by James Paterson, Scotland
In the opening words of the book of Ruth we are directed to the ancient city of Beth-lehem-Judah. Located on a ridge overlooking the wilderness it was there that Jacob had laid Rachel to rest, Gen.35.19, and where the psalmist David had been born and anointed king over Israel. The name of the city is very significant in the context of the book of Ruth. Bethlehem means "house of bread" and Judah means "praise". In addition to this we read of the inhabitants being described as Ephrathites which means, "fruitful". However, as the book opens we find little or no bread in the city, and despondency in Elimelech and his family caused by famine.
The events of Ruth take place during the rule of the Judges which covered a period of some 450 years, "And after that He gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet" Acts.13.20. During the period of the judges the character of the nation is seen in the repetition of the significant phrase, "no king", Judg.17.6; 18.1; 19.1; 21.25, with the resultant statement in both 17.6 and 21.25, "every man did that which was right in his own eyes". The scenes in the book of Judges are dark with sin against God and crimes against man: brutal war, treachery, massacre, destruction of lives and property. It was a time of apathy, anarchy and apostasy. As they lived according to their own rules, doing that which was right in their own eyes and subsequently setting aside the law of God, their rebellion turned the land of fruitfulness into a land of famine. Indeed, it turned the place of praise into a place of discontent.
Sin always turns fruitfulness into famine and our song into sorrow. It brings only barrenness and emptiness. Indeed, as Naomi confessed, "I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty" 1.21. It was when Peter was following afar off that we read "he wept" Mk.14.72. When Jonah did that which was right in his own eyes, it is recorded, "so he paid the fare thereof" Jonah 1.3. There is a price to pay in leaving the place where God would have us be. It will cost us our fruitfulness and will turn our prosperity into poverty, and our gladness into grief. This applies not only to departure morally, but spiritually and indeed geographically; all such are seen in the book of Ruth. That which looks bright with prospect, will when leading us away from God, result in emptiness.
It is into these ‘dark ages’ of Israel’s history that the book of Ruth sheds a ray of light, radiating into hope, piety, recovery, marital fidelity, social responsibility and domestic tranquillity. History is more than a record of battles, dates and dynasties. It is encouraging to know that, "the Judge of all the earth" Gen.18.25, has the power to direct the destiny of nations even though "the kings of the earth set themselves … against the LORD" Ps.2.2. It is just as comforting to know that the One Who "sitteth in the heavens" Ps.2.4, is concerned with the vicissitudes of the lives of His people in an individual and personal way. The book of Ruth confirms this, since Ruth, an inconspicuous woman who is a converted peasant woman achieves the status of royalty. God orders circumstances which combine with Ruth’s resolute faith to make her the great grandmother of David the king, and thus through that line, links into the genealogy of the King of kings. It is a remarkable testimony to the grace of God, that both Ruth the Moabitess and Rahab the harlot, a Canaanitess, both strangers and aliens, are brought into a knowledge of Jehovah, and would eventually form part of the Messianic lineage.
Graham Scroggie1 describes the book of Ruth thus: "After reading Judges chapters 17-21, Ruth is like a lovely lily in a stagnant pool. Here, instead of unfaithfulness is loyalty, and instead of immorality is purity. Here instead of battlefields are harvest fields, and instead of the warrior’s shout is the harvester’s song." J.M. Flanigan2 writes, "Coming from the book of Judges into the book of Ruth is like coming out of a noisy, bustling market place into a quiet meadow."
1Scroggie, Graeme. Quoted by J. M. Flanigan. "Ruth. What the Bible teaches". John Ritchie Ltd, Scotland. 2006.
2Flanigan, J. M. "Ruth. What the Bible teaches". John Ritchie Ltd, Scotland. 2006.
We shall consider two of the main characters in the book, Naomi and her daughter-in-law, the title character, Ruth. While there are typical and prophetic observations within the book, we need to limit our comments to these two women in a practical way and see through them, "the glory of godly women".
The words of Naomi are significant when speaking of leaving Beth-lehem-Judah, "I went out full" 1.21. In the use of the personal pronoun, she indicates that she understands her wilfulness in the departure of the family from the place where God had promised His blessing, into a land with which God had forbidden His people to associate, "Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever" Deut.23.6. While she acknowledges her part in the exodus, we must remember that she had little alternative but to move in subjection to her husband Elimelech. While the subject of subjection of the wife to her husband is a principle throughout Scripture, even into modern day, we must not forget the first mention, "and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" Gen.3.16. Part of Eve’s punishment was submission to the appropriate leadership of her husband over the family. Therefore before the Law is given and before New Testament truth is written, the principle of God is laid down. However, Naomi acknowledges her part in moving the family to Moab.
There are lessons to be learned from this departure and while Naomi would eventually repent and return, a high price was paid and the bitterness of the pathway had a significant effect in her life. The move was wholly unnecessary. The family was not poor or perishing; they "went out full" 1.21; their movements were therefore wilful and this made their actions more rebellious and guilty. It is always the ‘going out’ that makes us empty, and we should ever be careful in moving along a pathway which, while seemingly suitable to our plans, is opposed to God’s Word and His will for us.
The Distance of Departure is Great
It is said that on a clear day the fields of Moab can be seen from the Land, and so while geographically they did not travel far, the moral and spiritual distance was great. We know that Moab is a type of the world and its ease, which makes it attractive, but we must remember God’s prohibitions against dwelling there. Moab was born out of incest. In Gen.19.37, Lot had a son with his eldest daughter, and the name of the son was Moab, the father of the Moabites. The very name Moab means, "from her [the mother] father". The warnings of the Word of God should have been written large in the heart of any Israelite, "And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them: neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son. For they will turn away thy son from following Me that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly" Deut.7.2-4. "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever: because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless the LORD thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the LORD thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the LORD thy God loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever" Deut.23.3-6.
Moab was a doomed country. More than a hundred years before Elimelech’s departure, God had used the prophecy of Balaam to pronounce sentence, "There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab" Num.24.17. However, God’s thoughts on Moab are presented in a definitive way in both Ps.60.8 and 108.9, where it is written, "Moab is my washpot". There is nothing beneficial for God’s people in the fields of Moab, a place so far distant from the land of promise.
The Duration of Departure is Long
"And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there" 1.2. It would seem from the language of the previous verse that this was not their intention. Note the word "sojourn" i.e. to lodge as a guest. Now their time of residence is extended and they continue there. The verb ‘to continue’ gives the idea of settling down, to exist, to be finished.
The backslider never intends to stay away, only sojourn, but lingering in sin usually leads to living in sin. We see the danger in the journey of Abram, "And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south. And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land" Gen.12.9,10. Had God not intervened, how long would he have stayed and what sin would have resulted?
It is better never to move away from God, His word or His ways, even for a time. Did Naomi ever expect that their lodging would continue for ten years? The power of sin is great; it captivates and then chains the life. While it may be the intention that departure will only be temporary, the result can be catastrophic, not only in time spent but also in the depths experienced.
The Depth of Departure is Dark
The beckoning fields of Moab soon turn to darkness and desolation: "And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died" 1.3. Interestingly, after this statement his name will never be raised again in the book except in passing reference. Firstly, Naomi is bereft of her husband and secondly, her sons take wives from the women of Moab. Remember that they had only intended to visit Moab; however, disregarding the law of God in this matter, it was not long before they were disregarding the law of God with regard to marriage. One sin leads to another. It is not being too dramatic to state that mixing with the world will lead to marriage to the world, usually in every sense of the word including matrimonially. Parents must ever be aware of the potential of their actions having an effect on their children. While Naomi’s sons were of a mature, responsible age when they left Beth-lehem-Judah, parental influence cannot be discounted. Their sons must have witnessed the discontent that resulted in the family leaving the land of promise; through the actions of their parents they had been left open to the influences exerted by Moab; they would have seen their parents’ defiance of the Word of God and their rejection of the place to which God had led His people. While each child will reach a stage in life where they will make their own decisions regardless of parental advice, as parents it is incumbent on us to "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" Prov.22.6. The responsibility of the head of the household is also seen in the collection of the manna in the wilderness. The eating was the responsibility of the individual, but they could only eat what was collected on their behalf: "take ye every man for them which are in his tents" Ex.16.16. The responsibility to provide for the development of our offspring is current through every generation and is often left to the responsibility of the mother who will usually be the one with most time and opportunity to spend in educating children in spiritual things.
Deuteronomy chapter 23 has already been quoted. The character of Moab spelled alienation from God and His people. Its worship involved the gods of nature. Such a fertility cult, which in the ancient Near East often included sexual activity and ritual immorality, was an abomination to the LORD. The children of a mixed marriage between a covenant child and a Moabite were not allowed into the assembly of the Lord for ten generations. Such was God’s abhorrence of this unequal yoke.
The position of Naomi is further compounded by the death of both of her sons. She now stands at her third grave in Moab. She is left (and this is something to which the Old Testament is particularly sensitive) in the position of one of the most painful curses: there is no living fruit from her womb. She is bereft, alienated and lonely, indeed she has had to learn that, "the way of transgressors is hard" Prov.13.15. She will acknowledge the hand of the Lord in it all, but for her it has been a bitter experience. However, in the goodness of God and in His gracious ways, light will come from the darkness and blessing from despair.
While Naomi acknowledges her wilful action in moving to Moab, she also knows the power behind her recovery. "The LORD brought me home again" 1.21. It is interesting to see the providential hand of God in the circumstances of her repentance, return and recovery.
In Ruth chapter 1, the Hebrew verb shuwb is used some 11 times. While the word in all occasions is the same, it is translated in the A.V.: "return" vv.6,7,8,10,16,22 (twice); "turn again" vv.11,12; "gone back" v.15; "brought me home again" v.1. Repetition of a word in English does not make for enjoyable reading, giving a sense of sameness, so the slight variation in translation is helpful to the reader of English. However, the repeated use of the word in the original language is significant because it is not only the Hebrew word for return but it is the main word in the Old Testament for turning back to God’s covenant grace and mercy; for repentance, for conversion. Zodhiates3 shows the importance of the word; "shuwb (to turn back: to turn to Jehovah: reversal of direction) is the twelfth most used verb in the Old Testament. It occurs 1,060 times with an additional eight times in biblical Aramaic."
3Zodhiates, Spiros. "Hebrew Lexical Aids". AMG Publishers: Chattanooga, USA.1984.
The verb shuwb runs like a golden thread through the whole book of Ruth, while we have the action of returning in the first chapter, we see the result of it in the subsequent chapters of the book. While we see the effect in Naomi’s life, the result and reward of the act are also seen in the life of Ruth; indeed the theme of the book is about turning back to God; it is about turning back to His grace. This book is one of the greatest (and perhaps the most detailed) accounts in the Old Testament of how God works to bring someone to faith.
Like the prodigal son in the New Testament, the first step required in a penitent sinner or a returning saint is that of repentance. It is said of the son, "and he arose, and came to his father" Lk.15.20: likewise of Naomi, "Then she arose" 1.6. The act of their rising; the son from the pigsty and Naomi from the despondency of Moab, is a token of their repentance, i.e. turning away from that which is abhorrent to God. We must be careful to note that repentance is not remorse. While Naomi, and indeed the son in Luke chapter 15, may have been remorseful of the situation that they were in, their actions show their willingness to leave it behind, i.e. repent of it.
Hearing that there was bread in Beth-lehem-Judah, "for she had heard … how that the LORD had visited His people in giving them bread" 1.6, she left Moab. Ten years earlier she had gone outside of the will of God and left home, crossed over Jordan and settled in the land of Moab. Now with a repentant spirit she is about to leave Moab, the place of idolatry, and return to the place where she had left the Lord. As well as repenting, in the experience of the backslider there must be a returning, a going back to the place where we first left the Lord. This is seen in the life of Abram in his journey to Egypt. He left Beth-el to go south, and it was to Beth-el he would return after he had been sent out of Egypt, "And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; Unto the place of the altar, which he had made there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD" Gen.13.3,4.
Before there can be enjoyment of the presence of the Lord, there must not only be a leaving of our sin, but a retracing of our footsteps. There must be a return to the point where we left the Lord. Naomi understands this and so sets out, "unto the land of Judah" 1.7.
With absolutely nothing to show from the ten years spent away from God and His people, Naomi commences on her way back. It is once this journey of recovery is commenced that the movement of God in her life is seen once again. The three women make their way towards Beth-lehem-Judah; one would soon return home, one would eventually return to Moab, and one would enter into a life of unexpected blessing.
August Van Ryn4 calls this section "The Tale of Three Widows"
The Grieving Widow: Naomi, "it grieveth me much"1.13
The Leaving Widow: Orpah, "thy sister in law is gone back" 1.15
The Cleaving Widow: Ruth, "Ruth clave unto her"1.14.
4Van Ryn, August. "Boaz and Ruth". Walterick Publishers, Kansas City, USA. 1980.
The daughters-in-law would have accompanied Naomi to the border of Moab originally as a courtesy, but would have come to a point where they would return to their homeland and to their mother’s house. However, as they come to the point of each going their own way there is a dramatic conversation held by the wayside. While there are various comments as to Naomi’s intention in her words to Ruth and Orpah as they stand on the border, it would seem to be a declaration by Naomi that her daughters-in-law should count the cost of leaving their homeland. This is wisdom from the older woman who has learned from life’s experiences that wrong decisions taken are not easily recovered and unless decisions are made from deep conviction, they will bring grief. She is clear in her intimation that she has nothing to offer them either in material or in marriage. Life has taught her the danger of leading others along a pathway that might later be regretted. Orpah does go back but in spite of Naomi’s urging, Ruth remains. Why, we might ask? There is no promise of financial security, far less material prosperity. God does not guarantee our comfort. That is why the new Naomi is inviting Ruth to count the cost of belonging to the Lord. It might well mean no husband; no guaranteed security or provision; no children; no human hope. Naomi is now able to speak freely about her home and her God; she has been restored and is on the pathway to recovery. We will look later in this section at Ruth’s acceptance of Naomi’s people and her God, but together an empty Naomi and a seeking Ruth move on, "So they two went until they came to Bethlehem" 1.19.
Home for Naomi was Beth-lehem-Judah. Ten years have passed since she looked to the fields of Moab for sustenance, great has been her loss and bitter her experience since she left, but she has returned to the place where God would have her be. The time of her arrival is significant as it is the beginning of the barley harvest, 1.22. The book begins with famine and the first chapter ends with a harvest, which in the following chapters will prove to be full, requiring the participation of many to garner the crop. Barley was the first of the crops to ripen and subsequently be harvested, so foretold the produce of the fields which would follow. However, the time of harvest may also hint at the beginning of a spiritual harvest in the lives of Naomi and Ruth. Has a time of ploughing and sowing given way to reaping?
As Naomi returns home she realises her loss, and publicly declares, "Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?" 1.20,21. She was full materially, matrimonially and complete with family, but everything she took out, she has left out. It is not that she calls herself Mara, (bitter) because she has become a bitter woman through God’s dealing with her, but rather the experiences of life have been bitter as she has been brought through them by the Almighty.
One thing shines through the actions of Naomi as she is back in the land, and that is her care and concern for Ruth. She is careful in her advice to Ruth both with regard to her work in the fields and her developing relationship with Boaz. This advice continues until we read the last recorded words of Naomi, "Then said she, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day" 3.18. Interestingly, she advises patience, something that was missing from her own life some ten years previously. She has learned that while we don’t know what the future holds, we do know Who holds the future, and so she can impart counsel to Ruth. It is sound advice indeed, to "sit still".
The actions of Naomi with regard to Ruth are very similar to what Paul told Titus: to instruct older women to teach younger women with regard to family life and Christian living. "The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed" Titus 2.3-5.
This responsibility is often lacking in assembly life today, when there is a greater need than ever for Naomi-like older women to instruct, in a kindly way, younger women as they themselves have been instructed. It may not be accepted by some younger women, or practised by some older women but it is necessary with a view to the prevention of moral problems, the preservation of the good name of godly women, and that "the word of God be not blasphemed".
It is indeed interesting to see all that was restored to Naomi on her return to Beth-lehem-Judah.
God Restores Provision. Through the work of Ruth in the fields of Boaz, provision is once again restored to Naomi. "Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers" 2.2,3. "So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley" 2.17. "Also he said, Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it. And when she held it, he measured six measures of barley, and laid it on her: and she went into the city. And when she came to her mother-in-law … she said, These six measures of barley gave he me; for he said to me, Go not empty unto thy mother in law" 3.15-17. So Naomi’s provision was restored after her return in emptiness.
God Restores Position. Naomi was restored into her position in the community and in family life. From the question asked on her return, "Is this Naomi?" 1.19, the position as Ruth’s mother-in-law, and in the family is clearly recognised, by Ruth, 3.1; by Boaz, 3.17; 4.9 and by the neighbours, 4.14-17.
God Restores Prominence. The woman who left the Land for Moab and returned empty, after going through the bitterness of life’s experiences is brought into the position of prominence both by God and the women, her neighbours. "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" 4.17.
God Restores Productivity. Naomi, who through the advancement of years no longer has the ability for demanding physical activity, still has the opportunity in her older years to be productive. We have seen her productivity with regard to Ruth in training and advising her in relation to Boaz. Now at the birth of Obed a new field of service has opened. "And Naomi took the child and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it" 4.16; "There is a son born to Naomi" 4.17.
Ah, the glory of godly grandmothers! While we would never advocate the interference of grandparents in bringing up grandchildren, the influence of a grandmother in the lives of the next generation should not be underestimated. Not only in a physical or perhaps even a financial way, but the great importance of hours spent in private prayer and kindly, spiritual advice and teaching can scarcely be measured.
One interesting point regarding the word for "old age" 4.15, is that it is the word for ‘grey hair’, and as such is used in Scripture to emphasise maturity and dignity. It is used, "white as snow" of the Lord Jesus as the Ancient of Days in Dan.7.9, and of Him again as the Son of man in Rev.1.14, showing His authority, maturity and dignity. The idea is confirmed, "The hoary head (grey hair) is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness" Prov.16.31. It surely would be wrong to expect to be given the respect that maturity should bring, if the evidence of such is disguised cosmetically. Such action surely removes the dignity associated with maturity. In the words of the poet Robert Browning, "Grow old along with me, thy best is yet to be".
God Restores Praise. After the barren days of Moab resulting in no song, Obed is born. His name means ‘worshipper’ or ‘servant’.
God Restores Prospects. "Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David" 4.17. So the family has the prospect (although unknown to them at that time), of the regal lineage, but also the far greater prospect of being linked to One Who is King of kings.
Naomi returned home, repenting of the past, and was received and restored. Her circumstances caused by her departure and her experiences in Moab, have taught her lessons, but God has blessed her and brought her into a greater position than she ever had. It all started when it was recorded of her, "then she arose…" 1.6, which is the starting point of all restoration and recovery, and she went on to prove, by the grace of God, to be a godly woman.
O for the wonderful love He has promised,
Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
Pardon for you and for me.
Of the 12 times in the book Ruth’s name is mentioned; on five occasions she is described as "Ruth the Moabitess" 1.22; 2.2,21; 4.5,10, and once "the Moabitish damsel" 2.6. This description emphasises both her lowly background and the grace of God in bringing her into a place of blessing. We have recorded above, the mind of God with relation to Moab and the prohibitions that He had made which would govern the relationship of His people with the inhabitants of that country. Moab was an evil place and Ruth would have been born and brought up in paganism. The priests of Moab were powerful and cruel, and they served an assortment of gods; the most feared of which was Chemosh or Moloch, whose altar was used for the fiery destruction of children in sacrifice. Keeping that in mind, it is so sad to read that after just a few generations, Solomon, Ruth’s great- great- grandson built an altar to Chemosh in Jerusalem. "Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon" 1Kgs.11.7. Ruth would also have known of the fertility goddess who offered the Moabites regeneration through the gratification of lust with harlot priestesses in the temple. So Ruth grew up a pagan, in a land cursed by the foulness and ferocity of its gods. This is the woman around whom the story of the book of Ruth revolves. From such a background in Moab, Ruth came to know the living God of Israel and subsequently enter into the family of God through the redemptive act of a kinsman-redeemer. If any book in the Bible demonstrates God’s matchless grace and displays the Divine plan of redemption, it is the book of Ruth.
Long before Ruth knew anything about God, God knew everything about Ruth. Long before Ruth knew anything about Him, God had set in motion a series of events designed to bring her face to face with Boaz, the man who would become her kinsman-redeemer. She would be brought from a country cursed because of sin and placed in the position of blessing; all ordered by God. This is the pattern of God’s grace. Long before we ever knew Him, God worked to initiate a chain of circumstances that would bring us face to face with Christ.
Moving in disobedience, and yet allowed by God, Elimelech and his family arrived in the country of Moab. As time passed Ruth became acquainted with the family and in due course was married to Mahlon. While we have no Scriptural text to support the claim, it is very likely that she heard from this family something of the true God. Elimelech and Naomi, while backsliders, were still believers, which is evidenced in the eventual return of Naomi to Bethlehem Judah, and so they quite possibly would have told Ruth of a God Who is living, holy, pure and kind; a God so unlike the dreadful, lustful and savage gods of her people.
Within a short period of time the family is visited by death. Firstly Elimelech dies, then Ruth’s husband Mahlon, followed by his brother Chilion who had also been married to a Moabitess named Orpah. While it must have been a massive blow to the three women in the family, God is still in control. Mahlon had to die to allow the purpose of God to come to completion. This may seem a hard statement, but this sequence of events must take place before Ruth could ever come to know Boaz as her kinsman-redeemer. The death of Mahlon was part of the overruling sovereignty of God.
The statement is true, that God is too loving to be unkind, too wise to make a mistake, and in this context, is too powerful to be thwarted in His plans. It was after the three deaths that Naomi had heard that "the LORD had visited His people in giving them bread" 1.6, and so decides that she should be where the Lord would have her be, and the time has come to leave the country of Moab.
Ruth and Orpah both made the same decision; they would go with Naomi. It would seem initially that both of the younger women had become converts, but we soon discover that this is not so. It is often the case that in the stress of overwhelming circumstances, in the atmosphere of the moment or at the urging of an evangelist, profession is made, and due to intellectual responses to the gospel or emotional reaction to appeals, some are roused rather than regenerated.
Both of the Moabite women listen to the same message from the lips of Naomi, urging them to consider the great decision that they must make. Wisely, Naomi warns them of the cost of leaving their country of birth to go to a strange land. While we have stated that God was working His plan in the life of Ruth to bring her to Boaz, we see clearly that both Ruth and Orpah had the personal responsibility of going forward or going back. Sadly, Orpah went back to Moab; back to the demon gods of her people, back to her old way of life, and as far as we know, never to come into the blessings that God has prepared for His people. Ruth, on the other hand, "clave unto her [Naomi]" 1.14. To cleave is a word used by God at the beginning of human history to express the undivided and unchanging affection that a man should have for his wife, "Therefore shall a man … and cleave unto his wife" Gen.2.24. This union is so intimate and unifying that by cleaving, the "two shall be one flesh" Eph.5.31. Cleaving is also expressive of the obedience and service that should mark the people of God, and six times the children of Israel were instructed to cleave unto the Lord. Deut.10.20; 11.22; 13.4; 30.20; Josh.22.5; 23.8. It is significant therefore, that in recording Ruth’s decisive step towards Bethlehem Judah, it is said that she clave unto Naomi. Her choice came not from a mere whim of friendship and companionship, but from the conviction of her soul. It seems that her eye was on the God of Israel rather than on the mother of her late husband.
The words that follow Ruth’s decision are confirmation of her attitude and have often been the subject of much comment. She had resolved not to follow her sister-in-law, and made a decision that was to have consequences that she could never have visualised when her decision was made. Her declaration to Naomi is sincere, "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" 1.16,17.
In the middle of Ruth’s statement, there are words that are the high point of the whole declaration, "thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God". These words are reminiscent of the words of Jehovah when He made His covenant with His people: "I … will be your God, and ye shall be My people" Lev.26.12. These are the words with which God committed Himself to saving and preserving His people and it seems that Ruth has understood this and is willing to accept Jehovah as her God. This would seem to be confirmed when Boaz first speaks to Ruth and tells her what he has heard of her: "and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under Whose wings thou art come to trust" 2.12. To shelter or hide under God’s ‘wings’ is a common Old Testament expression for trusting in Him as a covenant-honouring God. See Pss.17.8; 36.7; 57.1; 61.4; 63.7; 91.4. Really, the description of the Thessalonian believers which was given by Paul could be said of Ruth, who "turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God …" 1Thess.1.9. Without reservation, with no limitation to her commitment both to the Lord and to His people this woman declares her conversion. She has considered the alternatives, Jehovah plus nothing in Beth-lehem-Judah or everything minus Jehovah in Moab, and has decided wisely.
It would seem that soon after their arrival in Beth-lehem-Judah; Ruth seeks to provide for Naomi and the home and suggests working in the fields. Once again the hand of God is seen in the ordering of which field she would find work in, but first she shows willingness, "Let me now go to the field and glean…" 2.2. She had a right to do so as the Law gave permission for the poor to be allowed to glean in the harvest field; see Lev.19.9,10; 23.22: nevertheless Ruth consulted with Naomi before she started her work, which is another evidence of her deferential character. There is no loss of pride in gleaning. Gleaning was an honourable work, a provision of God for poor people. Where the Lord provides prosperity in a community, there is enough in the leftovers for the poor. The principle is that prosperity comes to an individual, so that provision might be made for those who are in genuine need of help. Her gleaning brought her into contact with Boaz, whom we shall consider shortly. However, we should note the work ethic of this young woman. After spending the day in the backbreaking activity of gleaning, she engages in the equally strenuous toil of threshing. "So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley" 2.17. She threshed the barley that she had collected; she had to work at what she had gleaned to make it suitable for cooking and so for eating. There is a principle here in the development of spiritual, good things. Firstly we need to gather that which has been given for our use, i.e. the Word of God. Then that must be developed, ‘beaten out’ to provide that which will sustain us. There is no short answer to spiritual development; only when the grain is threshed can we use it, or show it, or share it.
August Van Ryn writes, "Ruth beat out the grain. She did not carry all that straw home, but reduced her load to what she could carry conveniently. Alas many believers carry the straw home as well; in fact they carry home nothing but the straw. The only thing that they remember about the message is something that they did not agree with or did not like. Mr. Spurgeon said that some believers have less sense than a chicken. A hen will pick over a whole bushel of chaff to find one grain of corn, while those critics will pick over a bushel of corn to find a little bit of chaff. Don’t bother with the chaff, look for the real food and enjoy it." Ruth was willing to work to provide what was beneficial to both her and her mother-in-law in a material way, but the application spiritually is very easily seen.
While the subject of the book is "The Glory of Godly Women" and this section deals with Naomi and Ruth, we cannot omit saying something of Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, who eventually will marry Ruth. Much of what he says about her compliments the godliness of Ruth.
Ruth did not know the people or the property owners, so it seems that it was by chance she was working in Boaz’ portion of the field. However, we see that everything is ordered of God, "her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz" 2.3. Humanly speaking, it was Rebekah’s hap to be at the well when Abraham’s servant came in search of a wife for his master’s son; it was the hap of the woman of Samaria to meet the Stranger sitting on the well; but we know, that what is man’s hap is God’s purpose, the purpose of love of Him Who sees the end from the beginning and plans it all. God is absolutely sovereign. All our blessings are from Him alone. Men do not control events; the hand of God is behind events as He works out His purpose. God is in all of the happenings which lead up to the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, the birth of Obed, and the continuation of the royal line from Judah through David to Christ.
The presence of a stranger is soon noticed by Boaz, whose question to the chief servant discloses Ruth’s identity. She is described as the Moabitess, a name that would at once mark her out as separate from the daughters of Israel; but as well as declaring her alien birth, acknowledges her faith which has led her to follow the widowed Naomi back to the land of Israel, in preference to returning to the house of her father with its false gods.
Boaz moves from her appearance and his questions of interest, to conversation with Ruth; words of welcome and words of wisdom. Boaz knows by now that Ruth is a kinswoman by marriage, and as such he takes extra concern for her because she is a member of his extended family. We see a gracious man who would allow any poor person to glean in his fields, but who makes extra provision for Ruth. Boaz also gives Ruth extra status by advising her to stay with his maidservants.
Boaz also arranges for Ruth’s protection. The other gleaners might be inclined to resent Ruth being given such privileges and might reject her if she comes too close to the harvesters. Boaz guards against this and other possibilities by his instructions to his servants and his young men, 2.14-16.
Boaz’ appreciation of Ruth as the relationship develops is seen in his various comments as to her devotion to Naomi and her faith in coming to Bethlehem Judah. "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" 2.11. His praise is also expressed in regard to Ruth’s deportment while in the field, "inasmuch as thou followest not young men, whether poor or rich" 3.10.
His appreciation and praise for her seem to be confirmed by his statement, "thou art a virtuous woman" 3.11. Ruth is the only woman in Scripture to be described as "virtuous". The word denotes ability, reputation, courage, attainment, as well as integrity of character, or virtue. It is a word used for comprehensive excellence. The word is only used elsewhere in Scripture to describe the ideal woman in Prov.31.10, and the wife who is, "a crown to her husband" Prov.12.4. Boaz’ use of this word would confirm that there is no question of impropriety in Ruth’s approach to him at the threshing floor. In fact, it is likely that if Boaz and Ruth had been suspected of wrongdoing, according to Jewish law, they could not have been married.
It is profitable to note that Ruth allows the circumstances of her life to develop at God’s speed and as advised by Naomi. If we accept, as has been shown, the sovereignty of God being evidenced in the plan for Ruth’s future, we should acknowledge that this remains the same for God’s people of every generation. We currently hear the comment that, "we’ll give it a try and if it is the Lord’s will, it will work out". Many of us were taught and still hold the belief that before we act we first understand God’s will for us as it is revealed to us, and subsequently act thereon. This would apply to all the major decisions in life and particularly in the lifelong relationship of matrimony. Acceptance of this truth would prevent much of the heartache caused by acting on self-will rather than His will.
Boaz is aware of a complication that Ruth and Naomi apparently know nothing about; namely, there is a closer relative who is obliged to redeem Ruth. The promise of marriage is conditional on the response of the nearer kinsman, but Boaz does make an oath that if the man will not redeem Ruth, then "as the Lord liveth" 3.13, he will. He has purposed that he will do everything in his power to bring the matter to its completion. This is one of the strongest oaths that a man could make, the expression occurs some 30 times in the Old Testament, and where it does, the weight of the oath is evident.
The nearer kinsman cannot fulfil his obligation, and in the purpose of God, Boaz is able to take Ruth as his wife. It is evident that the people were delighted at the outcome, and they unite their voices in pronouncing a blessing on Boaz and Ruth. They first pray that Ruth will be fruitful, 4.11, and it is interesting that although they are citizens of Beth-lehem, and thus descendants of Judah, son of Leah, Gen.29.35, they place Rachel before Leah. Since the entire nation of the Jews is considered to have descended from Rachel and Leah, the prayer is that Ruth will have a numerous and distinguished family of offspring.
The purpose of God is further evidenced in the blessing of a child born, "the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son" 4.13. Notice that the child born is seen as God’s gift. Could it be that the fact that there was no issue from the marriage to Mahlon and that Ruth bears a child to an older Boaz; when the text states, "the Lord gave her conception", it thus points to Divine intervention in barrenness? Ruth could well have thought:
My Redeemer! O what beauties
In that lovely name appear;
None but Jesus in His glories
Shall the honoured title wear.
Thou hast my salvation wrought.
The bond between the two women seems to be cemented further in the birth of the child. The praise of the women of the land is greater for Naomi than for the child’s mother Ruth!
The women of Bethlehem had greeted Naomi on her return from Moab; now they come to her, happy that she has been blessed on the birth of the child. Their words are interesting as there is no blood relationship between Naomi and the child, Boaz being from Elimelech’s side of the family and Ruth being from Moab; yet the women acknowledge that the child will be, "a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age" 4.15. The woman who was brought back "empty" is fulfilled and has at least her hands filled full! "And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it" 4.16. In speaking of the kinsman that Naomi now has, it is clear that the women are speaking of the new child, who has been born to further the family name in Israel. They had prophesied that the child would mean a great deal to Naomi in a practical sense. They express great confidence in her future through the birth of the child.
The praise of the women continues to make much of the faithfulness and fidelity of Ruth, "thy daughter-in-law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons" 4.15, is quite a statement to describe "the Moabitess". Their saying that she is better than seven sons is the supreme tribute to Ruth. "Seven sons" is proverbial for the perfect family, 1Sam.2.5, so to speak of Ruth as being better than this is high praise indeed. "And the women her neighbours gave it a name … and they called his name Obed" 4.17. It seems strange that the women gave the name! It may be better translated that they suggested what they thought was a suitable name. However, the child was called Obed, which as we have already stated, means ‘worshipper’.
These events in Moab and Beth-lehem-Judah, which have developed through the restoration of a backslider and the redemption of a stranger, all play their part in leading up to the birth of David and on to the birth of Jesus Christ. As we read through this book we can reflect that God’s hand is over all history. God works out His purpose generation after generation. Limited as we are to one lifetime, each of us sees so little of what happens. A genealogy, as this book ends, is an illustrative way of bringing before us the continuity of God’s purpose. It is graphically seen in both of the New Testament genealogies of the Lord Jesus; whether in Matthew’s Gospel from Abraham to Jesus Christ or Luke’s account from Jesus back to Adam, both must pass through Beth-lehem and indeed this family, Matt.1.5; Lk.3.32.
The process of history is not haphazard; God moved through these godly women to bring about His purpose. We must never forget that there is a purpose in the Lord’s activities in all our lives, and that, the purpose of God.
God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
( W. Cowper)