what the cost entailed and he was more than willing to pay whatever price was required to redeem Ruth. He had a shepherd’s heart – a caring, compassionate heart that prompted him to risk all for the sake of one in need. In the gospel of John, we have recorded the words of Jesus comparing Himself to the false shepherds who were self-serving and nothing more than hired hands who had no real love for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.” – John 10:11-13 NLT

As has been noted earlier, Boaz, as the kinsman-redeemer, acts as a kind of Christ, a foreshadowing on the One to come. He is an imperfect and incomplete illustration of the Savior who would come to redeem mankind from its bondage to sin and death. While Boaz was not required to lay down his life for Ruth, he was willing to put her needs ahead of his own. His redemption of Ruth cost him. It required of him a commitment and a sacrifice of his time and resources. The man who forfeited his rights to redeem Ruth was like a hired hand, obligated by the head shepherd to care for the sheep, but who ran at the first sign of personal cost. He showed no compassion for Ruth or Naomi and refused to care for their needs. But Boaz provides us with a glimpse of the great redeemer who was to come.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” – John 10:14-15 NLT

How fortunate for Ruth that Boaz proved not to be a reluctant redeemer. How amazing for us that Jesus proved not to be a reluctant redeemer, but a selfless, sacrificial, lay-it-all-on-the-line shepherd who loved us enough to die for us.

No Rest For the Redeemer.

So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.” – Ruth 3:14-18 ESV

Ruth had gone to the field of Boaz, looking for protection, refuge and rest. She had been sent there by Naomi, her mother-in-law. The goal had been to get Boaz to step up and accept his role as her kinsman-redeemer. Naomi seemed to sense that there was an attraction between the older Boaz and the recently widowed Ruth. And she determined to encourage this potential relationship along, hoping that it would change the fate of both Ruth and herself. There was no doubt something a bit self-serving in Naomi’s actions and her subsequent counsel for Ruth to approach Boaz directly and rather presumptuously. 

Here is a servant demanding that the boss marry her, a Moabite making the demand of an Israelite, a woman making the demand of a man, a poor person making the demand of a rich man. Was this an act of foreigner naïveté, or a daughter-in-law’s devotion to her mother-in-law, or another sign of the hidden hand of God? From a natural perspective the scheme was doomed from the beginning as a hopeless gamble, and the responsibility Naomi placed on Ruth was quite unreasonable. But it worked! – Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth

There is much that is revealed in these passages regarding the character qualities of the key figures. We have seen that Naomi had a somewhat negative outlook. There is no doubt that she had beenthrough a lot, but she seemed to think that all of her problems were the direct result of God afflicting her. She saw it all as some form of punishment. This reveals her belief in God’s sovereignty and providence, but seems to indicate that she had a glass-half-full kind of outlook on life. She had a difficult time seeing that all of this could be used by God for her good.

Ruth comes across as a highly diligent and faithful young woman who was committed to the care of her mother-in-law. When given the opportunity to abandon Naomi and return to her own people to begin her life anew, she refused and dedicated herself to Naomi’s well-being and to her God. Ruth was not afraid of hard work and did not suffer from shyness. She was willing to do whatever it took to make sure she and Naomi survived. And she never seemed to see herself as a victim.

Boaz comes across as a kind and gracious man who showed legitimate concern for Ruth. He had been impressed with all that he had heard about her and how she had chosen to sacrifice all in order to care for Naomi. He was a man of high ethical standards who, as a man of means, was generous with those who were less fortunate. And when he became aware of the plight of Naomi and Ruth, he stepped in to do what he could do to assist them. Now, with Ruth’s request that he be her kinsman-redeemer (Ruth 3:6), Boaz reveals his strong spirit of determination and sense of responsibility. He tells Ruth, “Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning” (Ruth 3:13 ESV). And Boaz’s dependability seems to have been well-known, because Naomi tells Ruth, “for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today” (Ruth 3:18 ESV). Boaz could be counted on to do whatever needed to be done. His word was his pledge. He could be trusted.

The Hebrew word for “rest” that Naomi used is shaqat and it refers to peace, quietness or repose. Boaz was not going to have peace or be satisfied until Ruth had the protection, refuge and rest for which she was looking. He would do whatever it took to make sure she got what she needed. He would sacrifice time, sleep, resources and his own needs to make sure that the right thing was done for Ruth and Naomi.

This image of the faithful, dedicated kinsman-redeemer is a foreshadowing of the One who was to come: The Messiah, Jesus Christ. He too was determined and dedicated to doing whatever it took that redemption was made available. Paul reminds us, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV). In his gospel account, Luke tells us that as the time drew closer for Jesus to go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and die, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 ESV). The Greek word Luke used is stērizō and it means “to turn resolutely in a certain direction” (“G4741 - stērizō - Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). Jesus was determined to do what He had come to do.

Matthew records that when Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem where “he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead” (Matthew 16:21 NLT), Peter rebuked Him. And Jesus responded to Peter with the sobering words, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s” (Matthew 16:23 NLT). Jesus would not be deterred from His task. He would not rest until He had accomplished His God-ordained role as redeemer. Jesus fully understood His role and He took it seriously. He told His disciples, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

Boaz would not rest until Ruth found the rest for which she was looking. He was willing to put her needs ahead of his own. He was willing to sacrifice His own comfort and convenience for the needs of another. He would do whatever it took to ensure that Ruth and Naomi were taken care of. And as the following chapter will reveal, Boaz wasted no time doing exactly what he had told Ruth he would do. He was a man of his word. And he stands as a type of Christ, a representation of the one who was to come, who would not rest until redemption was made available to a lost and dying world. He would give His life as payment for the sins of men and as the only means of reconciling a lost world to a holy God.

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him as your ransom long before the world began, but he has now revealed him to you in these last days. – 1 Peter 1:18-20 NLT

Rest For the Weary.

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” – Ruth 3:1-13 ESV

Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, have been through a lot. They have both recently suffered the loss of their husbands, leaving them widows in a culture where women had little to no means of caring for themselves. Their move back to Bethelehem from Moab, while a sort of homecoming for Naomi, was a shock to the system to Ruth, a Moabite. There is a sense in which both women are tired and exhausted – Naomi, mentally and spiritually so, while Ruth also bears the effects of physical exhaustion from her tireless efforts to provide food for the two of them by gleaning grain from the fields. The mental and physical weariness of the two women is understandable and an important feature to the story. As chapter three opens, Naomi recognizes that her daughter-in-law cannot maintain the pace she has been keeping.

Chapter two reveals Ruth’s work ethic and commitment to care for Naomi. The supervisor of Boaz’s fields informed him, “Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time” (Ruth 2:7 NLT). Boaz himself, after meeting Ruth for the first time, informed her:

“I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” – Ruth 2:11-12 NLT

Protection, refuge, rest. These three words reflect the central motif of the rest of the book of Esther. And the role of kinsman-redeemer, played by Boaz, will factor heavily into howRuth, helpless and weary, will find the rest and refuge she is seeking.

In the opening verse of this chapter, Naomi reveals the responsibility she feels for Ruth when she asks her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1 ESV). The Hebrew word, translated “rest”, is manowach which refers to a resting place or a state or condition of rest. The New English Translation reads, “My daughter, I must find a home for you so you will be secure.” This sense of responsibility that Naomi felt goes all the way back to chapter one, when she attempted to get her two widowed daughter-in-laws to return home and remarry.

“Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” – Ruth 1:8-9 ESV

Orpah had eventually returned home, but Ruth had refused to do so, committing herself to Naomi’s care and to the worship of her God. But Naomi knew that Ruth needed a long-term solution to her problem. She was still young and had a long life ahead of her. She could have children and carry on her deceased husband’s name. Ruth was a hard worker, but it was going to be nearly impossible for her to provide for the needs of herself and Naomi long-term. So Naomi turns to the God-ordained option of the kinsman-redeemer provision. It has already been well-established that Boaz was a close relative and, as such, he was a candidate to act as the kinsman-redeemer, providing protection and taking responsibility for the care of these two women. And Naomi gives Ruth detailed instructions as to what to do.

“So bathe yourself, rub on some perfumed oil, and get dressed up. Then go down to the threshing floor. But don’t let the man know you’re there until he finishes his meal. When he gets ready to go to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him. He will tell you what you should do.” – Ruth 3:3-4 NLT

There is no indication that what Naomi was telling Ruth to do was immoral or out-of-the-ordinary. Whether this was an established protocol for soliciting the aid of one’s kinsman-redeemer is not clear. But it is clear that Naomi was having Ruth appeal to Boaz for his help, in order that he might provide her with protection, refuge and rest. While he lay asleep out in the field, Ruth was to uncover his feet and legs, exposing them to the cold. Then she was to lay at his feet in a display of submission. When his exposed extremities became cold from the night air, he awoke with a start, only to find a young woman lying at his feet. When he asks who she is, Ruth responds, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9 ESV). According to her mother-in-law’s instructions, Ruth pleads for Boaz to be her kinsman-redeemer and become her provider and protector.

Boaz is flattered, but informs Ruth that there is another, more viable, candidate. As the widow of Naomi’s son, Chilion, she had closer relative who must first be given the opportunity to act as kinsman-redeemer. If he should refuse, Boaz pledges to redeem her himself.

This entire scene, while strange to our western sensibilities, should remind us of another kinsman-redeemer who made a similar offer. Jesus, as the son of David, spoke to His weary and worn out Hebrew brothers and sisters, telling them, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT). He would go on to tell them that the rest He offered was “rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29 NLT). Jesus was offering them rest from the weariness produced by a life of self-righteousness – attempting to gain favor with God through good deeds, religious rituals and law-keeping. Like Ruth, they were worn out from trying to provide for themselves. But their weariness was spiritual in nature. Paul would later clarify the problem when he wrote: “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). But there was good news: “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law” (Galatians 2:16 NLT). 

Ruth was weary and Boaz, as her kinsman-redeemer, could provide her with rest. He stands as a foreshadowing of the One who would be his own descendant and provide spiritual rest and redemption for all those who are weary from carrying the heavy burden of sin and the condemnation is brings. And Ruth, as a non-Jews, stands as a reminder that Jesus’ offer of rest was available to any and all, Jew and Gentile, who would simply come to Him in faith, placing their trust in Him for protection, refuge and rest.

Unexpected Faith.

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”

So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law. – Ruth 2:14-23 ESV

In verse one we were introduced to Boaz and told that he was a kinsman or relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband. The Hebrew word the author used is mowda and it refers to a close relative. This is important, because in verse 2o, Naomi refers to Boaz as “a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” And the Hebrew word she used is ga'al, which refers to a close relative who holds the responsibility of acting as guardian and protector for those family members who might be in need.

…to act as kinsman, do the part of next of kin, act as kinsman-redeemer.  (“H1350 - ga’al - Strong’s Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible. Web. 30 Dec, 2016)

This provision was established by God in the Mosaic Law.

If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. – Leviticus 25:25 ESV

It also extended to care for widows. In the book of Deuteronomy we read:

If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband's brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. – Deuteronomy 25:5 ESV

So the kinsman-redeemer was an individual who was required to play a significant and God-ordained role in the lives of those in need. He was to be their advocate, redeemer, protector, surrogate, avenger and benefactor. Strong’s Concordance provides a comprehensive description of the role.

…by marrying brother's widow to beget a child for him, to redeem from slavery, to redeem land, to exact vengeance.

So when Ruth returned to Naomi and informed her of all that had happened and about her surprising encounter with Boaz, Naomi is thrilled. For the first time in a long time, she was receiving a bit of good news. While she firmly believed that God was the one who had brought all the misfortune on her (see Ruth 1:13), she was willing to see that God was the one who had guided Ruth to the field of Boaz. This had been a divine encounter.

The author goes out of his way to remind his readers that Ruth was a foreigner and not a blood-relative of Boaz.

And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest,’” – Ruth 2:21 ESV

This is significant. Ruth is a non-Israelite. Even though, as a Moabite, she was a distant relative because she descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, she would have been considered a Gentile, a non-Jew. She was not a worshiper of Yahweh. Her people were seen as enemies of the Jews. This makes Boaz’ treatment of her all that more remarkable. He was showing her undeserved, unmerited favor and kindness. But at the same time, he had been impressed with her unconditional love for and commitment to Naomi. He had earlier told Ruth:

“All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” – Ruth 2:11-12 ESV

Ruth, a Moabite, had been willing to leave her homeland and her family in order to care for her mother-in-law. She had stepped out in faith, casting her lot with Naomi and her God, relying on Him to meet their needs and provide for their future well-being. She could have stayed in Moab and remarried, beginning a new life. But she had told Naomi, “wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you!” (Ruth 1:16-17 NLT).

There is something familiar in Ruth’s actions. They are reminiscent of what Jesus saw in the lives of the Gentiles among whom He ministered. When Jesus had encountered a Roman centurion whose servant was paralyzed, He marveled at the man’s faith. The centurion fully believed that Jesus had the power and authority to order his servant’s healing and it would take place. And Jesus told His disciples:

“Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matthew 8:10-12 ESV

Ruth’s faith in God was seen in her commitment to place all her hope for her future in His hands. She was a Moabite widow living in foreign land with her nearest relative being another widow who had no capacity to care for her. And yet, Ruth got up in the morning and headed to the fields, determined to work, but also dependent upon the favor of God.

Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor. – Ruth 2:2 ESV

And God had come through. He had led her to the field of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer. God had chosen to show favor on Naomi through Ruth, the Moabite. When Naomi, a Jew, had lost all hope, her Gentile daughter-in-law had stepped up, casting all her worries and cares on the God she had committed to follow. And God must have looked down from heaven and said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9 ESV).

 

Why Have I Found Favor?

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” – Ruth 2:8-13 ESV

When Boaz had arrived on the scene, he immediately noticed the young woman following behind his reapers in the field. He didn’t recognize her, so he asked his foreman who she was. He replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the region of Moab” (Ruth 2:6 NLT). He explained to Boaz how she had shown up and asked for permission to follow the harvesters and gather up any grain left on the grown. According to the foreman, Ruth had worked long and hard. “Since she arrived she has been working hard from this morning until now—except for sitting in the resting hut a short time” (Ruth 2:7 NLT). Whatever business had brought Boaz to the field that day suddenly took a back seat as he became intrigued with this young Moabite woman. There is no sense of sexual attraction or love at first sight in the passage. Boaz had simply heard the stories about his young lady and was fascinated to find her gleaning in his field. He had obviously been positively impacted by what he had heard about her loss and her commitment to accompany Naomi all the way back to Bethlehem. And now, here she was gathering grain in order to feed her mother-in-law. He later told Ruth:

“I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously. May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” – Ruth 2:11-12 NLT

When Boaz first spoke to Ruth, he called her “daughter,” using the Hebrew term bath, which is a term of endearment. We know from Ruth 3:10 that Boaz was probably older than Ruth and so his use of this term makes sense. It was a common form of greeting used by older men to younger women. At this point in the story, it seems that Boaz’s interest in Ruth is purely platonic and he simply wants to show her compassion and do what he can to lighten the load she taken on of caring for her widowed mother-in-law. He gives her free reign to glean anywhere in his field and a guarantee of his personal protection.

The actions of Boaz leave Ruth a bit surprised. She is amazed at the incredible kindness and favor of Boaz. And yet, that very morning she had asked permission of Naomi, saying, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor” (Ruth 2:2 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was chen and it refers to grace, favor or acceptance. And yet, when Boaz treated her the way he did, she fell on her face before him and asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10 ESV). She used the same Hebrew word again. She had left that morning hoping to experience grace and favor, but she was surprised when she experienced it. It caught her off guard. After all, she was a foreigner. She was a widow. She was poor. Evidently, back in the land of Moab, the kind of response she had received from Boaz would have been rare or simply non-existent. The very fact that Boaz, a well-to-do Jew, would even acknowledge her presence, let alone show her favor, was mind-boggling to Ruth.

This story is reminiscent of another encounter between a Jewish man and a foreign woman. When Jesus was traveling through Samaria, He encountered a Samaritan woman drawing water at a well. He struck up a conversation with her, asking her for water. She too, was shocked that this Jewish man would notice her, let alone speak to her. She replied to Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (John 4:9 ESV). Jews not only viewed Samaritans as foreigners, but as the lowest of the low. They despised them. And yet, here was Jesus, a Jew, asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water. And just like Boaz, Jesus would go on to show this woman unexpected and undeserved favor, offering her “living water.” Jesus told her, “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV). That woman’s life was radically and permanently changed that day. She became a believer in Jesus Christ and discovered the living water that would remove her unquenchable spiritual thirst once and for all.

Ruth too, was about to have her life changed. She was just beginning to experience what grace and favor look and feel like. She was a foreigner. She was poor and had nothing to offer Boaz by way of payment for his kindness. Not only that, Ruth was a Moabite, and as such, she was looked down upon and despised by the Jews. She was even forbidden to enter the assembly to worship the God of the Jews. This poor woman was destitute, defenseless, despised and in desperate need of mercy. And she would find it in Boaz.

As this story unfolds, we will see many similarities between the kindness, grace, and mercy of Boaz and that which we have received from Christ. In fact, Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, that we were once in a very similar state as that of Ruth.

Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:11-13 NLT

The undeserved favor of God. Those of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior have experienced it firsthand. And it is partially the result of Boaz showing favor to Ruth that our Savior was eventually born in Bethlehem, the city of David, as a descendant of Ruth and Boaz. As Boaz showed favor to Ruth, he was actually extending the favor of God to all mankind, paving the way for the arrival of the Messiah and His offer of living water.

Naomi the Negative. Ruth the Resilient.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” – Ruth 1:19-2:7 ESV

These verses are filled with contrasts. The most obvious one is the difference between the two women: Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. They both arrive in Bethlehem, but with radically different outlooks. Naomi had left during a famine, but arrived back during the barley harvest. Conditions back home had obviously improved. But she is so busy dwelling on all that had happened to her in Moab, that she fails to notice or appreciate the improved conditions in Bethlehem. In fact, she is so despondent over the loss of her husband and two sons, that she informs everyone her name will no longer be Naomi, but Mara. Naomi means, “my pleasantness” and Mara means, “bitterness.” She is so upset with her lot in life that she goes so far as to change her name to reflect her outlook. She is bitter and hold God responsible, claiming,  “I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed” (Ruth 1:27 NLT). In her mind, it was God who had opposed her and the El Shaddai, God Almighty, who had caused her to suffer. Her reference to God using the Hebrew name, Shaddai, reveals her belief in God’s all-powerful, sovereign nature. She rightly understands God’s omnipotence, but fails to grasp His lovingkindness. She views God as an all-powerful and somewhat angry deity who wields His power unfairly and unjustly. She sees no purpose in her losses and can find no silver lining to the dark cloud of her despair. She believes her fate is in the hands of God, but she finds no comfort there.

But Ruth, the Moabitess, seems to have a different perspective. Of the two women, it would seem that she had even more justification to be negative about her new circumstances. She too had lost her husband. She had also left behind her family and friends and moved to a new country with nothing more than her widowed mother-in-law as a companion. She found herself an outsider, a non-Jew living in the land of Israel. And on top of that, she was a woman and a widow, two things that would not be in her favor in the male-dominated society of the ancient Middle East. And yet, Ruth proves to be a beacon of light in the midst of Naomi’s darkened outlook.

With no means of providing for themselves, Naomi and Ruth are left with no other option than to search for grain in the fields after barley harvesters were done. This was called gleaning and it was a God-ordained policy meant to assist the needy. God had commanded the Israelites:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:9-10 ESV

Rather than wallow in self-pity, Ruth determined to do whatever was necessary to provide for she and her mother-in-law. She asked Naomi for permission to do something about their dire circumstances, saying, “Let me go to the fields so I can gather grain behind whoever permits me to do so” (Ruth 2:2 NLT). With Naomi’s permission, she headed into the fields. And this is where the story gets interesting. The author gives us a not-so-subtle clue that there is more going on here than good luck. “Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3 NLT). Chapter two began with a brief parenthetical introduction to Boaz, telling us that “Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side of the family named Boaz. He was a wealthy, prominent man from the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1 NLT). When Ruth went into the fields, she knew nothing of Boaz or his fields. She simply went to glean. Her objective was to find food, not a husband. Her only motivation was survival. But again, the author lets us know that there is something providential going on here. He writes, “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem” (Ruth 2:4 ESV). It just so happened that Ruth decided to glean in the field belonging to Boaz. It just so happened that Boaz showed up at the very same time Ruth was gleaning in his field. What a coincidence. What incredible timing.

It would be so easy to read the book of Ruth as a fanciful love story, a kind of screenplayfor a Hebrew Hallmark movie, where the down-and-out country girl meets the well-to-do city boy and their lives end happily ever after. But there is so much more going on here than a cheesy boy-meets-girl scenario with a sappy everything-turns-out-okay ending. This is about the sovereign will of God regarding His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ruth, this widowed, helpless non-Jewish woman is going to become a major player in the divine plan of redemption. In his genealogical record of the birth of Jesus, Matthew writes, “Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Spoiler alert: Ruth and Boaz do end up together. They get married and have a son named Obed, who would become the grandfather of King David. And from King David's lineage would come Jesus Christ. God would end up making a covenant with David, saying, “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16 ESV). That promise would be fulfilled in Jesus, whose rule and reign on the throne of David will take place in the millennial kingdom.

Ruth went into the field to find grain. But God sent her into the field to find her purpose in life. She would become a major player in God’s divine plan for the redemption of the world and the eventual birth of the One who will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Ruth, like Mary, was going to be a vessel in the hands of God to bring about His divine will and accomplish His sovereign plan of salvation. The message given to Mary by the angel, Gabriel, sums up the real story behind the story of Ruth. God had far more in mind than providing grain or even a husband for Ruth. He was out to provide salvation to a lost and dying the world.

“Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:30-33 NLT

 

Lost Hope ≠ Lost Cause.

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “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.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. – Ruth 1:6-18 ESV

For Naomi, the wife of Elimelech, life had not been easy. She had followed her husband to Moab in order to escape a famine in the land of Judah. But then she was forced to stand back and watch as her husband and two sons died suddenly and prematurely. She was left alone with the two widowed wives of her sons. So it is not surprising to read the words she said to her daughrers-in-law: “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13b ESV). Naomi’s conclusion, based on all that had happened to her, was that God was afflicting her. This reflects her strong belief in the sovereignty and providence of God, but also reveals a poor understanding of the character of God. She could only see her suffering as a byproduct of God’s displeasure with her of His punishment of her for something she had done. In her current circumstance, she found it difficult to find any good coming out of what had happened. The only silver lining she could see was the fact that the famine had finally ended in Judah and she would be able to return home. But she would do so with little to no hope. She even begged her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, remarry and start their lives over. She considered herself too old to remarry and had resigned herself to the fact that she would remain a widow for the rest of her life.

Naomi’s bitter and overly pessimistic outlook provides a striking illustration of how easy and quickly God-followers can find themselves living as practical atheists. Naomi obviously believed in God. She believed He was afflicting her, but she did not believe He was power to deliver her. In her mind, she was too old to get remarried and have more sons. Her child-bearing days were over. Had she forgotten the stories of Sarah and her barrenness? Was her God too powerless to find her a husband and provide for her more sons? Could her God not find husbands for Orpah and Ruth from among the men of Judah? Naomi was experiencing a crises of faith. She was having a hard time finding any good in her circumstances or placing any hope in her God. Every word she said to Orpah and Ruth reeked of resignation and resentment.

But Ruth, a Moabite and a pagan, provides us with a powerful testimony of faithfulness in the face of hopelessness. Ruth was not a God-follower, yet she exhibits godly characteristics that put Naomi to shame. Like Orpah, Ruth was young and had a long life ahead of her. It would have been relatively easy for her to find another husband and begin her life over. But unlike Orpah, Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law alone. She begged Ruth, saying:

Stop urging me to abandon you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God. Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise! Only death will be able to separate me from you! – Ruth 1:16-17 NLT

Here was a non-believer in God, expressing more faith in Him than Naomi, one of His chosen people. Ruth was willing to become a God-follower and to place herself at the mercy of God, willingly accepting His judgment, if she failed to keep her promise to Naomi. Ruth, a descendant of Lot, was going to return to the land of promise. Generations earlier, Lot had chosen the “cities of the valley” and settled outside the land of Canaan. He had pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Living by sight, he had chosen what appeared to be the best land. But Lot would go from living near Sodom to living in Sodom. And he would find himself running from Sodom, when God determined to destroy it for all the wickedness that took place within its walls. And it was not long after that event, that one of Lot’s daughters chose to have sex with him while he was drunk. And it was from that incestuous union that the Moabites were born. And yet, generations later, here was Ruth, a Moabite, pledging her allegiance to a daughter of Abraham and offering to leave her land and her people behind.

Ruth had no idea what the future held for her. She only knew that she felt a strong obligation to her mother-in-law and was not willing to let her return to Judah alone. Her faithful love for Naomi provides us with a vivid image of the lovingkindness of God. Earlier, Naomi had said, “May the Lord deal kindly with you…” (Ruth 1:8 ESV). The Hebrew word she used was checed and it refers to goodness, kindness, mercy and faithfulness. She was hoping that God would show mercy and kindness to her daughters-in-law, but she did not believe He would do so for herself. And yet, Ruth, a pagan, would show checed to Naomi by remaining with her, even to the point of death. Little did Naomi understand that this checed, shown to her by Ruth, was actually the checed of God. God was blessing Naomi through her unbelieving, Moabite daughter-in-law. And that blessing would have far-reaching implications that would last longer after Naomi disappeared from the scene.

The Wonderful Ways of God.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. – Ruth 1:1-5 ESV

Like many of the Old Testament books, this one bears the name of one of the primary characters whose life makes up a great portion of the narrative. But while Ruth plays a significant role in the story, she was not intended to be the main focus of the story. The special honor goes to God. He is the silent, unseen protagonist of this book, moving behind the scenes and orchestrating events in such a way so that His divine will is accomplished and His plan for the redemption of mankind, developed in eternity past, would come to pass just as He preordained it. This story must be read with a searching eye, looking for the invisible hand of God. And it should be read with an understanding of the larger, overarching story contained in the Bible. Otherwise, it becomes nothing more than a story about a widowed Moabite girl and her somewhat serendipitous and fortuitous marriage to a well-to-do Hebrew man. But there is so much more going on here.

We are told that the story takes place, “In the days when the judges ruled…” This refers to the period of the judges before Israel had a king. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Judges and the book of Ruth were companion books. Many believe they were written by the same author: Samuel. But there is no solid evidence for the authorship of Ruth. All we know is that it chronicles a period of time when God was using judges to rule over His people. This was a period of extreme turmoil and instability. The book of Judges records the up-and-down nature of the Israelites and their relationship with God. Their faithfulness to Him ebbed and flowed. Their obedience was spotty at best and when they turned their back on Him, God would send judgment in the form of foreign nations. When the people cried out to Him in desperation, God would raise up a judge to lead and deliver them. This would result in a period of relative peace and spiritual solidarity. But in time, the people would rebel again and the cycle would repeat itself. It was during this rather unstable and spiritually volatile period that the story of Ruth took place.

The opening verses introduce us to Elimelech and provide us with an extremely important detail about his life that can be easily overlooked, but that would have been like a red flashing light to the books original Hebrew audience. We are told that Elimelech was “a man of Bethlehem in Judah” and he and his sons were “Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah.” This is an extremely important point and is vital to understanding the true import of this story.

On his deathbed, Jacob blessed each of his twelve sons, but gave the following blessing to his son, Judah:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. – Genesis 49:10 ESV

His words carried a prophetic pronouncement of a king who would come from the tribe of Judah. While this blessing would be realized in the life of David, a descendant of Jacob, the prophet Micah, long after David was dead and gone, provided details regarding another king who would be born in Bethlehem just as David was, and rule over the nation of Israel.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace. – Micah 5:2-5 ESV

The prophet, Jeremiah, would give further details regarding this future king:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. – Jeremiah 23:5 ESV

So when we read that Elimelech was a member of the tribe of Judah and a native of the city of Bethlehem, it should gives us pause. It should act as a warning sign that there is something going on in this story that is far greater than might normally be expected. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, are forced to leave their homeland because of a famine. The mention of this natural disaster should remind us of supernatural and sovereign oversight of God over His creation. This is not the only time in Scripture that a famine has played a significant role in God’s providential plan. A famine was the cause of Abraham’s flight into Egypt (Genesis 12:10). His son, Isaac, would also find himself facing a famine, but would be commanded by God not to go to Egypt (Genesis 26:1-5). Years later, Isaac’s son, Jacob, would be commanded by God to take his entire family to Egypt to escape the famine in the land (Genesis 46:3-4).

Now we find Elimelech and his family facing yet another famine and being forced to flee for their lives – this time to the land of Moab. The Moabites were close relatives of the Jews, since Moab was the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 19:37). Moab was located to the east of Judah, on the other side of the Dead Sea. It was evidently a very fertile land. In fact, we read in the book of Genesis, that when Abraham gave his nephew, Lot, the father of the Moabites, the first choice of all the land, he chose well.

And Lot lifted up his ” eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. – Genesis 13:10-11 ESV

So Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, leave Judah for Moab and settle there, intending to wait out the famine in Judah. But Elimelech dies, leaving his wife a widow, living in a foreign land. In time, her two adult sons take wives from among the Moabites – “one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth” (Ruth 1:4 ESV). And then, ten years later, the two sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws alone and without any source of provision of protection.

These opening lines are a divine setup for what is to come. This is not a case of fate or bad karma. This is not about three unlucky women and their series of unfortunate events. It is the story of God and His divine, supernatural, all-powerful and providential plan for the coming of the Messiah. In the middle of the genealogy of Jesus provided in the first chapter of the book of Matthew, we read, “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Then it concludes: “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah” (Matthew 1:17 ESV). Jesus was a descendant of David, but He was also a descendant of Ruth, a widow from Moab. And the book of Ruth provides us with a glimpse into God’s orchestration of His sovereign will and unstoppable plan for the future redemption of a list and dying world.