Thoughts on the Book of Ruth
We come to the third of our “Book of” series, the Book of Ruth.
Two years ago, I wrote a meditation “Ruth the Moabitess”, noting in the Hebrew Bible Ruth is included as part of “the Book of Judges” (the second book in our series) and that “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”.
“Free Bible Images” divides the Book of the Ruth into three parts and each part is represented by a set of slides. What I am going to do here is to discuss the Book based on each of these three parts, referring to some of the slides used, and relating comments to selected texts from the KJV.
Part 1: Naomi leaves Bethlehem with her husband and sons and returns with Ruth
“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” 1:1-2
Leaving their home to go to Moab may not have been the wisest of choices, although to escape famine would have been a plausible reason, but that is what Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, decided to do. In the Bible record, Moab was usually not friendly to Israelites.
“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” 1:3-5.
The focus here is on Naomi. Her husband died and her two sons also died, having married Moabite women. She was grieving and no doubt this was what influenced Naomi’s decision to return home.
“And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. 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” 1:14-17.
We have here the story of two daughter-in-laws, who initially accompanied Naomi on her return. But Naomi realised prospects were not good and she discouraged them to continue. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and returned to her home but Ruth, who did clave unto her, insisted she join Naomi on her return to her home place. “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible and an early indication that this Moabites with little prospects was of an exemplary character.
“So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me” 1:19,20.
Naomi, who was a bitter woman, returned to her home town, along with Ruth, whose return after so long away caused quite a stir.
Part 2: Ruth gleans and meets Boaz, the field owner, her kinsman redeemer
“And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. 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” 2:1-3.
We are now introduced to the third main character of this book – Boaz, although he is yet to appear. We are reminded of the law that enabled those who were poor to glean corn in fields during harvest time. Then one of the great understatements of the Bible: her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz. Of all the fields she could have gleaned in, it was that which belonged to Boaz. While Ruth is one of the few books of the Bible where God does not speak, one senses Him at work.
“And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee. Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this?” 2:4,5.
We see here evidence that Boaz was one of the Bible’s good guys, to be confirmed as the story unfolds. The way he greeted his reapers “The Lord bless thee” and the way they responded “The Lord bless thee” speak volumes. Then was his gentle concern regarding this unknown woman reaping.
“And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust” 2:11,12.
Boaz and Ruth meet for the first time and again we see evidence of his godly compassion, recognising the sacrifice Ruth had made and that she was putting her trust in the God of Israel. The stage was set for exciting developments as Boaz insisted Ruth glean in his field, taking care of her.
“And her mother in law said unto her, Where hast thou gleaned to day? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee. And she shewed her mother in law with whom she had wrought, and said, The man’s name with whom I wrought to day is Boaz. And Naomi said unto her daughter in law, Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen” 2:19,20.
What wonderful news Ruth was able to bring to Naomi. She had met what was to become her kinsman redeemer, who treated her kindly, and helped her to glean.
Part 3: Boaz marries Ruth and Naomi has a son
“And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman” 2:8-11.
The strange situation unfolding her is as a result of Naomi’s plot to get Boaz to marry Ruth, which as a kinsman redeemer he was obliged or had the right to do. We see virtue in both Boaz and Ruth – Boaz for recognising Ruth’s qualities and his gentleman’s response and as for Ruth, all could see it. “spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid” has profound gospel implications concerning our kinsmen redeemer – Jesus.
“Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; unto whom he said, Ho, such a one! turn aside, sit down here. And he turned aside, and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit ye down here. And they sat down. And he said unto the kinsman, Naomi, that is come again out of the country of Moab, selleth a parcel of land, which was our brother Elimelech’s” 3:1-3
Boaz is quick to do what he said he would do, acting entirely correctly, and as a God fearing man, doing everything by the book.
“Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe. And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi” 3:8,9.
Boaz recognises there is someone even closer than him with the right and obligation to marry Ruth. This he was happy to forfeit, with the offering of his shoe being the way to seal the deal.
“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” 4:15,17.
What a wonderful ending. Naomi’s bitterness turns to joy. Ruth’s step into the unknown is vindicated and Boaz gets a wonderful wife. Boaz and Ruth exemplify how marriage can and should be. When we come to consider the generations to come (something the Bible deems significant), we find Boaz and Ruth are ancestors of Jesus.
What do Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba have in common?
“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” 4:18-22.
When we consider the genealogy of Jesus in the Book of Matthew, four women (all unlikely candidates humanly speaking) are mentioned, amazing and for good reason – all others named are men. Two, Tamar and Ruth, are mentioned in the Book of Ruth, with a third, Rahab, is the mother of Boaz.