It’s the story of a sweet, young outsider named Ruth and a man willing to risk everything by being with her – even his own reputation.
Of the five women mentioned in Jesus Christ’s genealogy (Matthew 1), one of the most revered is Ruth. Ruth was the great-grandmother of David…and Jesus, according to isaiah 11:1 is her greatest ‘descendant’.
The book bearing her name fits historically around the time of the judges. It has been suggested that the judge who graced Israel’s scene was Jair (Judges 10); some even point to an earlier time under Gideon. It was during Gideon’s chapter that the Midianites oppressed Israel for seven hard years – divine judgment for their disobedience – and a famine such as the one described in Ruth 1 could have resulted.
The saga of Ruth opens with the journey of a Jewish couple, Elimelech and Naomi, along with their two sons, as they leave their hometown of Bethlehem for the hilly country of Moab; they needed to jet because the famine in Israel was so great.
Moab, you recall, found its origin in an incestuous partnership between Lot and his daughters. The result was twins, Ammon and Moab. The progenitors of their respected people-groups trained their offspring to do two things:
- hate, hate, hate Israel
- run after pagan deities
Ruth was from Moab’s line and had been raised in the murky cesspool of spiritual darkness, not unlike women under the oppressive Taliban rule. She was raised to serve Chemosh, an impersonal, vindictive deity referred to as the ‘destroyer‘ or ‘subduer‘ and recognized as the fish-god.
Naomi’s husband – a Jewish man – died in Moab; soon thereafter, her two sons who each married Moabite women – one of which was Ruth – also died. Naomi had the very sad misfortune of looking upon the grave plots of the only three men in her life. No wonder she preferred the nomenclature ‘bitter‘ (Ruth 1:20).
Adding to this, her sons’ marriages produced no children, thus Naomi faced life with two procured daughters-in-law who hailed from a foreign land.
News soon arrived that the famine was over in Palestine, and Naomi returned with the two girls in tow – three widows all. On the highway out of Moab, she felt it best for her two childless in-laws to return to their mothers and to their gods, but each protested – one more forcefully than the other.
It was Ruth (“Friendship“) who stayed with her mother-in-law while Orpah (“Stubborn“) took a second look at Moab and scurried back.
Without a doubt, what we’ve just covered and what’s to come in this story are some of the most shared yarns among the generations to follow among all the messianic stories.
Having taken place during the years of the judges, the story of Ruth transcends and contrasts with the inbred decay and moral corruption of Israel, a time when “every man did what was right in his own eyes“. Here is one from Moab – of all places – whose character stands in vivid contrast to the pathetic low-living of everyone else in Israel.
THE STORY OF RUTH IS ABOUT:
Covenantal Love (Ruth 1:8-3:10)
Redemptive Love (Ruth 4:8-10)
>In Rth 1:8 Naomi uses a distinctively divine word to describe the love she felt from her daughters-in-law. The word is ‘chesed‘ which denotes the attitude God has toward any promises He has made. It speaks of loyalty and covenant and unmerited favor. She prays that God will extend His covenant love to these foreign women as well.
One of the over-arching themes of Ruth is to emphasize that Yahweh loves ALL humanity and His plan all along was to include all ethnicities in the narrative we know as His eternal love story.
>In Rth 2:20, the word is used to describe the character of Boaz, the hero and archetypal Christ in the story.
>In Rth 3:10, Boaz uses the word to compliment Ruth, and in the next verse calls her “a woman of noble character“.
The scenes shift swiftly in Ruth.
Chapter 1 has the characters in the midst of a FAMINE, as we’ve already touched on.
In chapter 2, the scene shifts to the FIELDS where Ruth “just happens” upon her kinsman redeemer.
In chapter 3, we see Ruth at Boaz’ FEET, a curious but innocent custom of offering herself in betrothal to this good, heroic man of chesed.
Finally, in chapter 4, we hold our breath at the drama of the transaction FEE (or, ‘bride price‘) for Ruth.
In Hebrew, Boaz is called “go-el” or ‘kinsman redeemer’.
>A kinsman redeemer was a close family relative who was called upon to right a wrong, so to speak, or to fulfill a covenant. For instance, if a woman’s husband died husband died, leaving her no male descendants, that husband’s brother would be called upon to marry her and be her “go-el” thus taking her and all her bills, property, children and possessions as his own, making himself responsible for her.
>Or, if a family member sold their land to pay off a debt, the nearest blood-relative would buy back the property from the creditor and return it to his debtor relative.
>And if a man was wrongfully murdered, the go-el would avenge the blood of the deceased.
Now that Boaz’s “covenantal love” has been given to Ruth (Rth 3:9), there is nothing that will keep him from seeing it all the way through! There is no obstacle, no price so high that he will not be able and willing to meet the demand.
He arranges a meeting with Ruth’s nearest living relative by marriage to her Jewish husband and offers him the first chance to redeem the land Naomi and Elimelech sold. The potential ‘go-el‘ says he will (Rth 4:4) – until Boaz reminds him that he must also take the widow Ruth to be his bride.
Her ‘go-el‘ reneges. If the story ends here, then Ruth is husbandless, childless, homeless and without hope for any future blessing. There would be no chesed for her. She would die in her condition, pitiful, unprotected. Since she was a Moabitess – an outsider, an alien – she would likely suffer cruelly at the hands of her adopted homeland.
But this story has a “storybook” ending, a Christmassy feel-good conclusion. Boaz stands before the officials in Bethlehem and says,
I will take Ruth, an alien, and all her baggage! I qualify as a near-relative, have the means, and the will to bring her to myself!”
The custom in the earlier days if Israel’s history was for the go-el to take off one of his sandals and give it to the the true kinsman redeemer. The idea was transfer of ownership. In essence, before Boaz takes responsibility for her, Ruth was “owned” by someone who didn’t have the means – or the will – to see her redeemed from her situation, and was not going to change his demeanor or disposition.
When Jesus came to Bethlehem, He came with the intent of taking back ownership of all humanity from its despotic overlord. “I came to seek and save (as our go-el) that which is lost,” He said.
Think of it: when the Baby of Bethlehem came into the world, He came looking for a shoe.
He met humanity’s evil overlord in the desert and, while the showdown produced no shoe (it wasn’t yet time), He then met him on a hill outside Jerusalem (when it was due time), leaving him no option but to surrender what our Kinsman Redeemer had come for.
It was there that the world’s wicked tyrant relinquished the shoe, for when Jesus cried, “It is finished!” He held, as it were, the shoe in His crimson hands and proclaimed to all creation that the transaction was a done deal and those who lie in the shadow of His wing belong to Him forever.
That’s the Good News, my friend; the Glad Tidings of comfort and joy, peace and good-will.