RUTH and the God of Grace

Posted on 11 January 2011

Not just a love story. Learn of God’s grace through the experience of Naomi and her family.

RUTH and the God of Grace

The book of Ruth has always been a favourite with Bible readers; perhaps because its happy story contrasts with the dark days of the book of Judges; perhaps because everyone likes a good love story. Whatever the reason and despite some cultural differences (e.g. the gleaning procedure in chapter 2; the marriage proposal of chapter 3; the practice of redemption in chapter 4) the book has a timeless quality which appeals to us all.

Perhaps, however, the attractiveness of the book is due to the fact that Ruth is a book about people like us.  Ruth was no great leader or heroic sufferer.  She was not like a David or a Samuel, a Nehemiah, an Elijah or a Job.  She was a simple, ordinary person; just like most of us.  Moreover, her experience of God was similar to ours.  Hers was not the privilege of a prophet.  She did not have great visions.  She had no oracles direct from God. Like us, Ruth found God in her daily life.  And the same was true of all those around her.

Thus, Ruth is an important book.  Most of the stories of the Bible are full of kings and great leaders, of wars and of extraordinary appearances of God.  It is sometimes difficult for us to feel the same as such people.  But it is not difficult for us to feel like Elimelech and Naomi, Ruth and Orphah, Boaz and the un-named kinsman.  How encouraging, moreover, is the fact that the God of the Exodus is also the God of Ruth’s move to Bethlehem; the God who provided for a nation in the wilderness is the same God who looked after Ruth and fed her; the God who gave Abram and Sarah a son is the same God who gave Naomi an heir.

1:1-5

These verses set the scene for the whole book of Ruth.  They are introductory words - but no less significant or important for that.  There are some very practical lessons which remain relevant today.

The words “in the days when the judges ruled” hint at how we should understand the early verses of Ruth.  They take us back to the book of Judges in which a repeated cycle of disobedience - disaster - repentance and renewal is found.  Probably, the precise time of the book of Ruth is that of the Midianite conquest described in Judges 6.  Judah was, therefore, under the judgment of God for its evil ways (see especially Judges 6:1).  This is confirmed by the fact that the land which God had described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8,17; 13:5; 33:3 etc.) was suffering famine.  God had threatened famine on the people if they sinned against him (Deuteronomy 28:22-24).  Even Bethlehem, a place whose name means “the house of bread”, and which was usually a fertile area, was suffering.

How does a people desert God?  Only because individuals one by one do so!  Therefore we are introduced to one family in Bethlehem.  They were probably a wealthy family.  We are told that they moved to Moab.  Anyone who has moved to a new home knows that it is often an expensive thing to do.  Only the richer families in Bethlehem could have afforded to move. Verse 21 might also suggest that they had been a wealthy family.

The author of the book of Ruth clearly believed that names could be significant.  He introduces us to a man named Elimelech - a name meaning “the Lord is my king”.  Perhaps this name expressed the hopes of Elimelech’s parents.  Possibly it was the name given to him by his contemporaries: a sort of nickname.  Sadly, despite his name, Elimelech acted in a thoroughly unspiritual way, as we shall see.

We can sympathise with Elimelech.  His two sons are named Kilion and Mahlon.  These were almost certainly nicknames, for they mean “sickly” and “pining”.  So it would appear that Elimelech had two sickly sons in a society where sons were essential.  Sons would look after their parents when old age came.  In time of famine the weak always seemed to suffer first.  Doubtless that caused Elimelech great anxiety.  Concern for himself and his wife as well as for his sons naturally led him to explore possible ways out of the famine.  Eventually he decided to go and live temporarily in Moab.  For an Israelite this was a quite astonishing decision.  There are two reasons for this.  In the first place, for an Israelite to leave the land which God had given to that nation was equivalent to deserting his God.  God’s presence was believed to be especially linked to the land.  The tent of God (probably at Shiloh) was a symbol and testimony that God was the God of this people in this land.  And Elimelech left it!  Secondly, God had made it clear that Moab, a people who worshipped the fire god Chemosh, were a people to be avoided by the people of God (see Deuteronomy 23:3-6 and compare 2 Kings 3:27 and Numbers 21:29).  But Elimelech was ready to live with them!  Moreover, no sooner was Elimelech in Moab than he allowed both his sons to marry Moabite women.  Deuteronomy 7:3,4 would probably have been understood by the Israelites at the time as including the Moabites and prohibiting marriages between Moabites and Israelites (but see the comment on Ruth 3:1-18).  Nevertheless, Elimelech seems to have behaved with hardly a thought for what God required him to do.

In this way, Elimelech is typical of many unspiritual believers.  Living in sinful days, he adpoted the attitudes of men and women around him and gave little thought to God.  He was self-willed and unsubmissive to God.  Instead of seeing that the famine was a reason for him to come in repentance to God, he added to his sin; and doubtless he excused his behaviour by appealing to the needs of his family.  Here, then, is a son of Jacob acting like a son of Esau, despising his birthright (see Genesis 27).  How many Christian “Elimelechs” do the same today!

Sadly, this passage also describes the consequences of Elimelech’s rebellion against God.  He had to learn the bitter lesson spelt out in 1 Corinthians 11:27,28; Matthew 10:39; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24 and John 12:25 (and note how, usually, all four Gospels repeat the same words).  Thus, the security and protection which Elimelech sought was denied him.  Both he (verse 3) and his sons (verse 5) died; leaving his widow a helpless woman in a strange land.  His sons, as we have seen, sank to the spiritual level of their father.  They entered into disobedient marriages.  They too came to disaster.

Selfish rebellion against God brought disaster on the whole family.  Elimelech’s sin influenced others to sin.  May we learn this lesson well.

1:6-22

The remainder of the first chapter of Ruth describes the response of three women, Naomi - Elimelech’s wife - Orphah and Ruth, to the challenge of full commitment to God.

Naomi had been an inhabitant of Bethlehem.  However, her departure to Moab with her family was an act of rebellion against God (see verses 1-5).  She recognised this in verse 21 when she said: “The Lord has testified against me”.  Naomi, then, was like so many of God’s children.  Selfish rebellion had caused her to depart from her God.

But God does not leave his backslidden children.  He seeks to win them back.  Sometimes, as with Naomi, personal disaster is the method he uses.  The sorrow of bereavement and loss often awakens a longing for a return to spiritual walk once more.  However, this did not appear to be the case with Naomi.  Perhaps her bitterness (see verse 20) was too great.

However, eventually her old desires were reawakened (verse 6) when she heard of God’s blessing on others back at her home.  She heard of blessing which had followed repentance (see Judges 6:16).  So she determined to go home to her people and her God.

Naomi had no false hopes of what to expect.  She did not expect God’s blessing necessarily to follow her.  She knew that she would have to live with the consequences of past failure.  In verse 21 she said: “I went away full but the Lord has brought me back empty”.  Nevertheless it was the Lord who was bringing her back and she would follow him.  When she returned, her life was characterised by joyful trust and obedience to God (see especially 2:20-22).  She had left Israel to secure her family and her food.  When she returned it was for these two things especially that she showed humble dependence on God.  She had learnt the lesson: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy”. If we are in selfish rebellion against God, may we learn the lessons of Naomi’s experience.

Orphah was the Moabite wife of Kilion (see 4:10).  She must have been a pleasant and lovable young woman.  Orphah had stayed with Naomi when she had been widowed rather than return home to her parents.  She was clearly fond of her mother-in-law (verse 14).  She also seemed to share some of the desires of Naomi for her God.  We have already seen that Naomi’s motive for returning to Israel was a desire to return to God.  It is hardly likely that Orphah would have planned to go to Israel except for the same reason (see verse 6).  So Orphah set out with Naomi and Ruth (verse 7).

Naomi’s conversation with her daughters-in-law in verses 8-13 has been differently understood by Christian interpreters.  However, the most likely explanations of her words is this.  Naomi had to face the cost of her own re-commitment to the Lord.  She was anxious that her daughters-in-law did the same.  With great wisdom, therefore, she put the difficulties of commitment to the Lord before them.  She did not want them to be deceived as to what they might expect.  She recognised that, for them, residence in Israel may well mean permanent widowhood (verses 11-13); a loss of old family ties (verse 10); and, consequently, poverty was likely.

Sometimes following Jesus has the same consequences for people today.  Jesus taught there is a cost to following him (see Mark 8:34-38; 10:42-45).  To gain life, we must lose it first.  There is, of course,another side (Mark 10:29-31).  However, Naomi was pressing on Orphah the cost of discipleship.  Sadly, like the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-30), the demands of discipleship were too great for Orphah.  Significantly, Naomi said (verse 15) that Orphah was “going back to her people and her gods”.

Christian preachers rarely seem to emphasise the cost of discipleshp today.  Perhaps they think that they won’t get any disciples that way!  Naomi, however, was realistic.  She knew it was essential to explain the full cost of discipleship to those who might show a desire to be God’s children.

In contrast to her sister-in-law, Ruth’s resolve was strengthened by Naomi’s challenge.  Humbly (verse 16) she pledged her permanent commitment to Naomi, to her people and to her God (verse 16,17).  Her words show that she had counted the cost and was resolved on a permanent life of discipleship.  Sensibly (verse 18), when seeing this resolve, Naomi no longer urged Ruth to go back home.

2:1-23

The stories of the Bible are usually told without comment by their authors.  No morals are draw from the stories.  Sensitive readers are left to work out for themselves the lessons built into the stories.  This is true of the book of Ruth.  It is especially true of this chapter.  The story is a simple one.  Ruth, in trying to secure enough food for herself and Naomi, finds a rich patron, Boaz.  However, lying behind these events are two great truths.

The first great lesson is this: when people become disciples of the Lord it changes their way of life. Boaz recognised that Ruth had placed herself under the protection and care of the Lord (verse 12).  As an Israelite, he had done the same.  The result in both of them was a life of delighted obedience to God.  This is a mark of spiritual maturity: though here it is shown even in a young “convert” like Ruth. This truth is most clearly seen in Boaz.  In the Old Testament law God had demanded that at harvest time the harvester was not to reap right into the corners of his fields.  He was also told not to pick up what was left after the reapers had gone, nor to go back to collect a forgotten sheaf.  We read about this in Leviticus 19:9; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19.  The reason for these commands was that God wanted his people to show a concern for the poor and needy.  He wanted them to show compassion to people like Ruth and Naomi.

The unscrupulous man could, of course, easily neglect this duty.  This is suggested in verses 2 and 22.  Alternatively, such a man could find ways around God’s laws.  However, when we read about Boaz, he not only obeys the letter of the law but he fulfils its intention also.  In his dealings with Ruth, Boaz is seen as considerate, tender, compassionate, generous and kind.  It was that kind of attitude that God’s law was intended to promote.  Ruth recognised the significance of this action of Boaz.  In verse 10 she asked: “Why have I found favour?“  The word “favour” is one of the most important words in the Old Testament.  It is the word which describes the unmerited mercy which God show to his children.  It also describes the response of God’s children to him, to one another and then to all.  Ruth recognised Boaz’s Godlike character and, in that way, recognised him as a true disciple of the Lord.

The Bible never tires of teaching this lesson.  A true disciple is a person who has met God.  That meeting must change a person’s life.  The disciple’s life will now be a copy (imperfect, of course) of God’s life and character.  Delighted love for God will be the result; a love delighting in all God’s wishes and fulfilling the intention of all his words.

Above all, in the New Testament we are shown Jesus as our example.  Jesus was “in very nature God, but did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.“ Paul then adds: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5-11).  We are expected to be copies of Jesus himself!  How rarely this lesson is learnt.

Sometimes it is suggested that a spiritual life will be harsh and unattractive.  We sometimes meet such supposedly godly people.  However, a truly spiritual life is lovely and attractive.  We can see this to be true in this chapter.  Ruth and Boaz shine forth as attractive and really human people.  It is this very fact that draws us to this chapter and makes us delight in the story.  But it is also a lesson that all disciples need to learn.  True believers are to be attractive because the favour of God to them makes them attractive.

There is no part of life that is uninfluenced by discipleship.  This is clearly shown in this chapter.  Discipleship is seen in the home.  Ruth showed a tenderness and a respect for her ageing mother-in-law (verse 2).  Naomi had no right to expect all that Ruth did for her.  But, then, Ruth was a true disciple.  A true disciple does not think about rights, but about needs and responsibilities.  Because God had been merciful to Ruth in her needs, she now shows the same attitude to Naomi.  In the Bible there is teaching which emphasises that discipleship will be seen in the home.  Look up especially Ephesians 5:1,2,22-6:4.

Discipleship is also to be seen in the work-place.  Ruth’s conduct was respectful.  She said “please” in verse 7, even when taking her rights!  Her hard work was immediately noticed (second part of verse 7).  Similarly Boaz the rich landowner (verse 1) was generous; he sought to help the needy; he was approachable, friendly and compassionate.  He used his God-given privileges to serve God.  We are to do the same.  (Compare Ephesians 6:5-9).

Finally, we ought to notice that when God’s mercy has been experienced, a person’s attitudes are changed.  We have already seen this but it needs emphasising.  Ruth was willing to take the most menial and degrading part (verse 2). Service for God in the service of others led her to set aside her dignity.  Yet how often do we proudly defend ours.
In addition, we see how mercy had led to childlike dependence on God.  This is seen in Boaz (verse 4) and Naomi, who was so quick to notice God’s provision for her (verses 19,20).  Above all, we see this truth in Ruth’s wide-eyed wonder at God’s provision for her in the most ordinary of circumstances (verse 10).

The result of such an attitude is seen in these verses.  There is a peace and tranquillity both in need and in plenty.  May we show the same spirit?

The second great lesson is the faithful care of God for his children, even in hard times.  This is especially seen in Ruth’s experience.  Perhaps it is helpful at this point to remind ourselves what Ruth’s needs were:

i)  She had the obvious needs that a widow would have.  In the ancient world, a widow without a family was a most pathetic person.  Often such people were very poor.  They depended on the charity of others.  Many were forced to turn to prostitution since their bodies were the only resources that they could sell.

ii)  Ruth was an alien.  She was friendless in a foreign land.  This fact is repeatedly emphasised in 2:2,6,10,11,21.  Many immigrants to a new country will understand how Ruth must have felt.

iii)  She had been recently bereaved and must therefore have been under great emotional strain.  Boaz seems to recognise this in verse 11.

iv)  She was a recent convert. The great confession of 1:16-18 was now being put to the test in the severest way possible.

These things must have filled Ruth with doubts and fears.  Some believers today try to hide behind empty spiritual words and are not always honest about their problems.  However, most of us if we are honest have experienced at one time or another the same sort of difficulties as Ruth did.  This is one of the reasons why the book of Ruth is so useful to us.  Let us notice, then, how God met Ruth’s needs.

Firstly, Ruth began to meet her own needs!  Commonsense (often lacking in God’s people), led to careful thought and sensible action (verses 2,3 and 7) and proved to be part of God’s guidance to her.  She did what she could and left what she couldn’t do in the hands of God.

Secondly, Ruth sought the advice of others close to her (verse 2) and found the will of the Lord in their sensible advice.  Indeed she discovered God’s care for her on a number of occasions in the same way.  She found God’s care in the tenderness, compassion and generosity of others (verses 8,9).  That was another way in which God provided for her.

Thirdly, Ruth found God directly at work in her circumstances.  Humanly, by complete coincidence, God led her steps to Boaz, the person most able to help her!  This fact was noticed by the author of Ruth (verse 3).

All this leads to some very practical lessons.  We notice that God’s provision was not miraculous.  Many believers have an exaggerated regard for miracles.  They do not seem to think that God is at work if they have not experienced a miracle.  For them, the book of Ruth may be disappointing.  There is no hint of a miracle here.  But God does provide for her and for those of us (i.e. for most believers) whose lives are as free of miracle as Ruth’s.  This is a great comfort.  If God provided for her in her ordinary, unexciting, day-to-day experience, he can and will do the same for us!

Moreover, God is seen to be at work in all Ruth’s affairs and in her case they were mostly small ones!  What comfort this is to us in our small lives.

It is also important to notice that there is no dramatic change in Ruth’s life (not yet, at least!).  Rather God showed himself in his daily, detailed attention to her in the middle of all her needs.  God did not suddenly deliver her.  He met her where she was.

It is this fact which enabled her, and should enable us, to trust him even in the middle of our needs.  Boaz’s wish (verse 12) should become a conviction which, by faith, governs our lives as it did Ruth’s.

Finally, do you study your life carefully as we have studied Ruth’s, to discern the hand of God?  If you do, it will greatly increase your faith and trust in him.  For Ruth is not unique.  Her story is your story and mine!

3:1-18

Once again the story of Ruth 3 is fairly clear.  Naomi takes steps to find Ruth a suitable husband.  Several observations need, however, to be made to explain some of the details of the story.

First, to the modern reader there do seem some things done here which we might think wrong.  It seems likely that some custom unknown to us, but acceptable at that time, is described here.  We need to avoid being critical of the conduct of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz in this chapter.  The author of Ruth does not judge them; nor should we.  On the other hand, we should not copy them, either!

There is no suggestion that anything immoral took place between Boaz and Ruth.  Indeed, Boaz probably sent Ruth away early in the morning in order to avoid any possibility of gossip about their conduct which might have hindered his plans for Ruth.

And the verses do not tell us that Boaz was drunk.  He was in good spirits.  The harvest was good and he had enjoyed a good meal.  The Bible does not criticize people for being happy.  But it does warn of the dangers of drinking alcohol and of the sin of drunkenness.

Secondly, there are two Old Testament practices which are strange to us but are mentioned in this chapter.

The first is the levirate.  Look up Genesis 38 and especially Deuteronomy 25:5-10.  In Old Testament times it was vital that a man’s family name was preserved.  Accordingly, if he died without an heir, steps were to be taken to ensure that he had an heir who could carry his name (and inherit his property).  Thus it ws customary, and required by God’s law, that the widow of a dead man be married to one of her husband’s relatives.  The first son of such a marriage would then be the dead man’s heir.

Elimelech had died childless; or at least his sons died soon after his death, without having had any children themselves.  Now only Ruth held out any possibility that Elimelech might have heirs.  But Ruth was only his daughter-in-law and no duty rested on her to raise children to keep alive Elimelech’s name.

Secondly, the chapter mentions the kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew: “Goel” - a word meaning “to recover or redeem”).  This is mentioned in Leviticus 25:25-28, 47-49.  These verses describe the responsibility of a near kinsman to do all that was necessary to secure the land (verses 25-28) and support the persons (verses 47-49) of poor near-of-kin.  As we shall see, Naomi had such a kinsman (chapter 4) who had showed no great desire to fulfil his obligations.  Boaz, by contrast, was under no obligation to Naomi but was willing to help her.

Thirdly, we need to ask the question, was Boaz right to want to marry Ruth?  In chapter 1 we suggested that Mahlon was wrong to marry Ruth because she was a Moabite.  How then could it be right for Boaz to marry her?  The answer is this.  Although the Old Testament laws seem to be racist, this was never in fact the case.  Whoever identified with the people of God was given the full status of an Israelite.  The prohibitions against marriage with someone from another race were intended to teach that God hated his people to marry outside the people of God.  The Old Testament laws were not so much racist as religious.  The people of God were to marry only others from among the people of God and that is the point that is important here.  In chapter 1 Mahlon married a worshipper of Chemosh.  That was quite wrong.  However, after Ruth’s confession in 1:17,18 her words and her actions have shown that she was a true worshipper of God.  No obstacle, therefore, existed any longer for an Israelite to marry her.  Indeed both Ruth and Boaz show such a spiritual maturity in chapter 2 that Boaz could clearly have done no better than marry Ruth!

With these facts in mind we can observe several important lessons which are contained in chapter 3.

In these verses we have a wonderful illustration of the commitment of both Ruth and Boaz to their Lord. It is probable that Mahlon died shortly after marrying Ruth.  Otherwise they would probably have had some children, since family planning was largely unknown in the ancient world.  Marriage usually occurred soon after puberty and it is probable that no great time elapsed between the death of Ruth’s husband and her migration to Israel.  Ruth was, therefore, probably only in her middle or late teens when the events described in this chapter took place.  She was probably between the ages of 15 and 18.  Boaz was obviously an older man (verse 10), probably, at least twice her age. However, despite the fact that Ruth was clearly marriageable and could most probably have found a more “suitable” husband (again verse 10) she chose Boaz.  Showing remarkable spiritual maturity for one of her age and experience, Ruth recognised that faithfulness to the intention of God’s word required her to marry a kinsman of Elimelech.  In his response to Ruth (verses 10-13) Boaz showed he recognised Ruth’s obedience to God.  He himself (see especially chapter 4) then showed the same obedience to the intention of God’s word.

For both Ruth and Boaz these were costly decisions to make.  But they were both motivated by a desire to obey God in all things.  In obedience they found joy and blessing.  The same obedience is required of us.

There is another lesson.  Once again we notice that Ruth and Boaz fulfil God’s word by meeting its deepest concerns.  Strictly speaking, Ruth had no obligation to Elimelech.  Similarly, Boaz did not have a obligation to Elimelech either.  But they both knew that God’s laws were intended to show his deep concerns for the welfare of his people.  Thus they both went beyond mere obedince to the letter of the law, to the fulfilling of its intention.

Such obedience is expected of every true disciple.  Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34,35).  Though they did not have the full light of the gospel, we can see that Ruth and Boaz were obedient to God in precisely this way.  How much more we should follow their example who also have the example of Jesus to follow.

One final lesson emerges from this chapter.  In the New Testament, Jesus is described as the great “kinsman-redeemer”.  Boaz by his actions foreshadowed Jesus. Consider the following facts:

i)  A ‘goel’ had to be a kinsman.  Jesus became like us, to be our kinsman-redeemer (see Hebrews 2:17,18).

ii)  Jesus loved God and delighted to do God’s will.  So did Boaz.

iii)  Boaz’s redemption of Ruth was expensive (see chapter 4).  Jesus gave up his own life to pay the price of our redemption.

iv)  By redeeming Ruth, Boaz made her his wife.  In so doing, he was ready to share his bed with a penniless alien.  By redeeming us, Jesus has made us his bride and has been ready to share himself with his enemies.

v)  Boaz acted to provide a future for hopeless Ruth.  How much more has Jesus done in securing our eternal glory.

4:1-17a

With these verses the book of Ruth reaches its climax.  Once again, the sensitive reader is expected to discern for himself the lessons which lie in the story.

There are several remarkable contrasts in this chapter.  First, there is a contrast between Boaz and the other, un-named, kinsman-redeemer.  The nameless man was only willing to act on behalf of Naomi and Ruth if it were to his advantage.  This decided the matter for him (verse 6).  Doubtless the same obstacle lay in Boaz’s way as well.  However, Boaz was ready to follow the path of obedience to God whatever the consequences.  Too often we only do what is right because it suits us.  We need to learn from Boaz.  Once again we notice that Boaz was motivated by mercy (see 2:13) as one who had received mercy.  At this point, however, the author of Ruth plays a subtle joke on his readers.  He must have known the name of the kinsman.  After all, he knew a great deal about Elimelech and his relatives.  However, he does not reveal the name and surely he does not reveal it deliberately!  The un-named kinsman acted to secure his name:  but it has long since been lost.  Boaz “risked” the loss of his name; but he is not only named but his fame will live on till the end of the world!

Jesus taught the same truth.  We have already commented on it (see Matthew 10:39; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; John 12:25).  It is the great message of the book of Ruth; to hold fast to our own ambitions will lead to the loss of all.  Faithful obedience to God will enable us to inherit eternal life, a lasting inheritance and an honourable name before God.

This same point is made by another contrast in this chapter.  In chapter 1 Naomi was described as bereaved and hopeless (1:5,12,20).  In chapter 4 she has comfort in her old age made sure by the birth of a grandson (4:13-17).  In her own experience, Naomi had to learn the lesson of obedience.  She also learnt that God is merciful to the person who turns back from a path of folly.  Finally, she learned that God was far more merciful to her than she deserved.

The final contrast in this section is seen in Ruth herself.  In chapter 1 she ws a friendless, penniless and childless stranger.  However, she put her faith in the God of Israel (1:17,18).  In chapter 4 the same Ruth has not only become the object of a levir’s attentions (see chapter 3) but is his wife (verses 10,13)!  She is the centre of an admiring community (verse 15) and the mother of a son (verse 13).  To have a son was a blessing indeed in the ancient world.  Thus Ruth found that her sacrifice was rewarded by God.  God is never anyone’s debtor.  As we follow him, we will learn the same lessons.

4:17b-22

In this list of names we have a lovely postscript to the book of Ruth.  In 1:1 our thoughts were directed back to the book of Judges.  In that book there is one phrase that is regularly repeated.  In Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25 we are told that “there was no king in those days”.  This is not a careless or accidental repetition.  In Old Testament times the life of the nation was seen as closely linked to the life of the king.  His example set the example which his people were expected to follow.  But in the time of the Judges there was no such example.  Everyone did “as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).  The people were, then, in need of a leader after God’s own heart.  This is the verdict of the book of Judges.  The book of Ruth picks this thought up.  It tells us of a farmer in Bethlehem and a strange from Moab who lived not for themselves but for God.  It shows that their faithfulness was part of God’s plan to meet the needs of all his people and to bless them more abundantly than they could ever have imagined.  Ruth bore a son who was to be the grandfather of Israel’s greatest king, David.  And David himself was a king among whose descendants “great David’s greater Son” would be born.

One student of the book of Ruth once said: “And his life (that is, Jesus) in terms of physical descent was linked to the story of a Moabite girl gleaning in a barley field miles from home; to a caring mother-in-law and a loving kinsman; to a night-time conversation at the threshing-floor; to the willingness of a wealthy farmer to go beyond the requirements of the law in his care for the needy.  In short, it is in the ordinariness of the lives of ordinary people that God is working his purposes out.  Future significant lives were bound up with the history of Ruth”.

And doubtless those very qualities which David possessed were the fruit of a great-grandparental example (how often is this true!).  And thus Ruth and Boaz’s apparently insignificant lives are seen to be of vital importance for us all.  What an encouragement to our own faithfulness and obedience, even though we may feel ourselves to be insignificant.
                         

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