RUTH: GRACIOUS CARING
Week of May 7, 2006
Bible Passage: Ruth 1:15-17; 2:2-7, 10-12; 4:13-17.
Biblical Truth: A growing relationship with God will lead believers to graciously care for others.
Commit to Care for Others: 1:15-17.
 Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”  But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” [NASU]
Ruth’s story began near the end of the era of the Judges. It was about a century before the time of David, in an age that was often characterized by anarchy, confusion, and unfaithfulness to the law of God. There was also a severe famine in Israel in those days. We are introduced to the family of Elimelech in Ruth 1:1-2. Elimelech had a wife, Naomi, and two sons, named Mahlon and Chilion. Their hometown was Bethlehem, famous as the burial place of Rachel, Jacob’s wife. Bethlehem in future generations would gain more lasting fame as the hometown of David, and as the birthplace of Christ. The story of Elimelech’s family became a key link in the chain tying the messianic line to Bethlehem.
The famine in Israel forced Elimelech and family to seek refuge in Moab. These must have been desperate times, because Moab itself was a mostly desolate region, a high tableland bounded on the west by the Dead Sea and on the east by arid desert wasteland. Its boundaries on the north and south were two deep river gorges and these were virtually dry most of the year. Moab was fertile but dry, and therefore the land was largely destitute of trees, good mostly for grazing flocks and herds. The Moabites were descendants of Lot’s eldest daughter through her incestuous relationship with her own father. The child was the second cousin of Jacob. But even though their ancestries had that close relationship, the Moabites and the Israelites generally despised one another. Throughout the Old Testament, relations between Israel and Moab ranged from uneasy tension to outright hostility. We are therefore meant to be somewhat shocked and appalled by the fact that Elimelech and family sought refuge in Moab. The fact that Elimelech would take his family to Moab is a measure of the famine’s frightening severity. The land of Israel was evidently both spiritually and physically parched, and times were desperate.
Tragedy quickly mounted for this family. First, Elimelech died in Moab, leaving Naomi a widow with the responsibility of two sons. Unfortunately, the two sons married Moabite women. Israelite men were expressly forbidden to marry Canaanite women, lest the men be turned away to other gods. Circumstances took a turn for the worse for Naomi. Both of her sons died leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. In that culture, this was a nearly impossible situation. Three widows, with no children and no responsible relatives, in a time of famine, could not hope to survive for long, even if they pooled their meager resources.
When word reached Naomi that the drought was broken in Israel, she quickly made up her mind to return. She was now childless, widowed, impoverished, and aging, destitute of all land and possessions. And without any relatives close enough to count on them to care for her. Still, she longed for her homeland and her own people, and she decided to go back to Bethlehem. Both daughters-in-law began the difficult journey with Naomi, but as Naomi considered their circumstances (especially the hardships these two young women might face if they staked their futures to hers), she decided to release them back to their own families. It seemed to Naomi as if the hand of the Lord was against her. She seems to have been overcome with remorse and perhaps a feeling that she had somehow incurred the Lord’s displeasure by going to Moab. Why should her daughters-in-law suffer because God’s hand of discipline was against her? So she tried to persuade the young women to turn back. Ruth was determined to stay with Naomi, regardless of the personal cost. The still-young Moabite girl probably felt that she quite literally had nothing left to lose anyway. In keeping with the meaning of her name (friendship), Ruth seems to have developed a close bond of friendship and attachment to her mother-in-law. Naomi still tried to dissuade Ruth from going any farther with her . She no doubt felt it was not in Ruth’s best interests to be shackled to an aged widow. On the other hand, she certainly could not have truly believed that it would be a good thing for Ruth to go back to her people and to her gods.
Ruth’s reply is a beautiful piece of poetry in Hebrew style [16-17]. Thus Ruth expressed her firm resolve to stay with Naomi. Her affection for her mother-in-law was sincere. She still desired to remain part of that family. Above all, her devotion to the God of Israel was real. This was an amazingly mature and meaningful testimony of personal faith, especially in light of the fact that it came from the lips of a young woman raised in a pagan culture. The witness of Naomi and her family must have made a powerful impression on Ruth. When Naomi saw the firm resolve of Ruth, she gave up trying to dissuade Ruth from coming with her to Bethlehem. Their souls and their destinies were bound together by their friendship and their common faith.
Take Initiative to Care for Others: 2:2-7.
 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”  So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.  Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”  Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”  The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab.  And she said, Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves. Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.” [NASU]
In agreeing to return to Bethlehem with Naomi, Ruth was agreeing to help support the aging woman. She went to work in the fields, gleaning what the harvesters left behind in order to provide enough grain to eke out an existence. Biblical law established this as a means by which even the most destitute in Israel could always earn a living. Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-21 all required that when a field was harvested, whatever fell from the sheaves should be deliberately left behind. Ruth’s options were limited to that, and that alone. She had no relatives other than her mother-in-law. With no visible means of support, Ruth saw the necessity of working the barley fields, so she sought and obtained Naomi’s permission. Unknowing to Ruth she ended up in part of a field belonging to Boaz who visited his fields that very day. Boaz realized that this woman was his relative by marriage, so he began to show her special favor. He encouraged her to glean only in his fields and to stay close by his harvesters. Boaz was probably a cousin or a nephew of Elimelech. From Matthew 1:5, we learn that Boaz was a direct descendant of Rahab.
Sacrifice in the Care of Others: 2:10-12.
 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”  Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you did not previously know.  May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” [NASU]
Ruth, moved by his gentle kindness and generosity, knew very well that such extreme liberality was highly unusual, especially toward an impoverished woman from a foreign land. Boaz explained that he had heard of her extraordinary faithfulness to Naomi and the great sacrifices she had made to come to a foreign land. Then he gave her an unusual blessing that reveals what a godly man he was: May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge . Her reply was equally gracious, and beautiful for its humility: I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants .
When Ruth told Naomi the man who had been her benefactor was named Boaz, Naomi instantly saw the hand of God in the blessing . The Hebrew word translated one of our closest relatives is goel. It is a technical term that means much more than kinsman. The goel was a relative who came to the rescue. The word goel includes the idea of redemption or deliverance. In fact, in order to express the idea more perfectly in English, Old Testament scholars sometimes speak of the goel as a “kinsman-redeemer.” A goel was usually a prominent male in one’s extended family. He was the official guardian of the family’s honor. If the occasion arose, he would be the one to avenge the blood of a murdered relative [Josh. 20:2-9]. He could buy back family lands sold in times of hardship [Lev. 25:23-28]. He could pay the redemption-price for family members sold into slavery [Lev. 25:47-49]. Or (if he were a single man or widower and thus eligible to marry) he could revive the family lineage when someone died without an heir by marrying the widow and fathering offspring who would inherit the name and property of the one who had died. The Old Testament places a great deal of emphasis on the role of the goel. There was a significant redemptive aspect to this person’s function. Every kinsman-redeemer was, in effect, a living illustration of the position and work of Christ with respect to His people. He is our true Kinsman-Redeemer, who becomes our human Brother, buys us back from our bondage to evil, redeems our lives from death, and ultimately returns to us everything we lost because of our sin. Boaz would become Ruth’s goel. He would redeem her life from poverty and widowhood. He would be her deliverer – and Naomi grasped the potential of this glad turn of events the very moment she learned it was Boaz who had taken an interest in Ruth. He was not only a kinsman; he had the means to be a redeemer too. Naomi strongly encouraged Ruth to follow Boaz’s instructions and stay exclusively in his fields. Ruth did this until the end of the harvest season [21-23].
God Blesses Those Who Care for Others: 4:13-17.
 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.  Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel.  May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”  Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse.  The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. [NASU]
The court case over, Boaz proceeded to wed Ruth. Notice that the son that was born is regarded as God’s gift. Throughout this book there is the consistent thought that God is over all and works out His will. It is interesting to notice that it is Naomi who is featured in the closing scene, not Ruth. The women of the city are delighted at the birth of the child. They come to Naomi now rather than to Ruth possibly because they know her so much better, possibly because she is the one with the greater need of companionship. The women congratulate Naomi, but consistently with what we have seen through the book, they ascribe what has happened to the hand of the Lord. Blessed is the Lord was a usual way of expressing thankfulness. The reason given for the thanksgiving is that God has not left Naomi without a redeemer. Up till now we should have thought that redeemer would refer to Boaz, but this statement carries on till it culminates at the end of the next verse with a reference to Ruth’s having borne him. This makes it plain that the women are speaking about the new baby. God has sent the child to be Naomi’s redeemer.
Verse 15 is a prayer that the child would become famous, just as the men have previously prayed for the same thing for Boaz [4:11]. The women prophesy that the child will mean much to Naomi. Restorer of life probably has little specific meaning. It is a general term of good. There may be a hint at her poverty since returning from Moab, but it is difficult to make much of this since Boaz must have been looking after her for quite some time now. A sustainer of your old age expresses a hope for the future, and one not to be too narrowly defined. The women now go on to the reason for their hope. They put a certain emphasis on the word daughter-in-law. The love of Ruth for her mother-in-law shines through this book and it is appropriate that it be given this recognition at the end. The tribute, is better to you than seven sons, is all the more striking in view of the place usually given boys in comparison with girls. For Naomi this child was special. She had expected a lonely old age when her husband and sons died. But thanks to Ruth’s devotion everything was now different. She belonged to a family once more. She was loved and she had a recognized place.
The women of the village took an interest in how the baby should be named. They gave him the name Obed. It is curious that these women from outside the family should be able to intervene in this fashion. It may be that their kindly interest so impressed Boaz and Ruth that they accepted their suggestion. But it is a most unusual procedure. Obed means “Servant”. The verse concludes with a little note connecting Obed with David. The child who was born as the result of the marriage which took place after such curious happenings as those narrated in this book was the grandfather of Israel’s greatest king.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Put yourself in Ruth’s place, and consider the cost of her decision to follow Naomi into the land of Israel. What do we learn about Ruth from her reply to Naomi in 1:16-17?
2. Notice how an apparently chance happening [2:3,20] was overruled by God for blessing. Can you recall similar experiences in your own life? Also, in chapter 2 what qualities are outstanding in Boaz and in Ruth?
3. Why do you think the book of Ruth is included in Scripture? What lessons can we learn from Ruth?
Ruth, Keil and Delitzsch, Eerdmans.
Twelve Extraordinary Women, John Macarthur, Nelson Books.
Ruth, Leon Morris, Inter-Varsity.