I suppose, if I were to choose a favourite book of the Bible, a strong case could be made for the Book of Ruth. Ruth in the Hebrew Bible is part of the Book of the Judges. Ruth is one of two books of the Bible named after remarkable women, who were also the main subjects – the other is Esther. Connection with Judges in itself is significant for while much of the rest of the Book of Judges makes disturbing reading because of Israel’s apostacy and suffering the consequences of forsaking the Covenant, the Ruth part provides a refreshing contrast, although the opening is sad bordering on tragic.
“Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband” Ruth 1:1-5.
While the story, and that is what most of the Book of Ruth is all about, has a sad beginning, it also has a glad middle and ending. We are introduced here to the two of the three main characters: Naomi and Ruth. The third, who we will come across soon is Boaz. There is a fourth, although nowhere does he speak, at least through words, and that is God himself. Given the number of chance happenings in the Book of Ruth one might conclude that God was behind them all, all of which is soon to be revealed. It should also be noted that Moab and Israel were invariably on unfriendly terms, which makes Ruth’s action we are about to witness all the more remarkable.
At the point of her sons’ death, Naomi now a bitter woman (she asked to be referred to as Mara, which means bitterness) decides to return to her home. She recognizes both daughter-in-laws had been kind and encourages them to stay in Moab, realistically concluding they would have a bleak future if they would return. We see Ruth’s extraordinary character. We read that “Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her” Ruth 1:14. So Orpah decides to remain in Moab but not so Ruth who makes this beautiful statement, that says so much about her: “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” Ruth 1:16,17.
Together they make that journey to Naomi’s home place, Bethlehem, and it is harvest time. One of the remarkable provisions of the Jewish Law is that of gleaning. When it came to harvesting the fields, any seed left behind was not to be gathered later after rather left so poor people could glean. This was an opportunity for Ruth to join the gleaners. “And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech” Ruth 2:3. Of all the fields she could have gleaned in, she decided she would do so in a field that happened to belong to Boaz, which she reported back to Naomi at the end of the day. It turned out that not only was Boaz was a good and godly man, but he was also her kinsman redeemer, something as we would see was of great significance. “And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee” Ruth 2:4. Boaz showed extraordinary kindness to Ruth, giving protection, provision and practical help, seeing in Ruth a woman of great character, by her own acts of kindness.
Naomi sees this as an opportunity. Having felt God had forsaken her she saw His hand at work for good. Another part of the Law involves if a man dies, his next of kin marries his widow. And Boaz was it – so she thought. And the plan she hatched for Ruth to surprise him while he was asleep and alone was pulled off with a slight twist after Ruth calls upon the startled Boaz: “spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman” Ruth 3:9. We had already seen that Boaz was a godly man in the way he greeted his workers and obeyed over and beyond what was called for regarding the law of gleaning and in this respect he was also prepared to do the right thing and behaving correctly, including inviting an even closer kinsman to exercise his right to take Ruth as his bride, and to do so before witnesses. But after everything was sorted, he got his bride.
There is a wonderful ending to the story, including for Naomi who began with so much bitterness: “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son. And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David. Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” Ruth 4:13-22. It gets better when you think who the son of David is and seeing God working in wondrous ways.
Checking out the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1, 27 generations on from David we come to Jesus. And this is the marvel – the ancestor of Jesus all those times removed generation wise was a despised Moabitess who left everything, not expecting anything, who put her trust in the God of Israel. As Boaz had himself observed: “for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman” Ruth 3:11. It might be deduced by any reading the story that Boaz was too a virtuous man and if anyone were right for each other, they were. Of all the marriages recorded in the Bible this one is hard to beat when considering the husband and the wife, leaving one wondering what might have been if all of Israel had followed their example instead of forsaking God’s covenant and incurring God’s judgment. The Book of Ruth ever remains a refreshing interlude between Judges and Samuel, which found Israel deliberately doing their own thing, whereas Ruth and Boaz deliberately did the right thing.