Courage and Obedience

Ruth 1:1—3:18

You’d never know it, but women play an important part in the Biblical story of the redemption and atonement of mankind. People who don’t know what the Bible really has in it think God is some kind of great big cosmic chauvinist, who always chooses men to do the really cool stuff. These people, some of whom may be Christians, couldn’t be more wrong. Women have always played key roles in God’s work on the Earth. Two such women are Ruth and Esther.

These two Old Testament women were not from Israel, but lived in foreign lands. Ruth wasn’t even a Jew, she was a Moabitess, who lived in Moab and later lived in Israel. Esther, a Jewess, lived in exile. Their contribution to God’s ongoing work of the redemption of sinners can never be overstated. We’ll examine the significance of Ruth and Esther in this series, Two Courageous Women.

1. A courageous decision, Ruth 1:1—18

(1) A bad situation, verses 1—5

Using only 19 well-chosen Hebrew words, the writer of Ruth sets the whole scene, giving us why a Hebrew family had to migrate into a foreign land during the time of the judges. Famines were all-too common in Palestine, and this one must have been severe for it forced a family to leave Bethlehem and migrate to Moab temporarily, until conditions at home improved.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. (verse 3)

We don’t know how long Elimelek’s family was in Moab before he died, nor do we know why he died, but he died leaving his family high and dry. The names of his family give us insight into their character:

  • Naomi, his widow, means “my pleasantness”

  • Mahlon, son number one, means “sickly.” He married Orpah, a Moabitess, whose name means “back of the neck,” or perhaps “stiff necked.” Both of these name are very apt; Mahlon died and his widow remained in Moab when her mother-in-law returned home.

  • Chilion, son number two, whose name means “wasting away,” did just that. He died, leaving a widow, a Moabitess named Ruth. Her name means “friend” or “to be saturated.” Her name is also appropriate to her character since she befriends her mother-in-law, Naomi, and journeys with her back home.

We are left with the impression that Naomi lost her family in rapid succession. With the loss of the male family members, these three widows were now in a very dangerous place: no protectors, no income, no prospects for the future. This situation must be the most tragic in the Old Testament. These kinds of tragic circumstances are often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness, despair, and despondency. But for the we Christians, circumstances never dictate God’s involvement in our lives. His love for us unconditional; He loves us just as much when times are good as when times turn bad. We may stumble and falter, but God never abandons us. Circumstances deceive our feelings; they make us feel like orphans; like people who have been forsaken by God. But that is never the case. God never abandons us.

(b) Some good news, verses 6—13

As soon as Naomi learned that the famine back home was over, she started to head back, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law. Orpah and Ruth did not question their duty to Naomi even though it meant leaving Moab, their homeland.

We get the impression the three ladies didn’t travel too far before Naomi thought twice about the wisdom of taking these two young “daughters-in-law” (the Hebrew is kallah, and can also mean “bride”), and released them from their obligation:

Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” (verses 8, 9)

Naomi’s parting wish for her daughters-in-law was that “the Lord bless them.” Even though these young ladies were not Jewish, and their god would have probably been Chemosh, Ruth wanted Yahweh to be kind to them.

To their credit, both women refused to leave Naomi. This action speaks volumes about the character of all three women. Orpah and Ruth’s devotion to Naomi was truly remarkable because it meant giving up everything that was familiar to them: their friends, their families, their gods, and especially their prospects for future marriages.

(c ) The decisions, verses 14—18

Eventually, Orpah decided to return home.

Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by… (verse 14)

We shouldn’t be too hard on Orpah, she did, in fact, abide by her mother-in-law’s wishes. But she did return to her gods, which is in stark contrast to Ruth’s decision to remain with Naomi.

Ruth clung to her. (verse 14)

The Hebrew for “clung” denotes a deep love and devotion. Ruth was as committed to her mother-in-law as she was to her husband, and she was absolutely determined to stay with Naomi:

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (verses 16, 17)

But Ruth’s greatest statement was: “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth was determined to leave behind not only her people but her gods, as well. She had seen something in the lives and faith of her in-laws, and in particular her mother-in-law, which won her not only to them, but also to their Lord.

There is a very profound lesson here. Do our lives testify to God’s grace, mercy, and compassion as Naomi’s obviously did? When the unsaved look at our lives, do they want the faith we have? These are important questions to consider, especially in light of what Paul wrote to Titus:

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. (Titus 2:9, 10)

Do you make God’s Word attractive? Good question.

2. Faithful service, Ruth 2:1—20

(a) Ruth’s integrity, verses 1—7

When the two women arrived in Bethlehem, they needed to make living doing something. They had no visible means of support, so Ruth set out to glean in the fields after the reapers had done their work. This is not to be thought of as “scavenging” or “trespassing.” Gleaning in fields was a privilege reserved in the Law for the poor:

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. (Deuteronomy 24:19)

Because Ruth was clearly foreigner, this Law didn’t apply to her, but she apparently knew all about the Law and she asked Naomi’s permission and she asked the permission of an overseer if she could glean in Boaz’s field.

Once again, Ruth’s character shines through. She demonstrated here industriousness by taking the initiative to go out and work, and she was wise enough not to hide the fact that she was not a Jewess by coming right out and telling her situation to an overseer. He didn’t have to give her permission to glean, but he did. Proverbs 15:33 shows us that one who is humble, like Ruth, will be blessed because of their humility:

Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the LORD, and humility comes before honor.

(b) Boaz’s kindness, verses 8—16

Obviously, Ruth impressed Boaz greatly, and he bent over backwards to make sure she was able to glean from his fields. The way he addressed her as “my daughter” seems to indicate that Ruth was somewhat younger than he. What was it about Ruth that impressed Boaz so?

I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (verses 11, 12)

It wasn’t her physical beauty that impressed Boaz, rather, it was her character; it was what was in her heart. Not only that, take note of verse 12: Ruth had become a full-fledged believer in Yahweh.

Not only was Ruth allowed to work Boaz’s fields according to the Law, she was afforded something no other poverty-stricken widow had been afforded:

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”  When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. (verse 14)

She got to eat with Boaz with the rest of the people who worked for him. But she hadn’t come to Boaz’s field to eat, she came to work. Verse 15 implies that she ate and immediately left everybody else to go back out and finish her gleaning.

(c ) A blood relative, verses 17—23

Ruth had an amazing first day of gleaning. Her hard work had paid off, and the two widows had plenty to eat. But what excited Naomi the most was not how much Ruth had brought home, but rather who had allowed her to glean:

The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our family guardians.” (verse 20)

What a coincidence! While not the next-of-kin, Boaz was Naomi’s nearest relative. This is a stunning development in the story that shows in God’s economy, there are NO coincidences. The nearest relative had all kinds of duties and responsibilities toward a family member who had fallen into bad circumstances, like a widow with no prospects for remarriage. In fact, the male next-of-kin was obliged to marry the widow of his deceased brother, this according to the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 25:25; Numbers 35:19; Deuteronomy 25:5—10; etc).

This next-of-kin was a cornerstone in Judaism because it ensured that family members were taken care of. The Hebrew for “close relative” is goel, and primarily means “redeemer” and “protector, vindicator.” It was used by Job in a cry of desperation:

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. (Job 19:25)

From the pits of desperation, Job cried out for help; he needed somebody to come and change his circumstances; to literally save his life. This was the job of the goel, the next-of-kin; of Boaz; and of Jesus Christ on behalf of Christians. He is our goel.

3. A good plan and a good result, Ruth 3:1—18

Naomi was a woman of sterling character. She was also shrewd; she was nobody’s fool. As the harvest drew to a close, Naomi set in motion her plan for Ruth. It was probably obvious to anybody that Boaz had feelings for Ruth beyond those of relative. Naomi’s matchmaking plan was clever:

Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” (verses 2—4)

While this sounds like something we might see on cable TV, the fact is Naomi was correct: Boaz was their kinsman-redeemer, their goel, and as such, Ruth had every right under the Law to claim him as her own. So far in the story, Ruth has done thing to claim Boaz, other than working tirelessly on his property and maybe flirting with him. But now, as far as Naomi was concerned, was the time for Ruth to ratchet up her relationship with her goel.

What Naomi tells Ruth to do is a wonderful picture of how the sinner comes to Christ. There are four steps Ruth was to take, and there are four steps every sinner must take in coming to Christ:

  • Wash yourself. Coming to Christ is not a matter of works or our own good behavior. Our salvation is a matter of Christ’s mercy being laid up on, washing away our sins and unrighteousness. Paul calls this “the washing of regeneration” in Titus 3:5.

  • Perfume or anoint yourself. When you’re working out in a field all day, you don’t get all “dolled up.” But when you know somebody is interested in you, as Boaz was apparently interested in Ruth, it’s time to make yourself attractive. When we become born again, we are filled with the Holy Spirit and our lives become anointed by Him. We make the Gospel attractive in how we live our lives.

  • Put on your best clothes. When we come to Christ, we cast off the filthy rags of our own righteousness and Christ puts His righteousness on us. We are given a new suit of clothes by our Savior!

  • Go to where your Goel is. This was the most important step for Ruth to take. She had to go to where Boaz was. And this is also the most important step for every sinner to take. It’s not enough to clean yourself up. It’s not enough to join a church. It’s never enough to run around doing good things all day long. A sinner, if he wants to be saved, needs to come to Christ. Simply knowing about Jesus doesn’t do it. Knowing Jesus personally is what it takes.

The plan was foolproof. The plan should have worked. And it would have worked except for one problem:

Although it is true that I am a family guardian, there is another who is more closely related than I. (verse 12)

Boaz was aware of something that, apparently, Naomi was not. Ruth had no claim on Boaz because he was not the goel; there was another, closer relative. The question is, how did Boaz know this? He knew this because he had already investigated Ruth and Naomi for Ruth had captured his heart and he was falling in love with the young widow. Boaz would have taken Ruth in a second, but he was a man of integrity and this other relative, perhaps Elimalech’s brother, would have to be dealt with, first.  Ruth and Naomi had done all they could. Ruth’s future now lay in the hands of Boaz.

Did you know we can trust in Jesus the way Ruth had to trust that Boaz was going to make things right? Jesus is completely trustworthy. He will always do what’s in your best interests. The work of your redemption is His work, not yours. The work of keeping you in grace is His work, not yours. You can rest in Jesus.  He’s never let anybody down, and He won’t let you down, either.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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