Many have said that the Book of Ruth is the most beautiful short story ever written. It’s an account of anxiety, fear, love and commitment that inflames the imagination and soothes the soul. It begins with despair and ends with delight.
I want to give some background information that will help us understand what’s going on. While the Book of Ruth is a scintillating story of love and loyalty, we’re separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years from its setting. We’ll conclude with some ways to apply these loyal love lessons to our own lives.
1. Timing. The events take place during the time when the judges ruled in Israel. This was a period in which God’s people cycled from disobedience to defeat to deliverance on a number different occasions. Because everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes, sin was rampant and God’s people had hardened hearts.
2. Setting. Because there was a bad famine in Bethlehem, a man took his wife and 2 sons to live in the country of Moab. The famine was a consequence of the deliberate disobedience of God’s people.
3. Moab. Moab was a land of rich soil and adequate rainfall so this man traveled to a place where his crops wouldn’t fail. This family would have journeyed north to Jerusalem and then crossed the Jordan River by Jericho. Depending on where they settled, the trip would have been about 160kms and would have taken about a week.
It’s important to know that Moab was an enemy of Israel. The Moabites were the descendants of a man named Moab who was the son of an incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters. This man is trying to flee the judgment of God on Israel and is disobeying doubly by going to live among the Moabites.
4. Characters. The Israelite man’s name was Elimelech and his wife’s name was Naomi. Their 2 sons were Mahlon and Kilion. These two sons married Moabite women, one who was named Orpah, and the other Ruth.
When we come to chapter 2, we’re introduced to a man named Boaz, who was a relative of Elimelech. However, the main character in this narrative is God, with His name used 23 times in 85 verses!
5. Situation. During their stay in Moab, Naomi’s husband died and then about 10 years later, both Mahlon and Kilion also die. Naomi, Orpah and Ruth are now widows. Widows in the ancient world had no social status and no economic means to survive. This would especially be true for Naomi, since she was an Israelite living in a foreign country.
6. Gleaning. God has always made provision for the poor and destitute. Leviticus 19: 9, 10 “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…You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” This helps explain what Ruth was doing and it also reveals a little about the character of Boaz as a man who followed the Law and cared for the poor.
7. Kinsman Redeemer. If a man died and left a widow and no sons, his nearest relative would be given the opportunity to buy his land and marry his widow so that she could have sons to carry on the deceased’s name. This relative would be obligated, at his own expense, to buy the property and give it back to the relative who had sold it. If the nearest relative refused, then the next closest kin would take on the role of the redeemer. There was a catch, however. The kinsman-redeemer couldn’t make the decision to redeem on his own. He had to be asked by the widow to be her redeemer.
8. Wings. Chapter 3 will make you hold your breath and scratch your head. Ruth puts on her Ruth Lauren perfume, dresses in her finest clothes and goes to the threshing floor to check out sweaty Boaz. When Boaz falls asleep, Ruth takes the covers off his feet and lies down. When Boaz wakes up – 3: 9. This same word is used of God’s protection when Boaz says to Ruth - 2: 12.
Ruth is asking Boaz to shelter her under his wings and to redeem her. She was claiming protection and redemption. In short, she is making a marriage proposal to him!
9. Town Gate. In Chapter 4, Boaz goes to the city gates and sits down to conduct business. The gate of a city was where transactions took place and where cases were heard. This was also where you would most likely run into someone you knew, kind of like Clearwater.
10. Sandals. Sandals were the ordinary footwear of the time, but were also symbolic in the relationship between a widow and her legal guardian. The giving of a sandal was like a signed contract, especially in cases where land was in dispute.
Now, with that as background, let’s listen to some sections of this loyal love story.
Reading of Ruth
Let’s draw out some lessons from this loyal love story.
1. Surrender to God’s Sovereignty
God is seen everywhere, weaving His purposes through events and circumstances. He uses a famine to bring a Jewish man and his family to Moab, where his sons marry Moabite women. Through the unexpected widowhood of both Naomi and Ruth, they end up in the Promised Land because they hear that the famine has ended. Naomi teaches Ruth about the things of God and Ruth makes a life-changing commitment. The book begins with 3 funerals and ends with a wedding.
Ruth doesn’t even know Boaz exists in ch.1. Then we read - 2: 3 – Ruth “happened” to find herself in a field that belonged to Boaz, the most eligible bachelor in Bethlehem! This was no coincidence! God orchestrated the events in order to accomplish His purposes. God’s invisible hand steered her to that particular field on that particular day at that exact time.
Do you realize that God is working everything together for your good and His ultimate glory? Have you surrendered yourself to His sovereignty? Do you trust His purposes for your life, even when things look bleak? Have you discovered the glories of “God’s happenings” in your life?
2. Cultivate Your Character
Think about Naomi for a moment. She goes to Moab with her husband and sons, leaving her friends and her country behind. She continued to walk with God, even when her 2 sons married Moabites. She worshiped the true God when the entire culture bowed to Baal. She made the most of her situation by teaching Ruth about a relationship with God. She had the courage to return to her land and then boldly told Ruth to make a marriage proposal to Boaz. She launched her matchmaking plan but she also knew how to be patient and wait on the Lord - 3: 18.
Ruth reveals a woman who was extremely loyal and extremely industrious, working hard to gather grain as she looked for food and for favour. Her job was menial and maybe even degrading but she was diligent - 2: 23.
She was kind and generous, sharing her food with Naomi. She was respectful and yet bold, willing to put some risk into her faith. She also had a great reputation because Boaz knew all about her - 3: 11.
Boaz was a man of integrity and was greatly respected by everyone. He was known for his kindness and as a boss knew how to treat his employees - 2: 4. He was a God-centered man who lived on mission at work. He followed the law by making sure the poor were cared for and gave Ruth way more than she even expected. He protected and provided for Ruth, even before they got married and he was a man of purity, even when he had the opportunity to be otherwise. He urged a relative to do what was right even though he wanted Ruth all along.
In the end, each of them was rewarded for cultivating their character. Naomi is now cared for, and is found holding her grandson at the end of the story. Ruth gets married and has a son who will eventually appear in King David’s photo album and is in the family tree of the Messiah. Boaz gets married and has the joy of passing along his faith to future generations.
Are you cultivating your character? Don’t sell out, don’t cave in, and don’t bail out on God.
3. Deal with a drifting heart
Elimelech’s name meant, “my God is King,” but he lived without God as his king. He probably had parents who were believers because they gave him this name but he turned his back on the truth. He intended to be gone for a little while but ended up staying a long while in a faraway place. He not only went into Moab, Moab got into him!
Friends, a drifting heart can lead to disobedient days, which can turn to weeks to months to years to a decade. We allow a little sin in and a little slackness and all of sudden we find ourselves in a foreign land. This shows how deceptive and devastating sin is.
“Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
Some of you may have moved to Moab and you might not even know it. The first step is to admit it.
4. Return to the Lord today
It’s time to turn from bitterness to blessedness. Admit your hunger and find what you’re looking for in the Bread of Life, born in Bethlehem, the house of Bread. If God feels far away, you don’t have to make your way back to Him with a whole bunch of steps. No, just turn to Him and you’re back – 1: 6, 7.
5. Receive the Redeemer
Just as Ruth saw reality in Naomi’s faith, and wanted it for herself, some of you are ready to receive the redeemer into your life. Ruth and Orpah help us see the options. They both had the opportunity to turn their backs on what they were worshiping and follow the true God. Orpah started out following Naomi but then bailed. God doesn’t want a half-hearted commitment.
We read that Ruth “clung” to Naomi – that has the idea of sticking to someone and was used of a man “cleaving” to his wife – 1: 16, 17.
We all need a redeemer. Boaz did all the work to make redemption happen while Ruth asked for and received what had been done for her.
The Bible says that we need someone to rescue us from the slippery slope of sin. You might think that you can’t possibly be forgiven for what you’ve done. That’s not true.
God can forgive anyone. He forgave a Moabite and He can give you a fresh start as well. Just as Ruth needed to ask for redemption, so too, you need to ask Jesus to redeem you.
Jesus took on flesh and blood so that He could relate to us. He is able to redeem because He has paid the price for our redemption and He is more than willing. Are you willing to receive Him as your redeemer?
No Longer Slaves