Ruth
Soul

Women of Faith – Ruth


The story of Ruth is set in the time of the judges. In the history of the Israelites, this era is marked by disobedience, idolatry, and violence. After God has led the Israelites out of Egypt, been with them through the desert for 40 years, and given them the promised land, they have forgotten God’s goodness and are moving further and further away from him. Ruth is seen as the book that bridges the time of judges with Samuel 1 and 2 which is the beginning of the story of David, who will restore the Jewish kingdom.

Around 1375 to 1050 B.C. Elimelech and his wife Naomi move out of Bethlehem to Moab due to a widespread drought in the region of Judah. Once they settle there, their two sons marry Moabite women. In time Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law Ruth and Orpah as widows.

Naomi learns that the drought in Judah has ended, and she decides to return to the land of her people. She encourages Ruth and Orpah to return to their family homes and find themselves, new husbands. The younger women are reluctant, but Naomi insists. Eventually, Orpah obliges but Ruth “clung to [Naomi]” and declares:

Ruth 1:16

Naomi and Ruth make their way to Bethlehem. As they meet Naomi’s old acquaintances they barely recognize her due to her run-down state and she pitifully tells everyone to call her “Mara” meaning bitter, instead of Naomi because “the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy to me,” Ruth 1:20.

Even in Naomi’s homeland, she and Ruth are poor and destitute because they do not have a man to take care of them. In this time women had no right to property or an income of their own, so without an heir or family member, they found themselves in dire circumstances. In an attempt to gather food, Ruth tells Naomi that she will go and glean wheat for them. It was the Jewish law that during the harvest, the outer corners of the field should not be harvested, and any wheat that falls to the ground during harvesting was left on the ground. This was a way for the poor to collect food for themselves and acted as an Israelite social welfare system. The process of gathering the excess wheat was called gleaning.

Wheat fields

Naomi agrees that Ruth should go glean to find food. While gleaning in the fields, Ruth “as it happened, she found herself working in a field belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law Elimelech,” (Ruth 2:3). Boaz notices Ruth and enquires about her identity. Ruth asks Boaz if she can glean his fields and he more than obliges, encouraging her to stay close to his reapers and to drink from their vessels. He even tells the men to stay away from her. Ruth is so grateful for the mercy that he is showing her, a pagan Moabite woman, that she falls at his feet and asks him why he is so gracious to her. Boaz explains that he has heard of Ruth’s kindness to Naomi and that this is a way for the Lord to repay Ruth’s kindness. Boaz also offers her bread and wine until she is satisfied and gives her the leftovers to take home to Naomi. As Ruth continues to glean, Boaz instructs his reapers to leave sheaths and bundles in the field for her to reap without reproach.

After a very successful day in the fields, Ruth returns to Naomi with an abundant supply of food. Naomi enquires after the man that was so favourable to Ruth, and Ruth tells Naomi it was Boaz. Naomi explains to Ruth that Boaz is a close relative and that Ruth should continue gleaning in his fields where it is safe for her to do so.

Ruth and Naomi

It was customary in this time to take the harvest of wheat to the threshing floor to separate the grain from the useless chaff. The threshing floor was made from rock or soil and located outside the village, usually on an elevated site where the winds would blow away the lighter chuff when the crushed wheat was thrown into the air. The farmers had to wait their turn at the floor and guard their harvest from theft. For this reason, Boaz would spend the night at the threshing floor when it was his turn.

Naomi instructs Ruth to make her way to the threshing floor, uncover Boaz’s feet, lie at his feet, and cover herself with his covering.  This was not a seductive act, but rather a common tradition for a servant to lie at the feet of his master to demonstrate that the servant wants to be under the master’s covering, literally and figuratively. Ruth follows Naomi’s instructions, and Boaz wakes up in the middle of the night startled to find a strange woman at his feet. Ruth pleads with Boaz to become her kinsman-redeemer. This is a practice where the closest living male relative can marry a woman to keep her deceased husband’s land in the family, thereby redeeming the land and the woman’s livelihood.

Boaz tells Ruth that there is another closer relative to Elimelech that has the first right to redeem the land, but if he refuses then Boaz would gladly marry Ruth. Boaz goes to this relative and explains to him that Naomi’s land is for sale and that this relative has the first right to redeem the land. At first, this relative says that he will redeem the land, but then Boaz explains that he will have to marry Ruth and take care of Naomi. The relative immediately declines, either because he does not want to marry a Moabite woman or perhaps, he doesn’t want to take care of Naomi. This relative formally gives Boaz the redeeming right to Naomi’s land with Ruth as his wife.

Ruth and Boaz

With all the formalities out of the way, Boaz takes Ruth as his wife. “The Lord gave her conception” (Ruth 4:14) and Ruth bore a son named Obed. Obed became the grandfather of David, who became the ancestor to Jesus Christ. For this reason, Ruth is one of only five women named in the lineage of Jesus in Matthew 1:5.

Book of Ruth

God will never forsake us

After her husband and sons die, Naomi becomes bitter because she has forgotten God’s compassion for widows (Exodus 22:22-24); God’s laws to take care of widows (Ruth 1:11-13; Deuteronomy 25:5-10); and God’s love and covenant faithfulness to his people (Exodus 15:1-21). She also thinks God is punishing her (Ruth 1:13, 20-21) for some reason.

But God is gracious to Naomi and brings her out of ruin and into joy (Ruth 4:4-17); he blessed her with renewed faith, family, security as Boaz redeems Ruth; and the story of Ruth becomes part of the story of the ancestry to Christ.

Ruth’s faithfulness and Boaz’s gracious redemption is often compared to Christ’s redeeming love of his faithful bride.

Similarly, the Israelites forgot about all the times God has helped them out of difficult situations in the most miraculous ways by sending plagues and opening the Red Sea. Yet he never forsakes them and still redeemed them through Jesus Christ.

We may become bitter in suffering because we can become blinded by our overwhelming circumstances. But we should remind ourselves constantly of God’s promises, his gracious love and his promise of eternal fellowship with his faithful followers. God is working out the redemption of the world in ways we cannot imagine. In his almighty power, he can use our crises to bring about great things.

The importance of trust

Ruth places her trust in Naomi and her God. She trusts Naomi’s plan to approach Boaz and plead for him to become her kinsman-redeemer. Ruth also trusts Boaz to take care of her and Naomi.

Jesus Christ is our ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer if we place our trust in Him to be saved. Jesus Christ, just like Boaz, has no obligation to save us but does it out of love.

As we face challenges in our lives, we should constantly evaluate how much we trust Jesus to take care of us. We cannot see how he is designing the story for our eternal good, but we must believe that he is working all things for our good.

God is overseeing the story

We read in Ruth 4:13 that “the Lord gave her conception”. This baby was a gracious gift from God. Ruth was married to her late husband for ten years without conceiving a child. In this way the Lord allowed her descendants to play a crucial role in the salvation story.

This is a truth very close to my heart. We must believe that God will give the natural gifts we pray for if and when it is beneficial for our soul salvation. The ache and disappointment can be overwhelming when our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, but we have to hold fast to the truth that God knows what is best for our souls, even when our hearts are breaking.

God is resolving the story

God’s hand can be seen in all of the lives of the role players in Ruth. He resolves Naomi’s story by taking care of her and giving her a grandson. He gives Ruth and Boaz to each other, in so doing providing for their physical and emotional needs.

God always supplies abundant provision, not just physical like a child or food, but more importantly, spiritual provision. God’s Story is the redemption story. He wants to redeem all people to be with him through the gift of His own Son and the ultimate sacrifice.

What does the story of Ruth mean to you personally?

I am not a pastor, nor do I have theological training. I am a follower of Jesus and the daughter of my Heavenly Father who enjoys studying and discussing Scripture with others.

The resources I used for this study are listed below.

The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible

The Life Application Study Bible (NIV)

The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook (Hays & Duvall)

All colour illustrations are from www.jw.org


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